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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Amazon’s ‘Carnival Row’ mixes fairies, politics and murder – gpgmail


“Carnival Row” offers an unlikely mix of genres, laying out a murder mystery in a world of fairies and other mythical creatures, while also delivering a healthy dose of allegorical politics.

And as we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the show (recently released on Amazon Prime Video) does take some getting used to. There’s a certain clumsiness in the way the opening episode insists on its grittiness and adult themes — and most viewers will probably need some time before they stop gawking at the fairy sex and focus instead on the story and characters.

Once they do, though, “Carnival Row” offers plenty of rewards. Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne star as Philo and Vignette — a police investigator and a “fae” refugee, respectively, who have a complicated romantic past together. Bloom and Delevingne may not be entirely up to the task of creating complex and memorable characters, but the world that creators Travis Beacham and René Echavarria have built around them is rich, detailed and strange.

The pair is also surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Jared Harris (“The Crown”) and Indira Varma (“Game of Thrones”) — and ultimately, the fantasy, the politics and the mystery do come together in satisfying ways.

In addition to reviewing “Carnival Row,” we also discuss YouTube’s settlement with the FTC and listener response to last week’s review of “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Introduction
2:11 “Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” listener response
15:03 “Carnival Row” review (minor spoilers for the first episode)
33:47 “Carnival Row” spoiler discussion


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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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Netflix’s new ‘Dark Crystal’ is a visual delight, no nostalgia needed – gpgmail


“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” returns viewers to the world of Thra — a distant, magical planet ruled over by the sinister, long-lived Skeksis, who have lied their way into ownership of the titular crystal and dominance of the elf-like Gelflings.

The series is a prequel to Jim Henson and Frank Oz’s 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” — but two out of your three hosts at the Original Content podcast haven’t seen the original movie, so our opinions weren’t colored by nostalgia.

Like the Henson/Oz film, “Age of Resistance” relies on sophisticated puppetry to bring a complex fantasy world to life. It’s genuinely dazzling, with sprawling cities, steampunk machinery and all manner of fantasy creatures all fully realized, and often captured in fast-moving scenes of kinetic action.

On the other hand, for some of us, the puppetry wasn’t quite up to the task when the show got darker and more serious. It’s hard to care about family drama and romance when your lead characters have limited facial mobility, or to feel the weight of the show’s numerous death scenes (we’re not talking “Game of Thrones”-level here, but still) when the person dying is played by puppet.

To balance out our fantasy-heavy review, we kick things off by catching up on what Jordan and Darrell think of the latest season of “Bachelor in Paradise.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:50 “Red Sea Diving Resort” listener reaction
6:01 “Bachelor in Paradise” recap
26:10 “The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” spoiler-free review


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Netflix’s ‘Red Sea Diving Resort’ awkwardly mixes fiction and reality – gpgmail


“The Red Sea Diving Resort,” a new film on Netflix, is based on the true story of Mossad agents who took over an abandoned holiday resort in Sudan to smuggle Jewish Ethiopian refugees out of the country.

As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, the film feels like it’s made in the “Argo” mold, fashioning a political thriller out of a too-crazy-for-fiction events. But it’s not as well-made as “Argo,” while struggling with the same challenges — mixing serious and comedic tones, and balancing real-world politics with blockbuster thrills.

The balance feels particularly awkward with “Captain America” actor Chris Evans playing the Mossad agent leading the operation. He’s not bad in the role, but there’s not much substance or complexity to it, and his presence underlines the feeling that we’re watching a Hollywood fantasy.

The film also skimps on providing any broader political context. Maybe it deserves credit for not holding the audience’s hand, but as a result, all we know who the good guys are and who the bad guys. Meanwhile, none of the refugees — not even Kabede, who’s played by Michael K. Williams of “The Wire” — fully emerges a three-dimensional character.

Before our review, we discuss the apparent end of Disney and Sony’s agreement making Spider-Man part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, news that prompted outrage and petitions from unhappy fans.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you’d like to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:

0:00 Intro
2:25 Spider-Man news
14:37 “Red Sea Diving Resort” review
37:02 “Red Sea Diving Resort” spoiler discussion


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Netflix’s ‘Wu Assassins’ is a punching, kicking delight – gpgmail


When we reviewed “Another Life” last week, we described it as an old-fashioned science fiction space show, something that’s been absent from TV for the past decade or so. “Wu Assassins” is another new Netflix series, and it’s also is a kind of a throwback — this time to ’90s martial arts series like “Vanishing Son” and “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”

As we explain in the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, “Wu Assassins” — which tells the story of Kai, a San Francisco chef who receives mystical powers and must battle powerful nemeses known as the Wu Lords — has plenty of delightfully cheesy writing and special effects. But it’s set apart from those older shows in a couple key ways.

