Music

Feel the beep: This album is played entirely on a PC motherboard speaker

Posted by | chiptunes, DOS, Gadgets, Gaming, Media, Music, retro | No Comments

If you’re craving a truly different sound with which to slay the crew this weekend, look no further than System Beeps, a new album by shiru8bit — though you may have to drag your old 486 out of storage to play it. Yes, this album runs in MS-DOS and its music is produced entirely through the PC speaker — you know, the one that can only beep.

Now, chiptunes aren’t anything new. But the more popular ones tend to imitate the sounds found in classic computers and consoles like the Amiga and SNES. It’s just limiting enough to make it fun, and of course many of us have a lot of nostalgia for the music from that period. (The Final Fantasy VI opening theme still gives me chills.)

But fewer among us look back fondly on the days before sample-based digital music, before even decent sound cards let games have meaningful polyphony and such. The days when the only thing your computer could do was beep, and when it did, you were scared.

Shiru, a programmer and musician who’s been doing “retro” sound since before it was retro, took it upon himself to make some music for this extremely limited audio platform. Originally he was just planning on making a couple of tunes for a game project, but in this interesting breakdown of how he made the music, he explains that it ended up ballooning as he got into the tech.

“A few songs became a few dozens, collection of random songs evolved into conceptualized album, plans has been changing, deadlines postponing. It ended up to be almost 1.5 years to finish the project,” he writes (I’ve left his English as I found it, because I like it).

Obviously the speaker can do more than just “beep,” though indeed it was originally meant as the most elementary auditory feedback for early PCs. In fact, the tiny loudspeaker is capable of a range of sounds and can be updated 120 times per second, but in true monophonic style can only produce a single tone at a time between 100 and 2,000 Hz, and that in a square wave.

Inspired by games of the era that employed a variety of tricks to create the illusion of multiple instruments and drums that in fact never actually overlap one another, he produced a whole album of tracks; I think “Pixel Rain” is my favorite, but “Head Step” is pretty dope too.

You can of course listen to it online or as MP3s or whatever, but the entire thing fits into a 42 kilobyte MS-DOS program you can download here. You’ll need an actual DOS machine or emulator to run it, naturally.

How was he able to do this with such limited tools? Again I direct you to his lengthy write-up, where he describes, for instance, how to create the impression of different kinds of drums when the hardware is incapable of the white noise usually used to create them (and if it could, it would be unable to layer it over a tone). It’s a fun read and the music is… well, it’s an acquired taste, but it’s original and weird. And it’s Friday.

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Pandora-powered channels will come to SiriusXM’s app this year

Posted by | Media, mergers, Mobile, Music, Pandora, radio, siriusxm, streaming, streaming music | No Comments

SiriusXM this week offered a few more details on how it plans to leverage its newest asset, Pandora, following its $3.5 billion acquisition of the streaming music service last year, which officially closes on Friday. At the time of the deal, the company spoke about the potential for cross-promotion opportunities between the services and new subscription packages. Now, those efforts are getting off the ground — starting with a promotion within the Pandora app for SiriusXM subscriptions, followed by the launch of Pandora channels within the SiriusXM app.

Currently, SiriusXM offers a variety of programming packages, ranging from a cheaper ($11/mo) “Mostly Music” sampling of channels all the way up to a premium “All Access” ($21/mo) subscription. It also runs various time-limited promotions that offer its service for as little as $5 per month for a set period, like six months.

According to Sirius XM CEO James Meyer — speaking to investors on the Q4 earnings call on Wednesday — the company will now start promoting special SiriusXM packages to Pandora listeners.

The company, he said, intends “to capitalize on cross-promotion opportunities between SiriusXM’s more than 36 million subscribers across North America and Pandora’s approximately 70 million monthly active users. In early February, we will begin a targeted promotion to SiriusXM subscribers and Pandora listeners,” he noted. “Select Pandora listeners will receive an offer to obtain a unique $5 a month ‘Mostly News,’ ‘Mostly Music’ or ‘News Talk’ [SiriusXM subscription] package in their satellite-equipped vehicle.”

