The influx of star podcasters looms over a dispute between the union and managers at the Spotify-owned digital media company founded by Bill Simmons.
Spotify today announced that it has leveraged last year’s SoundBetter acquisition to create a marketplace for artists who make short, looping visuals for Canvas. The feature, which began rolling out widely last year, is an attempt to leverage technology, in order to make a more engaging alternative to the standard album art.
As Sarah pointed out, early reactions to the feature were mixed, though Spotify points to some new numbers around user engagement with the feature. According to the service listeners are:
- 145% more likely to share the track
5% more likely to keep streaming
20% more likely to add the song to their personal playlists
9% more likely to visit an artists’ profile page
Offering up a marketplace is part of a push to broaden adoption of the technology, by offering access to some top names who have created visuals for high profile artists, ranging from Kanye to Billie Eillish. Spotify will also be rolling out Canvas access to more artists across the globe as part of this push.
“Since Canvas is a unique format to Spotify, we want to make it as easy as possible for artists to find visual artists to help them create eye-catching visuals,” the company writes. “After selecting a designer, artists share details on the sonics of their track and their creative vision, which the designer then takes into account to create a custom Canvas tailored to meet their needs.”
Obviously anything that gets artists paid is probably a net positive in the world. Though with prices in the hundreds of dollars per track, this sort of thing gets very expensive, very quickly. It’s something musicians will have to weigh against the on-going issues around streaming compensation. Depending on the size of the artist/number of streams, the investment could, potentially, pay off.
This is the sort of bill that record labels traditionally foot (assuming they don’t have their own preferred artists on staff), though nothing is really a given in the music industry these days.
Spotify today launched a new feature designed to give podcast listeners a new way to organize and save content they want to listen to at a later time or keep their favorite episodes bookmarked for easy access. The feature, called “Your Episodes,” lets you bookmark individual episodes from any podcast, which are then added a new “Your Episodes” playlist.
This playlist is found pinned to the top of Your Library in the Music Playlist and Podcast Episodes tabs, says Spotify.
The new option could be useful for those times when a podcast you don’t normally subscribe to has a show you want to listen to — like an interview with a favorite celebrity, for example, or a discussion about a topic you’re passionate about. It could also be used to sample a podcast you’re unsure of by adding a couple episodes to a playlist to see how well you enjoy its content.
For example, if Spotify recommended a particular podcast based on your current listening habits, you could visit the show’s page and create a custom playlist of the episodes that looked most interesting.
In addition, users could take advantage of this new bookmarking feature to save favorite episodes they may want to listen to again at some point.
To save an episode, you’ll just click the “+” plus icon on an episode card or an episode page to add the show to the playlist. The playlist can include up to 10,000 episodes, Spotify says, and they’ll remain there until they’re manually removed.
Spotify has dabbled with podcast playlists before today. Last year, it began allowing users to add podcasts to their playlists and launched a combo music-and-podcast playlist for commuters called “Your Daily Drive.” Earlier this year, Spotify also rolled out a set of editorially curated podcast playlists to encourage discovery.
The new save feature simplifies the process of making a podcast playlist, however, as it allows users to quickly add content to a built-in playlist with a tap, instead of having to go through the more involved process of custom playlist creation.
The company says the new feature is rolling out starting today on iOS and Android to both Free users and Premium subscribers in all markets where podcasts are available.
The microgenre — fueled by teen upstarts like osquinn and glaive, and more established names like 100 gecs and A.G. Cook — has a modest but dedicated following, and many different kinds of sounds.
Spotify has come under fire of late over questions around musician compensation, but when it comes to podcasting, it has money to burn. This morning, the streaming service confirmed its acquisition of Megaphone for a reported $235 million.
Launched by The Slate Group in February 2015 as Panopoly, it rebranded as Megaphone in 2019. In its original form, the company produced a number of flagship podcasts for high profile media brands, including Buzzfeed, The Wall Street Journal and Vox. The rebranding, however, followed a shuttering of its editorial efforts to focus on back end concerns like hosting, ad tools and distribution.
Spotify already had an existing partnership with the company, including use of its hosting services. This deal, it seems, is largely focused on the service’s ad tools. “Together, Spotify and Megaphone will offer podcast publishers innovative tools that will help them earn more from their work,” Spotify said in a press release. “This includes the opportunity to opt in to have their content monetized, matching their loyal listeners with even greater demand from advertisers.”
Megaphone is the latest in a long line of recent podcast-centric acquisitions for Spotify, ranging from tens to hundreds of millions a pop. It should go a way toward cementing the company’s long-standing dream of become one of the medium’s biggest players.
The list of acquisitions also includes content producers like Gimlet, The Ringer and Parcast, along with technology companies like Anchor. This May, it also purchased exclusivity to the immensely popular Joe Rogan Experience for more than $100 million — an acquisition that has reportedly caused some unrest among employees who have taken issue with the show’s controversial subject matter.
Apple Music is targeting Gen Z users in its battle with Spotify . On Friday, Apple launched ten new Apple Music playlists focused on the music interests of Gen Z users — including one playlist that features the latest tracks to go viral across social media apps like TikTok. Other playlists feature emerging artists and sounds, experimental or cross-genre selections, or music by mood — like playlists for getting energized to go out or one to destress, for example.
One of the more interesting additions from this new group — at least from a technology perspective — is the new editorial playlist, “Viral Hits.” While Apple doesn’t specifically mention TikTok by name here, the short-form video app’s influence is apparent.
TikTok’s music-laden memes and trends today heavily influence what younger users are listening to. The app has also long-since proven its ability to break new artists and send tracks, both new and old, up to the top of the streaming charts across Spotify and Apple Music, as well as the Billboard charts, at times.
With the “Viral Hits” playlist, Apple will round-up the songs that are making the leap from social media channels to “the broader cultural stream,” the company explains.
“Social media hasn’t just changed how we communicate, but also what we listen to and how we hear it,” says Apple.
Because of the nature of viral trends, there’s no set schedule as to when the “Viral Hits” playlist will update. Instead, Apple Music editors will updated the selections throughout the week, as needed.
Currently, there are 98 songs representing nearly 5 hours of music on the playlist, including many tracks that are also now on Apple Music’s top charts. But the tracks on “Viral Hits” aren’t ranked by number of plays they’re receiving — it’s an editorial selection, not a chart.
Apple isn’t alone in formally acknowledging the power TikTok has over popular music. Spotify last week launched a new feature for artists that would allow them to promote tracks that were going viral on TikTok.
In addition to “Viral Hits,” the other new Apple Music playlists aimed at a Gen Z demographic include the following additions:
- Superbloom: Apple describes this playlist as a “new home for young, risk-taking visionaries who think about music differently.” The selections will feature artists who often have developed grass-roots followings across social media, where they’ve experimented and sparked trends.
- Lifted: This cross-genre playlist is a melting pot of music Apple describes as “a little underground, but too dynamic for the mainstream to ignore.” Tracks will range from the poppy end of the spectrum to hip-hop, R&B, and indie rock, Apple says.
- Wildflower: This playlist will feature emerging voices across a mix of hip-hop, R&B, dance, indie pop and rock.
- Glow: An upbeat playlist of “feed-good, mood-boosting” tracks.
- The Nerve: This playlist features “downcast hybrids” of hip-hop, pop punk, emo, and grunge that are “a little too raw for broader audiences.” Apple says the music can be “bleak.”
- The Sound: A playlist featuring the best in new rock.
- Verified Hits: Another cross-genre playlist, this one featuring hit songs from genres including pop, indie, arty R&B, and electronic.
- Catching Feelings: Music for chilling that’s a little slow moody, mellow and low-key.
- Do Not Disturb: Music on this playlist aims to help listeners not feel alone when dealing with mental health issues, like the ups, downs, crashes and the coping, says Apple.
Apple says the new playlists were created specifically with the needs of Gen Z users in mind, describing this young group as “tech savvy, social media mavens” as well as “rabid music lovers.”
In addition to the Gen Z playlists, Apple Music released 24 brand-new playlists aimed at helping users center and find a few moments of calm. These playlists follow what has been a tense week in the U.S., particularly, due to the 2020 Presidential Elections and their delayed results.
Spotify announced today it will begin to test a new service that gives artists more of a say in how their music is discovered on the Spotify platform. At launch, the service will allow artists and labels to identify music that’s a priority to them and Spotify will then add a signal to help the music get surfaced by its personalization algorithms.
While the new service is not a paid promotion and requires no upfront budget on artists’ or labels’ part, Spotify says that the artists, labels and rights holders will agree to be paid a “promotional recording royalty rate” for streams where the company provides the service. Streams that come from any other place in the app would not be impacted, however.
At launch, the promotional rate will apply only in select areas of Spotify’s app, including Spotify Radio and Autoplay. Promoted tracks won’t appear on other playlists, either algorithmic or editorial — though Spotify isn’t ruling out expansion to these areas in the future.
“We wanted to make the tools accessible and available to artists of any size, at any phase in their career,” explains Spotify Product Marketing Lead, Charleton Lamb, in describing the new service. That’s why the company won’t require an upfront payment from artists and labels, he says.
“We were looking for a model that was acceptable, more democratic and fair…The model is going to allow even really small artists to access promotions at the same terms of the biggest labels,” Lamb adds.
The idea is that if a track does well due to the promotion, the rights holders would see an overall positive ROI as the music becomes more popular and sees increased plays outside of the areas where the lower, promotional rate applies. Artists can also turn off the promotions at any time if the tool is not having a positive financial benefit.
Spotify isn’t detailing the extent of the royalty rate change for promotions, saying that it may be adjusted as a result of the test.
The company also stresses it will take listener interest and enjoyment into consideration with this change. Spotify says if the music performs well, it will continue to promote it. But if it doesn’t, it will be pulled back.
“We won’t guarantee placement to labels or artists, and we only ever recommend music we think listeners will want to hear,” Spotify notes, in its public announcement.
Lamb clarifies this means users may hear a promoted track if they already listen to that genre or artist, but also if there are other signals that indicate a user may be receptive to the music. For example, users could come across the promoted track if the music was acoustically similar to what they already listen to. It could also be placed in front of the user if they listen to similar artists, or if people who have similar listening habits also listen to that music.
The reverse will also be true. If those who share a user’s listening habits are negatively responding to a promoted track — perhaps by skipping it in a session or choosing to stream less frequently from Radio, for instance — the music could be pulled back.
“If any kind of recommendation was causing a listener to respond negatively or show less interest in radio systems, then we would adjust how we’re recommending,” Lamb says.
This user feedback loop can quickly impact the extent with which the track is promoted, he also notes, as the recommendation pools for listeners are updated every 24 hours.
