Pandora debuts a desktop app for Windows – gpgmail


Pandora today is launching a desktop app for Windows users following its debut of a native Mac app earlier this year. On Mac, Pandora offers a variety of features for desktop users, like on-screen notifications, keyboard controls, a way to select listening “modes” and more. It didn’t, however, include support for streaming podcasts. The new Windows app includes a similar feature set.

Update: The Windows Store app description mentions that at higher tiers you can stream podcasts. Pandora tells us this is not actually true of the app itself, however. It plans to support podcasts in the future, it says. We’ve removed references to podcast support from this article.  

Above: Pandora’s Windows 10 app — note references to playing podcasts! 

Like its Mac counterpart, Pandora’s Windows app can be used by both free users and paid subscribers alike.

The free users will have access to Pandora’s ad-supported stations, while Pandora Plus subscribers get ad-free stations, unlimited skips, personalized stations and up to four offline stations. Pandora Premium subscribers, meanwhile, get the same, plus the ability to make and share playlists, play albums and songs on-demand and take advantage of unlimited offline listening.

Also like the Mac app, the Windows version supports keyboard controls for doing things like playing, pausing, replaying, shuffling, thumbs up and down, etc. And it supports the Pandora Modes feature, which lets you refine your personalized stations by asking Pandora to focus more on certain types of songs — like crowd favorites, the discovery of new artists, deep cuts, songs from a select artist only, new releases and more.

Desktop users often prefer to use a native app instead of leaving a service open in a browser tab as it allows them a more seamless and integrated experience. That said, Pandora’s Mac version didn’t have the best reviews from Apple users.

Still, Pandora’s rollout of native desktop apps helps the SiriusXM-owned company better compete with rivals like Apple Music and Spotify, both of which have long offered desktop applications. In Apple’s case, it actually built so much into iTunes that the company decided to finally break it up into parts with the next version of macOS. Pandora doesn’t have the same problem, because it doesn’t include a user library or marketplace.

Windows users can download the Pandora app from the Microsoft Store starting today.

The app works on Windows 10. (Pandora also supports streaming to Xbox via the Microsoft Store app.)


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Spotify acquires SoundBetter, a music production marketplace, for an undisclosed sum – gpgmail


Spotify today took another step in its efforts to build out services for artists to help diversify itself away from a business model predicated on paying music streaming royalties to labels: it has acquired SoundBetter, a music production marketplace for artists, producers, and musicians to connect on specific projects; and for people who are looking to distribute music tracks to those who want to license them.

SoundBetter has about 180,000 registered users and has paid out more than $19 million to musicians and producers to date, averaging around $1 million per month currently, itself taking a cut by way of a commission (of an undisclosed percentage) on each deal secured through the platform.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, meaning it’s unlikely to be a significant sum for the $24 billion streaming giant, which now has 232 million users, including 108 million Spotify Premium subscribers. New York-based SoundBetter had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from investors including 500 Startups, Foundry Group, Eric Ries and Verizon Ventures when it was still called Nautilus under AOL (disclosure: gpgmail is part of Verizon Media). Its last funding — convertible debt from Drummond Road and others — was back in 2015.

SoundBetter is not being shut down with the acquisition: a spokesperson confirmed to gpgmail that it will be business as usual as Spotify and the startup work on integrating SoundBetter’s services with Spotify for Artists, which currently offers musicians and others analytics on Spotify tracks and other services to help market themselves.

SoundBetter was founded back in 2012 by Shachar Gilad (CEO) and Itamar Yunger (CTO) and operates two main services. Its main business is an online marketplace for musicians to source singers, sound engineers, producers and other music and audio professionals to put the finishing touches on tracks (think Fiverr or Behance, but specifically for music). In June this year, it launched a newer marketplace called Tracks for people to license finished music, competing with the likes of Epidemic Sound (which earlier this year raised money at a $370 million valuation).

Interestingly, Spotify had tried to launch a direct music distribution platform in the past — including with an investment in DistroKid, a music distribution service that supports cross-platform uploads — but the effort never left the beta phase and was then shut down this past July. That decision possibly make more sense now, since the move might have been made to pave the way for SoundBetter.

