Zoe Keating Says Streaming Data Is Valuable

Artist Zoe Keating said artists should be given user data from Rhapsody and Spotify to identify fans and market to them. Keating made waves by uploading all of her revenue stream data to the Internet this summer, throwing back the curtain on artist revenue streams and kicking off a lively discussion. The majority of her revenue came from iTunes and Bandcamp, she said.

But just because I listen to your stuff on Spotify doesn’t mean I want you to market to me.

Streaming Music’s ‘Flavor of the Month’ Problem

Good argument on how streaming music services face sustainability problems as they add more advertising and face competition from new services.

But I’ve been sticking with Spotify, even with the obnoxious ads, because it works better to me. Discovery happens on Spotify. Listening happens in iTunes.

“How Xbox Music Is Going To Make Spotify Obsolete”

…here’s what’s different: Xbox Music is baked into every single copy of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8. In other words, free access to 30 million songs is built into Windows 8, as part of the default music player. Remember, we’re talking about Windows. The last version of Windows sold 240 million copies in its first year. Spotify’s most recent official count was 15 millions users, 4 million of whom pay for a subscription. If Windows 8 matches first-year sales of Windows 7, and just 10 percent of those users latch onto Xbox Music, it’ll have a user base that’s substantially larger than Spotify’s. And if you have access to basically all music ever, just sitting there on your computer, why bother hunting down some other service to get the exact same thing?

I first read this argument thinking it was nonsense, but then I thought about how many people I know still use Internet Explorer.

“Streaming Services (again).”

The new recorded music model and bands that are holding back from streaming services.

It would be interesting to know how those Coldplay fans with streaming subscriptions dealt with this missing content. While some headed to Itunes, I’m quite sure there were many who reached straight for Bit Torrent and Rapidshare. Some will now be considering whether their monthly subscription actually represents value for money.

I wonder if the kinds of people who buy Coldplay albums know what Bittorrent is and how to use it. I don’t mean that as a slight against them or their fans, but as a genuine suspicion.

“How Much Do Streaming Services Pay Artists? Ask the Labels” by Glenn Peoples

Asking streaming services an impossible question unfairly demonizes legitimate companies that are operating honestly. And it implies a company is hiding important information that deserves to be made public. If only it were that easy. Most services are privately held companies with no obligation to report its financial details to the public. And details related to specific contracts are especially sensitive. A direct answer can put a company in breach of confidentiality agreements. So the fact that a company won’t give a direct answer should mean absolutely nothing to readers.

“Spotiwhy? : Are Subscription Music Services a Sustainable Business Model?” by Frank Woodworth

When there is a song that pervades pop culture, the potential numbers start lining up with the current revenue, and as subscription music attains larger percentages of the U.S. population, the numbers for a potential hit become significantly more than a hit song currently. Of course, the flip side of this is that there are no album sales on top of these numbers like there is currently. As subscription music becomes dominant this becomes the only recorded revenue stream.

The folks at Spotify like to say that they want access to music to open the doors to other revenue sources. With this in mind, Woodworth asks something that seems so obvious I’m surprised this is the first time I read it.

In regards to merchandise, tickets or any of the other ancillary revenue streams, it is true that streaming will promote them, but the current and former methods of music consumption also did that. I’d be interested to see any proof that streaming music is somehow a more efficient promoter of these other revenue streams.

iTunes Match Isn’t A Locker

There’s some confusion about the iTunes Match video making the rounds. The video demonstrates that you could download or stream music from iTunes, but All Things D is reporting that it’s really a download in the background, at least in this beta.

This is similar to how Spotify operates. When you stream music in Spotify it downloads music to your computer and stores it in an encrypted cache (on the Mac it’s in ~/Library/Caches/com.spotify.client). Spotify will use your local cache before reaching out to Spotify servers and other peers.

That there’s confusion about whether this is a download or stream is good news. The term music locker isn’t really what we want, is it?. Remember having a locker in high school? You had to remember a combination to get to your stuff. In the gym locker room other kids made fun of you and how bad you are at basketball. Bullies would wait for you by your own locker. Lockers weren’t safe havens. I don’t want to use a locker if I don’t have to.

