Some Ideas for Improving the Music Streaming Experience

A quick list recapping ideas (and related posts) for features that could possibly very useful to users of music streaming services. 

1. Classical music can be offered properly. IDAGIO for example has shown how. If only one the majors (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music etc.) could acquire/license/merge it. (Browsing classical music the right way)

2. Dealing with new music is also less than ideal in current services. Simple tools, like a checkmark to distinguish listened and not listened songs, could help a lot. A practical to way for users to consolidate and go thru all music recommendations they receive would also help a lot. (Streaming Anxiety: There Should be a Better Way to Listen to New Music)

3. Adding songs to the library should be very easy, all the time. (Ranking Streaming Services by How Easy It Is to Add Songs to Library)

4. Programming a list of upcoming songs (queue) is something that could become more robust.  (Play It Next, Sam. The Case for Better Queuing.)

5. Just an idea. Streaming apps don’t have to be so monolithic in they interfaces. Spotify has almost 300 million users and they all have access to same features. Perhaps branching out a bit would be helpful for all involved. . (Thought Experiment – “Spotify XP”) (Apps as Stars and Constellations)

6. The social part of music streaming can evolve a lot. First a simple idea: daily “pinned tracks”: A quick Twitter Thread: Pinned Tracks.  And of course, there is China.

7. Anthologies! Imagine bringing the wealth of content from a reference guide like “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” directly in a streaming platform that hosts all this music? But to that you need proper tools to merge the music list, the texts, the images, the album information and the highlighted songs into the interface. And again, you need this set up in such a way that you can explore this content thru several sessions, and the app must remember exactly where you left off in a previous session.  (The 9,000 Song Long Playlist: There Must Be a Better Way)

8. Actually! It is funny that much of this functionality is already available, but only for podcasts in Spotify. (Podcasts vs songs)

9. More Ideas on The Future of Playlists: There is no way to navigate a list of playlists in a practical way.  There is no way to resume listening where one stopped each of those lists. Then there is the problem of playlists updates. Songs added, moved around, removed.

What about those songs I have heard dozens of times? Wouldn’t it be great if I could eventually filter out all of them when checking a some new playlist?

(The way that streaming services make previous versions of playlists unavailable is actually a striking demonstration of how streaming users have little power over the interface. “If you liked it, add it to your library before it is gone” is a warning from the invisible streaming gods to the tiny mortals/listeners).

10. Continuing on the theme of a Home for Playlists. The playlists (and albums too!) could be presented in a interface similar to the Mac Photos, where there are several, several ways to manipulate a large number of files.

11. The universe of available Apple Music playlists is wonderful! Why they are so hard to  find? (Improving Playlists)

12. When the Dropbox blog wrote about a Newsletter that recommends streaming music for people to concentrate (entering a state of flow as they say) I could not resist the irony: streaming services tools can be the weakest link in the quest of flow: Streaming in a State of Flow

13. A hypothesis: maybe we are severely underestimating the aggregate demand for more powerful features? For example, a proposed browsing option or queue feature that average users would only use once a year… For Spotify right now this would represent 30 MAUs…  Discovering vs Exploring – Tools for the Future of Music Streaming

14. Deezer’s Flow is a very intriguing idea that could be further developed. Maybe this could be the real future of radio? The stations should be several, customisable flows of music that the user can dip in and out?

15. It too easy to make a “mistake” while playing music. By accident, you skip a song, or interrupts the song currently playing to start another one. You start a playlist and lose your queue of future songs. Or you have three songs in a queue. You want to play next song right away, but by accident you press it 3 times and go directly to last song on queue. Queue songs 1 and 2 are lost now… The solution seems simple: a powerful “undo” button that restores the playing situation exactly as it was prior to last performed action.

16. The multi-device syncing could be further extended from where it is. For example, during most of the day I use a main phone, but I keep a secondary device to use in the car. Switching between devices for music listening on almost any music streaming app could be much more seamless than currently is. (Spotify Connect works fine for switching devices at this very moment, but this is not the case. When I start a listening session with the car phone I likely was not listening the main phone and there is no way to continue from the list/album/mix where I was on the other phone).

