iTunes -v- Spotify? Slap Your Forehead and Say “Duh!”

Amid the hype for the "not available at store near you" service called Spotify, one often reads of its promise to be the next "iTunes killer" — though one also wonders why it's really necessary to kill iTunes. Granted, I don't use iTunes for "purchasing" music much any more, but it's still a very useful program, and of course essential for sync'ing up my iPhone.

So it's interesting to get Techdirt's take on the obvious question, "why would Apple approve a Spotify app for the iPhone?" and here is the most obvious answer:

Itunes-logo

I would bet that the folks at Apple are pretty damn sure that they can outlast and out-innovate Spotify. Spotify hasn't shown much ability to make money, and while it has become a press darling as a music app, I wouldn't be surprised to find out that Apple's quietly been working on its own version of a Spotify-like offering built directly into iTunes. And, given Apple's standard operating procedure, if that's the case, there's a good chance that the Spotify-like iTunes will be even better than Spotify itself.

In other words: "iTunes" is the "iTunes killer." And Spotify goes down with it… 

Let's give credit where it's due: iTunes has played a pivotal role in the way music is offered and delivered in the Music 3.0 era; it has pursuaded a vast legion of music lovers of the ease and advantage of downloading their music collections rather than buying and ripping them.  That's a huge — and very successful — exercise in consumer behavior modification and an essential phase in the transition from Music 2.0 to Music 3.0.

iTunes has gotten a lot of mileage out of the "purchase per unit," product-based delivery model.  All the while, Steve Jobs and his minions have insisted that listeners (I hate calling us "consumers") are somehow compelled to "own" our very own collections of music. And the relatively modest acceptance of the subscription services like Rhapsody and Napster would seem to affirm that assessment. 

But just you wait: Someday — probably sooner rather than later — Apple will begin converting the faithful.  You'll see stylish ads from Apple that say "for the price of a single CD, for the cost of just 10 tracks per month, you can now have access to millions of tracks…and listen to whatever you want whenever and wherever you want (somebody should trademark that…)

And millions of iTunes users will slap their foreheads and exclaim, "well, fucking DUH!" 

Spotify: It’s a Start

Tonight, Spotify boss Daniel Ek admitted that less than 10% of Spotify subscribers had upgraded to the Premium version.

Spotify claims over 1 million subscribers but only a maximum of 90,000 of them are stumping up £10 a month for the ad-free Premium service. That means it brings in just £900,000 a month – not small change but not enough to make the service profitable.

It's likely that the Spotify Mobile app on Android and iPhone will increase those numbers but Spotify is keeping just how much close to its chest.

Ek told the crowd at the Glasshouse that Spotify could be profitable if it "chose to be" but that he's focused on developing the business.

via stuff.tv

I suppose that for most users, the occasional ad is a small price to "pay." I would say though that the fact that there are a million users is not insignificant. That represents the leading edge of a constituency that is going to get used to hearing whatever they want, whenever they want. And if Apple ever approves the iPhone app, you can add "wherever" to the equation.

Turn Your Browser Into A “Celestial Jukebox” TODAY

While I was at the Americana Conference last week, I found myself explaining to a lot of people what I mean when I tell them my computer is my jukebox.  Maybe they think I’m talking about iTunes.  Or maybe they think I’m listening to all this music on the speakers in my MacBook.


Not hardly.  I’ve got access to a virtually infinite (as in, more than I can listen to in a lifetime) library of music, and I’m listening to it all in excellent fidelity on my stereo. Aside from the computer (in my case a MacBook or a MacPro) there are three essential components to this system:

Lala.com: I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record on this one (pun intended?).  But this is where it starts for me.  Unlike the

Lala

subscription services like Rhapsody or Napster, Lala sucks me in by letting me listen to whatever I want to one time for free.  After that, I purchase “access” to the tracks I want to hear again for a dime.

With Lala.com, the browser becomes your iPod, with one important difference.  Instead of “owning” a few thousand tracks, you get “access” to… a few million.  Just about anything you want to hear.