I digress.

With iTunes Match, music will be in the cloud, but it feels like it’s right on your hard drive, not in some locker. Streaming services so far, with the exception of Spotify, have been pretty terrible at making it feel that way.

“On Spotify” by Ethan Kaplan

The issue for me is how I consume music. I don’t consume music like I consume information. I curate, digest, browse and meander the stacks as it were…What it comes down to is that Spotify democratizes music to such an extent that it becomes just files and audio rather than atomic entities known as albums, artists and genres.

I’m excited for Spotify’s launch in the US, but if you’re at all like this it sounds like you’re still going to be more comfortable in iTunes than any of the streaming services.

$10 a month is great for all you can eat listening, but the problem is that the stacks are easier to browse in iTunes than in streaming services. Genres, smart playlists, ratings…take those things away and you have the current shortcomings of the streaming services. I think that’s enough for music nerds to keep on downloading from torrents than to use something like Spotify.

Yeah, it’s illegal, but it’s competition.

Airfoil 4.5 adds iOS to Mac Streaming

Great new addition. What this means is that you can take an application that supports Airplay, like just about every radio application on iOS, and stream it right to your Mac. Why would you want to do that? Well, if your favorite streaming service has a better iPhone app than Mac app1 then you could use the iOS app instead of the battery draining2 Mac application.


  1. Or you uninstalled Flash from your Mac. 

  2. Okay – maybe the streaming drains juice faster than a Flash application. And in the application I’m thinking of, there’s definitely an iPhone battery drain problem. 

Comparing iTunes and Rdio

Disclaimer: I won a 12-month Rdio Unlimited subscription in December 2010

I’ve been using Rdio since the summer of 2010 and have been pretty happy with it. I think within 10 minutes of first using Rdio it became clear to me that music streaming is going to be the next big thing. In fact, I’ve been so reliant on Rdio that on my home computer it seems like I haven’t used iTunes for much other than syncing devices and downloading podcasts.

Rdio is refreshing in a few ways. I don’t have to worry about hard drive storage. There’s no monetary risk in trying out new music. It’s legal. I don’t have to bother tagging music files or fixing other people’s poor metadata.

But when compared to iTunes something feels off in Rdio. I want to touch on two things that I think Rdio is weak in and how I’d like to see Rdio progress.1

Navigation

iTunes offers four ways to browse your library:

  1. List view
  2. List view (with album art)
  3. Grid view
  4. Coverflow

With the exception of list view, iTunes is heavily reliant on album art in its library navigation. The best example of this is grid view, which feels a lot like iPhoto.

iTunes Grid View

This is something that Apple has gotten very right in iTunes. Flicking your fingers across your Mac’s trackpad to scroll through album art in iTunes is reminiscent of browsing through CDs in a music store or your own shelves.

Compare with Rdio:

Rdio Collection Browsing

On your collection page Rdio uses these circles. The size of the circles represent how much you’ve listened to each artist.

On the left you have an artist list that you can sort alphabetically or by collection size. Clicking on an artist lets you drill down into their albums and also shows an alphabetical listing of songs:

Rdio Album Art List

It’s much easier to browse your own collection in iTunes than it is in Rdio.

That demonstrates a fundamental difference between iTunes and Rdio. iTunes is great at displaying your collection, but Rdio is more interested in making digital music a social experience. Rdio’s dashboard shows users what’s been in heavy rotation among the people they follow and what activity those people have taken on the site. The way Rdio is designed puts priority on users discovering music more than browsing through their own collections.

When I write about Rdio’s “perpetual music discovery”2 problem that’s what I’m talking about.

Playback models

Both Rdio and iTunes offer queues, but they’re used in different ways.