These are all ideas, but maybe the important fact is that users have an intense, extensive, intimate relationship with their music streaming apps. They are used several hours a day (and night), in an immense diversity of contexts and moods. Every little detail can be hugely important in such a close relationship. At the same, these are long-term relationships. How many users have been using Spotify for five or ten years? These long term users have growing libraries and collections of lists. They are accustomed to using streaming as they main/only source of music. The interface, apps and features should also grow in reach and capability as well. 

The streaming apps exist in an specific context where they are created, developed and maintained by their unique owners, profit-seeking private companies. In the end, every decision of how users access, search, browse and organise their music are arbitrary management decisions that can be shaped by the peculiar combination of individuals, culture and incentives present at the moment. Being so, these companies and management teams should always have in mind that they have the responsibility to care about their interfaces, and how they decisions and choices may affect their listeners. It sound a bit grandiose, but music is important and deserves the extra effort. 

Welcome to the ’90s!

This is a most intriguing playlist: “Welcome to the ‘90s: The New Pop 1989-1992” by Matthew Perpetua. It describes itself as “an exploration of sleek turn-of-the-‘90s pop sounds – not quite ‘80s in style but also not what would take hold for most of the ‘90s either”. In a promoting tweet, Perpetua mentions that it covers “short-lived sleek post-house pop aesthetic of 1989-1992 – – not quite ’80s in style but not the eventual sound of the ’90s either”.

With 54 songs and lasting a little over 4 hours, it has a range of intriguing artists: Deee-Lite; C& C Music Factory;  The KLF; George Michael; Janet Jackson; Madonna; SNAP!; Technotronic, Enigma, Seal, INXS, Black Box etc.

The list has been popular, right now it has 696 followers. One week ago it had 670.

The best thing about this particular list is that it captures a very peculiar style of music from a particular time period that feels extremely overlooked in comparison to other similar eras/styles/genres.  

There is an abundance of analysis and “curation” of music from “the 90s” and  from “the 80s”.  The transition from the 70s to the 80s is a very richly explored subject. The transition from the 80s to 90s feels strongly under-discussed in contrast. 

Like something that literally fell through the cracks between the decades. Consequently, this music also remains elusive. So it is very useful to have such a playlist, gathering representative examples of what Perpetua calls “The New Pop”, distinguished by a “short-lived sleek post-house pop aesthetic.”

I believe this music deserves a stronger, unique name. (How may new pops are there?). And it should be a bit evocative, referencing the era and the style instinctively.

This reply to Perpetua’s tweet by Alexandria Symonds captures well the vibe:

YESSS!! i have always privately thought of this as “music for an empowered 1991 businesswoman to listen to on her walkman while powerwalking through her lunch break in a skirt suit and big white reeboks she keeps under her desk” and it is perhaps my favorite musical aesthetic

What could be the name? A quick, useless brainstorm: 

Fax Pop. Reebok Pop. Discman Pop. Lexus Pop. Camry Pop. Saturn Pop.  World Wide Pop? (A bit too soon)

What else screams 89-92? Bush Sr. Pop? Francis Fukuyama’s End-of-History Pop? 

Something that captures the culture of the era… Camille Paglia Pop? PC Pop? (politically correct). Maybe recycling was en vogue then?

Anyway, it has been thirty years since Seal and Lisa Stanfield ruled the airwaves. The least we can do is properly remember this era.

