The keynote session at our Music Apps: Beyond the Hype conference tonight starred EMI and Spotify, talking about their work with APIs and developers.
Neil Tinegate from EMI started off, talking about the OpenEMI initiative, which is seeing the label work with startups and developers, providing them with access to ‘sandboxes’ of music and content. Music technology firm The Echo Nest is its partner.
“Inventing products and services? We’re not specialists at doing that. We’re specialists at working with artists,” he said.
The idea behind OpenEMI is that developers can play with the content to make apps – mobile or web – and then when they get to the point of thinking about commercialising them, they talk to EMI.
Around 20k tracks are available in the sandboxes, including dedicated ones for Gorillaz, the Pet Shop Boys, Tinie Tempah, Robbie Williams and Chiddy Bang, as well as another for the entire Blue Note label.
“We view it as a partnership, it’s not a work-for-hire at all,” said Tinegate. 40% of revenues from these apps go to developers, with The Echo Nest taking a piece depending on which of their APIs are used, while 60% go to the rightsholders.
Tinegate showed two examples. The first is The Blue Note App, developed by Groovebug, which he described as a “living box set” providing access to thousands of tracks with a monthly subscription model.
Users can browse tracks from specific artists, play them, watch YouTube videos and read biographical information, while also pulling in news articles and linking to similar artists within the Blue Note catalogue.
The second one was Now! Keyboard Game: a melody matching game that teaches people to play songs from the Now! compilation series, buying them as in-app purchases. It’s the work of a developer called Real Keys.
Tinegate showed a track from James Brown, and explained that it’s not just a game: people are learning to play these songs’ melodies on an on-screen keyboard. And there will be social features built in too, to post scores on Facebook.
Would the Blue Note app not have happened without the OpenEMI. “It wouldn’t have happened as quickly and easily,” he said. “They’d been to labels and publishers and struggled to get licences. They’d hit a wall.”
Next up was Sten Garmark, director of platform at Spotify, talking about what the streaming music service is doing with apps in its desktop client, and how the platform is influencing the service’s evolution.
“Everyone that I meet has ideas about what we should do,” he said, of Spotify users.
“Some people talk about an iPad app, but other people have very different ideas – they want specific stereo syetem to be integrated with Spotify, or they want their car to have it in the dashboard, or in their apps when they’re running, or a DJ app, or an EQ app… They really want Spotify to be everywhere.”
This is where developers come in: Garmark said that as developers make apps for Spotify, they will provide a lot of these new features that users are requesting – which in turn will “make music more valuable for them”, and they’ll be more likely to pay for Spotify itself.
“Artists are going to be paid more, and we can bring this industry back to growth, like we have in Sweden,” he said.
Spotify launched its libspotify API a couple of years ago for developers and hardware makers to use. Then in August 2011, Spotify released CocoaLibspotify – an API for iOS app developers.
Garmark said his favourite iPhone app released so far using this is personalised radio app SpotOn Radio – “in a way it’s similar to Pandora… but unlike Pandora we have unlimited skips, and you can move playlists over to your normal Spotify,” he said.
“It killed us on the App Store. They passed us on the App Store, Facebook, Wordfeud, and they actually went to number six [in the App Store chart]… And it’s a little bit embarrassing, but they have a much higher rating than our app.”
Then at the end of November came the Spotify platform, for developers to build apps that sit inside Spotify’s desktop client.
Users have spent 1,500 years using Spotify apps so far, said Garmark, while Soundrop alone generated 15m song plays in its Spotify app in February alone. TuneWiki’s app has generated more than 100k edits and syncs of lyrics, and MoodAgent’s app is creating 3.5m playlists every week.
Spotify currently has 10m active users, including 3m paying subscribers, and the service is live in 12 territories. “Since they’re so engaged, we have channels to reach these users to promote apps, right inside our experience.”
He also showed some demos of upcoming apps on the Spotify platform. One called The Complete Collection lets people look at digitised CD covers while they listen – Garmark showed examples from 50 Cent and Lionel Richie.
Meanwhile, The Legacy Of is an app that pulls in more information about particular artists: Bob Dylan was the example shown. That includes photos, biographies, and playlists based on their top tracks, people who influenced them and people who were influenced by them.
“That shows a little bit what can happen with this Spotify platform. It’s HTML5 apps, so it’s basically web technology, and it’s accessible to a lot of developers out there,” he said.
Spotify isn’t saying who’s making those apps for now. He did talk about how people will make money from them: linking out to merchandise for example, or tickets.
But could people charge extra for their Spotify apps? “Depending how the integration is done, that could be,” he said. “It’s important that this is good for us, for the labels and artists, and for the users.”