Indeed, for Spotify, the deal is a signal that the company is going to continue investing in more behind-the-scenes services for artists and others in the music ecosystem, particularly in building up services that bypass (or at least exist alongside) those of traditional labels, and take some pressure off that side of the business. Last quarter, Spotify faced some criticism (and a drop in its share price) for missing its own targets for subscription growth

“As we build out our tools for creators, we want to give them the resources they need to thrive. SoundBetter has the same vision,” said Beckwith Kloss, VP Product, Creator at Spotify, in a statement.  “We’re excited that creators can generate income through SoundBetter, as well as benefit from its network of top professionals – from instrumentalists to songwriters to producers – as they perfect their tracks.”

Spotify has over the years amassed a growing list of assets that take the platform beyond basic music streaming, with a lot of attention of late focused on spoken word content, providing cloud-based studio services by way of SoundTrap (acquired by Spotify in 2017), and podcast platform Anchor (acquired last year).

But with music continuing to be the beating drum of the platform, Spotify will continue to build up that area of its business, too, not least because competitors like Apple are also continuing to build up its own services for artists that bypass traditional labels. 

SoundBetter already has a decent, if relatively small, business, with its fair share of big names. It claims that “Kanye West’s Producer, Hoobastank’s Drummer, Jamiroquai’s Guitarist, Beyonce’s Songwriter, Joe Cocker’s Bass player, Herbie Hancock’s Engineer, Morrissey’s Guitarist, The Killers’ Mixing Engineer, and George Michael’s Mastering Engineer” are among those using its services. This will give it a big boost in exposure: Spotify for Artists currently has 400,000 registered users, but the platform itself has become a cornerstone of digital music distribution.

SoundBetter offers the most comprehensive global marketplace for music and audio production professionals for hire in the world along with a member community spanning 176 countries and 14,000 cities worldwide,” said SoundBetter Co-Founder and CEO Shachar Gilad. “We are excited to benefit from Spotify’s global scale, resources, and vision to expand our network and drive more economic opportunities for artists of all levels.”


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How Kobalt is simplifying the killer complexities of the music industry – gpgmail


Backed by over $200 million in VC funding, Kobalt is changing the way the music industry does business and putting more money into musicians’ pockets in the process.

In Part I of this series, I walked through the company’s founding story and its overall structure. There are two core theses that Kobalt bet on: 1) that the shift to digital music could transform the way royalties are tracked and paid, and 2) that music streaming will empower a growing middle class of DIY musicians who find success across countless niches.

This article focuses on the complex way royalties flow through the industry and how Kobalt is restructuring that process (while Part III will focus on music’s middle class). The music industry runs on copyright administration and royalty collections. If the system breaks — if people lose track of where songs are being played and who is owed how much in royalties — everything halts.

Kobalt is as much a compliance tech company as it is a music company: it has built a quasi “operating system” to more accurately and quickly handle this using software and a centralized approach to collections, upending a broken, inefficient system so everything can run more smoothly and predictably on top of it. The big question is whether it can maintain its initial lead in doing this, however.

The business of a song

Image via Getty Images / Mykyta Dolmatov


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Paid streaming music subscriptions in U.S. top 60M, says RIAA – gpgmail


Streaming music subscriptions continue to drive the U.S. music industry’s growth and revenues, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) released this week. The organization said total music revenue grew 18% to $5.4 billion in the first half of 2019, with streaming music accounting for 80% of industry revenues. The report also noted the number of paid subscriptions topped 60 million in the U.S. for the first time.

Streaming revenues grew 26% to $4.3 billion in the first half of the year.

This broad figure includes paid versions of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, and others, as well as digital radio service revenues like those from Pandora, Sirius XM, and other internet radio, plus ad-supported streaming like YouTube, Vevo, and the ad-supported version of Spotify. Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.46.43 PM

Meanwhile, paid subscription streaming is continuing to grow, too, said the RIAA. Year-over-year, paid subscriptions grew 31% to reach $3.3 billion and remain the biggest growth driver for industry revenues.