“Spotify is an advertising company”

David Turner makes an excellent point about how Spotify is built around advertising. Perhaps this is an important part of the puzzle of why the interface feels so constrained in certain aspects of user tools. A strong focus on advertisement inevitably get in the way of the user experience, even in terms of development focus…

Now, let’s take a small step back to remember: Spotify is an advertising company. An immediate rebuttal is that a large majority of Spotify’s revenue is derived from subscriptions, not advertising. A quick flash through the company’s history could refute that point. The company’s two co-founders, Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon, both made their initial wealth in advertising startups. Again, to cite Spotify Teardown, the authors argue that Spotify’s initial business model of advertising was interrupted by the financial crash. This disruption saw major labels, then all still investors, push Spotify to adopt subscriptions to potentially mirror the recession resiliency of television subscriptions. Thus, Spotify, as noted earlier, turned to telecoms. A decade later, that tension remains within the company, as its reliance on family bundles and cheap international promotional efforts only further hurts the amount of money labels can make.

That’s why it’s worth not thinking of Spotify’s subscriptions as offering corporate autonomy like a Patreon-backed project. Instead, Spotify still serves the purpose of being an advertising platform. (Netflix exists in a similar space, where even with well over a hundred million paying subscribers it’s still figuring out how best to interact with brands.) That isn’t only limited to brands but also to music itself, which is why in Spotify’s most recent deal with Universal Music Group, the headline-grabbing takeaway was for increased marketing efforts. Or one can look at the lengths Spotify’s gone against stream fraudsters or even ad blockers. Its own devaluing of a subscription price is okay but attempting to avoid seeing a Lady Gaga ad is unacceptable. 

This is why Daniel Ek has for years huffed the fumes of radio advertising money as what will really make his company sustainable. Again, even though Spotify could potentially reorient itself towards isolating out the influence of advertising, it is embracing them.

Good point too on how its dominant position could be constraining the emergence of competing alternative experiments:

That’s why the company keeps leaning on new video formats, digital experiences, and whatever might force a brand to spend a few more dollars on ad spend. Potential new formats and higher ad buys are constantly being trodden out, while the company still refuses to budge on its current $9.99 subscription price. That refusal to move on subscription price should be challenged more. Nell Jones recently wrote in the Duke Journal of Economics that according to her research, music fans would be willing to pay $14.40 a month for streaming access. Spotify, and in many ways artists, are held back from further experiments in this space due to Apple, Amazon, and Google being capable of withstanding loses from cheaper subscription fees. 

Tencent, explained

Excellent, almost mandatory primer on Tencent by Packy McCormick at the Not Boring newsletter. Part 1 and Part 2.

On Spotify in particular, which Tencent owns 9%:

Audio: Spotify

There’s a version of the Metaverse that looks less like Ready Player One and more like Her. That is to say, audio-based. We are decades or centuries away from being able to do everything we need to do in the virtual world, which means that we will still need to spend plenty of time in the physical world. During much of that time, we will plug in via audio. Today, Americans spend four hours per day listening to audio, including one hour of spoken word content. Tomorrow, we will listen to even more, as the lines between conversation and entertainment blur. 

Spotify, of which Tencent owns 9%, is best positioned to capture that earshare. Spotify currently has 286 million monthly active users and is proving out its ability to deliver them different types of audio content beyond music, including podcasts, and soon, audiobooks. According to CEO Daniel Ek, Spotify has 10-15x growth ahead of it. As I wrote in Earshare, it is investing heavily today to ensure that it owns consumers’ ears as audio grows. 

In the Metaverse, Spotify will fill the space between – when people are not fully immersed in the digital world, they will be able to continue the conversation with friends who are, interact lightly with AR through audio, or just relax and listen to some music. 

At 10x where it is today, Tencent’s investment in Spotify would be worth $35 billion.

Apps as Stars and Constellations

Founded in 2008, Spotify has traditionally been a single brand and a single product, the Spotify app, which is the same installation for free and premium users.

One recent and noteworthy development was the release of the separate app Spotify Kids, first in beta in Ireland in October 2019 and then gradually in other markets

There is also Spotify for Artists, which is not a product for customers. 

Casually browsing the App Store, we see that Spotify Ltd. also offers music making/podcast editing apps Soundtrap (acquired in 2017) and Anchor (acquired in 2019).

