Some digital inventions have seemed brilliant, but their business plans might not work.
Benn Jordan was flattered when he scanned his inbox.
Jordan is a musician who records and performs under various pseudonyms, most famously as The Flashbulb. His music is best described as electronica with occasional hints of modern jazz, and while he has become pretty successful, he hasn’t headlined any big festivals yet. So when a fawning email from a New York Times reporter arrived, he took note.
“An odd question from a newspaper reporter,” the subject read. It was addressed to Jordan’s booking agent, who had forwarded it to him. “My name is Ian Urbina, and I work for The New York Times,” Urbina wrote. “I’m contacting you not for an interview per se but because I want to run an idea by you that I think might be of great interest. I’ve been a fan of Benn’s for a while. My idea concerns using music to empower storytelling.”
Spotify is entering the hardware market with Car Thing, a smart music player meant to sit on your dashboard.
The company released Car Thing to a limited number of subscribers in October, and it announced on Tuesday that anyone can buy the device for $90—but you need a Spotify Premium subscription to use it. Spotify Premium currently costs $10 per month for individuals, with plans going up to $16 per month for six accounts. Car Thing also requires a connection to your phone for mobile data or Wi-Fi.
The device is meant to provide a way to listen to Spotify in your car without the need to look down at your phone or deal with clunky built-in car interfaces, which can be dangerous to use on the road. A 12 V power adapter connects to Car Thing and your car’s auxiliary power outlet, and the device then connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Finally, you connect the device to your car stereo via AUX, Bluetooth, or USB. The player also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Today, Spotify is the dominant streaming music platform in several regions, including the United States. But lately there has been a lot of interest among Spotify users in trying something new.
Some are just curious to see what else is out there since they’ve used Spotify for a long time while its competitors have continued to mature. Some are seeking to make a change because of controversies around the platform’s deal with podcaster Joe Rogan or its financial relationship with artists.
Whatever your reasons, there are several well-established competitors that offer many of the same features as Spotify. We’ll quickly run down what distinguishes them.
Streaming-audio platform Spotify has announced its acquisition of two podcasting companies, each of which sheds some light on Spotify’s long-term plan to dominate the podcasting business.
The online audio giant is acquiring both Podsights and Chartable. The companies make two of the leading tools related to marketing, advertising, metrics, and analytics for audio content.
Podsights is an advertising measurement tool that allows advertisers to see how many people were exposed to their ads, as well as how effective the ads were at driving purchases. Chartable is somewhat similar, but it’s aimed at podcast creators, not advertisers. It helps podcasters track audience growth and see what factors are driving that growth.
The deal that brought his podcast to Spotify is said to be worth over $200 million, more than was previously known. Accusations that he spreads misinformation have roiled the company.
Podcasts have been a freewheeling corner of digital life, but the potential for profits is changing that.
What happened when Spotify and its most popular podcast ran headlong into the pandemic.
Bigger is still better, as the largest tech firms keep gobbling up weakened rivals.
The controversy over the star podcaster and misinformation raised thorny questions about the streaming service’s role as a platform, and exacerbated its conflicts with musicians.
The Neil Young-Joe Rogan-Spotify dust-up isn’t about just freedom of speech.
Mr. Rogan, a wildly popular podcast host, and his guest, Dr. Malone, a controversial infectious-disease researcher, offered a litany of falsehoods over three hours.
Medical drivel has ballooned with the rise of streaming, e-commerce and social media platforms. Platforms, lawmakers and regulators aren’t keeping up.
In a memo following Rogan’s apology for past use of a racial slur, Spotify’s chief executive said the company would invest $100 million in audio “from historically marginalized groups.”
We don’t want to leave the world a worse place than we found it.
Spotify on Friday removed 70 Joe Rogan Experience episodes from 2020 and previous years. Meanwhile, Rogan issued an apology after video showed him saying the n-word on various podcast episodes.
The new episode removals weren’t related to the COVID misinformation that led Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and others to ask for their music to be pulled from Spotify, which caused a backlash from angry fans. But it was the second big round of Rogan episode removals since Spotify signed the podcast host.
“Previously, Spotify had pruned 43 ‘JRE’ episodes from the catalog after the company added Rogan’s show in September 2020 under a $100 million exclusive distribution pact. Those included segments with right-wing figures such as Infowars’ Alex Jones, Gavin McInnes and Milo Yiannopoulos and also episodes with comedians,” according to Variety.
His apology came as listeners said that as many as 70 episodes of “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast had been quietly taken off Spotify; the company has yet to comment on the reported removals.
Joe Rogan can continue to air misinformation. Spotify can continue to look the other way. Today at least, I won’t.
The company released earnings figures a week after Neil Young and others pulled their music to protest what they called vaccine misinformation on Rogan’s podcast.
The streaming service picks Joe Rogan over Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.
Are we relying too heavily on tech platforms to enforce the boundaries of socially acceptable speech?
The rocker touched off a debate about free speech and the responsibility of tech platforms. How many artists will follow him, now that streaming dominates the business?
Spotify probably didn’t realize it, but it ceased being a tech company a few years ago.