In other words, SiriusXM will be pushing low-cost $5 per month streaming plans within the Pandora app itself.

The company believes the cross-promotions will be successful because of the overlap in the two services’ customer bases. It found that approximately half of the owners of the SiriusXM-enabled vehicle fleet of 100 million cars have used Pandora in the past two years, for example. SiriusXM aims to leverage those Pandora listeners’ data in order to convert, retain or bring them back to SiriusXM.

In addition, the exec said that existing SiriusXM subscribers would receive extended 14-day trials to Pandora’s Premium service.

By mid-2019, the company plans to launch a new Pandora-powered channel within its own SiriusXM app, based on their favorite artist. It will also add a new radio channel to the SiriusXM app that’s driven by the latest trends from Pandora’s “billions of thumbs” — meaning the “thumbs up” (likes), songs receive within the streaming app.

Meyer spoke briefly about the challenges facing Pandora — specifically a decline in listening hours, which SiriusXM believes can be fixed by improving Pandora’s in-car listening statistics, making the Pandora app more compelling, and adding more content.

“This is just the beginning. We expect, over time, to create new, unique audio packages that will bring together the best of both services, creating a powerful platform for artists to reach their fans and to create new audiences,” said Meyer.

The merger of the two companies has not been without upheaval, though.

This week, the company announced that Pandora CEO Roger Lynch and other executives would be stepping down, including general counsel Steve Bene, CFO Naveen Chopra and chief human resources officer Kristen Robinson. Meyer will instead lead the combined company, he said, in order to streamline decision-making and increase the speed of the integrations.

SiriusXM reported record revenues for the fourth quarter and year, at $1.5 billion and $5.8 billion, respectively. Net income was $251 million for the quarter, up from a loss of $37 million in the year-ago period. Full-year 2018 net income grew 81 percent to a record $1.2 billion.

The newly combined company will have more than 100 million listeners in North America, with nearly 40 million self-paying subscribers and more than 75 million on trials or using ad-based products.

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Spotify launches Car View on Android to make using its app less dangerous behind the wheel

Posted by | Android, android apps, Apps, distracted driving, Driving, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify, streaming | No Comments

Spotify is making it easier to use its streaming app in the car, when the phone is connected to the vehicle over Bluetooth. The company today confirmed the launch of a new feature called “Car View,” which is a simplified version of the service’s Now Playing screen that includes larger fonts, bigger buttons, and no distractions from album art. In Car View, you’re only shown the track title and artist, so you can read the screen with just a glance.

The site 9to5Google was the first to spot the feature’s appearance in Spotify’s settings. However, some users have had the option for weeks in what had appeared to be a slow rollout or possibly a test, pre-launch.

Spotify this morning formally announced the launch of Car View in a post to its Community Forums.

The company says the feature is currently available only on Android devices, and only when the device is connected over Bluetooth.

When the phone connects, Car View is automatically enabled when your music or podcast starts playing.

Above: Car View in action; credit: 9to5Google

Spotify already offers several in-car experiences through integrations with other apps like Google Maps, Waze, as well as through Android Auto, and has experimented with other auto-focused features in the past. However, using the music app while behind the wheel has been very distracting and difficult.

I’ve personally found Spotify so dangerous to navigate while in the car, that I just won’t use it unless I set it up to stream before I drive. Or, in some cases, I’ll hand the phone to a passenger to control instead.

Given the difficulty with Spotify in the car, Car View’s lack of support for those who use the app over an AUX cable is a little disappointing.There’s no good reason why users should not be allowed to manually enable Car View from the Settings, if they choose. After all, it’s just a change to the user interface of a single view – and it’s been built!

Of course, manually toggling Car View on might not feel as seamless as the Bluetooth experience, but a feature like this could prevent accidents caused by people fiddling with their phone in the car. Hopefully, Spotify will make Car View more broadly accessible in time.