Additionally, there is Soundtrack your Brand, a separate app and company which has a partnership with Spotify to offer its content for businesses. 

(Apple Music has a similar(?) arrangement with PlayNetwork, which offers a more clearly branded “Apple Music For Business”.)

In a November 2019 podcast episode of “Invest Like thew Best”, host Patrick O’Shaughnessy asked Spotify CEO and founder Daniel Ek about the distinction of “star versus constellation business strategies”. From a transcript:

This has to do with the idea of breaking up a larger app/platform into multiple apps/platforms, instead of building more features into the main app

Ex.: How Facebook created its own Messenger app

“The reality is we’ve seen very few examples where this has worked. The exception is with the large platforms – Apple, Google, and to an extent, Facebook.” – Daniel Ek

On average, people download 1 new app per year

“Getting distribution on something new is insanely hard in this day in age” – Daniel Ek

When does breaking up an app make sense?

“When you have a very different constituent than your core constituents and the job to be done is materially different than the one you’re providing, then it may make sense.” – Daniel Ek

Given this, Spotify just launched Spotify Kids 

From a press release describing the new app: 

Beyond the content, the entire Spotify Kids user experience looks and feels different from the Spotify app. And that’s intentional. It’s built for kids, with their specific cognitive skills in mind, and exudes a fun, familiar, playful, and bright atmosphere. This look and feel also varies by age group—for example, the artwork for younger kids is softer and character-based, while content for older kids is more realistic and detailed. 

So, the strategy is clear: the priority is to keep new things in the main app, and launch a new app when it is absolutely necessary.

Anyway, it interesting that the result is that there is basically one single app (available in dozes of platforms – iOS, MacOs, Windows, Android, Linux, Tizen, Xbox etc) to serve nearly 300 million users (138 mm paid and 170 mm free at the end of June 2020) in more than 90 countries. This has been a successful strategy since Spotify launch twelve years ago but one can wonder how far in the future this strategy will remain.

The diversity of the users of the product – and the diversity of ways the product can be used – must be so high and likely ever increasing, that the challenge to accommodate all of them in a single app/interface will only increase with time. I can only wonder how many more different “spotify apps” are going to be available twelve years from now. 

(Some very random brainstorming here: “Spotify for DJs”? “Spotify for Audiophiles”? “Spotify for Classical Music”? “Spotify for ‘Music Collectors’”?  Some kind of social network of their own? For Teens? For Seniors?)

Streaming Anxiety: There Should be a Better Way to Listen to New Music

Keith Jopling describes the problem aptly in his article “Listening Anxiety: Is There Just Too Much Music to Choose From?”:

Music cataloguing blog Discogs has published that new music releases would reach 200,000 this year. But dwarfing that, in April 2019, Spotify founder Daniel Ek told investors that close to 40,000 tracks are uploaded to the Spotify platform daily. In album equivalents (admittedly less relevant to streaming, but clearly still the artists’ primary unit of supply), that’s roughly 23,000 albums per week. This is adding to the 50-plus million songs already to choose from on Spotify. Of course, in the on-demand era, our choice isn’t just what’s new, or what we own, or even what’s presented to us in personalized menus, but “all the music that ever existed” (give or take). It’s little wonder I often get the feeling that what I’m listening to might not be what I could be listening to.

Besides the problem of having too much music to choose from (and dealing with all the recommendations we get from twitter, blogs, newsletters and friends), it is worth noting that current streaming music services make it really hard to keep track of stuff and are a significant factor contributing to this constant anxiety affecting so many users.