There is currently no limit to how many tracks that an artist or label can promote at once, nor any limit on the time frame of the promotion.
While artists can promote tracks of any recency, Spotify believes the largest focus for this tool would be on catalog music. For example, if the artist is looking to celebrate an album anniversary or take advantage of a “cultural moment.”
In other words, if an artist sees sudden viral success for an older track, this service could help. That’s something that’s happening with much more frequency these days, thanks to TikTok, which is helping surface older tunes when they get featured as the background track in viral videos.
For example, when TikTok user Nathan Apodaca — better known as @420doggface208 — recorded a video of himself skateboarding and drinking Ocean Spray’s Cran-Raspberry juice to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” the 1977 classic found itself back on the top charts.
TikTok said that from the video’s release on Sept. 25th to mid-October, the average daily uses of “Dreams” in TikTok videos climbed 1,380%, which then translated to a 374% jump in sales and an 89% jump in streams. This allowed the song to re-enter the Billboard Hot 100 at #21 after a 43-year absence. It also climbed to the Top Ten of Spotify’s Global and U.S. charts and hit #1 on Apple Music.
That’s precisely the type of “cultural moment” Spotify now aims to profit from.
Though the service is not exactly a “pay for play” model, it is a financially-tied service for music promotion that effectively allows Spotify to make more money when streams are “promoted” with the new tool.
Spotify has been inching its way into the pay for play market for years. In 2019, the company introduced a new feature that allows artists to buy a full-screen recommendation to promote their new album to users Spotify has identified as fans. Rolling Stone said each ad click cost 55 cents, citing internal documents.
Though the feature was targeted towards users who would be more likely to welcome such a notification, it was criticized as being a new form of payola — meaning labels that had the most money to spend would get the most play.
In previous years, Spotify had also been criticized for allowing payola to infiltrate its playlists. And the company famously angered its users in 2018 with an over-the-top Drake album promotion that placed the album and Drake’s image in sections of the app like Browse and Playlists, and used Drake’s image on playlists that didn’t even contain his music — like those featuring dance hits, pop, and more.
This new service, on the other hand, aims to counter some of the issues with past promotions, as it would favor pushing tracks to already receptive users — and it would do so in a less over-the-top way than with pop-up ads or overboard global promotions.
Spotify has tested the technology before now with a small number of partners, but says it will now begin to roll out the test and the promoted rate in the U.S.
During the test period, it will work with a small handful of labels, including both indies and majors, to gain a variety of feedback. Spotify says the feature will expand globally in the future.
Apple is launching its Apple One services bundle tomorrow, though the company’s workout service Fitness+ isn’t quite ready yet.
On an earnings call today, CEO Tim Cook revealed tomorrow’s rollout and called the service the “easiest way for users to enjoy Apple services.” In a conversation with Bloomberg, Apple CFO Luca Maestri revealed the launch timing for Fitness+ as well. The company also detailed that it has 585 million total paid services subscriptions and expects to reach 600 million before the end of the 2020 calendar year.
The subscription bundle is designed around bringing more users into more Apple Services. It’s a big play to get subscribers to switch from Spotify to Apple Music as that is likely the crown jewel of the offering.
The company’s $14.99 per month individual plan includes Apple Music, Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and 50GB of iCloud storage. Apple also sells $19.99 family plans that bump up the storage to 200GB and is planning to debut a “premiere” plan for $29.99 that includes Fitness+ and Apple News+.
Apple’s Services division is growing in importance to the company’s bottom line, with the group reaching an all-time-high in revenue and reaching past half of the quarter’s iPhone revenues. You can read more on their earnings release below.
Spotify is planning further price increases, according to comments made by co-founder and CEO Daniel Ek during the company’s third quarter earnings on Thursday. The streaming service had added 6 million subscribers in Q3 to achieve a total 144 million paying customers across 320 million active users, but fell short on both sales and earnings, driving the stock lower.
By raising prices for its service, Spotify could pull in higher revenues in markets where the company believes users will continue to see the value in paying for their streaming subscription.
The company didn’t specifically detail its plans for price increases in terms of dollars and cents or geographies. However, Ek explained how the company was thinking about possible price hikes in broader terms.
He said although Spotify’s primary focus continues to be user growth, there are markets where the service is more mature and has increased the value it provides subscribers, including with its “enhanced content.”
What he means by “enhanced content” are Spotify’s investments in growing its content library, specifically podcasts. Today, the service has 1.9 million podcasts. This quarter, it released 58 original and exclusive podcast shows, bringing this offering to a total of 16 markets.
Among the highlights, “The Michelle Obama Podcast” sent the new show to No. 1 on the platform for its July launch through August. Spotify’s partnership with DC Comics is kicking off with the “Batman Unburied” podcast. It’s also working with Riot Games‘ “League of Legends on an esports partnership and with Chernin Entertainment to turn its podcasts into film and TV.
However, Spotify’s “The Joe Rogan Experience” deal has been more controversial. It could potentially cause moderation headaches for the company now that it’s been brought in-house, and could lead to some portion of users to unsubscribe as a political stance.
This month, Spotify also rolled out new tools for Anchor users that let them include licensed music in their podcasts to help create a new type of music-and-spoken word programming.
Combined, Spotify sees these efforts as reasons why its service could be priced higher in some markets.
In its mature markets, Spotify says it’s seen engagement and value per hour grow over the years.
“I believe an increase in value per hour is the most reliable signal we have in determining when we are able to use price as a lever to grow our business,” noted Ek.
He also said that early tests of price increases have performed well.
“While it’s still early, initial results indicate that in markets where we’ve tested increased prices, our users believe that Spotify remains an exceptional value and they have shown a willingness to pay more for our service,” said Ek, in his remarks. “So as a result, you will see us further expand price increases, especially in places where we’re well-positioned against the competition and our value per hour is high,” he added.
Spotify has been openly hinting about price increases all year.
In the first quarter, Ek had slightly opened the door to the idea, saying it was “encouraging” to see the company had the opportunity to raise prices when the economy improved. In Q2, Ek again suggested higher prices were coming, and added that Spotify’s exclusive podcast content enables “pricing power,” along with its overall improving service and the existence of higher ARPU (average revenue per user.)
Today, Ek’s statement suggests higher prices aren’t just being weighed or discussed — they’re coming.
To date, Spotify has tested price hikes at its upper tiers of its service in several markets.
Last year, for example, Spotify tested price increases for its Family Plan in some Scandinavian markets, upping the cost by around 13%. The goal of those tests was to figure out if it would make sense for the streamer to roll out higher pricing on a worldwide basis.
Just this month, reports indicated Spotify had increased the price of its Family Plan in Australia from AUS $17.99 to AUS $18.99 — or, approximately US $13.69. This change was effective October 1 for new subscribers.
Today, Spotify notes it also raised the price of the Family Plan in a half dozen other markets this month, including Belgium, Switzerland, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, alongside its Duo Plan (2-person plan) in Colombia.
There was one caveat to Spotify’s plans for higher pricing, however: the pandemic. Ek said the company would “continue to tread carefully in these COVID times to ensure we don’t get ahead of the market.”
In other words, it doesn’t make sense to raise prices in a recession, where people have lost jobs and are cutting unnecessary expenses — like their streaming subscriptions.
In its latest quarterly financial report, Spotify announced that it had crossed 320 million active monthly users. That marks a 29% growth for the quarter, coming on the heels of what seems to be a rather successful launch into the Russian market. Of that number, it now counts 144 million paid users — a 27% jump.
Spotify continues to be the largest music streaming service globally by a rather wide margin. Apple comes in at number two, with around 60 million paid subscribers, as of last year. Amazon Music, meanwhile, is not too far behind at 55 million — though the company doesn’t break out paid subscriber figures (Apple’s is premium only, following a three-month free trial).
In spite of solid growth, Spotify reported a quarterly loss of around $118 million — a big shift since making a quarterly profit in Q3. Among the key drivers the company cited are its on-going decision to offer discounted plans in order to attract new users to the service.
“We can grow that by either adding more users or raising the price of existing users,” the company said on this morning’s call. “We still think there are billions more to go after in this ecosystem, and we’re going to invest in better tools. That will increase the engagement, and if that increases the engagement, it increases our ability to monetize them as well.”
The company has, of course, been spending money like crazy in a bid to become a leader in podcasting content. The past two years have found it spending hundreds of millions of dollars to purchase technology and content companies, including Gimlet, Anchor, Parcast and sports media giant, the Ringer. It noted in this morning’s call that recent purchase the Joe Rogan Experience has quickly become its most popular podcast in all of its English speaking markets.
Spotify says the show has “outperform[ed] our audience expectations. We look forward to the start of our exclusivity period for this podcast by the end of this year.” Rogan’s show created a storm of controversy almost immediately. Just this week, an appearance by de-platformed conspiracy theorist Alex Jones reignited a number of these issues. The company did not respond to our request for comment yesterday.
Nor did it respond to a recent call to increase pay and transparency for musicians — an increasingly important issue as the COVID-19 pandemic has made it all but impossible to make a living on live shows.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have taken a messy beating from critics unhappy with how they handle questionable content on their platform, with some complaining they don’t do enough to rein in misinformation, and others decrying censorship. But what about Spotify? The company is never mentioned in this context, and with its traditional business couched in streaming recorded music, you might understand why its biggest controversies over the last few years have been over how little musicians get paid.
That position, however, is being jolted into quite different territory now with its move into podcasting, which is raising lots of questions over what role Spotify should and could play in overseeing the content on its platform. Now people are in an uproar of who, essentially, gets a platform on its platform.
That issue was highlighted in the last day, when Joe Rogan — the highly paid podcaster with a libertarian bent — brought on Alex Jones (of InfoWars fame, whose own podcast was removed from Spotify, along with YouTube and others, in 2018) on to his show for a meandering three hours, leading to an uproar over how Spotify is giving a spotlight and microphone to an infamous purveyor of misinformation.
The conversation, which also featured comedian Tim Dillon, covered a pretty wide range of topics, with the common themes being today’s most controversial topics, unproven (or disproven) stories behind them presented as fact, and of course the dastardly Dems.
Rogan made a few attempts at refuting or standing up some of the stories and claims that they covered. Early on, for example, when Jones started to talk about how the Democrats are in the pocket of the lobbyists (while Trump was not, according to him), Rogan called up web links in real time, showing that this isn’t quite so clear, with AT&T admitting to paying Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen fees, to help advance its own position with Trump and his administration.
“I was just trying to give you a Gestalt analysis,” Jones growled in response… He then went into a defense of Jared Kushner. “Everything he touches he turns to gold.” (Except, it seems, this, this, and well, maybe many other things, actually.)
