Music

Roli’s newest instrument, the Lumi, helps you learn to play piano with lights

Posted by | Gadgets, hardware, Keyboards, Media, Music, piano, ROLI | No Comments

There has been a longstanding gulf between the consumption of music and the creation of it: not everyone has the time or money to spend on lessons and instruments, and for those in school, many music education programs have been cut back over the years, making the option of learning to play instruments for free less common. Still others have had moments of interest but haven’t found the process of learning that easy.

Now we’re seeing a new wave of startups emerge that are attempting to tackle these issues with technology, creating tools and even new instruments that leverage smartphones and tablets, new hardware computing innovations and new software to make learning music more than just a pastime for a select few.

In the latest development, London startup Roli is launching a new interactive keyboard called the Lumi. Part colourful, sound-sensitive lightboard and part piano, the Lumi’s keys light up in a colorful array to help guide and teach you to play music. The 11-inch keyboard — which can be linked with one or two more of the same to add more octaves — comes with an iPad app that contains hundreds of pieces, and the two are now selling for $249 alongside a new Kickstarter to help drum up interest and offer early-bird discounts. The Kickstarter campaign blew through its modest £100,000 goal within a short while, and some of the smaller tiers of pledges are now sold out. The product will start shipping in October 2019, the company says.

As you might already know, or have guessed by the reaction to the kickstarter, this is not Roli’s first rodeo: the company has made two other major products (and variations on those two) before this, also aimed at music making. First came the Seaboard, which Roli described as a new instrument when it first launched. Taking the form factor of a keyboard, it contained squishy keys that let the player bend notes and create other effects alongside electronic-based percussive tapping, as you would do with a normal keyboard.

Its next product was Blocks: small, modular light boards that also used colored light to guide your playing and help you create new and interesting sounds and beats with taps (and using a similarly squidgy surface to the Seaboard) and then mix them together.

Both of these were interesting, but somewhat aimed at those who were already familiar with playing pianos or other instruments, or with creating and playing electronic music with synthesizers, FX processors and mixers. (Case in point: the people I know who were most interested in these were my DJ friends and my kids, who both play the piano and are a little nerdy about these things.)

The Lumi is in a way a step back for Roli from trying to break new ground by conceiving of completely new instruments, with new form factors built with the benefits of technology and electronics in mind. But it’s also a step ahead: using a keyboard as the basis of the instrument, the Lumi is more familiar and therefore more accessible — with an accessible price of $249 to go along with that.

Lumi’s emergence comes after an interesting few years of growth for Roli. The company is one of the select few (and I think the only one making musical instruments) to be retailed in Apple stores, and it’s had endorsements from some very high-profile people, but that’s about as mainstream as it has been up to now.

The startup’s founder and CEO, American-born Roland Lamb, is probably best described as a polymath, someone who comes across less as a geeky and nervous or (at the other end) ultra-smooth-talking startup founder, and more like a calm-voiced thinker who has come out to talk to you in a break between reading and writing about the nature of music and teaching a small philosophy seminar.

His background also speaks to this unconventional manner. Before coming to found Roli, he lived in a Zen monastery, made his way around the world playing jazz piano, and studied Chinese and Sanskrit at Harvard and design at the Royal College of Art.

Roli has always been a little cagey about how much it has raised and from whom, but the list includes consumer electronics giants like Sony, specialist audio makers like Onkyo, the music giant Universal Music Group and VCs that include Founders Fund, Index and LocalGlobe, Kreos Capital, Horizons Ventures and more. It’s also partnered with a number of big names like Pharrell Williams (who is also an investor) in the effort to get its name out.

And while it has most definitely made a mark with a certain echelon of the music world — producers and those creating electronic music — it has not parlayed that into a wider global reputation or wider accessibility. After bringing out instruments more for a high-end audience, the Lumi seems like an attempt to do just that.

That seems to be coming at the right time. Services like Spotify and YouTube — and the rise of phones and internet usage in general — have transformed how we listen to music. We now have a much wider array of things to listen to whenever we want. On top of that, services like YouTube and SoundCloud furthermore are giving us a taste of creating our own music: using electronic devices, we can go beyond what might have been limitations up to now (for example, having never learned to play an instrument in the traditional sense) to get stuck into the craft itself.

The Lumi is also tapping into another important theme, and that is of music being “good for you.” There is a line of thought that says learning an instrument is good for your mind, both if you’re a younger person who is still in school or indeed out of school and looking to stay sharp. Others believe it has health benefits.