We can use Jopling’s very article as a demonstrative example of the anxiety loop working its way thru the transmission of new music recommendations…

Besides a mention of Golfdfrapp’s 2013 ‘Tales of Us’, which I had not listened previously and now can confirm is indeed wonderful (thanks!), the articles mentions 19 artists that released music in 2020 and seem worth checking out:

  1. My Morning Jacket
  2. The Pretenders
  3. Jarvis Cocker
  4. Jessie Ware
  5. Rufus Wainwright
  6. Dream Wife
  7. HAIM
  8. Lianna La Havas
  9. Margo Price 
  10. Suzanne Vallie
  11. The Blinders
  12. Protomartyr
  13. Nadine Shah 
  14. Pearl Jam
  15. Paul Weller
  16. Ron Sexsmith
  17. Rumer
  18. SAULT
  19. Tim Burgess

How to check out all this new music? (Let’s concentrate our listening activity on Spotify for simplicity’s sake, but most of the following observations should be valid for other services.)

Is there a place in Spotify where we can check all recently released albums? Filter them by genre, popularity? Not really. There is “Browse” – “New releases”) which lists exactly one hundred “new albums and singles” (no date information) and has no customisation options. (Anedoctally, none of the 19 artists was mentioned there).

What to do with the found albums? Add to library? Add to a playlist? Both are not ideal actions. I do no want to add to the library music I have not even heard. A playlist with 19 albums will be quite long, for starters. There is also the problem that several of these albums have been previously recommended by other sources. Imagine having 10 playlists with “music recs 2020” and half of them have the same HAIM or Jessie Ware album (I loved the Jessie Ware album).

The task of having to observe which recommendations are “accretive” adds to the anxiety.

Maybe there could be a “checklist” feature where you can keep adding intriguing new music, and then you know you need to add stuff only “once” to it without the worry of doubling things up (or even worse, missing it because you are erroneously assuming it was already added in another playlist).

Additionally, it would be useful (and very soothing) if once you listen a song or album from the checklist it marked as “listened” so you can focus only on the unlisted stuff.

Another idea: to make the music in the checklist some kind of long-term, non exclusive and centrally synchronised playing queue that you can engage and disengage at will. Something purposely separate from current queue options. I think this is self explanatory, but let’s describe it: the checklist of unlisted songs can be used as a queue of songs that you can tap into whenever you want, from any device. Whenever you want to listen a playlist, podcast or any other stuff, this checklist queue goes back to the “archive” and returns only whenever you want. This also could be very useful to help people manage the anxiety of alternating between new music and old favourites, active and passive listening, etc.

All the “ideas” I wrote down here seem the most obvious things in the world: make it easy to find and group things you want to check out. Make it easy to distinguish things you have and have not checked out. Make it easy to start – pause – resume all this checking out.

There will always be the natural anxiety of having to choose between the “buzz of the new” and the “favorites that come with a guarantee to lift the mood”. But our software tools should help alleviate the problem, not compound it.

Spotify and its competitors

It is fair to say that Spotify created the modern music streaming service as we know it. There were streaming predecessors, of course, but Spotify created the standard based on a freemium model, flat fees and instant access. It remains the market leader in subscribers and overall influence. But who comes after then? Who are Spotify most important & threatening competitors? And, to frame the issue under the user perspective, who are most able and likely to contribute with significant improvements to the core product of music streaming?

(These are the questions that came to mind as I was finishing listening to the November 2019 episode of “Invest Like the Best”, the excellent podcast hosted by Patrick O’Shaughnessy where Daniel Ek, the Spotify CEO and founder was the guest. Well worth a listen, IMO)

For starters, let’s consider as the relevant universe of streaming services this list compiled by Stuart Dredge at Music Ally, ranking the services by the number of users and subscribers:

  1. Spotify
  2. Apple
  3. Amazon
  4. Tencent 
  5. Google
  6. Pandora 
  7. Soundcloud
  8. Deezer
  9. Gaana
  10. JioSaavn
  11. Anghami

Who are the competitors?

Five of them currently have “regional’ streaming services: Tencent, Pandora, Gaana, JioSaavn and Anghani. It is odd to say that Tencent streams music “only” in China (I guess) and Pandora is only available in the US, but for this exercise I am focusing on global streaming services.

Of the five remaining companies, the three largest (Apple, Amazon, Google) are subsidiaries of major tech players. The two smallest are pure play music services.

