While the digitalization of music has been underway for well over a decade, there continues to be a steady flow of new services emerging to satisfy all forms of digital music distribution.  Platforms such as Pandora and Spotify are well known across even the least tech savvy of circles, though these services are just the tip of a rapidly growing streaming music revolution.  Actually owning music is already becoming a thing of the past – with increased wifi and wireless coverage rendering any smart mobile device into an on demand personal jukebox.  This comes without the need to ever download and, in most cases – purchase, any music.  Leading the next wave of on-demand music delivery are three innovative startups – each approaching the landscape from very different angles – and in so doing, providing consumers with a variety of novel ways to experience new music.

SoundCloud

Founded in 2008, SoundCloud is the leading social sound platform with over 20 million registered users1. Referred to early on as the “YouTube of audio”2, SoundCloud enables users to record any sound – whether that be a music record, full album, demo instrumentals, or even a live set.  The audio file is then uploaded onto SoundCloud’s servers and then available for streaming across any computer or mobile device.  SoundCloud is a way for new artists to get their music out to a wider array of fans (think the next gen distribution platform previously provided by MySpace) and for established artists to consolidate some of their non-core activities such as podcasts, remixed tracks, and live concert recordings.   Whether you’re looking for Swedish House Mafia’s set from Coachella, a teaser from Usher’s soon to be released single, or Kaskade’s weekly mix, SoundCloud has it all – and does so with fervent artist support – often a rarity in the world of “free music.”   In addition, Soundcloud’s API enables virtually any website to embed a SoundCloud player on their page – greatly broadening the platform’s reach around the web without login requirements.

Like virtually all social networks, SoundCloud allows users to follow one another – providing a live update feed of all the latest tracks and sets from their favorite artists.  Also, fans can insert text comments directly into the audio feed – providing means to actually communicate with musicians through the music and enabling a real-time conversation that can act as beta test for new songs.  Comments like “love the beat drop here”, “this guitar riff works well”, and “speed up the tempo” are common and represent the ability to crowd source feedback – which can be very helpful for up and coming artists.  The band R.E.M. even launched a crowd sourced contest to remix tracks from their recent album2.

Perhaps most important to fueling user growth among the masses is continuing to ensure that top artists remain engaged on the site.  To that end, SoundCloud offers an array of data analytics tools for premium members to get detailed dashboards such as who is listening to their music, what demographics they are popular with, and where their music is being shared.  This is also SoundCloud’s primary monetization form at the moment – charging for premium monthly subscriptions to the small % of users who want access to this toolkit and ability to upload more content on the servers.  Some speculate that with their latest partnership with payments company Adyen2, the company may pivot into a platform for selling individual tracks a la iTunes and Amazon, but the company remains mum on their strategic direction.  Regardless, SoundCloud still represents a great means to connect with your favorite artists and opens up an entirely new channel of music that you’ll never be able to find in stores.

Check it out at: www.soundcloud.com.

 

Turntable.fm

Turntable came virtually out of nowhere when it launched to rave reviews in the summer of 2011.  Drawing huge word of mouth interest among the tech set in Silicon Valley, the site experienced incredibly fast growth and within just 3 months was streaming over 1 million songs per day3.  Much of this was due to the fact that turntable had ushered in a new form of digital music: synchronous listening.

The site is based around the concept of a DJ chat room.  When a user logs into the site, they create a profile and select an avatar, a character design not unlike those seen on the Nintendo Wii.  Next, they can join or create a DJ room.  It is here where the magic happens.  The room itself looks like a cartoon version of a club / small concert hall– a dance floor at the back with a DJ booth at the front with giant animated speakers propping up the stage.  Users can hop up on the decks by clicking on one of the 5 available slots above the turntables.  Next, they can either select songs from the turntable database or even upload their own tracks.  Along with the other DJs, they will then be responsible for curating and delivering music to any other users in the room – who are all listening real time.

