WillCall – Pushing event info to you

Impressed as I was by the success of online ticket seller Eventbrite, a recent announcement by WillCall then triggered my interest. WillCall is a San Francisco based-startup which started off by sending users in the San Francisco area a push notification about discounted tickets or VIP packages a few hours before a concert was due to start.

“A pretty easy way to see more shows” is WillCall’s main strap line and that is exactly what their Android and iOS apps seem to be providing for. As WillCall founder Donnie Dinch explains on the WillCall blog, the main problem they are trying to solve is “how to connect willing and excited people, using a mobile phone, to the greatest local shows, concerts and social events in town.”

I can imagine that people reading this might be thinking that they have seen this all before or that WillCall is not going to upset the likes of Live Nation in a million years. However, these are the main things that differentiate WillCall in my view:

  1. Event discovery – I believe that any form of discovery, be it content or events, is a hard one to get right one. WillCall is trying to crack this by handpicking shows that they think are likely to be popular and cut deals with the hosting venues. 48 hours prior to an event, a WillCall user will receive a message with a number of events to pick from, including info on friends attending and any special deals (e.g. discounts or the ability to jump the queue).
  2. Push notifications  – WillCall’s messages are push based which means that users will get automated notifications well in time for an event. The only risk with such push notifications is that subscribers can eventually get fed up, treating these alerts as spam.
  3. Tailoring notifications –  I don’t think WillCall currently enables its users to set preferences for the types of notifications they wish to receive, and I’m not sure if their competitors Thrillcall or Sosh do either. I guess the extent to which a service like WillCall can customise the push notifications one receives (e.g. by genre, area or venue) will play an important role in its long-term success.

Main learning point: the problem that WillCall is trying to solve is clear: helping artists/venues/promotors with those shows that don’t get sold out. As a user, the main added value comes from attractive last-minute deals and from discovering new events. In addition, the ‘social’ element of being able to see who of your friends are going to a gig should not be underestimated. Definitely a service with a lot of potential; don’t be surprised if the likes of Live Nation or Ticketmaster jump into this niche very soon!  

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Why I really like This Is My Jam

I love This Is My Jam. Period. This service, which only came out of private beta a few months ago, is as simple as it is effective.  This Is My Jam (‘TIMJ’) lets users select one track at the time (your “jam”) which will expire after one week. As a result, you tend to get recent tracks and a good flavour of the kinds of music people are ‘feeling’ at any given time. These are the main things I like about This Is My Jam:

  1. It is curated – Are you also getting tired of “what my friends are listening to” features on Spotify or YouTube, and the unfiltered flood of music that provides for!? As TIMJ co-founder Matthew Oggle explains: “Music gets lost in the deluge, and even when it’s noticed, links out to Spotify or Youtube in a social feed can feel impersonal.” TIMJ tries to address this by forcing users to carefully select a single jam at the time and enables them to personalise their pick by adding their own text or imagery.
  2. It is simple – The TIMJ site looks simple and is simple to use. Selecting and previewing the jam of your choice is incredibly easy and so is customising it. If you wish to share your jam on Facebook or Twitter, again, that is very simple too. I don’t know where it sits on TIMJ’s product roadmap, but it will be interesting to see what their mobile app will look like when they launch it.
  3. Music discovery at its finest – Having been on TIMJ for a good 6 months now, I am impressed with the variety of music on there. There is definitely an element of people trying to ‘outcool’ each other which means that you get a truly eclectic mix of genres and artists, and get to discover music that you might not have come across otherwise.
Main learning point: like with all these services, the question remains how popular This Is My Jam will become, how quickly it will manage to grow its user base. What I do know is that TIMJ offers a great, easy-to-use service for anyone who is passionate about music or who wishes to discover new stuff!

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Rdio vs. Spotify: when it comes to user experience, the first round is for Rdio

Last year I wrote about Rdio, about its affiliate programme and data partnerships respectively. At the time, Rdio was only available in the US and my interaction with its streaming service was therefore limited. I had heard, however, that its user experience design (‘UX’) was great.

I have now had a chance to try Rdio (it recently launched in the UK) and compare it with Spotify (of which I am a premium subscriber). If this was a boxing match, Rdio would win against Spotify in the 1st round. Spotify would have struggled to put a punch in whilst Rdio’s decisive knock out punch would have come in the form of its powerful UX.