According to Spotify, once Car View is enabled, you can access your Library, tap to Browse, or use Search. While listening, you can use the seek bar to skip to another part of the song.

In the case that a passenger is controlling the music on your phone, they can temporarily disable Car View by way of the three dots menu. And if, for some reason, you don’t want to use Car View, the feature can be disabled in the Settings. (But keep it on, OK?)

Spotify also noted Car View supports landscape view, and will arrive on iOS in the future. It didn’t offer a time frame.

Car View officially launched on Android this week, and is now rolling out globally to all users.

 

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Tinder is testing the ability to share Spotify music clips in chat

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, Social, Spotify, Tinder | No Comments

Tinder has already developed a fairly robust chat platform within its dating app, with support for sharing things like Bitmoji and GIFs, and the ability to “like” messages by tapping a heart icon. Now, the company is testing a new integration — sharing music via Spotify. Tinder confirmed with TechCrunch it’s trying out a new way to connect users, by allowing them to share music within their chats.

The test is currently taking place across global markets, and Spotify is the only music service involved.

The new feature was first spotted by the blog MSPoweruser, which speculated the addition could be an experiment on Tinder’s part, ahead of a public launch. That does seem to be the case, as it turns out.

According to screenshots the site posted, a green music icon has been swapped in for the Bitmoji icon. Clicking this allows you to enter a query into a search box and see matching results displayed above. You’re not able to share the full song, however — only a 30-second clip.

Above: Tinder music test with Spotify; credits: MSPoweruser

Tinder, like its rival Bumble, has offered integration with Spotify’s streaming music service since 2016.

Both apps allow users to connect their Spotify accounts in order to showcase their top artists on their profile. As Tinder explained at the time of launch, music can be a powerful signal in terms of attraction, and plays an important role in terms of getting to know a new connection, as well.

The company even launched its own profile on Spotify, with playlists focused on dating, love and romance as a part of its collaboration with the music service.

The Spotify integration has paid off for Tinder in terms of user engagement within its app, the company tells us.

“Users love connecting over shared tastes in music,” a Tinder spokesperson explained. “In fact, users who update their ‘Anthem’ are most likely to start a conversation via Feed. With this in mind, we’re testing the ability to share music with a match while chatting on Tinder,” they added.

The “Anthem” is a feature that lets you pick a favorite song or one that’s representative of your tastes or personality. This is then highlighted in a special section on your Tinder profile.

Tinder did not offer any details as to when it expects the test to wrap or when it would launch music sharing more broadly.

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Pandora launches a personalized voice assistant on iOS and Android

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, Pandora, personalization, streaming, streaming service, voice, voice assistant | No Comments

Pandora today announced the launch of its own, in-app voice assistant that you can call up at any time by saying “Hey Pandora,” followed by a request to play the music or podcasts you want to hear. The feature will allow you to not only control music playback with commands to play a specific artist, album, radio or playlist, but will also be capable of delivering results customized to you when responding to vague commands or those related to activity or mood. For example, you’ll get personalized results for requests like “play something new,” “play more like this,” “play music for relaxing,” “play workout music,” “play something I like” and others.

The company reports strong adoption of its service on voice-activated speakers, like Amazon Echo devices, where now millions of listeners launch Pandora music by speaking — a trend that inspired the move to launch in-app voice control.

“Voice is just an expected new way that you engage with any app,” notes Pandora Chief Product Officer Chris Phillips. “On the mobile app, we’re doing more than just your typical request against the catalog… asking: ‘hey, Pandora,’ to search and play or pause or skip,” he says. “What we’re doing that we think is pretty special is we’re taking that voice utterance of what someone asks for, and we’re applying our personalized recommendations to the response,” Phillips explains.

That means when you ask Pandora to play you something new, the app will return a selection that won’t resemble everyone else’s music, but will rather be informed by your own listening habits and personal tastes.