But realistically, these beliefs don’t get applied very often. Roli cites stats that say that only 10% of adults aged 18-29 have played an instrument in the past year, and of those that played as children, some 80% say they quit by age 14.

Putting this together with the Lumi, it seems that the aim is to hit a wider swathe of the market and bring in people who might want to learn something like playing an instrument but previously thought it would be too much of a challenge.

Roli isn’t the first — nor likely the last — company to reconsider how to learn playing the piano through technology. The Chinese company ONE Music Group makes both smart pianos with keyboards that light up, as well as a strip that you overlay on any keyboard, that also corresponds to an iPad app to learn to play piano.

An American startup called McCarthy Music also makes illuminated-key pianos, also subscribing to the principle that providing this kind of guidance to teach muscle memory is an important step in getting a student acquainted with playing on a keyboard.

The Lumi is notable not just because of its cost, but its size — the single, lightweight keyboards have a battery life of six hours and can fit in a backback.

That said, Roli is hoping there will be a double audience to these in the longer term, bridging the divide between music maker and listener, but also amateur and pro.

“Many people would love to play an instrument but worry that they don’t have the talent. Through our research, design, and innovation at ROLI, we’ve come to believe that the problem is not a lack of talent. Rather, instruments themselves are not smart enough,” said Lamb in a statement. “What excites me most is that the intelligence of LUMI means that there’s something in it for everyone. On one hand my own kids now prefer LUMI time to movie time. On the other hand, several of the world’s leading keyboard players can’t wait to use LUMI in the studio and on the stage.”

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Every Final Fantasy soundtrack is now on Spotify and Apple Music

Posted by | apple music, e3 2019, final fantasy, Gaming, Media, Music, Spotify, square enix | No Comments

Just in time for your road trip to LA for E3, Square Enix has suddenly made the soundtracks to every main Final Fantasy game available for free to listen to online. Just log into Spotify or Apple Music and search for “Final Fantasy original soundtrack.”

I just checked and Final Fantasies I-XV and some sub-sequels are all there, some in original and remastered versions, plus plenty of popular (or not) side titles like FF Tactics (come out on Switch already!) and Type-0. There’s even the soundtrack for the ill-considered 2001 movie, The Spirits Within.

No X-2, unfortunately for the few who liked that one (usually very intensely), and a few of the other non-main entries (like Tactics Advance and A2) are missing right now but perhaps only late to arrive. So it’s not every every Final Fantasy, but close enough that I don’t feel bad about putting it in the headline.

There’s been no mention of it on Square Enix’s social media channels, even the Final Fantasy-specific one. But it likely has to do with a special concert being given this week for FF VII, the remake of which is almost certain to appear at E3.

We have a very special guest announcement to make!

Yoshinori Kitase, director of the original #FinalFantasy VII, is hosting the upcoming FINAL FANTASY VII – A Symphonic Reunion concert!

Tickets are running out, so head to Ticketmaster now to get yours: https://t.co/8PSc1cgfrD https://t.co/gZUnXMPKLK

— FINAL FANTASY (@FinalFantasy) June 5, 2019

I’ve listened to a few tracks and it all seems legit. The only thing is that many of the titles are in Japanese — so it might be difficult to pick out your favorite character’s theme or what have you if you don’t, you know, speak that language.

Now you can at last create a greatest hits of Nobuo Uematsu’s FF work and access it from anywhere. It’s been a long time coming.

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Muro is a retro-style cylinder music box you control with an app

Posted by | Computex, Computex 2019, Gadgets, hardware, Muro Box, Music, music box, TC, Tevofy Technology | No Comments

The light twinkle of an old-fashioned cylinder music box evokes many things: nostalgia, childhood memories, sometimes even horror (they are a trope in scary movie soundtracks). Most music boxes play one tune, but with the Muro Box, which exhibited at Computex this week, you can use an app to pick different songs or even compose your own. It even doubles as a smart alarm clock.

Created by Tevofy Technology, a Taiwanese startup, the Muro Box’s components are mounted on a wooden base and visible underneath a glass cover, so you can watch as a 20-note steel comb creates music by plucking pins on its cylinder. The key difference between Muro and traditional music boxes, however, is that Muro’s cylinder is programmable.

The Muro Box is a music box with a programmable cylinder

The Muro Box is a music box with a programmable cylinder

Instead of a fixed pattern of pins, Muro’s patented convertible cylinder features 20 stainless steel gears, to correspond with each tooth on the comb. Each gear is attached to an electronic magnet and commanded by an embedded microcontroller, which means Muro can play almost any melody.

A 2018 Golden Pin Design Award winner, the Muro Box is getting ready to launch its Indiegogo campaign, after completing a successful campaign on Taiwanese crowdfunding site Zec Zec last year.

