Atlantic Records get it right


imageJuly 15, 2014

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So this tweet from Atlantic Records impressed me. 

Why did it impress me? Because this is the first time I've ever seen a record label or an artist promote a new album via a streaming link. Usually it's "click here to download" and an iTunes link. Yeah, like it's 2010 or something.

But then I clicked on the link where it says stream, and was presented with this, whoa!

Yes you can choose to listen to the new Jason Mraz album via any 1 of 15 streaming services. Impressive, especially as some of the services like Soundcloud don't provide revenue streams to the labels.

For years now record labels have been accused of not embracing streaming, and maybe that criticism is justified in most cases. So it's fantastic to see Atlantic Records really going one step beyond and offering users a wide choice of streaming platforms. This is absolutely the right thing to do, it's about time that labels realised that consumers want choice, not limitations. I just wish more artists and labels would follow suite and we'd see less of this silly nonsense.

Streaming now counts towards the official UK charts, playlists are the new radio


imageJune 22, 2014

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Today, the Official Charts Company announced that streams from music services will count towards the official charts for the first time in the UK from July 2014. Specifically they said that the first chart to be published using streaming data will be unveiled on Sunday July 6th meaning that streams will be counted from Sunday June 29th onwards.

Streams from Spotify, Deezer, Napster, O2 Tracks, Xbox Music, Sony's Music Unlimited and rara will be included in the chart but NOT YouTube streams. Good. Interestingly, there is no mention of Rdio streams being counted in the charts. I tweeted OCC asking them to clarify but they haven't responded, which seems unusual as they were quite active on Twitter after the announcement, answering lots of questions. Make of that what you will.

100 streams = 1 download/sale

Yes, just 100 streams will count as a sale or download when compiling the chart. This is great news for record labels and artists and here's why. It's far easier to influence a fan to listen to a track on Spotify than it is to get them to pay 99p for a download. Much, much easier. Just imagine if someone with a large social audience, say Beyonce or Kanye tweets a link to their new single as a Spotify URL. Now that the free tier of Spotify is so easy to access and they have the ubiquitous Web Player, even users who haven't got a Spotify account can play the track within seconds and it will count towards the chart. Huge.

The importance of Playlists

Just last week I saw Virgin EMI in the UK promoting the new Ella Eyre single on a homepage takeover on Spotify. What a waste. Why? Because Spotify users may click on it and listen to the song, they may even favourite it, follow Ella and add the track into their own playlists etc. Sounds good in theory but it's not. This isn't best practice because while you may get a few Spotify users listening to the single and giving it a short term boost, it won't help in the long term. A far better strategy is to cultivate a new release playlist (here's one I prepared earlier) to send users to and encourage them to follow/subscribe over time. That way, you not only cater to a wider demographic but you can go back to the same users time and time again with fresh content. Imagine over time that you build up that playlist to 500k or 1m followers, what effect could you have on streams when you introduce a new track to that huge user base of people? With a bit or work and patience you could quite literally get hundreds of thousands, eventually millions of streams within a week if you build up enough followers to a playlist.

Let's look at some numbers

Last week in the official UK singles chart, Ella Henderson scored the 4th biggest selling single of the year so far when Ghosts debuted at no.1 with 132,000 sales. If we multiply that by 100 using the metric provided by OCC to calculate the weighting of streams towards chart placements that would mean 13.2m streams would be needed to achieve the no.1  position that week. A quick look at the Spotify weekly chart shows us that the number 1 in the Spotify chart (Mr. Probz) this week has had just over 1m streams in the last 7 days. So in this instance the most streamed track in Spotify would account for roughly 8% of the overall chart. However some weeks the no.1 single can be achieved with as little as 60k or so sales if it's a quiet week, in those instances then Spotify's influence could be as much as around 17%.

Streaming is now more important than ever

Bearing in mind that streaming grew around 41% last year in the UK and single downloads dropped by 4% it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Spotify and streaming are the future of the industry and will play an important and ever growing component of the official charts. And let's not forget that lazy radio programmers follow the charts so in most cases a chart hit equals a radio hit equals more streams and downloads. Win, win, win.

Playlists are the new radio

The future is here now. Owners of playlists with large follower counts can expect to be pitched priority tracks from record labels for inclusion. Of course this is something I know a little about having run the biggest and best collection of quality Spotify playlists online at Playlists.net for over 5 years. It's definitely more common than you would think and there is a land grab happening right now with labels trying to build up playlist followers as quick as they can now that chart influence is finally here. Exciting times.

Last thought

Now that streaming is going to count towards the chart will we finally see less artists doing dumb stuff like this?