The conversation veered on to a number of other topics, such as how the Democrats were intentionally trying to crash the economy to make Trump look bad, and a discussion, very the foggy on details, of the effectiveness of vaccines (foggy, but probably enough strands of which, in the hands of a person already skeptical, may well be the tipping point to dismissing Covid-19 public health initiatives altogether).
For now, Spotify is not saying anything in response to this publicly. We’ve tried to reach out to the company to get a response to questions about the show, and we will update if we hear back. We’ve had nothing for hours, and a colleague who asked the same questions months ago never heard back either. So we’re not holding our breath.
Notably, while Spotify has detailed how to report illegal musical tracks or explicit lyrics on its platform, it has never outlined its content policies when it comes to podcasting.
And from the looks of it, the company has been using some delaying tactics in facing up to the problem more directly.
BuzzFeed today has published a leaked memo from the company’s legal officer Horacio Gutierrez, from today, which appears to defend the company’s position on publishing controversial podcasts (not this one in particular), giving hosts the freedom to have whichever guests they want, and not responding to public outcry but to refer issues to Trust & Safety to investigate.
“If a team member has concerns about any piece of content on our platform, you should encourage them to report it to Trust & Safety because they are the experts on our team charged with reviewing content,” he wrote. “However, it’s important that they aren’t simply flagging a piece of content just because of something they’ve read online. It’s all too common that things are taken out of context.”
Bulleted talking points about controversial content seem to underscore how Spotify is sticking to a position of being a neutral platform, not a proactive curator: “Spotify has always been a place for creative expressions,” Gutierrez wrote. “It’s important to have diverse voices and points of view on our platform.”
He then noted that if a podcast complies with Spotify’s content policies — it doesn’t make clear what those are — then guests are not banned: “We are not going to ban specific individuals from being guests on other people’s shows, as the episode/show complies with our content policies.”
He noted in closing that “we appreciate that not all of you will agree with every piece of content on our platform. However, we do expect you to help your teams understand our role as a platform and the care we take in making decisions.”
People were upset back when Rogan came to Spotify in an exclusive, reportedly $100 million, deal earlier this summer — an event that first introduced the question of how Spotify would handle content controversies. No surprise there, since Rogan was already courting controversy over, for example, how he uses slurs considered to be transphobic by members of the LGBQT community (an issue that has not gone away). Now those questions are coming up again, along with boycotting threats.
Whether this actually makes a dent in its user base, it does raise lots of questions about how the profile of the company is changing, and that Spotify has been given a relatively easy break when it comes to content on its platform up to now. It’s been optimising for exclusive names and speed to market in getting them (and paying big bucks for the bragging rights), over considering what those names are actually doing, and what impact that could have.
One interesting angle to ponder is whether other high-profile hosts might bail if they feel strongly about Spotify’s editorial position. Another is whether (or when) this will catch the eye of the Powers That Be.
Just today, executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google are being brought before the Senate with questions about bias on their platform and how their staff approaches content moderation, and whether they are liable for that content. I don’t know how effective or impactful today’s testimony will be, but for a start, maybe it’s time they start including Spotify in that list, too.
Musicians have taken issue with Spotify’s artist compensation for about as long as there’s been a Spotify. Making a living as a musician is difficult enough for the vast majority of those who are brave — or perhaps foolish — enough to attempt such things, but being thrown in a seemingly endless global pandemic has made it near impossible for many.
This week the Music Workers Union (UMAW) launched a campaign aimed at highlighting some of the issues around the streaming giant’s model. There are demands, as well. At the top of the list is a seemingly small one: one cent per stream on the service. Justice at Spotify has its own site, along with a petition, asking artists to sign on.
“With the entire live music ecosystem in jeopardy due to the coronavirus pandemic, music workers are more reliant on streaming income than ever,” the org writes. “We are calling on Spotify to deliver increased royalty payments, transparency in their practices, and to stop fighting artists.
Organization rep Damon Krukowski told TechCrunch that the reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive among artists. And, as anticipated, less so among some in the industry.
“Response to our Justice at Spotify campaign from musicians has been quick and positive — we are about to hit 10,000 signatures by artists in only the first 48 hours,” Krukowski writes. “At the same time, response from certain corners of the industry has been as cold as we expected: ‘you’re just musicians and don’t understand business,’ is the basic gist of it. To which I would say: the problem we are calling attention to is precisely that musicians have been left out of the conversation! We always come last in payment, and in consultation — even though our work is what the streaming business is built on.”
The growing list of signees includes a number of prominent names — including, unsurprisingly, many in indie music who have been disproportionally hurt by changing models and the current lockdown. Names include Thurston Moore, Saul Williams, Ezra Furman, New Bomb Turk, Frankie Cosmos, Guy Picciotto, Speedy Ortiz and Mary Lattimore.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek caused a storm of controversy in July with seemingly callous comments about artist compensation as live shows have all but completely dried up during the pandemic. “Some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape,” he told Music Ally, “where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough.”
Meanwhile, the service has poured millions into content and startup acquisitions to gain a foothold in the podcast industry. That includes a $100 million acquisition of the Joe Rogan Experience, which continues to cause controversy among the public and, reportedly, Spotify’s own staff.
We’ve reached out to Spotify for comment and will update accordingly when we hear back. Krukowski says the next steps for the organization will largely depend on the response from Spotify and the will of its members. “We have ideas for next steps in this campaign but that will depend on how it is received by both our fellow musicians, and Spotify,” he says.
Facebook will soon be the latest tech giant to enter the world of cloud gaming. Their approach is different than what Microsoft or Google has built but Facebook highlights a shared central challenge: dealing with Apple.
Facebook is not building a console gaming competitor to compete with Stadia or xCloud, instead the focus is wholly on mobile games. Why cloud stream mobile games that your device is already capable of running locally? Facebook is aiming to get users into games more quickly and put less friction between a user seeing an advertisement for a game and actually playing it themselves. Users can quickly tap into the title without downloading anything and if they eventually opt to download the title from a mobile app store, they’ll be able to pick up where they left off.
Facebook’s service will launch on the desktop web and Android, but not iOS due to what Facebook frames as usability restrictions outlined in Apple’s App Store terms and conditions.
While Apple has suffered an onslaught of criticism in 2020 from developers of major apps like Spotify, Tinder and Fortnite for how much money they take as a cut from revenues of apps downloaded from the App Store, the plights of companies aiming to build cloud gaming platforms have been more nuanced and are tied to how those platforms are fundamentally allowed to operate on Apple devices.
Apple was initially slow to provide a path forward for cloud gaming apps from Google and Microsoft, which had previously been outlawed on the App Store. The iPhone maker recently updated its policies to allow these apps to exist, but in a more convoluted capacity than the platform makers had hoped, forcing them to first send users to the App Store before being able to cloud stream a gaming title on their platform.
For a user downloading a lengthy single-player console epic, the short pitstop is an inconvenience, but long-time Facebook gaming exec Jason Rubin says that the stipulations are a non-starter for what Facebook’s platform envisions, a way to start playing mobile games immediately without downloading anything.
“It’s a sequence of hurdles that altogether make a bad consumer experience,” Rubin tells TechCrunch.
Apple tells TechCrunch that they have continued to engage with Facebook on bringing its gaming efforts under its guidelines and that platforms can reach iOS by either submitting each individual game to the App Store for review or operating their service on Safari.
In terms of building the new platform onto the mobile web, Rubin says that without being able to point users of their iOS app to browser-based experiences, as current rules forbid, Facebook doesn’t see pushing its billions of users to accessing the service primarily from a browser as a reasonable alternative. In a Zoom call, Rubin demoes how this could operate on iOS, with users tapping an advertisement inside the app and being redirected to a game experience in mobile Safari.
“But if I click on that, I can’t go to the web. Apple says, ‘No, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that,’ Rubin tells us. “Apple may say that it’s a free and open web, but what you can actually build on that web is dictated by what they decide to put in their core functionality.”
Rubin, who co-founded the game development studio Naughty Dog in 1994 before it was acquired by Sony in 2001, has been at Facebook since he joined Oculus months after its 2014 acquisition was announced. Rubin had previously been tasked with managing the games ecosystem for its virtual reality headsets, this year he was put in charge of the company’s gaming initiatives across their core family of apps as the company’s VP of Play.
Rubin, well familiar with game developer/platform skirmishes, was quick to distinguish the bone Facebook had to pick with Apple and complaints from those like Epic Games which sued Apple this summer.
“I do want to put a pin in the fact that we’re giving Google 30% [on Android]. The Apple issue is not about money,” Rubin tells TechCrunch. “We can talk about whether or not it’s fair that Google takes that 30%. But we would be willing to give Apple the 30% right now, if they would just let consumers have the opportunity to do what we’re offering here.”
Facebook is notably also taking a 30% cut of transaction within these games, even as Facebook’s executive team has taken its own shots at Apple’s steep revenue fee in the past, most recently criticizing how Apple’s App Store model was hurting small businesses during the pandemic. This saga eventually led to Apple announcing that it would withhold its cut through the end of the year for ticket sales of small businesses hosting online events.
Apple’s reticence to allow major gaming platforms a path towards independently serving up games to consumers underscores the significant portion of App Store revenues that could be eliminated by a consumer shift towards these cloud platforms. Apple earned around $50 billion from the App Store last year, CNBC estimates, and gaming has long been their most profitable vertical.
Though Facebook is framing this as an uphill battle against a major platform for the good of the gamer, this is hardly a battle between two underdogs. Facebook pulled in nearly $70 billion in ad revenues last year and improving their offerings for mobile game studios could be a meaningful step towards increasing that number, something Apple’s App Store rules threaten.
For the time being, Facebook is keeping this launch pretty conservative. There are just 5-10 titles that are going to be available at launch, Rubin says. Facebook is rolling out access to the new service, which is free, this week across a handful of states in America, including California, Texas, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and West Virginia. The hodge-podge nature of the geographic rollout is owed to the technical limitations of cloud-gaming– people have to be close to data centers where the service has rolled out in order to have a usable experience. Facebook is aiming to scale to the rest of the U.S. in the coming months, they say.
Spotify’s streaming music service is starting to resemble terrestrial radio with today’s launch of the company’s first daily morning show, “The Get Up.” Like other morning shows designed for commuters, the new program will be led by hosts and will combine news, pop culture, entertainment and music. But in Spotify’s case, the music is personalized to the listener,
The show is not a live program, however. Unlike radio morning shows where content is broadcast live and often also involves interactions with listeners — like call-ins or contests — Spotify’s show is pre-recorded and made available as a playlist.
That means you can listen at any time after its 7 AM ET release on weekday mornings.