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Spotify is testing its own version of Stories called ‘Storyline’

Posted by | artists, Media, Mobile, Music, Spotify, stories, Storyline, streaming music | No Comments

Spotify is testing its own version of Stories — the sharing format popularized by social apps like Snapchat and Instagram that has since made its way to other apps like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp and others. In Spotify’s case, it’s not called “Stories” but rather “Storyline,” and the focus is on allowing artists to share their own insights, inspiration, details about their creative process or other meanings behind the music.

This is very much similar to what Spotify’s “Behind the Lyrics” feature today offers. But instead of pop-up cards that load in time with the music, Spotify Storyline is very much a Stories-like experience, where users tap through the different screens at their own pace, and where horizontal lines at the top indicate how many screens still await them ahead.

@spotify hi. for about a yr now my band’s mgmt has tried get yall to take down some… outdated… facts on behind the lyrics for our song “Hard Times”.
the facts are: it’s all embarrassing & there was no “bright side”… hence the title, Hard Times.
thank you & goodnight.

— hayley from Paramore (@yelyahwilliams) April 24, 2019

By comparison, “Behind the Lyrics” pulls in this sort of background information from Spotify’s partner, Genius — and Genius doesn’t always get things right. This, in fact, was the cause of a bit of an uproar recently, when Paramore singer Hayley Williams took to Twitter to yell at Spotify for running “outdated facts” on “Behind the Lyrics” — something she said her management team had tried to get changed for a year.

After her tweet went viral, Genius reached out to help. But following the incident, music fans pointed out other inaccuracies in “Behind the Lyrics,” including misstated facts on 21 Pilots’ song “Jumpsuit” and Travis Scott’s “Yosemite,” for example.

For Spotify, one possible solution to this problem could be to allow artists and their management teams to take control over what’s displayed as the song plays — while adopting the popular Stories format in the process. But at present, the Storyline feature is appearing on top of “Behind the Lyrics,” which is a bit odd and confusing.

We understand that Storyline is only a test for the time being on both iOS and Android, but not desktop. It’s available in the U.S. and in other markets, but Spotify isn’t commenting as to who may be seeing the test at this time or where.

If you are a part of the test group, you’ll see an indicator on the bottom of the screen that alerts you to the additional content. You can then swipe up anywhere on the screen that’s not a button in order to reveal the story and start tapping. The stories may contain lyrics, text or images.

For the time being, there’s no direct way for any artist or management team to contribute to Storyline. Those involved are working with Spotify directly. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that the feature could be something that’s built into the Spotify Artist Dashboard in the future, if it proved to deliver the sort of positive engagement Spotify hopes to see.

The feature, if launched, would give Spotify its own sort of original content — an area that hadn’t fared so well in the past when Spotify was producing its own original videos, for example. And it would better cater to Spotify’s younger demographic who already understand and regularly use Stories in other social apps.

Android Police was first to spot the news (via Reddit), and found it was live on a handful of songs, including Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker” and several by Billie Eilish (“Bad Guy,” “Bury a Friend,” “When the Party’s Over,” “Wish You Were Gay”). We also understand it’s showing up on MAX’s “Love Me Less.” Plus, Reddit users claim to have seen on it 2 Chainz’ “Forgiven,” The Beaches’ “Snake Tongue,” and others.

Spotify confirmed in a brief statement to TechCrunch it’s testing Storyline.

“We are always testing new ways to create better experiences for more users,” a spokesperson said, when asked about the feature. The company didn’t offer any information about when it would roll out more broadly.

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Spotify’s leanback instant listening app Stations hits iOS

Posted by | Apps, Australia, iOS apps, Media, Mobile, Music, radio, Spotify, streaming, streaming music | No Comments

Spotify has launched its instant listening app Stations on iOS, but only in Australia for the time being. The release comes nearly a year and a half after the Stations app first arrived on the market, initially for Android users in Australia. Dubbed an “experiment,” the app allows users to jump right into streaming instead of having to curate their own playlists or stations, or save favorite music to their library.

Unlike Spotify’s flagship application, the Stations app presents users with a minimalist interface where available playlists are displayed with an oversized font. You can scroll up and down between the playlists to select one, instead of typing in a search box or searching through voice commands.

When launching Stations, music begins playing automatically — a feature that had some calling it a “Pandora copycat” at the time of launch, given that instant music playback is something that Spotify’s rival Pandora already supports.