This is how the two streaming services compare in my opinion:

  1. Design – I have a got a strong preference for clean, simple design and Rdio comes up trumps in this respect. Whether it is an artist (see screenshot 1), album or track (see screenshot 2), all pages have a very uncluttered layout. Even though I can understand Spotify’s rationale for collating as much artist or product info onto a single page, I feel that Rdio’s pages are more effective. Rdio’s UX design   feels like it has been thought through a lot better.
  2. Social – On Spotify, opportunities to understand what others think of a particular album or track are limited. When I have got my “This is what your friends are listening to in real-time” functionality enabled on Spotify, I tend to ignore it. I think the way in which Rdio have enabled user reviews is again simple but effective (and not a distraction from the main purpose, i.e. to listen to a track or an album – see screenshot 2).
  3. Labels – The main differentiator between between Spotify and Rdio is the ability to filter by labels. Increasingly, users are looking to engage with specific labels. Spotify is tapping into this trend with its label specific apps (I love the “Def Jam at Spotify” app) and services like Drip.fm and Distro.fm are geared towards this. Rdio gets this too: I can follow labels directly and get a good sense of all their releases. For instance, the 4AD Records (see screenshot 3) or Blue Note pages provide a neat overview of their top albums and recent activity.
  4. Nobody is perfect – At a first glance, Rdio’s music catalogue seems smaller than that of Spotify and I would love to see more labels involved with this service. Perhaps it is my perception but the “unavailable” tag seems to be appearing on albums a bit too often. From a UX point of view, there is nothing as frustrating as finding the album you were looking for to then see it marked as unavailable.
Main learning point: Spotify clearly has a ‘first mover’ advantage in the UK, both in terms of its user base and breath of music catalogue. With the right amount of marketing and word of mouth, however, Rdio could be catching up sooner than you think. Rdio’s design is great and opportunities for interaction and discovery have received the right amount of attention by Rdio’s designers. The main thing for Rdio to concentrate on is adding to its catalogue and creating a user base / ecosystem around its service.

Screenshot 1 – Artist page on Rdio

Screenshot 2 – Track page on Rdio

Screenshot 3 – 4 AD Records page on Rdio

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Learning about streaming, Part 2: ubiquitous streaming from the cloud

A few blog posts ago, I wrote about streaming and tried to clarify what this involves. One of the upcoming digital trends of 2011 is cloud-based streaming of music. Good examples of this new trend are Apple’s iCloud service and Amazon’s Cloud Drive, but also the likes of Spotify, Pandora and Google are now very active in this area (see overview below).

I’m sure that this field will further evolve in 2011 with existing providers solidifying this revenue stream and new providers jumping the bandwagon. These are some of the things that I have learned so far about music streaming:

  1. The service – On-demand streaming is all about delivering tracks and albums, providing users with easy access to online music across a number of platforms (web, mobile). With the cloud component, there’s also the option of user storing all their music. Apple’s iCloud for instance scans all of user’s music (including digital downloads not through iTunes) and matches it with the music catalogue in the iTunes Store and automatically stores it in iCloud.
  2. The business model – This kind service is either free (totally free or to an extent), supported by advertising or a paid-for model (with users subscribing to the service and providers offering basic and premium packages).
  3. Changed consumer behaviour? – I guess the long-term success of music streaming will very much  depend on whether consumers are happy to pay just for access to music (instead of downloading and owning the music). A recent US survey found that that more than half of respondents preferred to purchase music files online, the top way of consuming music.Only 13% of online music consumers preferred to pay for online streaming (see survey results below). Another recent survey indicated that streaming services discourages music purchasing, which is the kind behaviour that might well only apply to those converted to music streaming and access.

Main learning point: it will be interesting to see how providers of music streaming services will shape their business models to generate sustainable revenue from streaming. In terms of consumer uptake, will it be case of only select group of people willing to pay for streaming and the large majority of users to stick with free music (streaming)?

Profile of Select Cloud-Based Digital Music Services , 2011

Method of Purchasing or Listening to Music According to US Online Music Consumers, Sep 2011 (% of respondents)

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Facebook follows Turntable.fm with “Listen With”

Keen to get a piece of the action that Turntable.fm has generated, Facebook has just launched its own “Listen With” feature. Like Turntable.fm, the main concept behind “Listen With” is simple: sharing music with your friends. These are the main things that this new Facebook feature will enable you to do:

  1. Listen to music with your friends – You can listen along with any of your Facebook friends who are listening to music or you can listen to music with a group of friends whilst one of your friends plays the DJ.
  2. Chat room –  Similar to Turntable.fm, Facebook offers its own simultaneous chat room feature. This means that when I click on the “Listen With” button in Chat and news feed stories, I can then select a friend as my personal DJ. When clicked, Spotify or Rdio will be launched instantly and I’ll start hearing the music my friend is playing in real-time. Other friends can also join the group chat listening room and we can discuss what we’re listening to whilst the music is playing.
  3. Only open to friends selected – The feature only works for whoever you allow to share music with. This means that a person who is allowed to view your listening activity will see a music note appearing next to your name in a chat. By hovering over this friend’s name, the “Listen With” button will appear.
  4. Newsfeed – If another user then clicks my “Listen With” button we’ll then listen to the same music, a chatroom will be created and my newsfeed will state that “Marc Abraham is listening with ….”
  5. Artist page – When someone plays a song for a friend, their “Listen With” chat room will display a link back to that artist’s Facebook Page. This could be a very useful feature for artists who can thus generate more fans and reach out to them with links to concert tickets, merchandise, and their websites.
Main learning point: looking at this new Facebook feature made me wonder whether the guys behind Turntable.fm are loosing sleep over it. At the face of it, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In an interview with TechCrunch Billy Chasen, co-founder of Turntable.fm, explained that “I look forward to seeing how they (Facebook, MA) interpret what social music means as we seem to have different core philosophies about it (such as the importance of discovering new music from strangers and not just friends).” I can see where Chasen is coming from, but with the sheer scale of Facebook and ample opportunity for it to iterate (for instance make it easier to replace DJs and for non-friends to join a chat room) I can imagine that Turntable.fm will be going back to their drawing boards very soon.