First, there’s the fact that Indonesian martial arts star Iko Uwais (who you might recognize from “The Raid” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) plays as Kai — he’s not a great dramatic actor, but once the action starts, he becomes a blur of punches and kicks.

The producers have surrounded Uwais with other other accomplished martial artists, so the resulting fight scenes are extraordinary. “Wu Assassins” includes a couple big set pieces, but even more remarkably, every single fight (and there are plenty) feels like it’s been choreographed for the perfect mix of beauty and brutality.

Even better, there’s Byron Mann’s performance as Uncle Six, a ruthless triad boss who has a long history with Kai. Mann brings real charisma and humanity to his performance, and he turns his dramatic scenes with Uwais into absolute highlight of the show. Plus, he’s just as compelling when he’s called upon to beat the crap out of his enemies.

In addition to praising “Wu Assassins,” we also discuss the CBS-Viacom merger and listener response to our review of “Another Life.”

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the episode breaks down:
0:00 Intro
0:40 “Another Life” listener response
11:51 CBS/Viacom merger
20:30 “Wu Assassins” review
33:52 “Wu Assassins” spoiler discussion


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Pandora opens up podcast submissions to all creators – gpgmail


The battle for podcasters among music streaming services continues. A day after Spotify announced the launch of its podcast analytics dashboard, Pandora is today expanding its own podcasting efforts with the arrival of a self-service online hub for creators. The new Pandora for Podcasters will allow creators to submit their shows for inclusion on the streaming service, where they can be discovered through Pandora’s show and episode-level recommendation system.

Pandora’s entry into the podcast market began late last year, when it brought its “Genome” technology to podcast recommendations. Similar to how Pandora’s Music Genome is capable of classifying songs across hundreds of different attributes, the new Podcast Genome Project does the same for audio programs.

The system uses more than 1,500 attributes — like MPAA ratings, production style, content type, host profile and more, as well as listener signals, like thumbs, skips, replays and more — combined with machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and collaborative filtering methods to help determine user preferences.

An additional layer of human curation is also involved in making the final recommendations.

The result is a system that is able to suggest not just shows a listener may like, but also individual episodes, based on their likes, dislikes and other insights gained from their listening history.

When podcasts launched on Pandora in December 2018, the service offered hundreds of shows and more than 100,000 episodes. There are now thousands of shows and over 500,000 episodes, the company claims.

Pandora parent SiriusXM has also played a role in expanding the streamer’s podcast offerings by bringing dozens of SiriusXM talk shows to Pandora as podcasts, and leveraging SiriusXM’s guests to narrate for Pandora’s music-and-audio product called Pandora Stories.

Now, podcast creators both large and small will be able to submit their own shows for inclusion in Pandora’s catalog. To do so, they’ll submit their show’s RSS feed URL to Pandora directly and answer a few questions about the podcast.

Based on a test from gpgmail editor (and podcaster) Brian Heater, Pandora asked for download numbers, social media links, and provided a time frame of 4-6 weeks for processing.

If approved, the show will be available to Pandora’s 65 million monthly active listeners and their future episodes will be added automatically.

This self-serve hub’s launch follows a similar move by Spotify nearly a year ago, when it opened up podcast submissions to all creators. Today, Spotify’s pitch to podcasters is to submit their shows in exchange for robust listener data. The company says it now has more than 450,000 shows on its platform, with around 100,000 signing up for inclusion through its own self-submission process.

Interested podcast creators can now submit their shows to Pandora here after first registering for a Pandora account.


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‘Another Life’ is no masterpiece, but we want a second season anyway – gpgmail


Most critics haven’t found much to like in “Another Life,” a new space opera on Netflix, but look: We had a good time with it.

The show stars Katee Sackhoff (best known as Starbuck on “Battlestar Galactica”), who plays Niko Breckinridge, the leader of an expedition across the galaxy to make contact with aliens who sent mysterious artifacts to Earth.

As we explain on the latest episode of the Original Content podcast, we aren’t blind to the show’s flaws — there’s something old-fashioned and formulaic about the writing, and the scripts regularly ignores major gaps in logic.

Still, even we aren’t completely comfortable calling this a “guilty pleasure,” but this definitely feels like a show that was made for us — especially for Jordan, a serious “Battlestar” fan who’s just happy to see Sackhoff back in space.