You can also opt to skip portions of the programming — like the music or some of the chatter — if you prefer. (Spotify, to be clear, refers to the show as a podcast, but the format actually splits the hosts’ talk radio-like content from the individual music tracks. In other words, it’s more like a mixed-media playlist than a traditional podcast.)
Another key thing that makes Spotify’s programming different from a radio show is that the music is personalized to the listener. Of course, that’s not always ideal. If you prefer to listen to new music during your commute, but have had been busy streaming oldies on Spotify’s service, your morning show will reflect those trends. There’s currently no way to program the show more directly by genre, either.
The show itself is hosted by three people: journalist Speedy Morman, previously of Complex; YouTuber Kat Lazo, known for her series “The Kat Call;” and Spotify’s own Xavier ‘X’ Jernigan, Head of Cultural Partnerships and In-House Talent.
The new playlist will be made available on weekday mornings in the Made for You and Driving hubs on Spotify for both free and premium subscribers in the U.S. You can also access the show directly from http://www.spotify.com/thegetup.
The Coalition for App Fairness (CAF), a newly-formed advocacy group pushing for increased regulation over app stores, has more than doubled in size with today’s announcement of 20 new partners — just one month after its launch. The organization, led by top app publishers and critics including Epic Games, Deezer, Basecamp, Tile, Spotify and others, debuted in late September to fight back against Apple and Google’s control over app stores, and particularly the stores’ rules around in-app purchases and commissions.
The coalition claims both Apple and Google engage in anti-competitive behavior, as they require publishers to use the platforms’ own payment mechanisms, and charge 30% commission on these forced in-app purchases. In some cases, those commissions are collected from apps where Apple and Google offer a direct competitor. For example, the app stores commission Spotify, which competes with Google’s YouTube Music and Apple’s own Apple Music.
The group also calls out Apple more specifically for not allowing app publishers any other means of addressing the iOS user base except through the App Store that Apple controls. Google, however, allows apps to be sideloaded, so is less a concern on that platform.
The coalition launched last month with 13 app publishers as its initial members, and invited other interested parties to sign up to join.
Since then, CAF says “hundreds” of app developers expressed interest in the organization. It’s been working through applications to evaluate prospective members, and is today announcing its latest cohort of new partners.
The apps also hail from a number of app store categories, including Business, Education, Entertainment, Developer Tools, Finance, Games, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Music, Navigation, News, Productivity, Shopping, Sport, and Travel.
The new partners include: development studio Beonex, health app Breath Ball, social app Challenge by Eristica, shopping app Cladwell, fitness app Down Dog Yoga, developer tool Gift Card Offerwall, game maker Green Heart Games, app studio Imagine BC, business app Passbase, music app Qobuz, lifestyle app QuackQuack and Qustodio, game Safari Forever, news app Schibsted, app studio Snappy Mob, education app SpanishDict, navigation app Sygic, app studio Vertical Motion, education app YARXI, and the Mobile Marketing Marketing Association.
With the additions, CAF now includes members from Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, India, Israel, Malaysia, Norway, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The new partners have a range of complaints against the app stores, and particularly Apple.
SpanishDict, for instance, was frustrated by weeks of rejections with no recourse and inconsistently applied policies, it says. It also didn’t want to use Apple’s new authentication system, Apple Sign-In, but Apple made this a requirement for being included on the App Store.
Passbase, a Sign In With Apple competitor, also argues that Apple applied its rules unfairly, denying its submission but allowing its competitors on the App Store.
While some of the app partners are speaking out against Apple for the first time, others have already detailed their struggles publicly.
Eristica posted on its own website how Apple shut down its seven-year old social app business, which allowed users to challenge each other to dares to raise money for charity. The company claims it pre-moderated the content to ensure dangerous and harmful content wasn’t published, and employed human moderators, but was still rejected over dangerous content.
Meanwhile, TikTok remained on the App Store, despite hosting harmful challenges, like the pass out challenge, cereal challenge, salt and ice challenge and others, Eristica says.
Apple, of course, tends to use its policies to shape what kind of apps it wants to host on its App Store — and an app that focused on users daring one another may have been seen as a potential liability.
That said, Eristica presents a case where it claims to have followed all the rules and made all the changes Apple said it wanted, and yet still couldn’t get back in.
Down Dog Yoga also recently made waves by calling out Apple for rejecting its app because it refused to auto-charge customers at the end of its free trial.
The issue, in this case, wasn’t just that Apple wants a cut of developers’ businesses, it also wanted to dictate how those businesses are run.
Another new CAF partner, Qustodio, was among the apps impacted by Apple’s 2018 parental control app ban, which arrived shortly after Apple introduced its own parental control software in iOS.
The app developer had then co-signed a letter asking Apple release a Screen Time API rather than banning parental control apps — a consideration that TechCrunch had earlier suggested should have been Apple’s course of action in the first place.
Under increased regulatory scrutiny, Apple eventually relented and allowed the apps back on the App Store last year.
Not all partners are some little guy getting crushed by App Store rules. Some may have run afoul of rules designed to protect consumers, like Apple’s crackdown on offerwalls. Gift Card Offerwall’s SDK, for example, was used to incentivize app monetization and in-app purchases, which isn’t something consumers tend to welcome.
Despite increased regulatory pressure and antitrust investigations in their business practices, both Apple and Google have modified their app store rules in recent weeks to ensure they’re clear about their right to collect in-app purchases from developers.
Meanwhile, Apple and CAF member Epic Games are engaged in a lawsuit over the Fortnite ban, as Epic chose to challenge the legality of the app store business model in the court system.
“Apple must be held accountable for its anticompetitive behavior. We’re committed to creating a level playing field and fair future, and we’re just getting started,” CAF said in an announcement about the new partners. It says it’s still open to new members.
SiriusXM today completed its previously announced $325 million acquisition of podcast platform Stitcher from E.W. Scripps, and has now launched Stitcher’s podcasts on Pandora across all tiers of the streaming service. The deal brings top Stitcher titles to Pandora, including Freakonomics Radio, My Favorite Murder, SuperSoul Conversations from the Oprah Winfrey Network, Office Ladies, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Literally! with Rob Lowe, LeVar Burton Reads, and WTF with Marc Maron, among others.
On Pandora, the podcasts will be indexed using the company’s proprietary Podcast Genome Project technology. This system leverages automated technology — like natural language processing, collaborative filtering, and other machine learning approaches — then combines that with human curation to make personalized recommendations to podcast listeners on Pandora’s app.
The podcasts will also continue to be available in the Stitcher app in North America, the company says.
The Stitcher acquisition brought with it several key assets, including its own mobile listening app, which includes a premium tier of exclusives, and the Midroll Media network for podcast advertising. Stitcher also creates its own original programs and runs multiple content networks, via Earwolf.
That means SirusXM gained thousands of top podcasts with the deal’s closure. The company also now claims it has the “largest addressable audience in North America” across all categories of digital audio, including music, sports, talk, and podcasts thanks to the combination of satellite radio service SiriusXM, streaming app Pandora, and now Stitcher.
The company believes the deal will help it to attract more creators to its platform, thanks to the enhanced production, marketing, and distribution capabilities it offers, following the deal’s close. Advertisers, meanwhile, will be able to more precisely target podcasts for better ad efficiency, and will gain access to improved measurements, says SiriusXM.
In terms of Stitcher’s execs, CEO Erik Diehn will now report to Scott Greenstein, President and Chief Content Officer of SiriusXM, who also oversees content at Pandora. Stitcher’s Chief Revenue Officer, Sarah van Mosel, will report directly to John Trimble, Chief Advertising Revenue Officer of SiriusXM.
“We are deepening our position in podcasting, the fastest-growing sector in digital audio, and with completion of this transaction, our vision is taking shape,” said SiriusXM CEO Jim Meyer, in a statement about the deal’s completion. “With Stitcher and its varied assets, we are now a one-stop shop able to meet the needs of podcast creators, publishers and advertisers, while also providing listeners with access to great shows, series and programming.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, which disrupted many consumer trends and accelerated others, podcasting still remains one of the fast-growing digital audio industries. Podcast downloads returned to pre-COVID levels this summer, and Spotify reported that podcast consumption more doubled in Q2 and nearly a quarter (21%) of its active users now listen to podcasts.
Stitcher was not SiriusXM’s first acquisition focused on podcasts or ad technologies. It also bought podcast management platform Simplecast this June, and before that, it acquired AdsWizz for $66.3 million to power Pandora’s advertising efforts.
Dee Goens and Jacob Horne have both the exact and precisely opposite background that you’d expect to see from two people building a way for creators to build a sustainable economy for their followers to participate in. Coinbase, crypto hack projects at university, KPMG, Merill Lynch. But where’s the art?
“Believe it or not, I used to have dreams of being a rapper,” laughs Goens. “There’s a Soundcloud out there somewhere. With that passion you explore the inner workings of the music industry. I would excitedly ask industry friends about the advance and 360 deal models only to realize they were completely broken.”
And, while many may be well intentioned, these deal structures of exploit artistry. In many cases taking the majority of an artist’s ownership. I grew curious why artists were unable to resource themselves from their community in an impactful way — but instead, were forced to seek out potentially predatory relationships. To me, this was bullshit.”
Horne says that he’d always wanted to create a fashion brand.
“I always thought a fashion brand would be something I’d do after crypto,” he tells me. “I love crypto but it felt overly focused on just finance and felt like it was missing something. When I started to play with the idea of combining these two passions and starting Saint Fame.”
While at Coinbase, Horne hacked on Saint Fame, a side project that leveraged some of the ideas on display in Zora. It was a marketplace that allowed people to sell and trade items with cryptocurrency, buying intermediate variable-value tokens redeemable for future goods.
“I realized that culture itself was shaped and built upon an old financial system that is systemically skewed against artists and communities,” says Horne. “The operating system of ownership was built in the 1600s with the Dutch East India Trading Company and early Nation States. Like what the fuck is up with that?”
We have the internet now, we can literally create and share information to billions of people all at once, and the ownership system is the same as when people had to get on a boat for 6 months to send a letter. It’s time for an upgrade. Any community on the internet should be able to come together, with capital, and work towards any shared vision. That starts with empowering creators and artists to create and own the culture they’re creating. In the long term this moves to internet communities taking on societal endeavours.”
The answer that they’re working on is called Zora. It’s a marketplace with two main components but one philosophy: sustainable economics for creators.
All too often creators are involved in reaping the rewards for their work only once, but the secondary economy continues to generate value out of their reach. Think of an artist, as an example, that creates a piece and sells it for market value. That’s great, but thereafter, every ounce of work that the artist puts into future work, into building a name and a brand and a community for themselves puts additional value into that piece. The artist never sees a dime from that, relying instead on the value of future releases to pay dividends on the work.