It was excelling at all the tech startup things—attracting users and losing money—but like most businesses, it eventually wanted to make a profit. The company was having a tough time doing that simply by streaming music, which proved to be expensive since the labels demanded a hefty fee to access their catalogs. Without another product to sell alongside music, Spotify was hemorrhaging money.
So the company started looking afield, searching for a product that would complement its existing music offerings. It found one in podcasts.
Readers justify the use of such money to level the playing field while the Democrats try to change the rules. Also: Trump’s rally; the Spotify dustup; LED lights.
The controversy is different, in many ways, from the other conflicts between online stars and the companies that give them a platform.
Spotify publicly posted its platform policies for the first time on Sunday following artists’ outrage over COVID-related episodes of Joe Rogan’s podcast.
The policies, which previously weren’t known to the public, offer podcasters and musicians wide latitude over what they can stream on Spotify. They’re similar to the approaches used by other platforms. Spotify does not allow hatred and incitement of violence, deception, graphic depictions of violence, sexually explicit material, and illegal content. The streaming service also says it forbids “content that promotes dangerous false or dangerous deceptive medical information that may cause offline harm or poses a direct threat to public health.”
“These are rules of the road to guide all of our creators—from those we work with exclusively to those whose work is shared across multiple platforms,” CEO Daniel Ek said in a blog post.
The streaming service said it would add a “content advisory” notice to virus-related content, while Rogan, its star podcaster, said he would try to include more experts.
After Neil Young and Joni Mitchell removed their music from the streaming service, its chief executive wrote, “it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor.”
“Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives,” she wrote after the site was accused of spreading vaccine misinformation.
Neil Young was mad. Now his fans are, too, and they’re telling Spotify about it.
Earlier this week, Young had asked the music-streaming service to remove his music from its library in response to COVID misinformation aired on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which is available only on Spotify. “I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” Young wrote on his website. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
Spotify complied with the request, which ultimately came from Warner Brothers, Young’s label. Though the loss of Young’s music likely represents a small percentage of overall streams on Spotify, Young pointed out that “Spotify represents 60% of the streaming of my music to listeners around the world.”
Without real streaming alternatives around, a musician’s move to shame Spotify is doomed to failure.
With Neil Young having told Spotify that it can keep him or podcaster Joe Rogan but not both, the streaming company today said it will remove Young’s catalog of music.
“We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users,” Spotify said in a statement to Deadline and other media organizations. “With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place, and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify but hope to welcome him back soon.”
Young’s music was still on Spotify as of this writing but will presumably be removed soon unless either Young or Spotify change their minds. Objecting to misinformation about COVID aired on Rogan’s podcast, Young told Warner Records this week that Spotify “has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform.”
The singer decided to leave the streaming service because it gives a platform to Joe Rogan, whom scientists have accused of promoting falsehoods about coronavirus vaccines.
Neil Young has threatened to remove his music from Spotify because he believes the streaming company enables podcaster Joe Rogan to spread “fake information” about vaccines.
In an email to his record label, Warner Records, Young said Spotify “has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform.”
“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” he wrote. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”
“They can have Rogan or Young,” Neil Young wrote to his management team and record label in a letter that he has since removed from his website, according to Rolling Stone. “Not both.”
A new study analyzed nearly 1,500 episodes, showing the extent to which podcasts pushed misinformation about voter fraud.
This year’s data dump from the streaming music service leaned heavily on contemporary buzzwords and slang — and inspired many, many memes.
In “The 33 ⅓ Podcast,” the acclaimed producer finds himself in some unexpected pairings to explore classic albums from Steely Dan, Janet Jackson and more.
False statements about vaccines have spread on the “Wild West” of media, even as some hosts die of virus complications.
Weeks after Amazon introduced an updated Fire TV lineup that included, for the first time, its own TVs, Roku today is announcing its own competitive products in a race to capture consumers’ attention before the holiday shopping season. Its updates include a new Roku Streaming Stick 4K and Roku Streaming Stick 4K+ — the latter which ships with Roku’s newer hands-free voice remote. The company is also refreshing the Roku Ultra LT, a Walmart-exclusive version of its high-end player. And it announced the latest software update, Roku OS 10.5, which adds updated voice features, a new Live TV channel for home screens, and other minor changes.
The new Streaming Stick 4K builds on Roku’s four-year-old product, the Streaming Stick+, as it offers the same type of stick form factor designed to be hidden behind the TV set. This version, however, has a faster processor which allows the device to boot up to 30% faster and load channels more quickly, Roku claims. The Wi-Fi is also improved, offering faster speeds and smart algorithms that help make sure users get on the right band for the best performance in their homes where network congestion is an increasingly common problem — especially with the pandemic-induced remote work lifestyle. The new Stick adds support for Dolby Vision and HDR 10+, giving it the “4K” moniker.
This version ships with Roku’s standard voice remote for the same price of $49.99. For comparison, Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick Max with a faster processor and speedier Wi-Fi is $54.99. However, Amazon is touting the addition of Wi-Fi 6 and support for its game streaming service, Luna, as reasons to upgrade.