Sackhoff’s performance is one of the show’s main strengths, as is a general sense of fun. If you’ve been missing the not-particularly-great space adventure TV shows of the 1990s and early 2000s, “Another Life” will probably scratch that itch for you. And even if it doesn’t, please check it out anyway, because Jordan would like to see what happens in season two.

In addition to reviewing the show, we also discuss the news that “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have signed a multi-year film and TV deal with Netflix — though it’s not clear when they’ll actually have time to create those new shows, since they’re probably going to be busy for a while writing Star Wars.

You can listen in the player below, subscribe using Apple Podcasts or find us in your podcast player of choice. If you like the show, please let us know by leaving a review on Apple. You can also send us feedback directly. (Or suggest shows and movies for us to review!)

And if you want to skip ahead, here’s how the accept breaks down:

0:00 Intro
0:49 Benioff/Weiss sign with Netflix
6:08 “Another Life” review
33:24 “Another Life” spoiler discussion


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Glow raises $2.3M to help podcasters make money – gpgmail


Glow is a new startup that says it wants to help podcasters build media business.

That’s something co-founder and CEO Amira Valliani said she tried to do herself. After a career that included working in the Obama White House and getting an MBA from Wharton, she launched a podcast covering local elections in Cambridge, Mass., and she said that after the initial six episodes, she struggled to find a sustainable business model.

Valliani (pictured above with her co-founder and chief product officer Brian Elieson) recalled thinking, “Well, I got this one grant and I’d love to do more, but I need to figure out a way to pay for it.” She realized that advertising didn’t make sense, but when a listener expressed interest in paying her directly, none of the existing platforms made it easy.

“I just couldn’t figure it out,” she said. “I felt an acute need, and I thought, ‘Are there other people out there who haven’t been able to figure out how to do it, because the lift is just too high?’ ”

That’s the need Glow tries to address with its first product — allowing podcasters to create paid subscriptions. To do that, podcasters create a subscription page on the Glow site, where they can accept payments and then allow listeners to access paywalled content from the podcast app of their choice.

Glow started testing the product with the startup-focused podcast Acquired, which is now bringing in $35,000 in subscription fees through Glow. More recently, it’s signed up the Techmeme Ride Home, Twenty Thousand Hertz, The Newsworthy and others.

When asked about the broader landscape of podcast startups (including several that support paid subscriptions), Valliani said there are three main problems that podcasters face: hosting, monetization and distribution.

Hosting, she said, is “largely a solved problem,” so Glow is starting out by trying to “solve for monetization through the direct relationship with listeners.” Eventually, it could move into distribution, though that doesn’t mean launching a Glow podcast app: “For us, we think distribution means helping podcasts grow their audience.”

The startup announced today that it has raised $2.3 million in seed funding. The round was led by Greycroft, with participation from Norwest Venture Partners, PSL Ventures, WndrCo and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, as well as individual investors including Nas and Electronic Arts CTO Ken Moss.

“Our first hire after this funding round will be someone focused on podcast success,” Valliani said. “Of course, we’re going to build the product [but we’re] doubling down on this market; we better make sure that [podcasters] are prepared to launch programs that are as successful as possible.”


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Google adds playable podcast episodes to search results – gpgmail


Google is making it easier to find and listen to audio content specific to your search interests, with playable episodes surfaced in results that start rolling out today.

Playable podcasts will show up in results when you use “podcasts” as a keyword in your search, in combination with other terms. It’s intended to deliver you relevant results freed from the confines of a dedicated podcast player, and Google also intends to extend this search feature to queries that don’t even specify “podcast” in future as it refines its algorithms.

Google is also going to be rolling out this inline playable results feature for the search function in Google Podcasts on the web, and for Google Assistant. If you’re logged in, it’ll also sync your results so that you can pick up from wherever you left off in the dedicated Google Podcasts app.

This should be good for discoverability, since it means that a much broader potential audience can stumble across your podcasts then would be possible with existing tools, and sample them on the spot. But Google still plans to roll out finer controls for publishers, that mean you can specify where people can listen to them, and presumably where they can’t.

It’s yet another sign that podcasts are slowly and surely becoming more prevalent and mainstream than ever, and that Google is very interested in making sure that it doesn’t fall behind on ensuring this content is part of its overall search index and not the exclusive domain of other, more closed ecosystems that exist outside its sphere of influence.

Google is going to be rolling this out gradually beginning today, with initial availability open to U.S. users searching in English.


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