Posted inNews

Spotify playlists the focus for 2018 RecSys Challenge

Spotify already has a feature suggesting songs that might fit with a user’s playlist, to speed up the process of creating them.

The streaming service clearly sees potential for improvement though, as its involvement in the 2018 ‘RecSys Challenge’ contest shows. The challenge in this case will be for developers to come up with even-cleverer recommendation systems for this particular feature.

“This year’s challenge focuses on music recommendation, specifically the challenge of automatic playlist continuation,” explains the RecSys Challenge website.

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Startup Muru Music sees billion-dollar potential in ‘first AI DJ brain’

“I think we have the opportunity to be a billion-dollar company if we attack all verticals…”

For a startup with just two full-time employees and AU$500k (around $386k) in funding so far, setting sights on a 10-digit valuation is certainly an arresting claim.

Muru Music founder and chief musicologist Nicc Johnson, however, feels that by focusing on metadata and discovery issues for everyone in the digital-music chain – from publishers and labels to digital services and broadcasters – his startup can unlock some enormous opportunities.

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Deezer redesigns homepage to boost music discovery

Deezer has given its homepage a refresh, with more discovery features.

Besides its existing ‘Flow’ feature of music recommendations, the Deezer home screen will now also feature channels spotlighting a mixture of playlists, albums and radio stations. There’s also more emphasis on live radio stations, including a ‘fingerprinting’ feature to tag tracks playing live so they can be added to a user’s playlists.

Posted inStartups

Lost Music app adds ‘curators’ section with Vice, UKF and more

British startup Lost Music launched its music-discovery app quietly earlier this year before SXSW.

Now it’s getting less stealthy, announcing a new “curators” section populated by 21 British music blogs and media, as well as a partnership with Songkick for ticketing.

The free iPhone app has several uses for music fans. First, they can browse the playlists from the 21 curators, who include Vice’s Noisey and Thump channels; YouTube-native brands like Mahogany and UKF; website The Line of Best Fit and more.

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SoundCloud joins the discovery party with Suggested Tracks

When SoundCloud Go launched earlier this year, the streaming service said its 125m tracks were a big competitive advantage.

Yet they also presented a big challenge in how listeners would find their way to the needles in SoundCloud’s digital haystack, with the company lacking the kind of playlist-curating editorial team that has become core to rivals like Spotify and Apple Music.

Posted inStartups

Wonder indie music discovery service launches its apps was the music discovery site launched in 2014 by former We Are Hunted co-founder Stephen Phillips, as his post-Twitter-#Music project.

This February, under the wing of startup Hydric Media, it relaunched as three separate verticals: Wonder for indie, White Label for hip-hop and Primary for electronic music, with each taking the form of a chart of trending tracks from SoundCloud in those respective genres.

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Matt Ogle talks Discover Weekly and Spotify’s personalised evolution

“It’s really helped – both externally and even internally to be honest – to dispel the myth that discovery is a niche thing. A tastemaker thing.”

The speaker is Matt Ogle and the ‘it’ is Discover Weekly, the personalised playlist that Spotify launched in July 2015, customised to each listener’s tastes – and originally developed by Ogle’s team at the company for an internal hack day.

Ogle joined Spotify early that year following three years at This Is My Jam, the music startup that he co-founded to help people share their favourite songs. Before that, he worked at and The Echo Nest.

Discover Weekly has been a hit. In its first ten weeks, Spotify users streamed more than 1bn tracks from the playlists, with the total reaching 1.7bn by December. Now, in 2016, Spotify is preparing its first marketing push for the feature.

Ogle and his colleagues, meanwhile, are working on some aspects that he thinks would ideally have been included at launch.

“When we tested Discover Weekly early on and realised that it was potentially the hit that it has now become, we actually took a lot of shortcuts,” he admits.

That included no ‘onboarding’ process whereby the new feature would be explained to Spotify users – for example a pop-up message explaining what it was and how it worked.