Roku’s new Streaming Stick 4K+ adds the Roku Voice Remote Pro to the bundle instead. This is Roku’s new remote, launched in the spring, that offers rechargeability, a lost remote finder, and hands-free voice support via its mid-field microphone, so you can just say things like “hey Roku, turn on the TV,” or “launch Netflix,” instead of pressing buttons. Bought separately, this remote is $29.99. The bundle sells for $69.99, which translates to a $10 discount over buying the stick and remote by themselves.
Both versions of the Streaming Stick will be sold online and in stores starting in October.
The Roku Ultra LT ($79.99), built for Walmart exclusively, has also been refreshed with a faster processor, more storage, a new Wi-Fi radio with up to 50% longer range, support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth audio streaming, and a built-in ethernet port.
Plus, Roku notes that TCL will become the first device partner to use the reference designs it introduced at CES for wireless soundbars, with its upcoming Roku TV wireless soundbar. This device connects over Wi-Fi to the TV and works with the Roku remote, and will arrive at major retailers in October where it will sell for $179.99.
The other big news is Roku’s OS 10.5 software release. The update isn’t making any dramatic changes this time around, but is instead focused largely on voice and mobile improvements.
The most noticeable consumer-facing change is the ability to add a new Live TV channel to your home screen which lets you more easily launch The Roku Channel’s 200+ free live TV channels, instead of having to first visit Roku’s free streaming hub directly, then navigate to the Live TV section. This could make the Roku feel more like traditional TV for cord-cutters abandoning their TV guide for the first time.
Other tweaks include expanded support for launching channels using voice commands, with most now supported; new voice search and podcast playback with a more visual “music and podcast” row and Spotify as a launch partner; the ability to control sound settings in the mobile app; an added Voice Help guide in settings; and additional sound configuration options for Roku speakers and soundbars (e.g. using the speaker pairs and soundbar in a left/center/right) or in full 5.1 surround sound system).
A handy feature for entering in email and passwords in set-up screens using voice commands is new, too. Roku says it sends the voice data off-device to its speech-to-text partner, and the audio is anonymized. Roku doesn’t get the password or store it, as it goes directly to the channel partner. While there are always privacy concerns with voice data, the addition is a big perk from an accessibility standpoint.
One of the more under-the-radar, but potentially useful changes coming in OS 10.5 is an advanced A/V sync feature that lets you use the smartphone camera to help Roku make further refinements to the audio delay when using wireless headphones to listen to the TV. This feature is offered through the mobile app.
The Roku mobile app in the U.S. is also gaining another feature with the OS 10.5 update with the addition of a new Home tab for browsing collections of movies and shows across genres, and a “Save List, which functions as a way to bookmark shows or movies you might hear about — like when chatting with friends — and want to remember to watch later when you’re back home in front of the TV.
The software update will roll out to Roku devices over the weeks ahead. It typically comes to Roku players first, then rolls out to TVs.
Clubhouse has hired a veteran editor from NPR to lead news publishing for the app. Nina Gregory will serve as Clubhouse’s Head of News and Media Publishers, working as a liaison between news publishers and the Clubhouse’s ecosystem of audio-based communities.
Gregory led NPR’s Arts Desk for the last seven years, shaping the news outlet’s culture and entertainment coverage. “As an audio journalist, [Clubhouse] aligned with what I’ve always believed is the best medium for news,” Gregory told CNN. “You don’t need to know how to read to be able to hear radio news. You don’t need to have an expensive subscription. You don’t need cable.”
Helping publishers and other brands get plugged in is one path toward maturation for Clubhouse. Online media properties from USA Today to TechCrunch have built a presence on the app, which exploded in growth as the pandemic limited in-person social interactions. But with competition from more entrenched competitors looming, Clubhouse may need to get creative to stay in the game.
Clubhouse’s quick ascent saw Twitter, Spotify, Facebook and other established tech companies scramble to integrate live audio rooms into their own products. Twitter quickly launched Spaces, while Spotify launched a standalone Clubhouse clone known as Greenroom. Facebook first announced its own live audio rooms in April, opening them to U.S. users two months later.
The kind of viral attention that Clubhouse enjoyed over the last year is almost impossible to maintain, but the company has added features, introduced an Android app and opened its doors to everyone. Clubhouse might not be able to top its February peak, but the app still notched 7.7 million global monthly downloads after expanding to Android this summer, and continues to build out its vision for audio-first social networking.
Fortnite maker Epic Games is appealing last week’s ruling in its court battle with Apple, where a federal judge said Apple would no longer be allowed to block developers from adding links to alternative payment mechanisms, but stopped short of dubbing Apple a monopolist. The latter would have allowed Epic Games to argue for alternative means of serving its iOS user base, including perhaps, through third-party app stores or even sideloading capabilities built into Apple’s mobile operating system, similar to those on Google’s Android OS.
Apple immediately declared the court battle a victory, as the judge had agreed with its position that the company was “not in violation of antitrust law” and had also deemed Apple’s success in the app and gaming ecosystem as “not illegal.” Epic Games founder and CEO Tim Sweeney, meanwhile, said the ruling was not a win for either developers or consumers. On Twitter, he hinted that the company may appeal the decision when he said, “We will fight on.”
In a court filing published on Sunday (see below), Epic Games officially stated its attention to appeal U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’ final judgment and “all orders leading to or producing that judgment.”