 

 

Open Letter To Recording Artists – Don’t Tell Me How I Should Listen To Your Music


imageMay 27, 2014

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Windowing sucks, here's why... This Monday, like every Monday I was at my desk by 7am in order to update the new releases page on Playlists.net. This is where we list all of this week's new albums so our users can enjoy some new music. In particular I was really looking forward to listening to Sam Smith's debut album, his first 2 singles were strong & I really like his soulful style. In fact I was going to award it our coveted 'album of the week' spot. But could I find it on Spotify? No, his last singles were there but no sign of the album. I turned to Twitter to check Sam's tweets as I figured if his album was out then undoubtedly he'd be promoting it. Sadly I was right, the album was out today, confirmed by Sam himself...

 

Of course I didn't expect Sam to be promoting the Spotify link (baby steps people) but his tweet did confirm it was released this week. I then noted that bankrupt music retailer HMV were also peddling it via Twitter, along with an exclusive remixes EP available instore. Pretty sure that drove all of 3 maybe 4 incremental sales, but I digress

 

So my worst fears were confirmed, Sam's album was released but not available on Spotify or any other streaming subscription services like Deezer or Rdio. What a colossal and completely misguided strategy. Here's why...

The only reason ever cited for artists withholding releases from subscription streaming services is so they can 'force' users to buy an official download of the album, or maybe a CD. The reasoning is that if you can't find it on a streaming service you will buy it for £10 or so. Yeah right. I pay £10 a month for access to 20 million songs, do you really think I'm going to pay the same again for 10 songs? No, within 3 clicks I'm going to find it on any of the thousands of sites where it's available for free & listen to it illegally. Or I'll listen to it on YouTube where the royalties are a fraction of what they are on Spotify. Either way Sam Smith, you as an artist lose.

Here's what really annoys me though. What right does any artist, label or manager have to try to force me into how I should listen to music? You should be glad I want to listen to you, I'm a fan, I'm your fan, but I choose how, where & when I listen to music. Not you. I've been a paying Spotify subscriber for 5 years. CD's are dead and downloads are heading that way too. Streaming is the future and if you're too ignorant to realise that then that's not my problem. Get educated.

Other misguided people have pointed to the fact that recently Coldplay and Beyoncé have withheld new albums from streaming services and had massive success with album sales. Well duh, big artists sell music, on all formats. It's that simple.

What's really disappointing in the case of Coldplay is that when they released Magic, the first single from the new album, they released it simultaneously on Spotify and as a download. Spotify got really behind it and promoted it really hard, we even got behind it and placed it in some huge playlists with hundreds of thousands of listeners. The results were impressive and the single has racked up over 60 million streams in just a couple of months. So how did Coldplay thank Spotify? By withholding the album of course. Talk about a kick in the teeth. What's really frustrating about this whole ludicrous strategy of withholding music from streaming services to increase sales is that there is not one shred of evidence to support it. Nothing. It stems purely from ignorance and fear from artists and managers who haven't moved on and embraced the new music economy. 

Streaming Music Isn't Going Anywhere

All of the data tells us that physical sales and digital downloads are in decline and subscription streaming is on the rise. Spotify just announced 40m global active users and 10m paying subscribers. This is huge. Avicii's "Wake Me Up" is the most streamed song on Spotify with over 240m streams. If you use Spotify's published royalty rate of $0.007 per stream for some back-of-a-beermat maths that works out at almost $1.7m in royalties FOR ONE SONG. In fact, in some parts of Europe, Spotify already generates more revenue that iTunes.

Let's Talk About Playlists

Playlists are integral to streaming music and are fast becoming the established new industry format. As this graph from Microsoft shows, playlists are already starting to overtake search queries rather than albums.

However, if your music isn't on Spotify then it's not going to be shared in playlists and you lose out on another free discovery mechanic. Playlists can really help a song spread virally and some playlists are incredibly popular, generating tens of millions of streams per month. Again, why would you want to miss this opportunity for the world to hear your music in a legal way? Playlists are the new radio.

Bottom Line

If you're music isn't on Spotify I won't hear it. Frankly I can't even be bothered to download it illegally. I'll just forget about you and move onto another artist who makes their music available where I want to listen to it.

 

My new mobile app project


imageJanuary 24, 2014

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So on the 8th January I had an idea for a new mobile app. A rather good idea. So as you do, I tweeted it...

My challenge to myself was to get the app designed, developed and into the Android and iOS app stores in 2 months. So by March 8th, which coincidentally is the day before my birthday.

Anyway, I thought I would post a quick update. The concept for the app is done, the internal build has started and we even have a logo...

I won't go into detail on what the app will do yet, all I'll say is that it's music related and ties into Playlists.net nicely. It's designed to be fun, an aid to music discovery and something you will use every day. More soon!

Are playlists subject to copyright laws?


imageSeptember 4, 2013

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Ministry of Sound are suing Spotify for copyright infringement. You can read the details here but the long and short of it is that some Spotify users are creating playlists using the same tracklisting and titles as existing MoS albums. MoS are objecting to this and have asked Spotify to remove the playlists but Spotify insist they aren't responsible for their users content and to date haven't taken them down.