The way that result is returned may also vary — for some, it could be a playlist, for others an album and for others, it could be just a new song, a personalized soundtrack or a radio station.

“Play something new” isn’t the only command that will yield a personalized response, Pandora says. It will also return personalized results for commands related to your mood or activity — like workout music, something to relax to, music for cooking and more.

For podcasts, it can dig up episodes with a specific guest, play shows by title, or even deliver show recommendations, among other things.

Voice commands can be used in lieu of pressing buttons, too, in order to do things like add songs to a playlist or giving a song you like a thumbs up, for instance.

The new feature, called “Voice Mode,” taps into Pandora’s machine learning and data science capabilities, which is an active battleground between music services.

Spotify, for example, is well known for its deep personalization with its Discover Weekly and other custom playlists, like its Daily Mixes. But its own “voice mode” option is only available for its Premium users, according to a FAQ on the company’s website.

Pandora, meanwhile, is planning to roll out Voice Mode to all users — both free and paid.

For free users, the feature will work in conjunction with an existing ad product that allows users to opt in to watch a video in order to gain temporary access to Pandora’s on-demand service.

While this option is not live at launch, the plan is to allow any user to use the “Hey Pandora” command, then redirect free users with a request to play music on demand to instead play the opt-in ad first.

Pandora Voice Mode will launch today, January 15, to a percentage of the iOS and Android user base — around a million listeners. The company will track the speed, accuracy and performance of its results before rolling it out more broadly over the next couple of months.

Users with a Google Home device can also cast from their Pandora app to their smart speaker, and a similar feature will arrive on Alexa devices soon, the company believes.

Pandora works with Siri Shortcuts, too. That means you can now use voice to launch the app itself, then play a personalized selection of music without having to touch your phone at all.

Voice Mode will be available in the Pandora app via the search bar next to the magnifying glass.

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Spotify will now let brands sponsor its Discover Weekly playlist

Posted by | Ads, advertising, Advertising Tech, brands, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify, streaming service | No Comments

Spotify has begun testing a new type of ad in Discover Weekly, its personalized playlist of music that’s the streaming service’s flagship feature. The company says that, for the first time, it will allow a brand to “sponsor” this playlist as opposed to just running ads. It believes many advertisers will be interested in this opportunity due to the playlist’s ability to reach heavily engaged Spotify users, and because it allows advertisers to “own the personalized listening experience” on Spotify.

According to Spotify, Discover Weekly listeners stream more than double the amount of users who don’t listen to the playlist because of the personalized experience it offers. That will make the ad product more compelling, compared with brands’ existing ability to sponsor other editorial playlists on the service.

With Spotify’s Sponsored Playlist ad product, brands can surround Spotify’s free listeners with audio or video messages in ad breaks, and gain Spotify’s help in building a collaborative marketing plan.

Microsoft will kick off the launch of branded ads by running an A.I. ad campaign called “Empowering Us All.” This will explore A.I. across sectors like Education, Healthcare and Philanthropy. Spotify says it was a good fit for the launch, as Discover Weekly is customized for each user by taking advantage of A.I. technology.

“At Microsoft we are focused on empowering every individual and organization to do more. Our work in AI is a central part of that mission to unlock human ingenuity,” said Erin Bevington, General Manager of Global Media at Microsoft, in a statement. “Our partnership with a technology innovator like Spotify offered a way for us to effectively share that message within a personalized entertainment experience powered by AI.”

Spotify recently passed 200 million monthly active users, but is now looking to new ways to generate revenue from its user base beyond simply converting free users to premium subscribers.

The company has been growing its subscriber base at a steady pace, but Wall St. hasn’t been happy with its financials. One issue is that its newer promotions, like its low-cost student and family plans, have seen its average revenue per user dropping – as of Q3 2018, it had fallen 6 percent year-over-year to $5.50. A more valuable ad product could help bring these numbers back up. 

