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Facebook planning Apple Music competitor? (Update: No)

Facebook is in early talks to launch its own music streaming service according to a new report by Music Ally. Talks with labels are said to be linked to the company’s trial of ad-supported native videos, which are expected to expand to music videos soon. However, the report claims that the social network has ambitions to follow that up with an audio music service that would compete directly with Apple Music and Spotify, among others. In the shorter term, Facebook plans to monetize music videos with a Content ID system similar to YouTube to pay royalties to music rightsholders while allowing them to identify and take down or claim user-uploaded videos of their music and collect associated ad revenues. A rollout of the music video service is expected “in the next few months” although a specific schedule for the arrival of an audio streaming service is more nebulous, as the report notes that the company has to “get the monetised-video service right first.”

Update: A Facebook spokesperson has denied the report, telling The Verge that the company has “no plans to go into music streaming,” with a source familiar with the matter reporting that “the last thing Facebook wants to do right now is take on Apple in a streaming war.”

Pharrell’s new single will be exclusive to Apple Music

In a teaser video posted on Twitter, Pharrell Williams reveals that his new single ‘Freedom’ will be exclusive to Apple Music and available on the subscription service’s June 30 launch date. Apple has locked down several celebrity guest DJs ahead of Apple Music’s debut and courted other artists for exclusive content deals, but Pharrell’s song is the first piece of confirmed exclusive Apple Music content to emerge so far.

Report: Apple Music cut deals with prominent indie labels, rights groups

With less than a week to go before launch of its new music service, Apple has now struck deals with indie label Beggars Group and digital rights organization Merlin, Billboard reports. Merlin CEO Charles Caldas sent a letter to members recommending the new arrangement now that Apple has agreed to pay royalties during the service’s three-month free trial, although financial terms were not disclosed. Apple’s pay rate for artists during the free trial is still unknown, but Caldas told members that amendments to their current agreement with Apple would be available soon in iTunes Connect. Each of Merlin’s more than 20,000 members will then make its own decision about whether to take the deal or not.

Other indie groups are still standing opposed to signing with Apple Music until payment terms are discussed, but Beggars Group - which helped launch the careers of Adele, Radiohead and Arcade Fire - has signed on after being a vocal opponent of Apple’s previous stance. In a joint statement issued by Worldwide Independent Network, Beggars Group founder and chairman Martin Mills said after “fruitful discussions with Apple” his label is “happy to endorse the deal with Apple Music as it now stands, and look forward to being a big part of a very exciting future.”

Google Play Music adds free, ad-supported streaming radio

Google has announced the launch of a free, ad-supported streaming radio tier to Google Play Music, allowing users to listen to any of the service’s curated streaming radio stations without needing to pay for a subscription. Google Play Music has offered a free tier for some time that allows users to upload up to 50,000 of their own tracks and stream them from Google’s cloud, however listening to anything the user hadn’t specifically uploaded previously required a $10/month subscription to the Google Play Music service, originally referred to as an “All Access” subscription. This new tier provides users with access to curated stations by genre, mood, decade or activity, or search for favorite artists, albums, or songs to create a station of related music. Launching online today, the new free, ad-supported tier will arrive on iOS this week. The timing of introducing the free tier is interesting, considering Apple Music is a week away from launching.

As before, users with a subscription to Google Play Music will gain an ad-free listening experience as well as the ability to listen to music offline, create playlists, and listen to any song on-demand. The paid tier will also now include access to YouTube Music Key, Google’s new ad-free, offline and background listening experience for music videos on YouTube.

Royalty rates for artists during Apple Music free trial still unclear

Apple has agreed to pay royalties during Apple Music’s three-month free trial, but The Wall Street Journal reports the royalty rate is still up for debate. The company has touted Apple Music’s 71.5 percent royalty rate as the highest in streaming music, but that rate is going to be applied to total monthly income from subscription fees. Until those payments start rolling in, there will be no subscriber income on which to base the rates. Apple declined to comment on how much rights holders will be paid during the trial, but said that rates will rise once customers start paying for subscriptions — leaving partners to wonder just how much lower the initial rates will be with only a week to go until the service’s launch. Apple Music’s largest competitor, Spotify, currently pays artists half of its usual royalty rate during promotional periods.

Apple caves to Taylor Swift, agrees to pay royalties for Apple Music trial period

Just one day after Taylor Swift announced she would hold back her “1989” album from Apple Music during the three-month free trial period, the company has agreed to pay royalties to rights owners during the free period. In a series of tweets, SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue publicly reversed Apple’s plans to withhold royalties during the free trial, saying “We hear you @taylorswift13 and indie artists. Love, Apple.” The policy had been viewed as particularly detrimental to indie artists, who would be losing iTunes sales revenue without making up for that income with streaming revenue. In an interview with Billboard, Cue said he had heard the same “concern from a lot of artists,” but that Swift’s letter put it over the top. “When I woke up this morning and saw what Taylor had written, it really solidified that we needed a change. And so that’s why we decide we will now pay artists during the trial period,” Cue said.