As part of the judge’s decision, Epic Games had been ordered to pay Apple the 30% of the $12 million it earned when it introduced its alternative payment system in Fortnite on iOS, which was then in breach of its legal contract with Apple.
The appellate court will revisit how Judge Gonzalez Rogers defined the market where Epic Games had argued Apple was acting as a monopolist. Contrary to both parties’ wishes, Gonzalez Rogers defined it as the market for “digital mobile gaming transactions” specifically. Though an appeal may or may not see the court shifting its opinion in Epic Games’ favor, a new ruling could potentially help to clarify the vague language used in the injunction to describe how Apple must now accommodate developers who want to point their customers to other payment mechanisms.
So far, the expectation floating around the developer community is that Apple will simply extend the “reader app” category exception to all non-reader apps (apps that provide access to purchased content). Apple recently settled with a Japanese regulator by agreeing to allow reader apps to point users to their own website where users could sign up and manage their accounts, which could include customers paying for subscriptions — like Netflix or Spotify subscriptions, for instance. Apple said this change would be global.
In briefings with reporters, Apple said the details of the injunction issued with the Epic Games ruling, however, would still need to be worked out. Given the recency of the decision, the company has not yet communicated with developers on how this change will impact them directly nor has it updated its App Store guidelines with new language.
Reached for comment, Epic Games said it does not have any further statements on its decision to appeal at this time.
This summer, Spotify launched its live audio app and Clubhouse rival, Spotify Greenroom, with the promises of more programming to come in the months ahead to augment its then primarily user-generated live content. Today, the company is making good on that earlier commitment, with the launch of six new shows on Spotify Greenroom focused on pop culture and music, in addition to what Spotify calls “playlist-inspired shows” — meaning those that are inspired by Spotify’s own playlists.
This includes a new show based on the popular playlist Lorem, which launched in 2019, showcasing an eclectic mix of music that has included indie pop, R&B, garage rock, hip-hop, and more, focused on a younger, Gen Z audience. That playlist today has over 884,000 “likes” on Spotify and has risen to become one of the places new artists are able to break through on the platform. Now, Lorem listeners will be connected to “Lorem Life,” a Spotify Greenroom show that will feature a mix of culture and discussions about music, the environment, sustainability, fashion, and space, Spotify says. The show is hosted by Gen Z influencers and TikTok stars, Dev Lemons and Max Motley, who will engage with other artists and influencers. It begins airing on Wednesday, September 15, at 9 PM ET.
Another new “playlist-inspired” show is “The Get Up LIVE.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because “The Get Up” was introduced last fall as Spotify’s own take on a daily morning show by mixing music with talk radio-style content led by hosts who discuss the news, pop culture, entertainment, and other topics. To date, that content has not been provided as a live program, however. Instead, the show has been pre-recorded then made available as a playlist that gives listeners the feel of a daily FM radio show. Now, “The Get Up’s” co-hosts Kat Lazo and Xavier “X” Jernigan will record their show live on Greenroom, starting on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at 11 AM ET.
This odd time seems to contradict Spotify’s original intention of providing a show for those who commute to the office. But with the rise of remote work in the face of the unending pandemic, addressing the commuter audience may be of less interest, with the new program. However, Spotify tells us “The Get up LIVE” will be complementary to the daily show, which will still run as normal — that’s why it has a later airing.
Other new Greenroom shows include “A Gay in the Life,” hosted by the married couple, actor Garrett Clayton and writer and educator Blake Knight, who will discuss LGBTQIA+ news and issues (weekly, 8 PM ET, starting today); “Take a Seat,” hosted by Ben Mandelker and Ronnie Karam of the “Watch What Crappens” podcast, who will recap reality shows and dive into other pop culture fascinations (weekly, 10 PM ET, starting today); “The Movie Buff,” hosted by film buff and comedian Jon Gabrus, who will review and break down the latest hot movies (weekly, 11 PM ET, starting today); and “The Most Necessary: Live,” a complement to Spotify’s “Most Necessary” playlist, where host B.Dot will discuss up-and-comers in hip-hop (weekly, 9 PM ET, starting Tuesday).
In addition to the new programs, Deuxmoi’s show “Deux Me After Dark” will also air this evening (Sept. 13) at 9 PM ET to recap the red carpet looks and gossip from this year’s Met Gala alongside guest Hillary Kerr, co-founder of Who What Wear.
Greenrom is now available to listeners in over 135 global markets and has been quietly expanding with live audio from sports site and podcast network “The Ringer” as well as from artists like Pop Smoke, the company says. Other programs added include Men In Blazers, Deaux Me After Dark, True Crime Rewind and Ask The Tarot.
The app had gotten off to a slower start this year, given its roots had been in sports talk live programming, which didn’t necessarily connect with Spotify’s music fans. Plus, it has faced growing competition from not only Clubhouse, which inspired its creation, but also other top social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Discord, and more. Without dedicated programs to garner user interest in yet another live audio app, the company had only seen 141,000 new downloads for Greenroom on iOS a little over a month after its launch, and fewer on Google Play. But Spotify’s long-term vision for the service was to more closely tie Greenroom to the music, artists, programs, and podcasts that were already available on its flagship music streaming app — and these new shows are an example of that plan in action.