In the first half of 2019, paid subscriptions made up 62% of all U.S. industry revenues and 77% of U.S. streaming music revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.18 PM

The number of paid subscriptions to full on-demand streaming services grew 30% to 61.1 million in the first half of the year, at an average pace of over 1 million new subscriptions per month.

This doesn’t include the “Limited Tier” subscriptions like Pandora Plus or that Echo-only subscription to Amazon Music, for example, where various factors limit access to a full catalog across devices or restrict some on-demand features. This category saw $482 million in revenues, up 39% from the year prior.

“Thanks to that breakneck growth, plus continued modest drops in digital downloads and new physical sales, streaming now generates 80% of music business revenues and has fundamentally reshaped how fans find, share, and listen to the songs and artists they love,” wrote RIAA Chairman & CEO Mitch Glazier, about the new figures.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.47.50 PM

Ad-supported on-demand services grew 25% year-over-year to $427 million, while digital radio service grew 5% to $552 million in the first half of 2019.

However, the gains made by streaming were somewhat offset by declines in digital downloads, as Glazier noted.

Revenues in this category fell 18% to $462 million in the first half of the year, with digital track sales down 16% year-over-year and digital album revenues down 23%. Overall, digital download only accounted for 8.6% of total industry revenues.

Screen Shot 2019 09 06 at 3.48.11 PM

Physical product revenues grew 5% to $485 million in the first half of 2019, but the RIAA attributed this to a reduction in returns.

 


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Spotify expands its new Premium Duo plan to Latin America – gpgmail


Spotify’s newest paid subscription, the Premium Duo plan designed for two people, first launched this spring as a pilot test in Ireland, Colombia, Chile, Denmark, and Poland. Today, Spotify says the plan is being more broadly rolled out to 14 more Latin American markets.

The new markets include: Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.

The Duo plan is meant mainly for couples, though it could apply to roommates or any other two people who share the same home address.

In terms of pricing, it’s a step up from a single Premium subscription but more affordable than a Family Plan, as it’s limited to just two accounts. However, the Duo plan is discounted so it’s a better deal than buying two separate Premium accounts.

The benefits are similar to those on the Family Plan. Like the larger group plan, Duo keeps each user’s music preferences and recommendations separate from one another. And like the Family Plan, which recently added a custom mix composed of track everyone in the family enjoys, the Duo subscription also includes its own shared playlist, the Duo Mix. Members can easily share their playlist libraries with one another, too.

Despite now reaching 19 total markets, Spotify still refers to the Premium Duo plan as a “pilot,” which typically means the company hasn’t fully committed to bringing the service to all its users at some point. Instead, that terminology typically implies the company is continuing to evaluate the new service’s impact.

In Spotify’s case, Premium Duo’s launch in March hasn’t yet led to a massive subscription bump. When reporting its Q2 2019 earnings, the company said it added 8 million new subscribers in the quarter, which was below the estimated 8.5 million figure. It now has 232 million monthly users and 108 million paying subscribers.

That said, Duo hasn’t reached many of Spotify’s key markets where such a plan could have more of an impact to subscriber counts, including the U.S.

If you live in a supported market and already have a Premium plan you can visit your Account page on Spotify’s website to add a partner and upgrade. Both plan members will need to share the same home address.


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Pandora now lets you share music and podcasts to your Instagram Stories – gpgmail


Pandora today announced a new integration with Instagram that will allow users to share their favorite music and podcasts to their Instagram Story. The feature comes well over a year after Spotify launched a similar integration with Instagram Stories, and only days after Spotify introduced sharing to Facebook Stories, as well.

In Pandora’s case, accessing the feature is also a quick and easy process — you just tap the “Share” button from the Now Playing screen in the app, then choose “Instagram Stories” as the destination.

A cover art card for the music or podcast will then be generated on your Instagram Story, which you can further decorate with text and stickers, as usual. You can also choose to send the story as a direct message to a friend or a group chat, instead of all your followers.

Where Pandora’s experience differs from Spotify’s is what happens when that story is viewed.