Stations was largely designed for those who want a more radio-like experience that involves less manual input. Free users will hear ads, be able to thumbs up and down songs, but can’t skip tracks. Premium users who download Stations get unlimited skips and ad-free listening.

The Stations app today features a range of playlists by genre, decade, activity and more, but also becomes personalized to the end-user over time. You can also opt to create your own stations by selecting from favorite artists in an experience that’s reminiscent of the customization offered today by YouTube Music — right down to the rounded artist profile photos you tap on.

As you listen to music on Stations, you can thumbs up and down songs in order to have it create custom stations personalized to you — including a Discover Weekly playlist, Release Radar and a Favorites playlist.

Not much had been heard about Stations since its January 2018 debut. And its limited release — it never hit the U.S., for example — could have indicated it was an experiment that didn’t quite pan out.

But it now seems that’s not the case, given the new expansion to iOS.

By offering the app to more users, Spotify has the chance to learn and collect data from a larger and more representative group of people. Whether or not it takes any ideas from Stations to its main app remains to be seen.

The company declined to comment on its plans, when asked.

“At Spotify, we routinely conduct a number of tests in an effort to improve our user experience,” a spokesperson said. “Some of those tests end up paving the path for our broader user experience and others serve only as an important learning. We aren’t going to comment on specific tests at this time,” they added.

Stations is live now on iOS in Australia. More information on the app is on the (newly updated) Help site here.

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Review: The $299 Echo Link Amp adds Alexa to any speaker

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo, audio engineering, AV, consumer electronics, Echo Link Amp, electric guitars, Gadgets, hardware, michigan, Music, musical instruments, Sound, streaming services, yamaha | No Comments

The Echo Link Amp is designed to give Echo owners options. Instead of settling for the sound from a couple of Echo speakers, this amp lets owners use a set of nice bookshelf speakers. Best yet, this replaces a large receiver generally needed to power speakers.

At $299, the Echo Link Amp lives in a curious spot. It’s less expensive and smaller than a traditional home audio system. Yet it’s more expensive than smaller desktop amps with a similar power rating.

Like its little brother, the $199 Echo Link, the $299 Echo Link Amp requires another Echo device. The Link and the Link Amp lack a microphone, which is needed to talk to the system. These two products are, if you will, the missing link between Alexa and better sound.

There are less expensive ways to replicate a lot of the Echo Link Amp’s feature set. There are a handful of small and powerful amps available for around $50 that can take audio from an Echo Dot and power a set of speakers. I use a $30 Lepai amp to power a set of Yamaha outdoor speakers on my deck. I used this system to test the Echo Link Amp.

Review

It’s finally nice outside here in Michigan. The sun is out and the leaves are budding. I’m writing this from my deck where I have two Yamaha speakers connected to a small amp and an Echo Dot, which are mounted to the floorboards. It’s the best. I can yell requests to the Dot from my fire pit. The Dot and $30 amp have survived two Michigan winters, too.

This is the perfect use case for the Echo Link Amp, though I’m sure Amazon will disapprove of the placement outside. That’s okay.

Like when I tested the Echo Link, I enlisted the help of another Echo product to make switching between the audio sources a bit easier. Using an AV switcher I was able to connect everything simultaneously and press a button to switch between the sources. I cued up some summer BBQ music and stepped back, remote in hand.

There wasn’t a difference.

The $30 amp had the same bass response, vocal reproduction and soundstage as the $300 Echo Link Amp. On paper, the Echo Link Amp has more power, but in practice, that power did not result in a difference with these outdoor speakers. I disconnected everything and plugged the speakers directly into the amps. Nothing changed. Hank Jr. sounded the same. For better or worse, of course.

I tried the system on a set of old Infinity speakers and had the same results. The sound had the same fidelity. On both systems the highs were just as high and the lows were just as low. The quality had the same, admittedly, lack of punch, but sounded good enough to blast Kenny Chesney throughout my yard.

The $299 Echo Link Amp shares a lot with the $199 Echo Link. The main difference, as the name suggests, is the amp. The Link Amp has the ability to drive a set of speakers, whereas the Link needs to be connected to an amplifier. I found the Echo Link to be a fantastic addition to a home audio setup. The $199 device provides a digital connection lacking on other Echo devices and I found it to improve the audio quality of streaming services.

The Echo Link Amp, however, is a touch disappointing, but at the same time very proficient at its job. Buyers are paying for the ease of use more than the quality of the amplifier. It’s clever too. If the connected Echo Dot is asked a question, it responds with the answer. This lets the owner turn off the amplifier and still retain access to Alexa. Only when the owner asks the Echo to play audio does it offload the task to the powered speakers.