Airfoil3-mac96

Airfoil is really the secret sauce in this recipe.  Airfoil is a program that can take the audio output from any program on your computer — most notably in this case your browser — and send it over WiFi to an


Airport Express — an Apple gizmo which is a WiFi receiver with stereo audio output.

That’s all there is to it, and it works on either PCs or Macs.  The signal comes out of your browser, Airfoil sends it to the Airport, and then the sound comes out of your stereo.

And just like that, your stereo is transformed into the “Celestial Jukebox.”

With this configuration, the prophecy is about 3/4s fulfilled.  You can hear whatever you want, whenever you want to hear it — but you still have to be connected to some kind of broadband connection through a lap- or desk-top computer.

The only thing that’s missing is the mobile app that puts the capability in your car.  The apps exist, but so far they’re not available for the public.  But why wait?  Unless you’re one of the road warriors that you’re listening to you’re probably tethered to cable or DSL (forget dialup) most of the  day anyway.

So be the first on your block to set up your own Celestial Jukebox TODAY!

Notes from AmericanaFest – 1

I spent most of Wednesday through Saturday of last week at the Americana Music Festival and Conference in Nashville.

I went to a lot of panels, and I took a lot of notes using an analog device known as “pencil and notebook.”  This antiquated technology works really well, at least until I go back and try to read what I scribbled.  But it was more convenient than trying to find an outlet in every room so that I could type notes on my laptop.

Jedhilly

First, a general observation: “Americana” seems at times like a brand in search of a genre.  Musically, the category covers a broad swath of the musical spectrum. Jed Hilly, the Executive Director of the Americana Music Association, did his best to narrow it down when he defined “Americana” (for the purpose of a new Grammy Awards category) as “contemporary music that honors and derives from American roots music.”

That does, indeed, cover a LOT of territory.  But more important than what the brand or genre represents musically is what the concept embodies as a movement.  Musically, this may be “roots” music, but market-wise, this is music that is coming up from the grassroots.  And, based on what I heard over this past week, it represents in some respects the very best of what the new grassroots paradigm has to offer the listening audience.  I mean, these people are GOOD and deserve the recognition that “mainstream” cultural forces are too often too slow to provide.

With that as a premise, here’s a note from the first panel I attended early on Thursday morning.

I didn’t realize until I got there that a discussion of “Raising The Next Generation of Americana Fans” would turn out to be a discussion about bringing this music to children, which is not generally speaking an area of my own personal interest.

Well… duh.  Music is sorta like cigarettes – if you want them smoking it when they’re adults, you gotta start ’em out as kids.  So (politically incorrect tobacco reference aside), what could be more important than a discussion of bringing “Americana” music to kids?

So once I realized where I was and why it was the right place to be, I started paying attention to Jason Ringenberg (aka “Farmer Jason“) and Miss Melba Toast as they described their experiences bringing music to children.

Khussey

Panelist Kathy Hussey said the one thing I found most encouraging: When she shows up for her songwriting-for-kids workshops, she said, “they start out wanting to write a rap song,” but their interest is very easily redirected.  “Kids are learning that they don’t have to consume what’s on the radio.”

When I was growing up, “what’s on the radio” was all their was, and we all grew up wanting to be The Beatles or The Stones.  But the impact of an infinite variety of cultural choices is beginning to have a diversifying effect on a new generation.

Kids today may show up wanting to replicate what they hear in the media.  They may think for a moment that that’s what’s expected of them  But if Kathy’s experience is any indication, the commitment is shallow.  They wind up wanting something resonates personally on a deeper level.

That’s a consequence of a world of infinite choices instead of just a few dominating channels.  More choice forces us to dig a little deeper to find what matters.  Mark that down as another upside of the new era, Music 3.0.