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What’s happening with Spotify?

It has been a big week for Spotify. At a special event last Wednesday the online music company announced its shift from being ‘just’ a provider of music online to a ‘music platform’ that ties in with third party applications. In short, this means that Spotify will turn its service into a platform for developers, who can then build HTML5 apps based on this platform. The aim is that all these third party apps will be truly integrated with Spotify and that they will all contained within the Spotify Player which both free and paid customers will have access to.

These are the main things I learned about Spotify’s new approach:

  1. Making the most of its catalogue  – I guess Spotify is widely known for offering an impressive catalogue of online music. Things like radio (which Last.fm did so successfully), expert recommendations and a better use of the ‘genre’ tag are currently non-existent or lacking at best. There definitely is room to do more with the Spotify catalogue.
  2. Need to engage users more – Spotify is great for people who know what they want to listen to, but there is a risk of users dropping off one they’ve exhausted the music that they are aware or interested in. There’s no community around the music on Spotify and limited ways for Spotify to engage with it users.
  3. Reinforcing the brand – Many others before Spotify discovered that creating an ‘ecosystem’ around content can be a very effective way to keep customers ‘locked in’ and to spread the word around a service. Apple and Amazon are great examples of this strategy but also players like Netflix and my employer, 7digital are good cases in point of business being successful in opening up their API and reaching out to the developer community.
  4. Music anywhere everywhere – At the launch event, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek explained: “we want music to be like water: available everywhere and shareable seamlessly”. This idea of ‘total ubiquity’ is becoming increasingly apparent in a lot of digital strategies; providing content in the car, at home or on the go.
  5. First examples of third party apps using Spotify – One of my favourite online tools, Songkick, will launch a new Concerts app for Spotify which will allow users to discover and buy tickets for nearby shows by the bands they’re listening to on Spotify. Similarly, the Rolling Stone Recommends app will function as a discovery tool for Spotify users to browse album and song reviews, as well as curated playlists, while simultaneously streaming the music.
Main learning point: the idea of creating an ecosystem around content is not a new one but definitely one to really take off over the next few years. With giants like Apple and Amazon have centred their strategies around keeping customers locked in, it’s only logical that aspiring giants like Spotify are now looking to do exactly the same thing (and be just as successful at it).
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Facebook’s new music platform – what will happen tomorrow?

Interesting times for online music. A few months ago I wrote about the likes of Rdio and 7digital, where I work, stepping in to offer serious competition to iTunes. A few months later, in July, Spotify launched in the US and the picture of online music looked complete.

It now turns out that this observation was way too premature, particularly given the events over the last few weeks with both Rdio and Mog offering free music services. Rdio’s free music-streaming service won’t come with advertising whereas MOG’s “FreePlay” option will (exactly like the ‘freemium’ business model which Spotify introduced a few years ago).

Things will get really interesting when – if we can rely on persistent rumours – Facebook will launch its own music platform tomorrow. This platform is likely to enable Facebook users to easily share their favourite music as well as television shows and films, effectively turning a user’s profile page into its personalised entertainment hub.

I know these are still rumours (at the moment anyway) but these are the main things I learned about Facebook’s upcoming venture into (online) music:

  1. Facebook isn’t doing it alone – With the likes of MOG, Spotify, Rdio, SoundCloud and Deezer all rumoured to be announced as launch partners tomorrow, it’s clear that Facebook won’t be going this one alone. According to the media and technology executives, who claim to be close to the related deals, Facebook has made agreements with a number of media companies to develop a way for a user’s profile page to display whatever entertainment he is consuming on those external services.
  2. This could be very powerful – Given the audience that Facebook currently has (estimated at more than 700m users) facilitating personal entertainment ‘hubs’ could have a massive impact on the way we consume content and on the positioning of the content industry. Similarly, links that appear on a widget or tab, or as part of a user’s news feed, would point a curious friend directly to the content. Again, it will be interesting to see how this will impact the way in which we consume content (do we end up paying even less for content than a lot of us are doing already?).

Main learning point: will people in the music industry look forward to tomorrow with trepidation, trying to predict what the shape and impact of Facebook’s new music platform is going to be? Facebook’s annual developer conference is always one to appear on may people’s calendars and this year’s “F8” is no exception. I feel, however, that the rumours around the introduction of a new music platform do give the conference an extra dimension and that tomorrow could potentially form the start of a new saga in ‘content land’.

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