Apple Music announced today that it’s created a process to properly identify and compensate all of the individual creators involved in making a DJ mix. Using technology from the audio-recognition app Shazam, which Apple acquired in 2018 for $400 million, Apple Music is working with major and independent labels to devise a fair way to divide streaming royalties among DJs, labels, and artists who appear in the mixes. This is intended to help DJ mixes retain long-term monetary value for all creators involved, making sure that musicians get paid for their work even when other artists iterate on it. And, as one of Apple’s first major integrations of Shazam’s technology, it appears that the company saw value in
Historically, it’s been difficult for DJs to stream mixes online, since live streaming platforms like YouTube or Twitch might flag the use of other artists’ songs as copyright infringement. Artists are entitled to royalties when their song is played by a DJ during a live set, but dance music further complicates this, since small samples from various songs can be edited and mixed together into something unrecognizable.
Apple Music already hosts thousands of mixes, including sets from Tomorrowland’s digital festivals from 2020 and 2021, but only now is it formally announcing the tech that enables it to do this, even though Billboard noted it in June. As part of this announcement, Studio K7!’s DJ Kicks archive of mixes will begin to roll out on the service, giving fans access to mixes that haven’t been on the market in over 15 years.
“Apple Music is the first platform that offers continuous mixes where there’s a fair fee involved for the artists whose tracks are included in the mixes and for the artist making those mixes. It’s a step in the right direction where everyone gets treated fairly,” DJ Charlotte de Witte said in a statement on behalf of Apple. “I’m beyond excited to have the chance to provide online mixes again.”
For dance music fans, the ability to stream DJ mixes is groundbreaking, and it can help Apple Music compete with Spotify, which leads the industry in paid subscribers as it surpasses Apple’s hold on podcasting. Even as Apple Music has introduced lossless audio, spatial audio, and classical music acquisitions, the company hasn’t yet outpaced Spotify, though the addition of DJ mixes adds yet another unique music feature.
Still, Apple Music’s dive into the DJ royalties conundrum doesn’t necessarily address the broader crises at play among live musicians and DJs surviving through a pandemic.
Though platforms like Mixcloud allow DJs to stream sets and monetize using pre-licensed music, Apple Music’s DJ mixes will not include user-generated content. MIDiA Research, in partnership with Audible Magic, found that user-generated content (UGC) — online content that uses music, whether it’s a lipsync TikTok or a Soundcloud DJ mix — could be a music industry goldmine worth over $6 billion in the next two years. But Apple is not yet investing in UGC, as individuals cannot yet upload their personal mixes to stream on the platform like they might on Soundcloud. According to a Billboard report from June, Apple Music will only host mixes after the streamer has identified 70% of the combined tracks.
Apple Music didn’t respond to questions about how exactly royalties will be divided, but this is only a small step in reimagining how musicians will make a living in a digital landscape.
While these innovations help get artists compensated, streaming royalties only account for a small percentage of how musicians make money — Apple pays musicians one cent per stream, while competitors like Spotify pay only fractions of cents. This led the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to launch a campaign in March called Justice at Spotify, which demands a one-cent-per-stream payout that matches Apple’s. But live events remain a musician’s bread and butter, especially given platforms’ paltry streaming payouts — of course, the pandemic hasn’t been conducive to touring. To add insult to injury, the Association for Electronic Music estimated in 2016 that dance music producers missed out on $120 million in royalties from their work being used without attribution in live performances.
Earlier this year, Apple officially discontinued Music Memos, an iPhone app that allowed musicians to quickly record audio and develop new song ideas. Now, a new startup called Tape It is stepping in to fill the void with an app that improves audio recordings by offering a variety of features, including higher-quality sound, automatic instrument detection, support for markers, notes, and images, and more.
Walther had previously spent three and a half years at Spotify, following its 2017 acquisition of the audio detection startup Sonalytic, which he had co-founded. Nash, meanwhile, is a classically trained opera singer, who also plays bass and is an engineer.
The founders, who had played in a band together for many years, were inspired to build Tape It because it was something they wanted for themselves, Walther says. After ending his stint at Spotify working in their new Soundtrap division (an online music startup Spotify also bought in 2017), he knew he wanted to work on a project that was more focused on the music-making side of things. But while Soundtrap worked for some, it wasn’t what either Walther or his friends had needed. Instead, they wanted a simple tool that would allow them to record their music with their phone — something that musicians often do today using Apple’s Voice Memos app and, briefly, Music Memos — until its demise.
“Regardless of whether you’re an amateur or even like a touring professional…you will record your ideas with your phone, just because that’s what you have with you,” Walther explains. “It’s the exact same thing with cameras — the best camera is the one you have with you. And the best audio recording tool is the one you have with you.”
That is, when you want to record, the easiest thing to do is not to get out your laptop and connect a bunch of cables to it, then load up your studio software — it’s to hit the record button on your iPhone.
The Tape It app allows you to do just that, but adds other features that make it more competitive with its built-in competition, Voice Memos.