That’s basically the way it has always worked. I have a little background in this as I used to exhibit and was involved in running a gallery and my father is a fine artist. If he sells a painting today for $300, gets a lot better, more popular and more valued over time, the owner of that painting may re-sell it for hundreds or thousands more. He will never see a dime of that. And god forbid that an artist like him gets too locked into the gallery system which slices off enormous chunks of the value of a piece for a square of wall space and the marketing cachet of a curator or storefront.
The same story can be told across the recording industry, fashion, sports and even social media. Lots of middle-people and lots of vigs to pay. And, unsurprisingly, the same creators of color that drive so much of The Culture are the biggest losers hands down.
The primary Zora product is a market that allows creators or artists to launch products and then continue to participate in their second market value.
Here’s how the Zora team explains it:
On Zora, creators have the ability to set two prices: start price and max price. As community members buy and sell a token, it moves the price up or down. This makes the price dynamic as it opens price discovery on the items by the market. When people buy the token it moves the price closer to its maximum. When they sell, it moves closer to its minimum.
For an excited community like Jeff [Staple’s], this new dynamic price can cause a quick increase in the value of his sneakers. As a creator, they capture the value from selling on a price curve as well as getting a take on trading fees from the market which they now own. What used to trade on StockX is now about to trade on a creator owned market.
There have been some early successes. Designer and marketer Jeff Staple launched a run of 30 Coca-Cola x Staple SB Dunk customs by Reverseland and their value is trending up around 234% since release. A Benji Taylor x Kevin Doan vinyl figure is up 210%.
I have seen some other stabs at this. When he was still at StockX, founder Josh Luber launched their Intial Product Offerings, a Blind Dutch Auction system that allowed the market to set a price for an item, with some of the cut of pricing above market going back to the manufacturer or brand making the offering. The focus there was brands vs. individual creators (though they did launch with a Ben Baller slide). Allowing brands to tap into second market value for limited goods is a lot less of a revolution play, but the thesis is similar. I thought that was a good idea then, and I like it even better when it’s being used to democratize rather than maximize returns.
Side note: I love that this team is messing around with interesting ideas like dogfooding their own marketplace with the value of being in their own TestFlight group. I’m sort of like, is that allowed, but at the same time it’s dope and I’ve never seen anything like it.
Zora was founded in May of 2020 (right in the middle of this current panny-palooza). The team is Goens (Creators and Community), Horne (Product), Slava Kim (Design), Dai Hovey (Engineering), Ethan Daya (Engineering) and Tyson Batistella (Engineering).
Zora has raised a $2M seed round led by Kindred Ventures with participation from Trevor McFedries of Brud, Alice Lloyd George, Jeff Staple, Coinbase Ventures and others.
But this idea that physical goods or even digitally packaged works have to exist as finite containers of value is not a given either. Goens and Horne are pushing to challenge that too with the first big new product for Zora: community tokens. Built on Ethereum, the $RAC token is the first of its kind from Zora. André Allen Anjos, stage name RAC, is a Portuguese- American musician and producer who makes remixes that stream on the web, original music and has had commercial work featured in major brand ads.
Though he is popular and has a following in the tens of thousands, RAC is not a social media superpower. The token distribution and subsequent activity in trades and sales is purely driven by the buy-in that his fans feel. This is a key learning for a lot of players in this new economy: raw numbers are the social media equivalent of a billboard that people drive by. It may get you eyeballs, but it doesn’t guarantee action. The modern creator is living in a house with their fans, offering them access and interacting via Discord and Snap and comments.
But those houses are all other people’s houses, which leads into the reason that Zora is launching a token.
The token drop serves multiple purposes.
- It unites fans across multiple silos. Whether they’re on Intsa, Tiktok, Spotify or Snapchat, they can all earn tokens. That token serves as a unifying community unit of value that they all understand and pivot around. It’s a way to own a finite binary “atom” of an artist’s digital being.
- It creates a pool of value that an artist can own and distribute themselves. Currently you cannot buy $RAC directly. You can only earn it. Some of that is retroactive for loyal supporters. If, for instance, you followed RAC on Bandcamp dating back to 2009, you’ll get some of a pool of 25,000 RAC. Bought a bit of RAC merch? You get some credit in tokens too. Future RAC distributions will be given to Patron supporters, merch purchasers etc.
- The value stays in the artists universe, rather than being spun out into currency. It serves as a way for the artist to incentivize, reward and energize their followers. RAC fans who buy his mixtape get tokens, and they can redeem them for purchases of further merch.
- It allows more flexibility for creators whose work doesn’t fall so neatly into package-able categories. Performance art, activism, bite-sized entertainment. These are not easy to ‘drop’ for money. But if you have a circulating token that grows in value as you grow your audience, there is definitely something there.
The future of Zora most immediately involves spinning up a self-service version of the marketplace, allowing creators and entrepreneurs to launch their products without a direct partnership and onboarding. There are many, many uncertainties here and the team has a lot of challenges ahead on the traction and messaging front. But as mentioned, some early releases have shown promise, and the philosophy is sound and much needed. As the creator universe/passion economy/what you call it depends on how old you are/fandom merchant wave rises there is definitely an opportunity to rethink how the value of their contributions are assigned and whether there is a way to turn the long-term labor of building a community into long-term value.
The last traded price of RAC’s tape, BOY, by the way? $3,713, up 18,465%.
The two sizes of the Spotify widget in iOS 14. [credit: Samuel Axon ]
Spotify—one of Apple’s main rivals in both the latter’s services strategy and in antitrust investigations—has released a new version of its iPhone app that supports home screen widgets, one of the flagship features of iOS 14.
Last month’s release of iOS 14 brought home screen widgets—previously only the domain of iPads and Android phones—to iPhones. As we noted in our iOS 14 review, the value of the feature depends entirely on strong adoption and clever uses by third-party app developers.
Releases of widget-supporting apps from developers have been slow. Part of that was because Apple launched iOS 14 with less notice to developers than usual, meaning many were racing to play catch-up. But even now, a month later, the roster of widget-supporting apps has only grown a little.
Spotify today has released its highly-anticipated iOS 14 widget with the latest app update. The new widget, which comes in both the small and medium sizes for the time being, allows you to quickly access your recently played artists, albums and podcasts with a tap.
The smaller widget will display just your most recently listened to item, while the medium-sized widget will instead show the five most recent items — four in a horizontal row and the most recent at the top. In that case, you can actually tap on the small thumbnail for which of the five you want to now stream to be taken directly to that page in the Spotify app.
Another interesting aspect to the widget is that the background color automatically updates to match the thumbnail image. If the artist is wearing red, for example, the widget changes to red. If the album is blue, the widget becomes blue. And so on.
There seem to be a limited range of colors available, however. For example, when we streamed something with a gray-and-white color scheme in the thumbnail image (e.g. Taylor Swift’s “folklore”), the widget defaulted to Spotify’s green shade.
The widget’s colorful experience can help it to stand out on the homescreen. But it could also be problematic for those who have customized their iOS 14 homescreen with a certain aesthetic — like all app icons and widgets in neutral shades, or another favorite color, such as pink, purple, blue, or black.
Based on Etsy trends, iOS 14 packs in neutral or fall shades are currently best sellers, as are those with lighter pinks and dark themes in black. Spotify’s widget could clash with those designs, at times.
Still, the demand for a Spotify widget has been so strong that before the official release it sent a third-party music widget provider flying up the App Store charts as users customized their iOS 14 homescreens. That widget provider, TuneTrack, even got as high at No. 8 Overall and No. 1 in Music on Sept. 19, 2020, when the customization trend was driving millions of new downloads.
The new Spotify widget is live today within the updated Spotify app on the iOS App Store.
Spotify today is launching a new feature that combines spoken word audio commentary with music tracks. The new format will allow Spotify to reproduce the radio-like experience of listening to a DJ or a music journalist offering their perspective on the music. But Spotify is also making it possible for anyone to use the format to create a music-filled podcast through an integration with Spotify’s own DIY podcasting app, Anchor.
Spotify says the new shows will still compensate the artist the same as if the track was streamed normally, as the format relies on Spotify’s music catalog licenses just like regular streams.
However, the experience will be customized to listeners based on what tier of Spotify’s service they use.
Premium subscribers will be able to hear the full tracks as part of the shows, Spotify explains, while free listeners will only hear the 30-second previews.
Listeners can also interact with the music content within the shows as they otherwise could in a playlist — by liking the songs, saving the track, or viewing more information about the track without having to leave the episode page or do a search. To do this, you’ll hit “Explore Episode” on the show’s episode page, or tap the play bar at the bottom of the screen to pull up the track list.
The format is similar in some ways to Pandora’s Stories, also a combination of music and podcasting, introduced last year. But Pandora’s effort focused on allowing artists to add narratives to their music — like talking about the meaning of a song or what inspires them. Other creators could also apply for access.
Spotify’s new format, meanwhile, is immediately open to all users in supported regions.
As of today, the Anchor app will now allow any user to create a show using this format in the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland, to start.
The app’s update will allow users to select a new “Music” tool, which then connects them with the entire Spotify music catalog of over 65 million tracks. Users will also be able to connect their Spotify account to browse and select songs from their own playlists to add to shows.
This is a significant update, as limitations around streaming rights had previously limited podcast creators from being able to easily integrate licensed music in their programs.
Creators will also be about to insert ads in their shows, via Anchor Sponsorships. The company notes that this process is still considered a beta, and it will be manually reviewing shows using the format for now. The review process can take up to 24 hours.
Spotify says the feature will expand to more markets soon.
At launch, Spotify is also launching its own set of seven Spotify Original Shows that put the new format to work, which can be found in the new “Shows With Music” hub in the Browse section of the Spotify app or in a programmed shelf in your Home tab.
These first seven shows include (descriptions via Spotify):
- Halleloo Happy Hour with DJ Shangela – Grab a drink and join our effervescent host, “Shangela” (A Star is Born, Ru Paul’s Drag Race), for her weekly happy hour playlist! Featuring games, guests, and tea. Halleloo!
- Murder Ballads – Explore the history and folklore behind some of America’s most mysterious and violent songs.
60 Songs That Explain the 90s – The 1990s were a turning point in music. Listen along as The Ringer’s preeminent music critic Rob Harvilla curates and explores 60 iconic songs from the ‘90s that define the decade.
- Our Love Song – Every week a couple shares the soundtrack that defines their love story. As a culture we are fascinated by love and romance. It is why the majority of songs are about love and heartbreak. This show will not only explore entertaining love stories, but also the classic songs that define these relationships.