After CEO Tim Cook approved the decision for Apple to eat the cost of paying royalties during the trial period, Cue said he called Taylor Swift, who is on tour in Amsterdam. Swift expressed her happiness over the policy change in another tweet:

 

Indie labels feeling shut out by Apple Music’s free trial period

Independent record labels are crying foul over Apple’s insistence that they provide their music without being paid during Apple Music’s three-month free trial, The Telegraph reports. British labels for artists like Adele and Arctic Monkeys have rejected Apple’s request for the unpaid trial period and don’t intend to cut a deal that would “literally put people out of business,” according to Andy Heath, chairman of lobbying group UK Music. Apple has confirmed it is paying a slightly higher-than-industry-standard 71.5 percent of revenues to rights holders in the hopes of assuaging doubts about the free trial period, but Heath said that solution misses the point. “If you are running a small label on tight margins you literally can’t afford to do this free trial business,” Heath said. “Their plan is clearly to move people over from downloads, which is fine, but it will mean us losing those revenues for three months.”

Heath confirmed ongoing Apple negotiations with some indie labels, but Billboard reports that others haven’t heard from Apple at all with only two weeks before Apple Music’s launch, leading them to speculate Apple will send out a mass-emailed opt-in contract soon. After a huge push for unique content, Apple Music is viewed as a big threat to Spotify, but if the company can’t lock down indie music rights holders before launch, Spotify could end up with its own advantage.

Apple reveals Apple Music pay distribution

Apple has confirmed it will pay music rights owners slightly more than 70 percent of the revenue from the new Apple Music service, Re/code reports. U.S. music owners will get 71.5 percent of the $10-a-month subscription fees, while international rates are variable but average out to around 73 percent, according to Robert Kondrk, the Apple executive in charge of negotiating music deals. He says Apple’s payments are a few percentage points higher than the industry standard to account for rights holders not being paid during Apple’s three-month free trial of Apple Music, which was a bone of contention with music labels during negotiations.

Report: Apple killed Beats home audio project after acquisition

When Apple acquired Beats Electronics, the company killed a project aimed at creating WiFi-connected speakers that would play subscription music services straight from the Internet, Variety reports. Efforts to create a more complete, room-to-room Beats home listening solution ran into serious problems and delays, leading Apple to scrap it. In related news, Apple recently pulled the Beats Pill XL speaker off its website after a safety recall. The company has offered customers refunds, but no ability to fix or replace affected devices, fueling further speculation that Apple isn’t committed to the Beats hardware brand. Some of the Beats engineers working on the new speaker project have since left the company, and sources say around 50 percent of Beats employees have left or lost their jobs post-acquisition.

Apple Music allows for offline listening, lacks complete iTunes library for streaming

Subscribing to Apple Music will allow users to add music and video from the Apple Music library to their collection for offline playback, Re/code reports — the feature is also noted on Apple Music’s Membership page. Apple is also maintaining the support Beats Music had for non-Apple devices, with Windows PC support available for the June 30 launch and Android support due this fall. But the Apple Music streaming library doesn’t include everything in iTunes, as some have been reporting. According to Bloomberg, negotiations are still underway to add notable holdouts, like The Beatles.

Report: Spotify to discontinue free streaming tier?

Spotify may be planning to effectively eliminate its free, ad-supported streaming option, according to a new report by Digital Music News. The change would see the popular streaming music service limit free ad-supported access to a three month “trial” period, rather than the current open-ended and unlimited plan that many users currently enjoy. Spotify is said to be resisting this change, and has been trying to make the case that its “freemium-to-premium” migration path is working to effectively create new paying subscribers, however the service is under pressure from Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment, who remain generally unconvinced and have reportedly disliked unpaid streaming options from the very beginning. While no mention is made of Apple’s attempts to sway the music industry to kill off licenses for free streaming for Spotify and YouTube, it seems likely that Apple’s new paid-only Apple Music service could factor into the labels’ decision-making process.

The three-month “proposal” would allow some artists and labels to extend availability of their content past three months through “emerging” or “up-and-coming” playlists, as well as continuing to allow for a non-interactive radio-style streaming feature. Both of these are similar to ideas likely to be included in Apple Music as well, further suggesting that the labels’ negotiations with Apple are having a backlash effect on existing services. It is not clear, however, whether specific artists would be able to limit free access entirely — an issue that has previously caused major artists such as Adele and Taylor Swift to leave services such as Spotify entirely. Further, not all labels are entirely on board with the new proposal, with some, such as Warner Music Group, suggesting that free streaming services are valuable at providing an alternative to outright piracy while still providing a small trickle of revenue.