“We literally just added it to users’ playlists, which was how we tested it. All the way along I’d been saying internally ‘Oh, we’d never launch it like this. We’d never be so rude as to just jam it in everyone’s playlists!’” says Ogle.

“But this will now become a thing we talk about as core to the experience, so we have been figuring out the best way of telling new users ‘Hey, guess what, it’s your third week on Spotify and we’ve made something for you’, and getting their expectations up and running around that.”

Discover Weekly has clearly been making ripples within Spotify, and not just around discovery of new music. Its weekly update has quickly become a habit for many users: on the one week so far when the refresh was late, many protested.

That idea of an ‘appointment to listen’ may seem strange on a service where people can listen to whatever they want, whenever they want. But just as scheduling has become important to popular YouTube creators, so it has found a place on Spotify.

“Something that Discover Weekly really has ignited within the company, which we’re going to be exploring in a bunch of different ways, is the power of that weekly ritual or cadence,” says Ogle.

“Right now we’re thinking about what the things are you might want to do on Spotify every day, what the things are that you might only want to do once a month. This periodic delivery isn’t the right fit for everything, but we think there are perhaps more opportunities than we perhaps realised initially to creating rituals and habits like that.”

Specific details on Spotify’s plans are under wraps for now, but Ogle does offer some hints. For example: “’Hey, here’s the hip-hop on Spotify at the moment’ – but you’re actually seeing a personalised ordering of all that content.”

He also suggests that Spotify is thinking about whether a standard playlist is the best format for this kind of personalisation. Spotify users have made more than 2bn playlists of their own, so they understand how they work. But an ordered list of songs could be improved.

“Playlists are the atomic unit of Spotify. We’ve got over two billion of them, so obviously we’ve got a pretty robust system for storing and serving them. However, as robust as that system is, it was designed for user playlists,” says Ogle.

“It was not designed for ‘Let’s set 75m of them to all get updated in a ten-hour window on Sunday night!’. So behind the scenes, we’re going ‘Alright, if we want to have 20 personalised playlists in a given week, what sort of a system would we need under the hood?’ What would we build so that you could just seamlessly serve that?”

Ogle also explains that while there are advantages to Discover Weekly being a playlist – Spotify’s users understand how to use and share them – there are also disadvantages.

“If we get a recommendation wrong you can’t tell us, and if you share Discover Weekly it’s just called ‘Discover Weekly by Spotify’. Hopefully your face is on it, but beyond that you can’t really tell whose is whose,” he says.

“We want to play with the playlist format a bit. It’s not the right tool for every job, and you’ve seen the start of this with our Genius stuff that came out recently.” By which he means the “Behind The Lyrics” playlists launched with Genius in January, which show lyrical excerpts, annotations and stories as the playlists play.

“If you imagine that every day of the week we might have a new type of content experience for you, being able to play with the playlist format itself is also something that we are thinking pretty deeply about,” says Ogle.

Posted inAnalysis, News

Mixcloud talks radio, discovery and live expansion (interview)

What is Mixcloud in 2015? It’s a streaming-audio service with 12m monthly listeners, 1m of whom are uploading DJ sets and radio shows to swell a catalogue that’s already 8m shows strong.

It’s a company growing beyond its roots in dance music, with 35% of its content now outside that genre thanks to a burgeoning range of jazz, hip-hop and world-music shows and sets.

It’s a London-based startup that continues to run lean with a headcount of just 12 people, but which is forging relationships with brands like Red Bull, Adidas and Coca-Cola to develop its business model.

Like many of its peers in the streaming music world, Mixcloud is trying to get to grips with a mobile-first mindset, as well as the challenge of helping its listeners discover new sounds that they’ll like.

Finally, Mixcloud has become something of an evangelist for the wider online radio market, last week announcing the winners of its second Online Radio Awards, which celebrate the best digitally-born stations and shows.

Music Ally talked to co-founders Nikhil Shah and Nico Perez about all of the above, as well as the company’s future expansion into live content, and why it’s not joining Spotify in a move into video.