- Conspiracy Theories: Music Edition – A deeper look at some of the most fascinating theories surrounding famous artists and the music industry as it affects the world.
- Rock This with Allison Hagendorf – Rock This with Allison Hagendorf is a weekly show celebrating all things Rock & Alternative culture, featuring one of a kind interviews and highlighting music from your favorite and emerging artists.
- 10 Songs That Made Me – An artist or celebrity creates a storytelling playlist of 10 songs that mark meaningful moments in their lives, providing personal insights into each song choice.
This isn’t Spotify’s first attempt at combining spoken word and music on its platform. Last year, the company launched “Your Daily Drive,” a personalized playlist that included both your favorite music and podcasts. But this could be a disjointed experience, as the music and podcasts generally do not relate to one another.
The new format, meanwhile, is more of a storytelling experience and could prompt creators to make more music-filled podcasts, helping Spotify to expand its podcast listenership and revenues.
Spotify said earlier this summer it had already grown its podcast catalog by 50% to reach 1.5 million shows, and its podcast advertising outperformed in the most recent quarter.
The company has also been busy adding big names to its podcast catalog, including Michelle Obama, Kim Kardashian West, and Joe Rogan. But some early data on the efforts indicate these deals may be more useful in retention than new user acquisition. And the deals are pricey. (And in Rogan’s case, controversial).
By opening up music-filled podcast creation to all, Spotify has a more affordable way to expand its podcast library and even reach a long tail of listeners.
Lead Edge Capital, a software-focused venture firm with one office in New York and another in California, was founded just 11 years ago. Yet it’s already managing $3 billion in assets through a process that founder Mitchell Green half-kiddingly refers to as “rinse and repeat.”
As he describes its model, Lead Edge raises money from wealthy, networked individuals, then it claws its way into companies, helps them, turns them into valuable references, and when those companies sell or go public, the firm raises more money from people who like the firm’s returns.
It sounds simple but it isn’t, says Green, who cut his teeth as an associate at Bessemer Venture Partners and at a Tiger Fund-affiliate called Eastern Advisors. Managing 500 investors, which is now the case, is “harder than it looks.”
That’s true even with two partners: Brian Neider, who first crossed paths with Green at Bessemer, and Nimay Mehta, who joined the firm in 2011. That’s true despite a dozen employees who Green says are “zero to five years out of college” and cold-call companies all day,
It’s a lot of work, even with four investors who are also operating partners and who, in that capacity, sometimes serve as board members on behalf of Lead Edge. These are former eBay president Lorrie Norrington, former Netsuite CFO Ron Gill, former Dell CFO Jim Schneider, and former Dell president Paul Bell. (“If you’ve already got a couple of VCs on your board,” says Green, “I think the company gets more benefit from putting operators on the board.”)
Not that anyone is complaining. On the contrary, Lead Edge has been having a very good run, which explains how its fund sizes have so quickly ballooned, from a $52 million debut vehicle to a $138 million fund, a $290 million fund, a $520 million vehicle, and now a $950 million fifth fund. (Lead Edge also spins up special purpose vehicles on the side one to two times a year when it wants an especially big bite of a certain company.)
Some of its largest returns by dollars have come via Alibaba’s IPO, Spotify’s IPO, and the sale of Duo Security to Cisco, companies on which it made big bets. Green has said the firm invested $300 million into Alibaba in the years leading up to its IPO; more than $150 million into Spotify in the years leading up to its IPO; and more than $90 million into Duo.
This year is proving fortuitous to Lead Edge’s backers, too, including thanks to the recent direct listing of Asana and the sale of Signal Sciences to Fastly.
That’s saying nothing about the Alibaba affiliate ANT Group, into which Lead Edge has poured $160 million over the years and that’s now expected to become the world’s largest IPO (although the offering has been delayed for now by China’s securities regulator).
Given these wins, it’s maybe it’s not so surprising that the firm’s investor base would continue to build on itself, and in the process turn into a highly competitive advantage for the firm, according to Green.
Indeed, when asked how Lead Edge differentiates itself from other growth-stage investors, he cites the firm’s pool of backers, which includes former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcahy, former Charles Schwab CEO David Pottruck, and former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein, among the hundreds of other individuals who’ve written checks to Lead Edge that range from $250,000 to $50 million.
While he won’t say who some of the biggest of those investors are in terms of dollars committed, he has no qualms in crediting them collectively with the firm’s success — or going out of his way to keep them happy. Last night, for example, he played host to some of them at his Southern California home. He doesn’t seem to mind it.
“People want us for our LP network,” says Green. “That’s what we’re known for, 100%.”
It’s happening slowly but surely. With every passing week, more venture firms are beginning to announce SPACs. The veritable blitz of SPACs formed by investor Chamath Palihapitiya notwithstanding, we’ve now seen a SPAC (or plans for a SPAC) revealed by Ribbit Capital, Lux Capital, the travel-focused venture firm Thayer Ventures, Tusk Ventures’s founder Bradley Tusk, the SoftBank Vision Fund, and FirstMark Capital, among others. Indeed, while many firms say they’re still in the information-gathering phase of what could become a sweeping new trend, others are diving in headfirst.
To better understand what’s happening out there, we talked on Friday with Amish Jani, the cofounder of FirstMark Capital in New York and the president of a new $360 million tech-focused blank-check company organized by Jani and his partner, Rick Heitzmann. We wanted to know why a venture firm that has historically focused on early-stage, privately held companies would be interested in public market investing, how Jani and Heitzmann will manage the regulatory requirements, and whether the firm may encounter conflicts of interest, among other things.
If you’re curious about starting a SPAC or investing in one or just want to understand how they relate to venture firms, we hope it’s useful reading. Our chat has been edited for length and clarity.
TC: Why SPACs right now? Is it fair to say it’s a shortcut to a hot public market, in a time when no one quite knows when the markets could shift?
AJ: There are a couple of different threads that are coming together. I think the first one is the the possibility that [SPACs] works and really well. [Our portfolio company] DraftKings [reverse-merged into a SPAC] and did a [private investment in public equity deal]; it was a fairly complicated transaction and they used this to go public and the stock has done incredibly well.
In parallel, [privately held companies] over the last five or six years could raise large sums of capital, and that was pushing out the the timeline [to going public] fairly substantially. [Now there are] tens of billions of dollars in value sitting in the private markets and [at the same time] an opportunity to go public and build trust with public shareholders and leverage the early tailwinds of growth.
TC: DraftKings was valued at $3 billion when it came out and it’s now valued at $17 billion, so it has performed really, really well. What makes an ideal target for a SPAC versus a traditional IPO? Does having a consumer-facing business help get public market investors excited? That seems the case.
AJ: It comes down to the nature and the growth characteristics and the sustainability of the business. The early businesses that are going out, as you point out, tend to be consumer based, but I think there’s as good an opportunity for enterprise software companies to use the SPAC to go public.
SPAC [targets] are very similar to what you would want in a traditional IPO: companies with large markets, extremely strong management teams, operating profiles that are attractive, and long term margin profiles that are sustainable, and to be able to articulate [all of that] and have the governance and infrastructure to operate in a public context. You need to be able to do that across any of these products that you use to get public.
TC: DraftKings CEO Jason Robins is an advisor on your SPAC. Why jump into sponsoring one of these yourselves?
AJ: When he was initially approached, we were, like most folks, pretty skeptical. But as the conversations evolved, and we began to understand the amount of customization and flexibility [a SPAC can offer], it felt very familiar. [Also] the whole point of backing entrepreneurs is they do things differently. They’re disruptive, they like to try different formats, and really innovate, and when we saw through the SPAC and the [actual merger] this complex transaction where you’re going through an M&A and raising capital alongside that and it’s all happening between an entrepreneur and a trusted partner, and they’ve coming to terms before even having to talk about all of these things very publicly, that felt like a really interesting avenue to create innovation.
For us, we’re lead partners and directors in the companies that we’re involved with; we start at the early stages at the seed [round] and Series A and work with these entrepreneurs for over a decade, and if we can step in with this product and innovate on behalf of our entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs in tech more broadly, we think there’s a really great opportunity to push forward the process for how companies get public.
TC: You raised $360 million for your SPAC. Who are its investors? Are the same institutional investors who invest in your venture fund? Are these hedge funds that are looking to deploy money and also potentially get their money out faster?
AJ: I think a bit of a misconception is this idea that most investors in the public markets want to be hot money or fast money. You know, there are a lot of investors that are interested in being part of a company’s journey and who’ve been frustrated because they’ve been frozen out of being able to access these companies as they’ve stayed private longe. So our investors are some are our [limited partners], but the vast majority are long-only funds, alternative investment managers, and people who are really excited about technology asa long term disrupter and want to be aligned with this next generation of iconic companies.
TC: How big a transaction are you looking to make with what you’ve raised?
AJ: The targets that we’re looking for are going to look very similar to the kind of dilution that a great company would take going public — think of that 15%, plus or minus, around that envelope. As you do the math on that, you’re looking at a company that’s somewhere around $3 billion in value. We’re going to have conversations with a lot of different folks who we know well, but that’s that’s generally what we’re looking for.
TC: Can you talk about your “promote,” meaning how the economics are going to work for your team?
AJ: Ours [terms] are very standard to the typical SPAC. We have 20% of the original founders shares. And that’s a very traditional structure as you think about venture funds and private equity firms and hedge funds: 20% is is very typical.
TC: It sounds like your SPAC might be one in a series.
AJ: Well, one step at a time. The job is to do this really well and focus on this task. And then we’ll see based on the reaction that we’re getting as we talk to targets and how the world evolves whether we do a second or third one.
TC: How involved would you be with the management of the merged company and if the answer is very, does that limit the number of companies that might want to reverse-merge into your SPAC?
AJ: The management teams of the companies that we will target will continue to run their businesses. When we talk about active involvement, it’s very much consistent with how we operate as a venture firm, [meaning] we’re a strong partner to the entrepreneur, we are a sounding board, we help them accelerate their businesses, we give them access to resources, and we leverage the FirstMark platform. When you go through the [merger], you look at what the existing board looks like, you look at our board and what we bring to bear there, and then you decide what makes the most sense going forward. And I think that’s going to be the approach that we take.
TC: Chamath Palihapitiya tweeted yesterday about a day when there could be so many VCs with SPACs that two board members from the same portfolio company might approach it to take it public. Does that sound like a plausible scenario and if so, what would you do?
AJ: That’s a really provocative and interesting idea and you could take that further and say, maybe they’ll form a syndicate of SPACs. The way I think about it is that competition is a good thing. It’s a great thing for entrepreneurship, it’s a good thing overall.
