Wij willen met u aan tafel zitten en in een openhartig gesprek uitvinden welke uitdagingen en vragen er bij u spelen om zo, gezamelijk, tot een beste oplossing te komen. Oftewel, hoe kan de techniek u ondersteunen in plaats van dat u de techniek moet ondersteunen.

I love music. Seriously, it’s one of the few things that brings solace in this cold, lonely world. Want to go deep on Joni Mitchell, William Onyeabor or Pablo Casals? I’m game. Yes, I worked at multiple record stores years before TechCrunch. Yes, I will always be that guy. What I will never be, however, is a musician, professional or otherwise.

I’m resolved to this fact at this point in my life. I’ll never be a rock star like I’ll never be a professional baseball player — both facts I’ve mostly made peace with. We don’t need to go into the two years of junior high when I played the trombone, or the decade and a half I attempted to master the guitar. All you need to know is I had absolutely zero aptitude for either.

It’s not for lack of desire to make music. It’s just a straight-up, good-old-fashioned lack of talent. For precisely this reason, I view any new piece of musical equipment with great interest. There’s a ton of money to be made for the startup that can truly unlock the potential of music making for those lacking the basic skills to do so.

Roli has long been of interest to me for this reason. I was one of the first people to cover the Seaboard when it debuted at SXSW a number of years ago. It’s a fascinating instrument, letting users bend notes courtesy of a soft material makeup, but mastering it — or, really, making any music at all — requires some ability to play piano.The company’s modular block system, announced a few years ago, was even more compelling, but similarly failed to scratch that itch.

Last week at CES, the fine folks at Kickstarter introduced me to the founders of a trio of crowdfunding companies that fit the bill to some degree. French startup Joué actually went on to win top prize at our CES pitch-off this year, with its modular MIDI controller of the same name.

The device operates on a similar principle as the Sensel Morph we’ve covered before, with silicone skins that overlay atop a touch surface to offer a variety of different controllers. Joué’s take is more music-focused than Sensel’s ever was. And besides, based on a conversation with Sensel at the show, I think it’s pretty fair to say that the company is turning most of its focus away from that device, in favor of compelling touch components it’s working to build into third-party handsets.

The Kickstarter project is an impressive one, as evidenced by the brief demo. It’s extremely versatile, requiring just a new skin and sound pack for the system to take on completely different aural qualities. The company also discussed the potential for customized sound packs. Joué brought NWA founder Arabian Prince in to perform at its both all week. An odd fit for CES, to be sure, but an interesting example of the kinds of artists such a product might be able to draw. It’s easy to see musicians expressing interest in a customized pad.

That said, while the company seems to be positioning the product as perfect for beginners, I do expect there’s a reasonably large learning curve here. That seems removed somewhat from Rhythmo. The Austin-based startup’s project combines music making with a guided dip into the maker world.

It’s a MIDI controller drum kit that you make out of a cardboard box. It ships with all of the pieces, and putting it together offers a nice connection into the process of creating a musical instrument. Founder Ethan Jin let me take a constructed model for a spin on the CES floor. The demo was a little glitchy for various reasons, but it was fun. The kit features large arcade buttons that can be mapped to a variety of sounds. You can use the Rhythmo app or interface with your music software of choice in iPad, desktop, etc. It’s a fun entry into that world.

Artiphon, however, is probably closest to fulfilling my very specific desires. The company is best known for its massively successful Kickstarter project, Instrument 1. That racked in a mind-boggling $ 1.3 million with the promise of delivering a guitar, violin, piano and drum machine all in a single device.

The newer Orba ($ 1.4 million this time), however, really caught my eye. The puck-shaped device is a pocket synthesizer/looper/MIDI controller that requires little if any musical knowledge to get up and running. After a conversation with founder Mike Butera, I’ve come to regard it at a very base-level as a sort of musical fidget spinner.

That is to say, it’s simple enough that you can use it absentmindedly to make music while you pace around your apartment, trying to come up with a half-decent headline for the story of crowdfunded music projects at CES you’ve been writing (a purely hypothetical example that in no way reflects my life).

Of the three, that’s the one I’m most key to review, in hopes of finally scratching that musical itch.

CES 2020 coverage - TechCrunch


TechCrunch

YouTube Music is taking on Spotify, Apple Music and others with the launch of three personalized playlists, including its own version of Spotify’s Discover Weekly, called Discover Mix, as well as a New Release Mix and Your Mix. Discover Mix had been spotted in the wild during testing, but now all three are globally available to YouTube Music users.

The company’s plans to introduce these new mixes were announced this fall at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019, where YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan spoke about the service’s plans to utilize a combination of machine learning and human curation to improve the music service’s offerings.