“Personalization has quickly gone from a nice-to-have to an expected consumer experience that delights audiences and marketers are craving opportunities to be part of it” said Danielle Lee, Global Head of Partner Solutions at Spotify, in a statement. “Our new Discover Weekly ad experience positions advertisers for success and ensures that our fans are hearing messages that embody the ethos of discovery.”

Brand sponsorships for Discover Weekly are currently in beta testing, says Spotify.

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YouTube Music turns its Top Charts into playlists

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, streaming, streaming music, streaming service, YouTube, YouTube Music | No Comments

Earlier this year, Apple Music launched some of its top charts as playlist series. Today, YouTube is doing something similar. The company announced it’s making its YouTube Charts available as playlists in YouTube Music to users across the 29 markets where the music service is live. Each market will receive five of these “charts playlists” — three specific to their country, and two global lists, the company says.

The Top 100 Songs and the Top 100 Music Videos will be offered both as local and global playlists, while the Top 20 Trending Songs will be offered as a local playlist.

This latter playlist is updated several times per day in order to offer a real-time view into current music trends in a specific country. It’s also the first “dedicated external signal of the country’s most-viewed new music on the YouTube platform,” Google explained in a blog post this afternoon.

The other Top 100 Songs and Music Video charts are calculated differently and updated less often. The Top Songs is based on the overall performance of a song on YouTube by view count, which includes counting all the official versions of a song — meaning, the official music video, the user-generated content that uses the official song and lyric videos.

The Top Songs chart is updated weekly, according to YouTube’s documentation on how the charts are calculated.

The Top 100 Music Videos ranks the official music videos by view count in the previous week. It’s also updated weekly.

By comparison, YouTube Music’s Top Songs and Music Videos charts seem to have the potential to be more stale than those on rival services. For example, when Apple announced its Top 100 Songs chart would be available both as global and local playlists, it said it would update them daily at 12 AM PT based on Apple Music streams. Spotify’s top charts are also available both as daily and weekly charts.

“The charts, currently topped globally by Ariana Grande’s ‘thank u, next,‘ are the most accurate reflection of what’s happening in music culture and based purely on the number of views from more than 1 billion global music fans on YouTube each month,” noted the post, which does speak to YouTube Music’s strength.

Apple Music and Spotify are both fighting to break into the triple-digit millions in terms of paying customers, while Spotify is nearing 200 million total actives. But YouTube has a billion-plus users from which to generate its data. That’s not insignificant.

The new charts-turned-playlists are now available in the YouTube Music app. The playlists will appear on users’ home screens and be surfaced through search, says YouTube.

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This DIY Enigma machine fits inside a pocket watch

Posted by | Gadgets, Music, oled, TC | No Comments

The year is 1940. Through the use of arcane atomic technologies, the Axis have brought back modern technology from the year 2018. Their main prize? This amazing Enigma Pocket Watch. This tiny watch, created by a maker calling himself asciimation, uses an Arduino Pro Micro and a small OLED screen to recreate the Enigma machine in pure code.

Asciimation previously built an Enigma wristwatch and he is working on a 3D-printed Enigma machine. The Enigma was a seemingly unbreakable encoding machine used by the Germans during World War II and was about the size of a small briefcase. Stuffing all of the logic into a tiny watch case — of WWII vintage — is an amazing feat.

Luckily the aforementioned time travel device was never built and this wild little pocket watch never made it into enemy hands, but we can only imagine the havoc it would wreak if some Panzer captain somewhere had one of these on his belt. You can read all about the build on Asciimation’s site.

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Spotify for Xbox One now works with Cortana voice commands

Posted by | Gamers, Gaming, Media, Music, Spotify, streaming, xbox | No Comments

Spotify arrived on the Xbox One back in August 2017 to give gamers the option of streaming their own tunes while in a gaming session. Today, Spotify is upgrading its app with a few key additions, including most notably support for Cortana voice control, along with other personalization features. With Cortana, gamers will be able to speak their music requests instead of using the controller. That means they can command the music — including being able to play, skip and pause songs — without having to leave their current gaming session, Spotify says.