The market is actually really broad. I think there’s something like 700-plus private unicorns that are out there. And while there are a lot of headlines around the SPAC, if you think about technology-focused people with deep tech backgrounds, that pool gets very, very limited, very quickly. So we’re pretty excited about the ability to go have these conversations.
You can listen in on more of this conversation, including around liquidation issues and whether FirstMark will target its own portfolio companies or a broader group or targets, here.
Acquired in 2017, Soundtrap more or less serves a similar role as Anchor under the larger Spotify banner — albeit largely focused on music creation, instead of podcasting. The company’s software of the same name is a cloud-based service designed to let musicians remotely collaborate on a song, track by track. It is, honestly, a perfect tool for this moment of social distancing.
Announced this morning, the new Soundtrap Capture builds on that idea, making it more mobile and addressing the earliest stage of the songwriting process. As someone who interviews a lot of musicians on my podcast, I can certainly attest to the fact that Voice Memo has become an increasingly important tool in songwriting. Being in a creative field is a bit of a double-edged sword, in that you’re often able to make your own hours, but inspiration can (and often does) arrive when you least expect it.
The smartphone has become a pretty necessary part of the process for many musicians, as an always-present blank slate into which they can sing or hum inspiration. That’s the underlying principle for Capture. At its heart, the app is a pretty simple Voice Memo tool, with an interface that is basically a giant red record button. Tapping that, the users sings a line, which is saved as a track that can be shared with others. They can then record an overlay. It’s a bit like Voice Memos meets Google Docs.
The app has been in development since last year and in beta since the spring, and honestly, the timing is pretty perfect for many musicians seeking ways to work in the seemingly endless era of social distancing. The app is really just meant for that initial moment of inspiration, which means the controls are pretty limited. You can, for instance, adjust the volume of the tracks, but can’t adjust other levels. You can’t create loops of your found sounds, either — that would be a fun and useful trick, I think, but co-founder Per Emanuelsson tells TechCrunch that Soundtrap considers it an aspect of the songwriting process that generally comes later.
The app features live storage for memos and will add integration to the main Soundtrap Studio app at some point later this year.
At an online event today, Daniel Ek, the founder of Spotify, said he would invest 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) of his personal fortune in deeptech “moonshot projects”, spread across the next 10 years.
Ek indicated that he was referring to machine learning, biotechnology, materials sciences and energy as the sectors he’d like to invest in.
“I want to do my part; we all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital,” Ek said, adding he wanted to achieve a “new European dream”.
“I get really frustrated when I see European entrepreneurs giving up on their amazing visions selling early on to non-European companies, or when some of the most promising tech talent in Europe leaves because they don’t feel valued here,” Ek said. “We need more super companies that raise the bar and can act as an inspiration.”
According to Forbes, Ek is worth $3.6 billion, which would suggest he’s putting aside roughly a third of his own wealth for the investments.
And it would appear his personal cash will be deployed with the help of a close confidant of Ek’s. He retweeted a post by Shakhil Khan, one of the first investors in Spotify, who said “it’s time to come out of retirement then.”
During a fireside chat held by the Slush conference, he said: “We all know that one of the greatest challenges is access to capital. And that is why I’m sharing today that I will devote €1bn of my personal resources to enable the ecosystem of builders.” He said he would do this by “funding so-called moonshots focusing on the deep technology necessary to make a significant positive dent, and work with scientists, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to do so.”
He expressed his desire to level-up Europe against the US I terms of tech unicorns: “Europe needs more super companies, both for the ecosystem to develop and thrive. But I think more importantly if we’re going to have any chance to tackle the infinitely complex problems that our societies are dealing with at the moment, we need different stakeholders, including companies, governments, academic institutions, non-profits and investors of all kinds to work together.”
He also expressed his frustration at seeing “European entrepreneurs, giving up on their amazing visions by selling very early in the process… We need more super companies to raise the bar and can act as an inspiration… There’s lots and lots of really exciting areas where there are tons of scientists and entrepreneurs right now around Europe.”
Ek said he will work with scientists, investors, and governments to deploy his funds. A $1.2 billion fund would see him competing with other large European VCs such as Atomico, Balderton Capital, Accel, Index Ventures and Northzone.
Ek has been previously known for his interest in deeptech. He has invested in €16m in Swedish telemedicine startup Kry. He’s also put €3m into HJN Sverige, an artificial intelligence company in the health tech arena.
More Spotify podcasts could soon become TV shows or movies thanks to a new, multi-year partnership announced today between the streaming music provider and film and television production company, Chernin Entertainment. The agreement will allow Chernin to identify and adapt film and TV shows from Spotify’s library of over 250 original podcast series, totaling thousands of hours of content.
The two companies, by way of Spotify-owned Gimlet Media, were already working together in collaboration with Pineapple Street Media on the forthcoming adaptation of the podcast series, The Clearing, about serial killer Edward Wayne Edwards. Those efforts will continue, while the deal opens up Spotify’s larger podcast library of shows from around the world to Chernin.
The production company is known today for movies like Ford v Ferrari, The Planet of the Apes Trilogy, The Greatest Showman, and Hidden Figures as well as TV shows like New Girl and Apple TV+’s See and Truth Be Told. This spring, it signed a first-look deal for feature films with Netflix, after losing a previous first-look deal with 20th Century Fox that ended when Disney acquired Fox’s feature film operations.
Those and other industry changes have put Chernin on the path to seek out new sources for IP that can be translated into movies, TV, and other sorts of digital video.
Meanwhile, the growth in podcasting has made audio programming a viable new source for original content that can be translated into other media, like film and TV. This podcasting market is also one Spotify has heavily invested in, with its acquisitions of podcast companies, like Gimlet and The Ringer, as well as podcasting tools that allow more people to become creators, like Anchor.
“Audio is by far the fastest-growing medium in the entertainment business, and with over 250 originals and thousands of hours of content, Spotify has one of the largest libraries of unattached IP that exists in the world today and that library is being added to daily,” said Chernin Entertainment Chairman and CEO Peter Chernin, in a statement. “This treasure trove of content plus the acceleration of new voices and stories provides an enormous opportunity to transform these addictive stories and IP into content for the screen,” he said.
Spotify tells TechCrunch the deal doesn’t include any commitment to adapt a certain number of podcasts into video projects, but it believes the volume will be high. Specific deal terms were also not being disclosed, including any possible revenue-sharing details. However, the deal doesn’t prevent Spotify from working with other production companies on programs Chernin decides to pass on. It also doesn’t specify any marketing or promotional commitments. Those will be handled on a project-by-project basis, Spotify says.
Spotify’s library of 250 original shows, as well as those it continues to release in the weeks and months ahead, will remain at the center of this agreement, but there may be scenarios where the companies also collaborate on adaptations beyond that group, Spotify tells us.
The aim is to discover what sorts of programs translate well into movies and TV. On this front, Spotify says it believes its diversity of content, ability to analyze data, and creator access will be to its advantage.
The Spotify original podcast library today includes popular shows across a variety of genres, which is a key asset in this deal. In addition, Spotify will be able to tap into data on how well shows are performing thanks to its prior development of specialized tools for analytics.
For example, Spotify currently allows podcasters to track their own show’s performance and other anonymized audience data through the Spotify for Podcasters service. Now, the company will be able to use this same data set to help identify possible adaptations that would do well. And because Spotify also owns several of the podcast production companies, it can also help work to identify creators with vision who may be better-suited to help with larger adaptations of this nature.
This is not the first time Spotify’s podcast content has been turned into movies or TV. The company today has nearly a dozen projects in various stages of completion, including the adaptation of Homecoming for Amazon Prime Video, plus upcoming projects like The Two Princes for HBO Max and The Horror of Dolores Roach for Prime Video.
Spotify and Chernin aren’t announcing any of the first projects that will result from this deal today but, given standard development and production timelines, 2021 would be the very earliest that such content would make its debut.
“At Spotify, we believe that the extraordinary growth of audio will continue to attract the world’s great creators and make podcasts a premier destination for original IP,” said Spotify Chief Content and Advertising Business Officer Dawn Ostroff, in an announcement. “As we continue to expand our content ambitions, we are thrilled to collaborate with Peter Chernin, who, along with his exceptional team, are the perfect partners to help us share these stories with audiences across mediums and around the world. Together, we can usher in a new era for podcasts as source material,” she said.
Spotify, Match Group, Epic Games and others have created a nonprofit alliance that they hope will amplify a protest against the power of the giants.
As part of Disrupt 2020 we wanted to look at the contrasting positions of both early and later-stage investing in Europe. Who better to unpack this subject than two highly experienced operators in these fields?
After a career at Spotify and then as a VC at Atomico, Sophia Bendz has rapidly gained a reputation in Europe as a keen early-stage investor. She recently left Atomico to pursue her early and seed-stage passion with Cherry Ventures. Bendz is a prolific angel investor, with a total of over 44 deals in the last 9 years. Her angel investments include as AidenAI, Tictail, Joints Academy, Omnius, LifeX, Eastnine, Manual, Headvig, Simple Feast, and Sana Labs. She is known for being a champion of the femtech space, and her angel investments in that space include Clue, Grace Health, Daye, O School, and Boost Thyroid.
Carolina Brochado, the former Atomico partner and most recently a partner at SoftBank Vision Fund’s London office, recently joined EQT Ventures to help launch EQT’s Growth fund, which is positioned between Ventures and Private Equity. Brochado led investments in a number of promising companies at Atomico, including logistics company OnTruck, health tech company Hinge Health and restaurant supply chain app Rekki.
After establishing that these two knew each other while at Atomico, I asked Bendz why she headed back into the seed stage arena.
“I’m a trained marketeer and storyteller by heart… What makes me excited is new markets opportunities, people, culture, teams. So with that, in combination with my angel investing, I think I’m better suited to be in the earlier stages of investing. When I was investing before joining Atomico, I said to myself, I want to learn from the best, I want to see how it’s done how you structure the process and how you think about the bigger investments.”
Brochado says the European ‘cat is out of the bag’ as it were:
When I first moved to Europe in 2012 and first joined Atomico, after having been at a very small startup, there was still a massive gap in funding and Europe versus the US. I think you know the European secret is no longer a secret, and you have incredible funds being started at that early stage seed and series A, and because I was here in 2012, I’ve seen the amazing pipeline of growth companies that are coming up the curve, how the momentum of those companies is accelerating and how the market cap of those businesses are growing. And so I just became super excited about helping those businesses scale… I just you now felt like bridging that gap in between ass really exciting and.
One of the perennial topics that come up time and time again is whether or not founders should go with VC partners who have previously been operators, versus those with a finance background.
