377139-pandora-4-0“Mobile-first” has been a phrase worth dropping in startup and investor circles for some time now – a blog post titled Mobile First Web Second by Union Square Ventures’ Fred Wilson in September 2010 being the first time Music Ally came across it.

In 2013, it’s a big buzz-phrase for the music industry too: rightsholders and digital services alike. Initially wary of inflating expectations based on hype – as had happened with the first mobile (ringtones) boom – the music world is now genuinely excited about the implications of booming smartphone sales and app downloads.

You can see that in the enthusiasm for mobile-first (or often mobile-only) music services like Muve Music, Nokia’s Mix Radio, Bloom.fm and Kleek, but the triggers for mobile-first mindsets have also been coming from established digital music services for a while now.

We’ve rounded up a selection of stats and quotes to show the mobile-first trend at work in the digital music world, starting from recent announcements at SXSW and working backwards. Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Saavn, 7digital, iTunes, Vevo, Songza and Rhapsody have all had tales to tell.

March 2013: Spotify CEO Daniel Ek tells an audience at SXSW that “If you’re a business now and you’re only on the PC, you’re going to have some serious problems” and notes that “more than half” of Spotify’s users are already mobile, and that this could rise to 70% in the next year. This follows comments by chief content officer Ken Parks in January: “It’s increasingly a mobile-first world, and it’s critical to go where your users are. Increasingly, people are finding out about our service first on their mobiles.”

March 2013: Pandora CEO Joe Kennedy tells analysts that “listening on mobile and other connected devices represented 79% of total listener hours during the fourth quarter” [of 2012] for the personal radio service. Days later, CTO Tom Conrad tells an SXSW audience: “Don’t talk about how the web is doing or what’s happening with subscriptions. The real story is that Pandora is a mobile phenomenon.”

February 2013: Rdio’s head of strategic partnerships Scott Bagby tells Music Ally that “Mobile is key for us. Over 80% of our users are mobile.”

February 2013: Indian streaming music service Saavn’s co-founder Rishi Malhotra tells the New York Times that around 80% of its usage is on mobile devices, as the company prepares to launch a premium mobile tier.

December 2012: 7digital reveals that 67% of tracks sold through its music download stores are on mobile devices, up from 50% the year before. Then in March 2013, it claims its apps will be preloaded on 100m smartphones in 2013.

September 2012: Apple’s services boss Eddy Cue says at the iPhone 5 launch event that “More than two thirds of our downloads now come directly for iOS devices”, referring to the iTunes Store. It’s likely he was including app downloads in that figure, not just music though.

September 2012: Music videos service Vevo reports that it streamed 1.3bn songs to mobile devices in the second quarter of 2012, with mobile traffic nearly doubling from Q1 to Q2 thanks to 5m monthly active mobile users.

September 2012: Streaming music service Songza, which focuses on playlists for different contexts and moods, explains that “Mobile usage on Songza has gone from almost nothing in March to over 75% of our overall usage now”.

March 2012: Rhapsody product head Jon Maples tells Evolver.fm that smartphones account for nearly half of all Rhapsody listening. “We’re changing the way we think about product. We’re starting with mobile…”

Music Ally’s consultancy arm has worked with a number of digital services and startups to refine their mobile strategies. For more information on our work in that area, contact our head of research Karim Fanous