Nash DavidJun 18, 2015 08:16:17 IST
The weather has finally changed. The drop in summer heat has finally given way to rising joy. The rains are here. And everyone’s happy. It’s time for pleasant drives. Weekend getaways, and mesmerising playlists. Quick fried snacks with a cup of piping hot tea. All of this sounds exciting. But there's something amiss. It's music! Yes the background score that lifts all of these immersive moments up and adds melody to life.
The drive itself may be lousy, but the songs we listen to en route create pleasant memories. It’s amusing when we scream our lungs out to our favourite songs as a group. And then there's the thrill of your favourite song playing up next. With cheer all around.
Individuals could be mapped with the kind of music that get them excited. The price for that excitement is worth a fortune. As we figure over the year passed by, it’s $3.5 billion. And that’s why Andre Young is a genius. Young, popularly known as Dr. Dre, is the founder and CEO of Beats Electronics, in addition to being a globally renowned artist and producer in the Rap and Hip-Hop scene. Music is something that has the potential to move people. It creates bonds that go beyond just consuming. It’s one of the strongest bonds around. And when a brand associates itself with music, the results are dramatic. Tim Cook is a smart man. If he weren’t, Apple wouldn’t be the most valuable company on the planet. If he weren’t, he wouldn’t be Steve Jobs’ successor. And if he pays $3.5 billion to acquire Beats by Dre, he very well knows what he’s doing.
The rise of streaming
In the build up to WWDC 2015, we kept reading about Spotify. Its influence on the acquisition of Beats by Dre is hard to miss. Spotify, rdio, Pandora and several other streaming services are growing steadily. rdio with over 32 million songs and a presence across 85 countries put it at a comfortable position. We wrote to rdio to get a feel of the music streaming space and understand what Apple Music would mean to India.
According to rdio, "In India, the ability to convert users from piracy to paid streaming service of any kind is the competition for any streaming service. We believe legal music empowers the users, musicians and the entire music industry. Apple Music is merely another opportunity to bring more users into the streaming music market in India."
Shirshendu Banerjee, an entrepreneur in the broadcasting industry with nearly two decades in the radio and music space, adds, "We are an oral culture and be it our religions or our popular culture, audio plays a huge role in each social event. Predictably FM radio has been immensely popular in each of the 91 cities it reaches here in India. Also because it is free to air it still continues to occupy the larger public space. Will listeners like to pay for their music? This is a question we may never find an answer to adequately. Perhaps a different way to cut the cake would be to see how to create the possibility of a subscription model. TV has done it and how."
An ex-RJ, Banerjee is quite hopeful about Apple Music when he says, "The possibility of digital streaming music is spectacular especially considering that it can be morphed into a 'narrowcast medium' while it continues to be a broadcast medium. So will Apple Music work in India? The short answer is yes!"
The power of the random playlist
Only, they're not truly random. Spotify employs the Fisher-Yates shuffle method while simultaneously learning user response while the song is being played. These preferences influence the next song being played. The logic is simple. The individual songs are randomly picked from a relevant bank of songs.
For those who love music, the next song to play is very important. Banerjee adds, "A successful playlist is one that knows what to play next. From my years in hospitality I learnt that there are two kinds of menus. À la carte and table d'hôte. The former asks the guest to choose, the latter enforces the host’s choice. Each menu has its own relevance and sometimes allows a bit of eclectic experimenting as well. Many times they go down well and many times they fail to excite the palate. So how would a chef ensure that he comes closest to drawing up a successful menu? Get to know the guest. Map his / her choices. Also knowing the occasion helps cater from the basic requirement of comfort to shaking tail feathers as the occasion demands."
Similar to food, music is not different. They both soothe the soul. And touch the heart. For the right melody, tempo, genre and artist to be queued up next, there needs to be a deep level of understanding of the occasion, the listener, the mood and the bank of preferred artists and songs. The switch from one song to the next has to be seamless.
For an effective playlist, great care must be taken to avoid disappointed listeners. Banerjee adds, "From my last 18 years in radio I have learnt that to avoid an imperfect choice a DJ has to first go with data rather than gut. The data itself should be captured very carefully and the queries need to be profound because most surveys get biased with what the respondent would like to be seen as than his/ her personal opinion.
So stick to the basics first. Understand that music is about comfort and essentially a lattice structured in melody. For it to bounce well, it needs to follow bio rhythms of beats per minute (BPM) and aural energy. Access to an intelligent and efficiently curated library, picking the best fits, review of transitions and keep your ears open would be some of the ingredients to a great playlist. In a live environment and at a human level, above all, the next song is key, so be ready with a plan B."
Rdio says it "is intensely focused on personalising the user experience through both human curation and algorithmic personalisation. Our streaming music service goes beyond on-demand by offering the industry’s most expansive array of computer generated and expertly curated stations customized for any mood, activity or genre. Additionally, all Rdio users have their own station, YouFM, which is tailored and targeted for the individual listener based on their listening history and interests."
Finally the listener gets priority
So what makes streaming services so popular? Banerjee thinks of DJs when we ask him about streaming sites. He adds, "Spotify and its country cousins are what I call electronic DJ services. It brings out the DJ in everyone. 'The day of the media baron is over,' said Rupert Murdoch. Fundamentally what has changed in the landscape is the access to an infinite database of well curated music and the shifting of control from the DJ to the listener. This on demand music has also bridged the music distribution gaps and brought stakeholders together. How big, is a wrong question in India because neither Spotify, Grooveshark or Pandora with the exception of Shazam which is a music recognition app currently work in India. What if they were available in India ? My bet is that it will do very well with the caveat that the fragmented music label community decides to break bread at the same table.
rdio shares the sentiment, and adds, "We are in the early days of music streaming as the primary way people listen to music, and believe our unique combination of free streaming radio featuring algorithmic and humanly curated stations alongside a subscription on-demand listening experience with personalized stations will have a broad appeal. Algorithmic personalization is a top priority for us, and we have invested and will continue to invest significant resources towards it to provide users with a best-in-class music discovery offering.
But what about local indie stuff
According to rdio, "We believe geographies have a crucial implication with the consumption of music. Localised music offerings is key to be able to reach regional audiences. We launched Rdio in India back in January with the largest library of over 30 million international songs, a large offering catering to specifically Bollywood and Indian music fans. We have learned that our listeners really enjoy the classic radio experience. Our users in India enjoy a variety of music, everything from their local Indian tracks and Bollywood soundtracks to international, particularly American music."
Apple Music: À la carte and table d'hôte?
Each one of us has a unique palate. Even when it comes to music. Sure, Apple needed to expand its market and clout in the music industry, especially considering that its first music device, the iPod was revolutionary. Although the iPod is now dead, music is still huge and growing phenomenally. Since music industry veterans, broadcast professionals and competitors (all those who matter) believe it's a great move for the music streaming industry at large, we'll keep a close watch at Apple Music. Perhaps listening to music would just get faster, groovier and cheaper for the rest of us. We hope though, that whether it's a choose from many à la carte or from an Apple knows best table d'hôte service, we'd leave the table content in our hearts, coming back for more!
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