Before, gamers would have to use Spotify Connect via an app on their phone, tablet or laptop to control or change the music while gaming.

For example, you’ll be able to say things like “Hey, Cortana, play my playlist on Spotify,” or “Hey Cortana, play my Discover Weekly on Spotify.”

This upgrade is currently only available in the U.S., however.

The new app is also introducing an updated experience that’s designed to make it easier for Spotify users to access recently played songs, plus your “Made for You” hub, and your music library.

Previously, Xbox One users only had access to basic Spotify controls, like play, pause, and skip plus visuals like the cover art and artist and song name. Now, they have personalized content recommendations, and the ability to playback content right from the Guide menu.

This part of the update is rolling out more broadly, including the U.S., as well as in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey and the U.K.

Options like repeat and shuffle are available, too, as are a selection of curated gaming playlists, over on Spotify’s “Gaming Hub” if you get stumped as to what to play.

In the future, updates to this Enhanced Background Mode, as Spotify calls the new experience, may include the ability to promote game specific content for major game launches, Spotify says.

The update will require the latest version of the Spotify app, which can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store, the company notes.

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Plex teams with TIDAL to bring a discounted streaming music subscription to its media app

Posted by | Apps, Media, Mobile, Music, plex, streaming, streaming service, TC, tidal | No Comments

Media center app Plex today announced a partnership with streaming music service TIDAL, offering discounted access to TIDAL’s 60 million tracks and 244,000+ music videos for Plex Pass subscribers. The Plex Pass is the media center app’s own subscription program, which adds support for watching and recording from live TV as well as other premium features and advanced controls.

Now, Plex Pass holders will be able to add TIDAL into the mix for $8.99 per month, instead of its usual $9.99 per month price. It’s not a steep discount, but one that could prove compelling for serious Plex users who have already centralized their access to entertainment within the Plex app.

Over the past year or so, Plex has doubled down on its mission to become a one-stop shop for all your media, having added support for podcasts, streaming TV (by way of a digital antenna) and a DVR, personalized news, and, most recently, web shows. This is in addition to the software’s ability to organize your home media collections of movies, TV shows, personal video, music and photos.

The company’s goal is to capitalize on its expansive entertainment library in order to offer better recommendations across media types. That is — it could suggest podcasts or web shows based on the TV or music you enjoy, for example.

Plex customers who add TIDAL will have access to the streamer’s entire music catalog, along with artist recommendations for those who aren’t already in your media library, as well as a feature that will display the missing albums from artists in your library. The service also offers artist radio, discovery radio for finding new tunes from those not in your library, new release recommendations, music videos and more.

Universal search and playlists features will combine results from Plex’s library and TIDAL, allowing you to locate tracks from your local library alongside TIDAL tracks, and add both to the same playlist.

“An incredible music and media experience is something that matters to both TIDAL and Plex users, and the addition of TIDAL’s music streaming service within Plex makes it the only solution that organizes and curates all major media types in one place,” said Keith Valory, CEO of Plex, in a statement. “It’s another step closer to making all the media that matters to you accessible from one app, on any device, anytime.”

TIDAL will also point its subscribers to Plex as a part of the deal, giving them access to Plex’s music features and mobile app, or, in the case of Tidal HiFi subscribers ($19.99/mo), they get a Plex Pass for free.

New customers to TIDAL can sign up for a combo TIDAL/Plex Pass subscription for $9.99/mo or $19.99/mo if they want TIDAL HiFi. (Normally a Plex Pass on its own is $3.33/mo if paid annually).

Once signed up for TIDAL, Plex users can quickly merge their subscription to Plex from here.

The TIDAL subscription is available on Plex mobile and web* to start, with expansion to other TV platforms expected to follow.

*Versions required: Plex Media Server 1.14.0.5470; iOS 5.7.2; Android 7.8.0; Web 3.77.2 

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