When a friend taps the “Play on Pandora” button from the Instagram story, they can gain direct access to that content — even if they don’t have a Premium account. Those who aren’t paid subscribers will be able to view a short ad then gain access to both the shared content as well as a session of free, unlimited, on-demand music.

This is made possible through Pandora’s Premium Access ad solution, which rewards users for watching video ads with free, on-demand sessions.

That means Pandora’s take on Instagram sharing won’t just be useful to artists looking to promote their music, or fans looking to engage their friends — it will also potentially serve as a way to convert free users to paid subscribers after they get a free taste of what Pandora has to offer.

The feature can also be used to promote podcasts, which a newer battleground between Spotify and Pandora these days. The former has spent on acquisitions and hosts a number of exclusive shows while Pandora is now benefitting from new owner’s SiriusXM’s talk radio programming and its own “Genome” classification technology. 

Pandora says the Instagram Story sharing feature is launching today for select users, and will support sharing songs, albums, podcasts, and playlists.

It’s rolling out to a limited number of Pandora users to start, and will gradually reach the rest of the user base in the weeks ahead.


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You can now share music from Spotify to Facebook Stories – gpgmail


Spotify this morning announced a new way for you to share music with friends (or fans, if you’re an artist) — by way of a new Facebook Stories integration that includes 15-second song previews. Viewers can also optionally tap on the “Play on Spotify” button in the Story to be redirected to the Spotify app to hear more.

The feature is designed largely with artists and their teams in mind, as it gives them another way to promote their new music across Facebook’s social network. Musicians and their managers often today use the Spotify app’s sharing feature to post their content across social media, including to Instagram, Twitter, WhatsApp, and elsewhere.

Last year, Spotify introduced a way to share music to Instagram Stories, including their albums, tracks, and playlists, as part of Facebook’s announcement that it was opening up sharing to Facebook and Instagram Stories from other, third-party apps.

At the time, the company said an integration with Facebook Stories was coming soon.

Since its launch on Instagram, the sharing feature has been mutually beneficial for both Spotify and Instagram alike, as it made users’ Stories more engaging while also sending traffic back to the Spotify app for further music discovery.

There’s likely not as much demand for sharing to Facebook Stories, however.

In order to share the 15-second clips to Facebook Stories, you’ll tap the “Share” button from the Spotify app and choose Facebook as the destination.

Side note: We’re not seeing the option to share to News Feed as the picture Spotify published shows (see above. Instead, tapping “Facebook” launches you right into the Story interface, as shown in the tweet above. 

You can then customize your Story as you would normally using the Story editing tools and post it to your profile. Viewers will get to hear the 15-second song clip, and can then tap to go to Spotify to hear more.

Spotify had offered Facebook Story sharing in the past, but the access was later pulled.

These song previews only work when you’re sharing a single track to Stories. If you choose to share other content, like albums, playlists, or an artist profile page, viewers can click into that content, but won’t hear any preview, Spotify says.




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SiriusXM undercuts rivals with a $4 per month student subscription – gpgmail


SiriusXM is making its streaming service more affordable for younger consumers with the launch of a new subscription package for college students. While SiriusXM’s Premier package is $12.99 per month, the new streaming-only student offering will be just $4 per month — a 69% discount. This comes in a dollar less than competitors’ student plans, including the $4.99 per month packages from Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited, YouTube Music, and even SiriusXM-owned Pandora.

The move represents a big grab for a growing user base who prefers to subscribe to streaming music services rather than make purchases on digital marketplaces, like iTunes or Amazon.

Though the SiriusXM brand has for a long time been associated with being an upgrade option for vehicles, the service has been working to establish itself as a viable option outside the car. In April, it launched a streaming-only subscription for listeners without cars.

Today, SiriusXM streams across phones and tablets, on the web, and at home on connected devices including Amazon Alexa, Fire TV, Chromecast, Roku, Apple TV, smart TVs, Sonos speakers, Xbox, and Sony PlayStation.

Like other student packages, SiriusXM’s student plan isn’t a watered-down subscription. It offers access to SiriusXM’s full lineup of music, including its over 200 commercial-free channels, which feature both music and talk radio-style programming as well as sports, entertainment, comedy, lifestyle, news and more.