As the founder of the biggest Spotify playlist resource online, Playlists.net I'll be following this case with interest. In the past we've been contacted by MoS to take down exactly these kind of playlists described in the law suit. In fact as well as duplicating the tracks from a compilation album into a playlist we've had users go one step further and use the official album artwork as playlist artwork - something you can't do within Spotify, but you can on Playlists.net. As we're only a small company with no budget for legal expenses we've always complied with MoS and removed any playlists they ask us to. Quite simply we don't have the money or the will to fight them in court.

Many people including myself have compared Now That's What I Call Music with MoS. Both have a booming business curating compilation albums, the difference is that Now Music is a joint venture between 2 major record labels, Universal and Sony. Who are not only shareholders in Spotify but also own the rights to the majority of tracks on Now Music albums, so they earn money from streams of Now Music albums. Now Music have even gone so far as to compile playlists of all of their albums and have been publishing them on our site since 2011. They also have a popular Spotify app, it's fair to say they have embraced the streaming ecosystem.

On the other hand, MoS licence most of the tracks for their compilation albums from other labels. So if they were to publish these compilations on Spotify then MoS wouldn't benefit from the streams financially.

The whole idea that a playlist can be subject to copyright laws is fascinating to me. For example, one of our most popular playlists is the Radio 1 Weekly Playlist that has over 157,000 followers on Spotify. Each week the user simply looks up the Radio 1 playlist, which is widely available online and pops the tracks into the playlist. We also have similar playlists for pretty much all BBC radio stations as well as specific playlists from popular shows like Jo Wiley and Zane Lowe. Are these subject to copyright? I've actually spoken to a legal counsel about the BBC playlists and the general opinion is that the BBC wouldn't take any legal action as it's "just not what they do."

But what about music from TV shows or movies? Our soundtracks section is immensely popular and playlists like this one from HBO's Girls in particular is a crowd pleaser. How about the music from video games? We know that game studios like Rockstar Games invest a ton of money in licensing music and even original content for their games such as the forthcoming GTA V which as you can guessed already has a playlist. Then there's Rolling Stone who often publish "top 100" lists in their magazine, these are ripe for playlisting and we often receive multiple playlists of the same lists. Can Rolling Stone serve us a takedown notice?

As well as user generated content we also curate and publish our own playlists on the site, some of which you can see scattered amongst this article. It takes a lot of time and thought to put together something like 100 Amazing Covers and The World's Most Perfect Pop Songs, would I be annoyed if somebody copied them? Yes. Would I sue? No. The reason I wouldn't sue is because although anybody can replicate a playlist we have the brand, the momentum and the audience. I wouldn't really care if a kid in a bedroom somewhere in the world decided to copy and publish my playlist. 

Which is exactly what Ministry of Sound should be thinking.

Instead of taking Spotify to court and objecting about users creating MoS playlists if I were them I'd partner with Spotify, build a MoS app, replicate every MoS album as a playlist and dominate curated playlists as well as they dominate compilation albums. Sure they wouldn't receive cash on streams of songs which they licence but they will on their own artists. It's not as if their artists aren't popular either with Example, Wretch 32 and DJ Fresh among the biggest. I'm sure they could earn sizeable revenue from their own artist streams.

Aside from the revenue generated from streams, MoS could also earn from ticket and merchandise sales from a Spotify app, in the same way that the Songkick and Bluenote apps link out to ticket/merchandise sales. There are also opportunities to work with Spotify and brands to create branded environments within Spotify apps which could also pay well. It really does help to think about other revenue opportunities and not just cash generated from streams.

Not only that but by launching a branded MoS app and having a presence in Spotify means that MoS can get their brand out to millions of music fans around the world. For the relatively small cost of building an app (and we can help with that btw) and of course some investment in time they could reach a whole new audience at a much cheaper cost than traditional marketing via TV, print or radio.

That's what I would do if I were MoS. The whole idea of MoS suing Spotify because it's users are going to the effort of curating playlists based on their albums reminds of the days when the record labels would try to sue people who illegally downloaded music MP3's for ridiculous amounts of money. The very fact that users want to have MoS content on Spotify but have to create their own, because it's not there is a huge compliment. MoS need to embrace this and work with their audience, not against them. This could quite easily turn into a huge PR disaster for MoS if they don't reverse this crazy decision soon.

One last thought...

If you don't embrace new technologies and markets such as streaming then there will always be somebody else that will. I'm not saying that playlisting and curation is easy but neither is it brain surgery. We have some excellent compilation series such as the Strictly BASS series that now consists of 51 playlists and a very loyal following. Then there's the excellent Soundtrack To... playlist series that even has record labels contacting us asking if we can put them in touch with the original curator so they can pitch their priority tracks to him for inclusion in the next playlist.

What I'm listening to right now: Wretch 32 - Doing OK (well I would love to but seeing as Wretch 32 is signed to MoS and not available on Spotify I'll just make do with this lovely tribute version instead.