When you record using Tape It, the app leverages A.I. to automatically detect the instrument, then annotate the recording with a visual indication to make those recordings easier to find by looking for the colorful icon. Musicians can also add their own markers to the files right when they record them, then add notes and photos to remind themselves of other details. This can be useful when reviewing the recordings later on, Walther says.
“If I have a nice guitar sound, I can just take a picture of the settings on my amplifier, and I have them. This is something musicians do all the time,” he notes. “It’s the easiest way to re-create that sound.”
Another novel, but simple, change in Tape It is that breaks longer recordings into multiple lines, similar to a paragraph of text. The team calls this the “Time Paragraph,” and believes it will make listening to longer sessions easier than the default — which is typically a single, horizontally scrollable recording.
The app has also been designed so it’s easier to go back to the right part of recordings, thanks to its smart waveforms, in addition to the optional markers and photos. And you can mark recordings as favorites so you can quickly pull up a list of your best ideas and sounds. The app offers full media center integration as well, so you can play back your music whenever you have time.
However, the standout feature is Tape It’s support for “Stereo HD” quality. Here, the app takes advantage of the two microphones on devices like the iPhone XS, XR, and other newer models, then improves the sound using A.I. technology and other noise reduction techniques which it’s developed in-house. This feature is part of its $20 per year premium subscription.
Over time, Tape It intends to broaden its use of A.I. and other IP to improve the sound quality further. It also plans to introduce collaborative features and support for importing and exporting recordings into professional studio software. This could eventually place Tape It into the same market that SoundCloud had initially chased before it shifted its focus to becoming more of a consumer-facing service.
But first, Tape It wants to nail the single-user workflow before adding on more sharing features.
“We decided that it’s so important to make sure it’s useful, even just for you. The stuff that you can collaborate on — if you don’t like using it yourself, you’re not going to use it,” Walther says.
Tape It’s team of three is dually based in both Stockholm and Berlin and is currently bootstrapping.
The app itself is a free download on iOS and will later support desktop users on Mac and Windows. An Android version is not planned.
A number of Spotify playlist curators are complaining that the streaming music company is not addressing the ongoing issue of playlist abuse, which sees bad actors reporting playlists that have gained a following in order to give their own playlists better visibility. Currently, playlists created by Spotify users can be reported in the app for a variety of reasons — like sexual, violent, dangerous, deceptive, or hateful content, among other things. When a report is submitted, the playlist in question will have its metadata immediately removed, including its title, description, and custom image. There is no internal review process that verifies the report is legitimate before the metadata is removed.
Bad actors have learned how to abuse this system to give themselves an advantage. If they see a rival playlist has more users than their own, they will report their competitors in hopes of giving their playlist a more prominent ranking in search results.
According to the curators affected by this problem, there is no limit to the number of reports these bad actors can submit, either. The curators complain that their playlists are being reported daily, and often multiple times per day.
The problem is not new. Users have been complaining about playlist abuse for years. A thread on Spotify’s community forum about this problem is now some 30 pages deep, in fact, and has accumulated over 330 votes. Victims of this type of harassment have also repeatedly posted to social media about Spotify’s broken system to raise awareness of the problem more publicly. For example, one curator last year noted their playlist had been reported over 2,000 times, and said they were getting a new email about the reports nearly every minute. That’s a common problem and one that seems to indicate bad actors are leveraging bots to submit their reports.
Many curators say they’ve repeatedly reached out to Spotify for help with this issue and were given no assistance.
Curators can only reply to the report emails from Spotify to appeal the takedown, but they don’t always receive a response. When they ask Spotify for help with this issue, the company only says that it’s working on a solution.
While Spotify may suspend the account that abused the system when a report is deemed false, the bad actors simply create new accounts to continue the abuse. Curators on Spotify’s community forums suggested that an easy fix to the bot-driven abuse would be to restrict accounts from being able to report playlists until their accounts had accumulated 10 hours of streaming music or podcasts. This could help to ensure they were a real person before they gained permission to report abuse.
One curator, who maintains hundreds of playlists, said the problem had gotten so bad that they created an iOS app to continually monitor their playlists for this sort of abuse and to reinstate any metadata once a takedown was detected. But not all curators have the ability to build an app or script of their own to deal with this situation.
TechCrunch asked Spotify what it planned to do about this problem, but the company declined to provide specific details.
“As a matter of practice, we will continue to disable accounts that we suspect are abusing our reporting tool. We are also actively working to enhance our processes to handle any suspected abusive reports,” a Spotify spokesperson told us.
The company said it is currently testing several different improvements to the process to curb the abuse, but would not say what those tests may include, or whether tests were internal or external. It could not provide any ballpark sense of when its reporting system would be updated with these fixes, either. When pressed, the company said it doesn’t share details about specific security measures publicly as a rule, as doing so could make abuse of its systems more effective.
Often, playlists are curated by independent artists and labels who are looking to promote themselves and get their music discovered, only to have their work taken down immediately, without any sort of review process that could sort legitimate reports from bot-driven abuse.
Curators complain that Spotify has been dismissing their cries for help for far too long, and Spotify’s vague and non-committal response about a coming solution only validates those complaints further.
Hello friends, and welcome back to Week in Review.