Soundcloud started exclusively with content directly uploaded by creators, had an unsuccessful attempt to offer subscriptions to commercially released music, was almost acquired by Spotify in 2016 and had a change of management in recent years.

Deezer attempted an IPO in 2015 and had 7 million subscribers by the end of 2018 and has not updated this figure by July 2020. Spotify currently has 138 million subscribers, almost 20x more..

That leaves Apple, Amazon and Google as contestants, and they happen to be the most, third and fourth most valuable companies in the US by market capitalisation as of August 09, 2020. (The second most valuable company is Microsoft and had a saga of its own with digital music and now has a partnership with Spotify).

In a nutshell, Apple leads in users and subscribers, Amazon Music is growing fast as part of the bundle of services included in the Amazon Prime membership and Google serves music content for “more than one billion people” with ad-supported Youtube but has a whole different challenge with regards to subscription services (Youtube Premium for Video, Youtube Music and discontinued Google Play Music).

Is it good or bad for Spotify that its most direct’ competitors are such giants?

Likely both, I guess.

  • On one hand they have deep pockets, on the other, they have many priorities.
  • They can have deep technological competencies, but a clear management and strategy can be as important.
  • The giants have a huge captive consumer base for its other offerings but Spotify has a unique brand and a clear marketing positioning.

Another way of looking in to the matter is to see how the three are competing with another category-creator of streaming entertainment, Netflix:

Amazon Prime video is quite successful as part of the bundle, but I think it has not been exactly a threat. Apple TV plus is very much a work in progress and, as I must link once again, “Apple TV is relatively [not] straightforward”. Google experimented with “Youtube Originals” but only for a while.

Finally, focusing on each music service briefly:

Google Play Music was a well-liked product now being phased-out. Many of its best features are not available on Youtube Music. After many complaints, Google is now promising to fix the situation, but this is not the first time that Google shifting strategies frustrate users.

Amazon music service is not particularly groundbreaking. (Prime users have access to a limited library of 2 

million songs, Unlimited charges Spotify-equivalent rates for equivalent catalog and there is a competitive-priced high definition catalogue but it is only available in US). Perhaps the key differentiator is their pioneering work with voice activated home speakers (which may have been overhyped?)

Apple Music works fine and is a credible threat to Spotify. Apparently it is the market leader in the United States. The way Apple encourages iPhone users to sign with Apple Music bothers enough Spotify that they filed a complaint with European antitrust authorities.  Yet all the work and the progress depends a lot of how Apple set up the management of Apple Music, defines its strategy and prepares for the future. The July 2019 article from Billboard about the change of management at the service is very interesting. The article is certainly far from impartial, but it makes a strong case that when Oliver Schusser took the leadership role of Apple Music in early 2018 from Beats cofounder and veteran music mogul Jimmy Iovine, there a was lot of homework to be done. One cannot wonder how far along Apple could be if it had all the necessary “structure” since its launch in 2015. 

Podcasts vs songs

It is fun to compare some aspects in which podcasts and songs are different:

  1. A podcast you usually listen once. A song you can hear one, ten or infinite times.
  2. A podcast is a long form content, and it makes sense to listen from beginning (maybe skip commercials at start) and go thru the end or not. People can listen albums in order, but mostly don’t. 
  3. I don’t think anyone listen to podcasts on “background” while reading, working etc., so they are more dependent of appropriate contexts (commuting, walking, doing house chores etc.) while music is more “malleable”.
  4. You cannot dance to a podcast! You should not use a podcast to fall sleep I guess. It makes less sense to listen a podcast in group, 
  5. Podcast serve as entertainment or news but music “is poetry for the senses”.
  6. It is ok to say that you can choose a podcast easily based on genre, content, podcaster track record etc. Music is deeper and more personal. Every listener can react differently to the same song and the response can be shaped by many factors. Horace Dediu nails it:

But all the cynicism around music is tone deaf to the sheer emotion that music can create. Music touches people like nothing else. I’ve seen young and old cry and burst with joy listening to music. For its low bandwidth, music delivers enormous emotional bandwidth. It always has and always will. It’s not obsolete and will never be. Music imprints itself in hearts and remains there for a lifetime.