It is this concept of shared listening that drives the uniqueness of the platform.  No longer are you plugged into your own playlist, listening by yourself.  Suddenly you have the opportunity to stream your music to up to 100 people all at once.  It is akin to bringing the concert experience to the desktop (and mobile device with their app).  The idea that you listening alongside your friends or family or even strangers completely changes how you digest the music as it imitates the same “buzz” you’d experience at a live show.  Social mechanisms on the site also reinforce this.  A live chat window allows users to be in constant communication while a meter at the bottom lets them either “Awesome” or “Lame” a song – too many “Lame” clicks from the crowd and the song skips to the next DJ.  There’s a bit of an endorphin rush as a DJ when you start a track and the crowd starts responding excitedly in the chat window.  Additionally, when you click “Awesome”, your avatar starts to bob its head up and down – seeing a wave of avatars doing this in unison means the crowd is rocking out to your selection.  While this does not make one a digital Tiesto, it sure feels like it – and it’s that notion that keeps me coming back for more.

Find me on: www.turntable.fm (My username is Mateofish)

 

Playground

If we think about the streaming music spectrum, on one side is On Demand listening.  Spotify is the best example of this – a service that features limitless choice in song selection, and by definition enables the highest degree of customization in curating playlists.  Users must actively pick and choose what they want to hear by building up a playlist one song at a time.

On the other side is Leanback listening.  Pandora and other internet radio services sit here and require minimal user engagement – simply enter the type of music you want listen to, sit back, and consume whatever the service deems relevant to your initial query.

Music services have to date largely clustered around these two ends of the spectrum – presenting a gap in the middle that the team at Playground is looking to fill with their app called Playground.  Playground is based on the concept of personalized playlist discovery – the notion that people want to listen to music that is relevant to their tastes and preferences, while not wanting to have to build their own library.  From a user experience standpoint, playground’s mechanics are very simple and easy to use.  Upon logging in, users are presented with a beautifully laid out set of tiles that represent playlists that other users on the service have created.  Overlaid is the playlist name as well as a representative track – e.g. “Energy Mix” (Deadmau5 – Some Chords).  Like many streaming companies, Playground functions on an internet radio license – meaning that users cannot see the track ahead of them, and they can only skip tracks a limited number of times within a given playlist.

The nuts and bolts of the service are what drive its value beyond simply being a more social form of Pandora.  By using Facebook Connect, Playground is able to gather insights about your listening habits on other music services – and uses this information in conjunction with internal data in its algorithm to constantly deliver you the most relevant playlists on your homepage.  In essence, the service is able to offer users the best of both worlds – allowing greater pick up and play than Spotify, and analytics that have the potential to drive greater playlist relevance than Pandora.  As Playground Founder Vivek Agrawal notes – “With Spotify, the music content is unsurpassed in terms of volume, but getting what you want is difficult.  With Playground, we’ve provided a means to shortcut the playlist building process and allowing users to quickly get to the content they want.”  As the company begins to explore various business model functions around the service, Agrawal notes that a dual model makes sense – free with ads, while a modest monthly subscription would allow for exclusive content and no ads.  In the meantime, the company continues to hammer out new updates to its beta release so don’t miss out on being a part of the early user base by downloading Playground from the Apple App Store or checking it out their site www.playground.fm.

 

[1] SoundCloud CrunchBase Profile http://www.crunchbase.com/company/soundcloud

[2] Steve O’Hear, “Monetization Baby: SoundCloud Planning To Let Users Sell Tracks? Adyen Chosen To Power Payments (Updated).” Aug. 13th, 2012.http://techcrunch.com/2012/08/13/monetization-baby-soundcloud-planning-to-let-users-sell-tracks-adyen-chosen-to-power-payments/

[3] Alexia Tsotis, “Billy Chasen And Seth Goldstein: Turntable.fm Was Less Of A Pivot And More Of A Restart.” Sept 14th, 2011. http://techcrunch.com/2011/09/14/billy-chasen-and-seth-goldstein-turntable-fm-was-less-of-a-pivot-and-more-of-a-restart/


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