The Discover Mix is very much like Spotify’s Discover Weekly, as it will focus on helping users uncover new artists and music they like, including tracks you’ve never listened to before as well as lesser-known tracks from artists you already love. But unlike on competitor music services, this playlist can leverage historical listening data on both YouTube Music and on YouTube itself.

The mix, which updates every Wednesday, will give listeners 50 tracks per week.

The New Release Mix, as you can guess, focuses on all the recent releases by your favorite artists and others YouTube thinks you’ll like. This one drops every Friday, as most new releases do, but will add other tracks mid-week as needed.

Finally, Your Mix is a playlist that combines the music you love with songs you haven’t heard yet but will probably like, based on your listening habits. This one updates regularly to stay fresh.

Of course, the longer you listen on YouTube Music, the better the mixes will get. But YouTube says it can offer personalized mixes as soon as a user selects a couple of artists they like during the setup process or after they listen to a couple of songs.

The mixes arrive at a time when Google is more heavily investing in its streaming music service. Earlier this fall, it made YouTube Music the default music app that ships with new Android devices, instead of Google Play Music. And recently, reports indicate that YouTube Music is ahead of Spotify and JioSaavn in India, a key market for Spotify, despite its late entry.

The new mixes are live today on YouTube Music across iOS, Android, and the web.


TechCrunch

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.


TechCrunch

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

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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.


TechCrunch

Alphabet-backed UnitedMasters, the music label distribution startup and record label alternative that offers artists 100 percent ownership of everything they create, launched its iPhone app today.

The iPhone app works like the service they used to offer only via the web, giving artists the chance to upload their own tracks (from iCloud, Dropbox or directly from text messages), then distribute them to a full range of streaming music platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal and more. In exchange for this distribution, as well as analytics on how your music is performing, UnitedMasters takes a 10% share on revenue generated by tracks it distributes, but artists retain full ownership of the content they create.

UnitedMasters also works with brand partners, including Bose, the NBA and AT&T, to place tracks in marketing use across the brand’s properties and distributed content. Music creators are paid out via PayPal once they connect their accounts, and they can also tie-in their social accounts for connecting their overall online presence with their music.

UnitedMasters

Using the app, artists can create entire releases by uploading not only music tracks but also high-quality cover art, and by entering information like whether any producers participated in the music creation, and whether the tracks contain any explicit lyrics. You can also specific an exact desired release date, and UnitedMasters will do its best to distribute across services on that day, pending content approvals.

UnitedMasters was founded by former Interscope Records president Steve Stoute, and also has funding from Andreessen Horwitz and 20th Century Fox. It’s aiming to serve a new generation of artists who are disenfranchised by the traditional label model, but seeking distribution through the services where listeners actually spend their time, and using the iPhone as manage the entire process definitely fits with serving that customer base.


TechCrunch

YouTube has teamed up with Universal Music Group to remaster nearly a thousand classic music videos, the companies announced today, including those from from Billy Idol, Beastie Boys, Boyz II Men, George Strait, Janet Jackson, Kiss, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, Lionel Richie, Maroon 5, Meat Loaf, No Doubt/Gwen Stefani, Smokey Robinson, The Killers, Tom Petty, and others.

Many of the most iconic music videos on YouTube were only available in the “outdated standards originally intended for tube televisions with mono speakers,” YouTube explained in an announcement. But today, people watch videos across a number of platforms — desktop, mobile, and TV — and they often do so in high-definition. The old videos didn’t hold up.

With the new partnership, both the video and audio quality will be updated to the highest standards, then the new videos will slide in to take the place of the existing SD versions. They’ll also retain the same URL on YouTube as well as all the view-counts and likes, instead of arriving as new content.

As of today, the companies have already updated over 100 music videos including the following:

The plan is to fully upgrade nearly 1,000 over the next year, with plans to have all 1,000 titles available before year-end 2020. More videos will arrive on a weekly basis as this program continues, YouTube says.

The videos will be available exclusively on YouTube and YouTube Music — the latter ahead of a planned merger with Google Play Music. 

You’ll be able to tell if a YouTube music video has been through the upgrading process because it will read “Remasted” in the video’s description.

“It’s really an honor to partner with Universal Music Group and change the way fans around the globe will experience viewing some of the most classic and iconic videos. The quality is truly stunning,” said Stephen Bryan, Global Head of Label Relations at YouTube, in a statement. “It’s our goal to ensure that today’s music videos — true works of art — meet the high-quality standards that artists’ works deserve and today’s music fans expect.”

“We’re excited to partner with YouTube to present these iconic music videos in the highest audio and video quality possible,” added Michael Nash, Executive Vice President of Digital Strategy at UMG. “Our recording artists and video directors imbued these videos with so much creativity; it’s great to enable the full experience of their vision and music. These videos not only look amazing on any screen now, they will be enjoyed by music fans for decades to come.”


TechCrunch


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