Last week, we dove into the truly bizarre machinations of the NFT market. This week, we’re talking about something that’s a little bit more impactful on the current state of the web — Apple’s NeuralHash kerfuffle.
the big thing
In the past month, Apple did something it generally has done an exceptional job avoiding — the company made what seemed to be an entirely unforced error.
In early August — seemingly out of nowhere** — the company announced that by the end of the year they would be rolling out a technology called NeuralHash that actively scanned the libraries of all iCloud Photos users, seeking out image hashes that matched known images of child sexual abuse material (CSAM). For obvious reasons, the on-device scanning could not be opted out of.
This announcement was not coordinated with other major consumer tech giants, Apple pushed forward on the announcement alone.
Researchers and advocacy groups had almost unilaterally negative feedback for the effort, raising concerns that this could create new abuse channels for actors like governments to detect on-device information that they regarded as objectionable. As my colleague Zach noted in a recent story, “The Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week it had amassed more than 25,000 signatures from consumers. On top of that, close to 100 policy and rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also called on Apple to abandon plans to roll out the technology.”
(The announcement also reportedly generated some controversy inside of Apple.)
The issue — of course — wasn’t that Apple was looking at find ways that prevented the proliferation of CSAM while making as few device security concessions as possible. The issue was that Apple was unilaterally making a massive choice that would affect billions of customers (while likely pushing competitors towards similar solutions), and was doing so without external public input about possible ramifications or necessary safeguards.
A long story short, over the past month researchers discovered Apple’s NeuralHash wasn’t as air tight as hoped and the company announced Friday that it was delaying the rollout “to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features.”
Having spent several years in the tech media, I will say that the only reason to release news on a Friday morning ahead of a long weekend is to ensure that the announcement is read and seen by as few people as possible, and it’s clear why they’d want that. It’s a major embarrassment for Apple, and as with any delayed rollout like this, it’s a sign that their internal teams weren’t adequately prepared and lacked the ideological diversity to gauge the scope of the issue that they were tackling. This isn’t really a dig at Apple’s team building this so much as it’s a dig on Apple trying to solve a problem like this inside the Apple Park vacuum while adhering to its annual iOS release schedule.
Apple is increasingly looking to make privacy a key selling point for the iOS ecosystem, and as a result of this productization, has pushed development of privacy-centric features towards the same secrecy its surface-level design changes command. In June, Apple announced iCloud+ and raised some eyebrows when they shared that certain new privacy-centric features would only be available to iPhone users who paid for additional subscription services.
You obviously can’t tap public opinion for every product update, but perhaps wide-ranging and trail-blazing security and privacy features should be treated a bit differently than the average product update. Apple’s lack of engagement with research and advocacy groups on NeuralHash was pretty egregious and certainly raises some questions about whether the company fully respects how the choices they make for iOS affect the broader internet.
Delaying the feature’s rollout is a good thing, but let’s all hope they take that time to reflect more broadly as well.
** Though the announcement was a surprise to many, Apple’s development of this feature wasn’t coming completely out of nowhere. Those at the top of Apple likely felt that the winds of global tech regulation might be shifting towards outright bans of some methods of encryption in some of its biggest markets.
Back in October of 2020, then United States AG Bill Barr joined representatives from the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, India and Japan in signing a letter raising major concerns about how implementations of encryption tech posed “significant challenges to public safety, including to highly vulnerable members of our societies like sexually exploited children.” The letter effectively called on tech industry companies to get creative in how they tackled this problem.
Here are the TechCrunch news stories that especially caught my eye this week:
LinkedIn kills Stories
You may be shocked to hear that LinkedIn even had a Stories-like product on their platform, but if you did already know that they were testing Stories, you likely won’t be so surprised to hear that the test didn’t pan out too well. The company announced this week that they’ll be suspending the feature at the end of the month. RIP.
FAA grounds Virgin Galactic over questions about Branson flight
While all appeared to go swimmingly for Richard Branson’s trip to space last month, the FAA has some questions regarding why the flight seemed to unexpectedly veer so far off the cleared route. The FAA is preventing the company from further launches until they find out what the deal is.
Apple buys a classical music streaming service
While Spotify makes news every month or two for spending a massive amount acquiring a popular podcast, Apple seems to have eyes on a different market for Apple Music, announcing this week that they’re bringing the classical music streaming service Primephonic onto the Apple Music team.
TikTok parent company buys a VR startup
It isn’t a huge secret that ByteDance and Facebook have been trying to copy each other’s success at times, but many probably weren’t expecting TikTok’s parent company to wander into the virtual reality game. The Chinese company bought the startup Pico which makes consumer VR headsets for China and enterprise VR products for North American customers.
Twitter tests an anti-abuse ‘Safety Mode’
The same features that make Twitter an incredibly cool product for some users can also make the experience awful for others, a realization that Twitter has seemingly been very slow to make. Their latest solution is more individual user controls, which Twitter is testing out with a new “safety mode” which pairs algorithmic intelligence with new user inputs.
Some of my favorite reads from our Extra Crunch subscription service this week:
Our favorite startups from YC’s Demo Day, Part 1
“Y Combinator kicked off its fourth-ever virtual Demo Day today, revealing the first half of its nearly 400-company batch. The presentation, YC’s biggest yet, offers a snapshot into where innovation is heading, from not-so-simple seaweed to a Clearco for creators….”