This also includes some of SiriusXM’s more recent additions, following its $3.5 billion Pandora acquisition last year, which bring Pandora -powered content to its service. For example, the companies this spring launched Pandora NOW, a station that streams on both services that used Pandora listener data to pull in the most listened-to and the fastest-trending new tracks across Pop, Hip Hop, R&B, Dance and Latin.

Plus, students will have access to the over 100 SiriusXM Xtra channels which allow you to skip through songs, the company says.

The service does not include the ability to stream to cars, however — it’s a student version of SiriusXM’s streaming-only plan.

To join the service, students will have to verify their status as a registered student by providing their university or college name upon sign-up. The verification process is handled by SheerID, which also powers verification for others in the space, like YouTube, Spotify and more.

“Today’s college students grew up listening to SiriusXM in their parent’s car, and now we have a package built just for them,” said Matt Epstein, Vice President, SiriusXM Outside the Car, in a statement. “Our Student Premier Package enables students to have their own subscription and continue to enjoy the SiriusXM programming they love in their dorm room, at home or on the go,” he said.

 

 


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How a Swedish saxophonist built Kobalt, the world’s next music unicorn – gpgmail


You may not have heard of Kobalt before, but you probably engage with the music it oversees every day, if not almost every hour. Combining a technology platform to better track ownership rights and royalties of songs with a new approach to representing musicians in their careers, Kobalt has risen from the ashes of the 2000 dot-com bubble to become a major player in the streaming music era. It is the leading alternative to incumbent music publishers (who represent songwriters) and is building a new model record label for the growing “middle class’ of musicians around the world who are stars within niche audiences.

Having predicted music’s digital upheaval early, Kobalt has taken off as streaming music has gone mainstream across the US, Europe, and East Asia. In the final quarter of last year, it represented the artists behind 38 of the top 100 songs on U.S. radio.

Along the way, it has secured more than $200 million in venture funding from investors like GV, Balderton, and Michael Dell, and its valuation was last pegged at $800 million. It confirmed in April that it is raising another $100 million to boot. Kobalt Music Group now employs over 700 people in 14 offices, and GV partner Avid Larizadeh Duggan even left her firm to become Kobalt’s COO.

How did a Swedish saxophonist from the 1980s transform into a leading entrepreneur in music’s digital transformation? Why are top technology VCs pouring money into a company that represents a roster of musicians? And how has the rise of music streaming created an opening for Kobalt to architect a new approach to the way the industry works?

Gaining an understanding of Kobalt and its future prospects is a vehicle for understanding the massive change underway across the global music industry right now and the opportunities that is and isn’t creating for entrepreneurs.

This article is Part 1 of the Kobalt EC-1, focused on the company’s origin story and growth. Part 2 will look at the company’s journey to create a new model for representing songwriters and tracking their ownership interests through the complex world of music royalties. Part 3 will look at Kobalt’s thesis about the rise of a massive new middle class of popular musicians and the record label alternative it is scaling to serve them.

Table of Contents

Early lessons on the tough road of entrepreneurship

Image via Kobalt Music

It’s tough to imagine a worse year to launch a music company than 2000. Willard Ahdritz, a Swede living in London, left his corporate consulting job and sold his home for £200,000 to fully commit to his idea of a startup collecting royalties for musicians. In hindsight, his timing was less than impeccable: he launched Kobalt just as Napster and music piracy exploded onto the mainstream and mere months before the dot-com crash would wipe out much of the technology industry.

The situation was dire, and even his main seed investor told him he was doomed once the market crashed. “Eating an egg and ham sandwich…have you heard this saying? The chicken is contributing but the pig is committed,” Ahdritz said when we first spoke this past April (he has an endless supply of sayings). “I believe in that — to lose is not an option.”

Entrepreneurial hardship though is something that Ahdritz had early experience with. Born in Örebro, a city of 100,000 people in the middle of Sweden, Ahdritz spent a lot of time as a kid playing in the woods, which also holding dual interests in music and engineering. The intersection of those two converged in the synthesizer revolution of early electronic music, and he was fascinated by bands like Kraftwerk.


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