“Looking back, my years at Spotify, we had great investors, but there were not many of them that had the experience of scaling a big company,” Bendz said. “So, I’m happy to give [a startup] more than just the check in a way that I would have wished I had a sounding board when I was 25 and tackling that challenge at Spotify.”
Brochado concurred: “Having operators in the room is just is an incredible gift I think to a fund and at certain levels, having people that understand you know different forms of financing and different structures can also be incredibly helpful to founders who may not necessarily have that background. So I think that the funds that do it best have that diversity.”
Bendz is passionate about investing in female founders and femtech: “It’s such a massive business opportunity that is completely untapped. We’ve seen it many times when you have a female investment partner [that] the pipeline opens up and you get more deal flow from female founders…. So I think we have a lot of work to do. I think it’s definitely improved a lot in the last couple of years but not enough… That is one of the drivers for why I put my money where my mouth is and invest in lifting the founders, but also because there are incredibly interesting business opportunities… There are so many opportunities and products or services that we will see being developed. When we have a more equal society, and more women, both building their own companies, coding and also investing… I can’t wait to see what that world will look like.”
Brochado’s view is that “even beyond founders… the best managers today are putting a lot of focus on this and I think what’s exciting is, I think we’re past the point where you have to explain to people why diversity matters.”
Is there a post-Series A chasm?
Bendz thinks: “We have more big funds in Europe [now]. We have a really solid ground here in Europe of a, b and c investors.”
Brochado said: “it’s definitely getting better. You don’t hear as many founders say that to do my Series B or my Series C I have to move to the Valley as you used to. But there’s a lot of room still for growth investors in Europe. I think Series B is the hardest round actually because, at seed or series A, you can raise on very early traction or the quality of the management team. At Series B the price goes up but the risk doesn’t necessarily go down as much. And so I think that’s where you really need investors who are sector or thematic focused, who can come with conviction and also some knowledge around the company to really propel that company forward.”
Did they both see European entrepreneurs still making silly mistakes, or has the ecosystem mastered?
Brochado thinks ten years ago was it was hard for European founders as a lot of the talent to scale companies was still in the US. “What you’ve seen is a lot of big companies grow up in Europe, a lot of people come back from the US, and so I think that pool of talent now is larger, which is very helpful. I don’t think it’s yet at the scale of where the US is. But it gives us, you know as investors, a great window of opportunity to help get some of that talent for our portfolio companies.”
The impact of COVID-19
Bendz thinks we will “see a much slower Spring, but… I think it has been overall a good exercise for some companies, and I have not seen a slower deal flow. I’ve actually done more Angel deals this Spring than I normally do… Some businesses have definitely accelerated their whole business concept because of COVID. Investments are being made even though we haven’t met the founders. We’re able to do everything remotely so I think the system is kind of adjusting.”
Brocado’s view is that at the growth stage “there’s been a flight to quality. So actually, the really great companies or the companies that are seeing great tailwinds or companies that will still be category-leading once [have] seen a lot of interest. It’s been a very busy summer, which usually it isn’t usually, particularly at the growth stage… I think a lot of money is still in the system, and has flown into technology. And so if you look at how tech in the public markets has performed it’s performed extremely well. And that includes European public companies and within tech.”
Watch the full panel below.
Spotify is embracing virtual events. The company today announced the addition of virtual event listings in the Spotify app, which will allow music fans to see when their favorite artists will be playing live — even if only via a livestream. These listings will be available through the “On Tour” section of artist profiles as well as in Spotify’s Concerts hub, the company said.
TechCrunch previously detailed Spotify’s plans in this area, but today the company made the news official.
The streaming service says artists will be able to list their events streaming on any platform, including Twitch, Instagram Live, YouTube Live, a hosted website or anything else.
Other virtual events will be automatically imported to the platform courtesy of Spotify’s existing partnerships with Songkick and Ticketmaster.
Virtual events uploaded through Songkick will now begin to automatically show up on both the artist profiles and the Concert hub. Artists can also choose to set their own events as their “Artist Pick.”
A select number of Ticketmaster events will be listed on Spotify, as well, the company says.
These new integrations aren’t surprising, given that most major ticketing services have shifted their focus to online and virtual events in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has limited real-world gatherings, like concerts. At the same time, artists have been trying to connect with fans online, often doing live streams or even paid live-streamed concerts. However, today’s virtual concerts business is only helping to offset lost touring revenue for most, not fully replace it.
“With most tours postponed until 2021 and online concerts set to continue, Spotify wants to make it easy for fans to learn about virtual events—whether for artists you already love or for those you’re discovering for the very first time,” the company said, in an announcement.
The feature is rolling out now to the Concerts hub under Browse on desktop and Search on mobile as well as to participating artist profiles.
With touring ground to a halt for the foreseeable future, 2020 has become the most difficult year for musicians in recent memory. One’s ability to survive on music depends on a variety of factors, of course, including things like audience, reach and how their fans access their output.
The world of recorded music has been a mixed bag throughout the pandemic. New industry figures from the Recording Industry Association of America out this week show that revenue for recorded music is actually up for the first half of 2020, owing, unsurprisingly, to the growth of music streaming.
With vastly more people stuck inside seeking novel methods of entertainment, paid subscriptions (Spotify, Apple Music, et al.) are up 24% year-over-year. Revenues on streaming music are up 12% overall, hitting $2.4 billion for the first half of the year. The figured has been hampered by an overall drop in ad sales that certainly isn’t limited to the music industry. That has had a sizable impact on services like YouTube, Vevo and Spotify’s free tier.
Physical sales of CDs and vinyl took a massive hit to an already rocky foundation, down 23% for that time period. Streaming now makes up 85% of all revenue in the U.S., with physical sales only commanding 7% — just slightly higher than the 6% made by digital downloads. It’s a troubling figure, given the difficulty many more independent artists have faced in monetizing streaming.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek faced backlash from the industry for comments surrounding streaming revenue. “There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough,” the executive said in a recent interview.
The comments came as many musicians have struggled to keep their heads above water during a sustained touring hiatus. They also come as the streaming service has continued to pump money into acquisitions in an attempt to build out its podcasting presence.
Spotify explores virtual concerts, Twitter tests a “quotes” count and Google’s Nest Hub becomes more hotel-friendly. This is your Daily Crunch for August 26, 2020.
The big story: Spotify is testing virtual events
We can’t have real-world concerts at the moment, so the popular music streaming service is exploring virtual alternatives. The feature isn’t live yet, but reverse-engineering scoopster Jane Manchun Wong tweeted out photos of an “Upcoming Virtual Events” section.
Spotify already highlights upcoming concerts from artists you like through various ticketing partners, and the screenshots show Songkick as the ticketing partner. Presumably, Spotify would be able to support virtual events with only minor changes to its bargaining agreement.
And how big can these events be? K-pop megastars BTS raised nearly $20 million for a single show — but it’s probably safe to assume that most events will fall far short of that.
The tech giants
Twitter experiments with adding a ‘Quotes’ count to tweets — This engagement metric would sit alongside the tweet’s existing retweets and likes counts.
Instagram Guides may soon allow creators to recommended places, products and more — The feature, which launched in May, has allowed select organizations and experts to share resources related to managing your mental health.
Google is pushing to get the Nest Hub in more hotel rooms — A new update is tailored for the hotel experience, with key features like wake-up calls, weather and local businesses.
Startups, funding and venture capital
SpaceX will launch Masten’s first lander to the moon in 2022 — Masten’s first lunar mission is set to take place in 2022 if all goes according to plan.
Here are the 94 companies from Y Combinator’s Summer 2020 Demo Day 2 — So many companies!
Course Hero, a profitable edtech unicorn, raises rare cash — A Series B extension of $70 million, to be more specific.
Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch
Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite — Impossible Foods is only the most public face of a growing trend in bioengineering.
Funding for mental health-focused startups rises in 2020 — As wellness startups drift generally, VC hotspots emerge.
(Reminder: Extra Crunch is our subscription membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)
GM teases two new all-electric Chevy Bolt models — Both vehicles will go into production in summer 2021, according to GM.
Learn how to scale social impact startups at Disrupt with Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins and Jessica O. Matthews — Uttering the words “making the world a better place” isn’t the same as doing it, or doing it well.
The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.
Powered amps for electric guitars have gotten some neat tricks powered by modern mobile tech over the years, but the new Positive Grid Spark ($299) might be the one that packs the most intelligence and versatility into a single package. From a companion app, to voice commands, to tunable modeling and home recording — on top of doubling as a standalone Bluetooth speaker — the Spark offers features for beginners and pros alike.
The Positive Grid Spark looks physically like your average, portable practice amp. It’s just over a foot long and about half-a-foot wide and tall, and it weighs just under 12 lbs. There’s a removable leather carrying strap attached for moving it around, and it includes a 1/4″ guitar input, a 1/8″ auxiliary input and a 1/8″ headphone jack for connecting your audio gear, as well as a USB port for recording and acting as a USB audio interface for connecting to your computer.
The Spark has a host of integrated controls, including a dial for choosing from a number of preset amp types, as well as individual dials for adjusting gain, bass, mid, treble, master, mod, delay and reverb on the fly. There’s a physical control for output volume, and for music volume, as well as four user-programmable buttons for calling up presets, and a tap/tuner button for accessing the onboard tuner and other features.
Built-in to the amp are 30 different potential amp models, as well as 40 effects to allow you to customize sound, including a noise gate, a compressor, distortion, modulation, delay and reverb. The Spark also features Bluetooth connectivity for streaming audio. Inside, there are two four-inch speakers for true stereo sound, and it’s rated at 40 watts.
Features and design
The Spark’s design on the outside isn’t very far off from most standard practice amps out there — but it feels high quality, and the grill is done in a nice, retro finish that looks really good even when it’s not in use and just sitting on a side table. The leather is synthetic, making it more durable and more ethical, and the knobs have excellent color-matched brass-tone detailing that completes the look. The metal flip switch for power on and red LED leave no confusion as to whether you’re ready to jam, and the touch buttons have similar bright backlighting.
Spark’s integrated handle, which you can remove when you’re not using, is comfortable and does its job well. The amp also features rubber feet to keep it elevated off surfaces and provide stability while it’s in operation.
In terms of basic performance and features, the Spark is already an excellent amp. Even if you never download the Positive Grid app (which you should) and instead just plug in your guitar, bass, ukulele or electric-acoustic, you can use the physical control to set up a sound you like and go to town. But when you download the app, you get a whole bunch more functionality that really extends the value of the Spark to elevate it above just about every other amp in its price range (and beyond).
The app has a number of features, including Positive Grid’s “Smart Jam,” which effectively learns yo