“…Yesterday, the TechCrunch team covered the first half of this batch, as well as the startups with one-minute pitches that stood out to us. We even podcasted about it! Today, we’re doing it all over again. Here’s our full list of all startups that presented on the record today, and below, you’ll find our votes for the best Y Combinator pitches of Day Two. The ones that, as people who sift through a few hundred pitches a day, made us go ‘oh wait, what’s this?’
All the reasons why you should launch a credit card
“… if your company somehow hasn’t yet found its way to launch a debit or credit card, we have good news: It’s easier than ever to do so and there’s actual money to be made. Just know that if you do, you’ve got plenty of competition and that actual customer usage will probably depend on how sticky your service is and how valuable the rewards are that you offer to your most active users….”
Market research and insights are often underutilized assets for enterprises but it’s usually too hard to find content and there’s a lot of duplication, or information isn’t used well.
Swedish startup Stravito says it can centralize internal and external data sources and create something more akin to a ‘Spotify or Netflix’ for these kinds of assets, making them far more usable and consumable, they say.
It’s clearly onto something, since it’s now raised a €12.4million ($14.6million USD) series A funding round led by Endeit Capital, with additional investment from existing investors HenQ, Inventure and Creades. To date, Stravito has raised €20.1million ($23.7million USD).
Founded in 2017 by market research veterans and former iZettle employees, Stravito counts among its customers Carlsberg, Edwards Lifesciences, Pepsi Lipton, Danone, Electrolux and Comcast.
Thor Olof Philogène, CEO and co-founder at Stravito said: “It has never been more important for the world’s largest enterprises to understand and react to their customer’s changing behaviors using centralized, vetted company insights. Stravito’s technology and platform makes it fast and easy for companies to use research to make better decisions.”
On a call with me he added: “We provide a search technology, and a great design, all combined to deliver an intuitive, highly automated cloud service that allows these big companies to centralise internal and external data sources so they can pull out the nuggets they need.”
Jelle-Jan Bruinsma, Partner at Endeit Capital, added: “Endeit Capital is always looking for the next generation of international software scale-ups, and Stravito stood out in the Nordics through its impressive work to raise the bar in the multibillion dollar market research and data industry.”
Stravito also appointed Elaine Rodrigo, Chief Insights & Analytics Officer at Reckitt Benckiser, to its board of directors.
The change, which affects apps like Spotify and Netflix, will allow developers to steer users to their websites rather than the App Store.
Spotify today is officially rolling out its shared playlist feature called Blend to global users, with a few changes. Earlier this summer, Spotify had first launched the new shared playlist experience into beta testing. The feature, which allows two people to combine their favorite songs into one shared playlist, uses the same music mixing technology that powers other multi-person playlists like Spotify’s Family Mix and Duo Mix. However, Blend allows any Spotify user, including both free users and paid subscribers, to merge their musical tastes, too.
The feature has been further developed since its beta release, Spotify says.
Now, users who create a Blend (aka their shared playlist) will get something called a “taste match score” that shows them how similar or different their listening preferences are, when compared with their friends. After the Blend is created for the first time, this taste match score is demonstrated as a percentage and will be accompanied by text that tells users which song brings them together.
Blends will also feature new cover art to help users find their playlists more easily.
Premium subscribers will get an extra perk, as well. On their version of a Blend, listeners will be able to see which of the user’s preferences contributed to each song on the playlist.
Spotify says during tests of Blend, Olivia Rodrigo took the top spot for the most-streamed artist on Blend playlists, followed by others like Doja Cat, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, and Lil Nas X.
The feature isn’t only meant to be serve a fun addition to Spotify. It’s also a user acquisition strategy. Since free users are able to create or join a Blend, the feature can serve as a way to entice someone to join Spotify for the first time — even if they currently don’t pay for music, or if they subscribe to a rival service. But once they’re in Spotify’s app, they may decide to stay, the thinking goes.
Blend was announced in June alongside a new in-app experience called Only You, which focuses on your favorite music and how you listen — sort of like a mid-year version of Spotify’s popular annual retrospective, Spotify Wrapped. Like Only You, Blend includes support for social sharing. Users will be able to share Blend’s “data stories” across their social channels. This is the screen that pops up immediately after a Blend is created, but can also be accessed from any time within the Blend playlist itself.
Spotify’s bigger message with features like this, which are released at a fairly steady cadence, is about conveying to users and competitors alike that’s it’s further ahead when it comes to personalization technology. Even though rivals now dupe Spotify’s ideas for playlists, the company tends to have something new to release shortly after, whether that’s Only You, or a playlist aimed at commuters, those for the gym, or a collection of new mixes based on artists, genres and decades.
You can access Blend from the Made for You hub on Spotify’s mobile app. To get started, you’ll click “Create Blend” then “invite” to select a friend to join your Blend. When the friend accepts, Spotify will create the cover art, tracklists and display your taste match score. You can then click “Share this Story” to post your data story to your social networks.
Blend will begin rolling out to all users worldwide, starting today. Large-scale rollouts can take time, so you don’t see it immediately, just check back later.