All this to say that podcasts are a more objective product than music, perhaps easier to market and monetise (and invest millions in exchange of exclusives).

One practical, and amusing, implication of the difference between podcasts and songs in the Spotify app, in the way it keep the playing of podcasts organised, and the playing of playlists not:

  1. A podcast has its own page, with a long descriptive paragraph. 
  2. The podcast author is clearly identified.
  3. The audio files (“episodes”) are clearly sorted. You can filter only unplayed episodes or see all.
  4. The app automatically saves the exact point where you stopped listening each episode and this information is synchronised across the user’s all devices. When you pick up the podcast on another device, it resumes from that exact point.

None of this is available for playlists, or other groupings of music. For example , the “eighties” could be our ‘podcast of songs’ example:

  1. No way to create a page with a clear name, theme or descriptive paragraph 
  2. No author clearly dentifrice
  3. No way to sort different playlists (one for every genre/year?) and filter unplayed ones.
  4. No way to resume listening where you previously stopped.

Playlists have no home, no author, the most brief descriptions, no direct link to related lists. Also no permanence.: a podcast episode is probably always the same. A playlist can be changed at any moment and there is no direct way of knowing what has changed or when it will change again.

Ranking Streaming Services by How Easy It Is to Add Songs to Library

Adding songs to the library is an essential tool for many users. Many streaming services consider it important enough to present this option as an unique button (usually a heart or + icon) in the key “Now Playing View”.  Unfortunately, not all do that. Let’s check this out, service by service:

Add song to library option available as a single click?

  • Spotify: yes. (Heart shaped button in the right corner)
  • Tidal: yes. (Heart shaped button in the right corner)
  • Qobuz: yes. (Heart shaped button next to play button)
  • Deezer: yes. (Heart shaped button next to play button)
  • Apple Music: no. (Hidden in “…” Then “Add to Library” is the 4th item)
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: no. (“…” vertical dots, then “+ Add to my music” is  the first item)
  • IDAGIO: no. (“….”, then Heart shaped button “Add Track to Collection” is the first option.

When you move away from the now playing screen, all apps provide a “ribbon” in the lower part of the screen where it always show the current song name and basic play/pause controls). Do the apps offer a button to “add to the library” in the permanent control ribbon?

  • Spotify: no (additional button is “Listening On…”)
  • Tidal: no (additional button is next track).
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: no (additional button is next track).
  • Apple Music: no (additional button is next track).
  • Qobuz: no (and no additional button).
  • IDAGIO: no (and no additional button).
  • Deezer: yes!

Bonus idea: imagine how useful would it be if you could add songs without opening the app! “Shake the phone to add song” maybe?


This is bad (Apple Music now playing screen):


This is good: (Deezer now playing screen):img_2051

This is great: (Deezer permanent control ribbon):


A collection of recommended readings

The Lofty Optimism of Spotify and the Influence of the Streaming Revolution (April 2018)

Good points about how technology and distribution affect the creation of music:

For a critic, the question of how listeners acquire and consume new music can feel tangential or tedious—it’s far more exciting, after all, to talk about the music itself—but the two topics are once again becoming inextricably intertwined. Just as the advent of the commercial recording industry (and, later, the evolution of analog recording formats, from wax cylinders to 78-r.p.m. disks and long-playing vinyl records) changed the way musicians write and produce songs, so, too, has streaming. With everything now cleaved from its original time and circumstance (and, it feels worth noting, its cultural and historical context), young songwriters can cull influence from all sorts of disparate sources and make work that feels, somehow, both new and ancient.