The iTunes queue is called iTunes DJ. It used to be called Party Shuffle. Its intended use is for occasions when you might have company over and want to have continuous playback of music. But I’ve found iTunes DJ to be a useful feature just for me. I can hit play on iTunes DJ, fill the queue with music, even define a source for the queue (like a playlist or even a genius mix) and the music just keeps on going and going.

iTunesDJ

The great thing about iTunes DJ is that it’s just a playlist. You can live in iTunes DJ for a while, but you’re free to go to other areas in your library: the entire music section, the playlists you created, streaming radio stations, Genius mixes. It’s your choice. When you come back the queue is the way you expect it. It isn’t the be all and end all of iTunes’s playback.

In Rdio (and other streaming music services) the queue is the be all and end all of playback. It’s the only way to play music.

rdioqueue

You can place all those albums in heavy rotation into your queue. Somebody just synced an album to their mobile phone? Must be a pretty big deal — add it to the queue.

One problem I’ve had is that I add a ton of stuff to the queue because I want to make sure I don’t miss anything good. As I write this sentence I’ve got 159 items in my queue, mostly full albums. If I don’t skip anything I will have gotten through 1755 songs, 7,676 minutes and 29 seconds of stuff.3

An apt description of this may be that the Rdio queue is like Instapaper for music, but I think it’s more like a big vat filled to the brim with music and all I have is a crazy straw.

So I have plenty of stuff to go through. But music doesn’t work like that. What if I want to listen to a specific album right now? That goes into the queue. I can’t go to the album on Rdio and hit play without changing the queue.4

Rdio Stations are a cool way to listen to music that’s by or similar to an artist you like. It’s like iTunes Genius, but better because it’s not limited to your collection of tracks. It’s limited to Rdio’s collection of tracks, which is likely bigger than yours.

But if you listen to an Rdio Station it’s not a separate thing. It also goes into the queue. If you activate iTunes Genius in iTunes you move to the Genius playlist. Your mode has changed and iTunes leaves whatever you were listening to intact. Rdio removes whatever you were listening to and replaces it with whatever you just took action on.

In iTunes I can freely move between tracks, playlists, and albums and things are the way I expect them to be. In Rdio there’s more friction because everything goes into the bucket without as much freedom to move around.

Proposal

I think I like what Spotify did, but since I’m in the United States I haven’t tried Spotify’s service, so I don’t know for sure.

Spotify didn’t develop a web application, but they did develop desktop applications for Windows and OSX. Spotify’s desktop application lets you play your local library alongside the music they offer for streaming.

This solves two problems:

  1. It provides one application for music playback that’s not limited by a licensed catalog.
  2. It gives users a much better experience than what they can currently, and reliably, do on the web.5

I think I’d like to see something that takes iTunes’s excellent library management with streaming and social features. Perhaps Rdio could take a page from applications like Ecoute and Everplay that access the iTunes library and create something new from it. Or maybe their talented users will do this when/if they create an Rdio API.

I think 2011 could be the year streaming music begins to take off. Rhapsody has been making a big marketing push. Rdio seems to be preferred among those who miss Lala.com. Spotify is (always) on the cusp of launching in the United States. And Apple has been building this huge data center that’s gonna get used for SOMETHING (not to mention Ping, which has been lumped into a class of Apple failures, yet I see it more as Apple’s baby steps into bringing together social features and streaming music).

In the meantime I’ll be using Rdio until something better comes along.


  1. There are more, but I think these are the two biggest ones. 

  2. This is something I think that all music streaming services I’ve tried suffer from. They’re so concerned about the social and discovery components that your current library of beloved albums and songs gets neglected

  3. Rdio’s queue becomes difficult to use after it exceeds the height of a page. Scrolling through it gets really slow and rearranging with drag and drops feel weird. It’s similar to when you rearrange your Netflix queue and you have to give it a second to realize you’ve made a selection. Netflix offers a “move to top of queue” button that Rdio should consider adding. 

  4. Rdio’s Secret Hidden Features show some useful keyboard shortcuts including a command similar to iTunes’s “Play Next in iTunes DJ.” You still shift the queue, and I have found the command to be pretty hit or miss–sometimes it works, most times it doesn’t. 

  5. In this piece MarsEdit developer Daniel Jalkut presents an argument against statements like “the future of software is on the web.” If App stores are any indication maybe the future of web software is on the desktop.