The Best of AmericanaFest Playlist

Americanafest09

OK, I've figured out how I can create and embed a playlist of the music I heard — and heard about — while attending the Americana Music Conference in Nashville last week. The list now appears to the right of this post, and visitors to this site should be able to listen to the tracks in their entirety "first time for free."  I'll be adding to the list in the days ahead, so just update your browser and the revised list should appear. Lemme know if you run into any problems… 

Pumpkins Smash The Box

Corgan

From www.hypebot.com, with a nod to Twangnation for picking it up early this morning (while still recovering from the Americana conference in Nashville…)

The Smashing Pumpkins will embrace the freemium business model favored by many tech startups to release their new album. Recording for the new 44 song album began last week with lead singer Bill Corgan announcing that starting around Halloween each song would be given away free. There will be no strings attached. “Free will mean free, which means you won’t have to sign up for anything, give an email address, or jump through a hoop.” said Corgan.

www.hypebot.com

The model is instructive.

No sign ups? No e-mail exchange? That’s taking it to a new extreme. That’s really putting the onus on the music itself and pretty much assumes that “if they like it, they’ll come back – at some point” — and offload some dollars.

And the whole idea of releasing the epic album (44 songs? Did I read that right?) in 4-song sets underscores the shift from “product” to “process.” That, ultimately, appears to be the way the audience is engaged now – throughout the creative process, not just at the point when the product is delivered.

Engaging the audience in the process.  Very “Music 3.0.”

Your 30-seconds Are Up, Now Pay Me

I heard a reference to this at the Americana Music Conference this past week. Now I read in arstechnica some of the details about publishers — and hence by proxy songwriters — demanding performance royalties for the 30 second clips that iTunes and other download sites offer to entice us to buy whole songs:

Music_licensing_fees

We won’t argue that policy concerning licensing in general couldn’t use some updating for the realities of online distribution, but we have to agree with the basic distinction between downloads—which is like buying a CD or DVD for private use—and streaming—which is clearly akin to broadcasting. And songwriters and other industry professionals need to be aware that the marketplace is changing as well.

Boy, where to begin?

First, there’s the whole question of “30 second clips,” which I’ve maintained for years are actually an impediment to finding or buying music. I don’t think I’ve ever purchased anything because I’d heard 30 seconds of it (unless it was something I’d already heard and was looking for and the clip confirmed I’d found it). If 30-second clips worked, that’s all you’d ever hear on the radio.

What this article underscores is the infinite complexity of compensating all the stakeholders that are involved in digital music delivery. Everybody wants their piece of the pie, and they all think somebody else is benefiting at their expense.

But I have to take exception with the assertion highlighted above, that “streaming… is akin to broadcasting.” Maybe it is when you’re listening to a “push” service, like Pandora or Last.fm, when somebody (or something) else is determining what you will hear next.

But once the USER is deciding everything that plays, then the stream is substituting for the download, and, in fact, neither the “performance” nor the “mechanical” model of compensation applies. A stream-on-demand is neither a performance nor a download… and it is both.

So it will be interesting to see what the stakeholders demand when that form of delivery begins to push the downloads out of the marketplace. It’s a matter of when, not if.

More Spotify: Access -v- Ownership

Spotify

The catch? Spotify’s paying customers are still just renting songs, for about $13-$16 per month, depending on the country in which the listener resides. Most discussion of Spotify has centered around a trend toward streaming music rather than owning it, when in fact the more critical question is whether it can persuade a significant percentage of consumers to rent songs rather than just listen for free. (Otherwise, it’d be just another free music site, doomed to face the same struggles as MySpace Music.) I doubt that many free users will convert to paying customers, for a few reasons:

  • By and large, consumers aren’t all that interested in renting music. When each last revealed its numbers, neither of the two leading music rental services, RealNetworks’ Rhapsody and Napster, had more than a million paying subscribers.

via gigaom.com

I fundamentally disagree.

That’s what paradigm shifts are about: changes in behavior. Yeah, in the existing paradigm, people actually think they “own” music. In fact, all they own is a license to listen to the music, delivered on some kind of disk or wafer (or digital file). Behavior will change when the audience begins to understand that, for the cost of “owning” 10 tracks, they will have access to the entire universe of recorded music. And when the technology becomes both reliable and ubiquitous.

And, as I keep saying, the amazing thing about Spotify is not the model or the depth of the catalog, but all the buzz it generates about being the “iTunes killer” when it is not even generally available in the country that has the most iTunes users.

Nevertheless, the buzz around Spotify serves the useful purpose, of educating the public to the possibilities.