With a series of inputs, the Echo Link Amp can easily serve several roles, including as a 2.1 channel home theater receiver.

The Echo Link Amp is a lovely device even though I find the audio quality lacking when compared to less expensive amps. It’s clever and I’m surprised Amazon is selling the device. While the rest of the Echo product line is a mass market play, the Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are designed for a smaller market. The Echo Link Amp features a set of functions unavailable on any other Echo device and the easiest way to add Alexa to a set of speakers.

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Media fragmentation is annoying consumers

Posted by | Advertising Tech, Amazon, Assistant, augmented reality, cloud storage, deloitte, digital media, Entertainment, esports, executive, Gaming, Google, internet television, Media, Multimedia, Music, new media, Podcasts, San Francisco, Streaming Media, streaming music, streaming video, TC, television, United States, user generated content, video games, Virtual reality | No Comments

Deloitte’s Technology, Media and Telecommunications division published its 13th-annual Digital Media Trends survey, focused on identifying changes in the ways US consumers engage with various types of media.

Led by an independent research firm, the survey had roughly 2,000 consumer respondents across demographics – with the report categorizing respondents based on age (Gen-Z: ages 14-21, Millenials: 22-35, Gen-X: 36-52, Boomers: 53-71, and Matures: 72+).

While already accompanied by a succinct 13-page executive summary, the report can largely be summarized in just a couple of sentences: more people are using streaming or alternative media services than ever before, largely due to more user freedom and customization, though the growing quantity and fragmentation of platforms are becoming more frustrating for users to manage.

The survey results directionally echo already well-discussed dynamics, which we’ve previously dug into such as here, here and here. Instead, the most poignant aspects of the report were not the answers or conclusions themselves, but the immense level of support many of them received.

 

Somewhat interesting:

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YouTube Music and YouTube Premium come to India

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

YouTube Music is coming to the next critical battlefield for streaming music services: India. The company announced this week it’s launching its ad-supported version of YouTube Music for free in the country, as well as YouTube Music Premium, its subscription that offers background listening, offline downloads and an ad-free experience for ₹99 a month.

In addition, YouTube Premium, which extends offline play, background listening and the removal of ads across YouTube, is also launching in India. This will include access to YouTube Original programming like Cobra Kai, BTS: Burn The Stage and others, and ships with the Music Premium subscription for ₹129 (rupees) per month.

This is not Google’s first entry into the streaming music market in India. The company already operates Google Play Music — and now, those subscribers will gain access to YouTube Music as part of their subscription, the company says.

India is a key market for streaming services because of its sizable population of 1.3 billion people, many of whom are still coming online for the first time. (Only some 483 million are active internet users today).

Already, Apple and Amazon operate their music services in the region in addition to local players like Gaana, Saavn and others. Spotify also made an India launch a strategic focus this year.

However, Spotify’s entry into India has been complicated by a licensing dispute with Warner Music (WMG’s Warner/Chappell publishing arm, specifically). That conflict led to Spotify arriving in the market without some of today’s biggest artists, like Cardi B. and Ed Sheeran. The case has been ugly: Warner sued Spotify asking for an emergency injunction; Spotify then accused Warner of “abusive behavior;” and Warner called Spotify a “liar.”

Despite its legal troubles, Spotify hit 1 million users in India within a week of launching. That bodes well for its potential when it gets through the legal battles.

Unlike Spotify, YouTube Music is fully licensed as it enters the region — a potential competitive advantage for the time being. It also has a deal with Samsung where Galaxy S10 owners can gain four months of YouTube Premium/YouTube Music Premium for free. (But Spotify has a deeper Samsung partnership, involving preinstalls and Bixby integrations.)

For YouTube, a win in India is needed, as its streaming music service hasn’t picked up traction to date.

To some extent, that’s because YouTube users know they can get to music videos for free, but it also has to do with Google’s baffling strategy in operating two separate brands around music. Apple doesn’t make this mistake. It leverages the power of its platform to promote its only music service, Apple Music.

That may have gotten it into trouble, though — today, Spotify filed a complaint with the European Commission over the “Apple tax” levied on its rivals and its restrictive rules.

Google has said it plans to merge its two music services at some point, but for now the split likely leads to confusion.

“India is where the multi-lingual music scene thrives,” said Lyor Cohen, global head of Music, YouTube, in a statement. “It’s interesting to note how Indian artists have consistently claimed top spots over the last few months in the Global YouTube Top Artists chart. With YouTube Music, we are hoping to bring the best in global and Indian music to millions of fans across India, and give them an immersive music experience, with the magic of music on YouTube,” he added.

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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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