The popularity of streaming has led to obvious changes in how music is being produced—in 2018, a pop song needs to sound excellent piping out of a laptop’s tiny speakers and on headphones—but streaming has also resurrected the idea that the medium through which an album or track is made available is as much an aesthetic choice as anything else. This past fall, on the first day of an undergraduate seminar I teach on musical subcultures, I asked my first-year students what kind of music they liked. More than one answered “SoundCloud.” When I wondered aloud if SoundCloud was actually just an online distribution platform (like Spotify, it allows its users to stream millions of songs for free) and not a genre in any traditional sense of the word, I received only blank or vaguely pitying stares, as if I had just ordered everyone to check their telegrams for news about the space race. Since SoundCloud was founded, in 2007, it has slowly become synonymous with a tender but scrappy style of rap music, as practiced by artists such as Lil Pump, the late Lil Peep, and XXXTentacion. The sound is garbled and sometimes anesthetized, but, mostly, its brazen laziness feels like a corrective to overproduced and overconsidered mainstream hip-hop. That these artists gathered on SoundCloud might be incidental to SoundCloud itself (I think it would be hard to argue that the company deliberately courted or curated them), but it nonetheless reminds me of when I was a teen-ager, and we often casually referred to labels as genres: you liked Dischord stuff, or Saddle Creek stuff, or Thrill Jockey stuff, and so on. The method of distribution mattered.

Spotify has yet to foster a creative community in the same way. It’s far too big to feel like anything other than an anonymous platform—its library already seems terrifyingly boundless, and is only growing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

How Spotify Will Battle Taylor Swift (and Kanye West and Adele and Beyoncé) (June 2016)

 A bit of the Echo Nest history and Discover Weekly:

Whitman was fascinated by the way people describe and write about music. He once studied Pitchfork reviews to measure their ratio of actual music criticism to personal musings about the writers’ lives. (“It was the style at the time,” he says now, diplomatically.) Was there a way to convert this flowery writing into usable data? If a music critic or a kid on a random blog wrote that a new indie band sounded like “David Bowie when he was in Berlin,” Whitman wanted to craft a way to algorithmically map that connection. “I wanted to have some computer program read the same thing I was reading,” he says.

Jehan (who prefers jazz to electronic) opted for a more technical approach. He was interested in deconstructing music itself, analyzing the digital signals of waveforms to categorize types of sounds. While at MIT, he developed the James Brown Machine, a computer program that, as its title implies, can compose “new” James Brown songs. After being fed dozens of actual tracks by the soul star, the computer attempts to algorithmically derive the “essence” of James Brown and output new compositions in the singer’s style. You can judge for yourself how well machine imitates man.


Meet PUMA: Playlist Usage Monitoring and Analysis

Playlist culture is introducing an unprecedented dependence on data. We hear about the stacked human playlisting teams, with “genre leads” and “junior and senior curators” building thousands and thousands of playlists. (Though we never see their faces or names on the platforms—Spotify’s way of building trust in the mystified Oz-like “magic” of Spotify, rather than human intelligence needed to program playlists.) These human curators are responding to data to such an extent that they’re practically just facilitating the machine process. As BuzzFeed reported last year, Spotify uses a performance tracking application titled PUMA, or Playlist Usage Monitoring and Analysis, which “breaks down each song on a playlist by things like number of plays, number of skips, and number of saves.” PUMA also tracks “the overall performance of the playlist as a whole, with colorful charts and graphs illustrating listeners’ age range, gender, geographical region, time of day, subscription tier, and more.” In the “human curated” playlist factories, human beings essentially reproduce the work of the algorithm.

Why are so many Netflix movies so bad? (March 2018)

The medium shaping the content, again:

It’s not that these Netflix movies can’t be enjoyed while you are distracted by your phone or your tablet; it’s that they are undeniably better that way. Paying attention to Bright will only make the film worse by exposing the vast holes in the plot and how little the film’s central metaphor actually matters. The only thing that comes from scrutinizing Mute is wondering why a film about an Amish amateur private eye needed to be set in a dystopian science-fiction future. Glancing at these films occasionally, you can admire their cool production design, makeup, and effects without getting lost in the weeds of their goofy plots.