Apple posts removal guide for U2’s Songs of Innocence album

Following last week’s iTunes exclusive release of U2’s new Songs of Innocence album, the company has now posted a new support article for users looking to remove the album from their iTunes libraries. During Apple’s iPhone event, Apple CEO Tim Cook and U2 frontman Bono jointly announced that the album would be distributed free to all iTunes customers, and took the unprecedented move of not only making the album available for free on the iTunes Store, but actually in fact automatically adding it directly to the music libraries of 500 million iTunes users. Songs of Innocence was soon pushed out as a download to users, resulting in a mix of praise and complaints.

For those who may not have fully appreciated this unexpected gift, the Apple support article, Remove iTunes gift album “Songs of Innocence” from your iTunes music library and purchases explains how users can go about deleting the album; a special SOI Removal page has been created on iTunes.com allowing users to remove the album from their iTunes music library and purchase history. Users can permanently remove the album and will need to purchase it again after October 13, 2014 if they want to get it back—alternatively, users can choose to simply hide purchased items if they want to keep the album but not have it displayed in their music library.

Apple confirms Beats Electronics acquisition for $3 billion

Apple today confirmed that it has purchased Beats Electronics, maker of the Beats by Dr. Dre line of headphones and speakers, as well as the Beats Music subscription music streaming application. Combined, the purchase will cost Apple $3 billion, which according to the company’s statement consists “of a purchase price of approximately $2.6 billion and approximately $400 million that will vest over time.” Notably, this is less than the $3.2 billion price originally reported in early May, but the price matches a recent New York Post report. Beats co-founders Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will join Apple as part of the acquisition. The transaction is expected to close in the fiscal fourth quarter, subject to regulatory approvals.

“Music is such an important part of all of our lives and holds a special place within our hearts at Apple,” Apple CEO Tim Cook announced in the statement. “That’s why we have kept investing in music and are bringing together these extraordinary teams so we can continue to create the most innovative music products and services in the world.”

“I’ve always known in my heart that Beats belonged with Apple,” Iovine said in the statement. “The idea when we started the company was inspired by Apple’s unmatched ability to marry culture and technology. Apple’s deep commitment to music fans, artists, songwriters and the music industry is something special.”

Initially reported by The Financial Times as a deal in progress, the acquisition was seemingly a certainty after Dr. Dre appeared alongside actor Tyrese Gibson in a Facebook video, describing himself as the “first billionaire in hip hop.” Some analysts and commentators have questioned the wisdom of the deal for Apple, while others have cited Beats’ strong following in the African-American community as a potential customer base for Apple, and suggested that Beats Music will increase Apple’s footprint in the subscription streaming music category.

Update: “We could build about anything that you could dream of. But that’s not the question,” Cook told Re/code. “The thing that Beats provides us is a head start, and it provides us with incredible people, kindred spirits.” It’s also noted that Apple will keep both the Beats hardware and Beats Music streaming service brands intact.

In a separate story from the AP, Cook said of Iovine and Dre: “We’ve dated, we’ve gone steady and now we are getting married. This relationship started a decade ago, so we know there is an incredible cultural fit. These two guys have a very rare set of skills. It’s like finding a particular grain of sand on the beach. It’s that rare.”

Apogee intros JAM 96k guitar interface, MiC 96k

Apogee Electronics has introduced the JAM 96k ($129) guitar interface and MiC 96k ($229) microphone. Both iOS-compatible products are new, upgraded versions of previous accessories — the Jam and MiC. As the names of the new products note, both accessories offer up to 96kHZ recording — an upgrade from their previous iterations.

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Apogee’s JAM 96k guitar interface comes with a nickel-plated finish and includes a Lightning cable. MiC 96k, a studio quality microphone, includes a Lightning cable and a microphone stand adapter. Both accessories also come with an iOS Dock Connector cable and USB cable. JAM 96k and MiC 96k are available now.

Pioneer Electronics debuts DDJ-WeGO2 DJ controller

Pioneer Electronics has announced its DDJ-WeGO2 compact DJ controller ($429). The iOS-compatible DDJ-WeGO2 includes a Lightning cable to connect to the controller to a compatible iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. Featuring two jog wheels, the USB-powered DDJ-WeGo2 is compatible with Algoriddim’s recently updated djay 2 app.

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DDJ-WeGO2’s effects include Jog FX, which lets users combine multiple effects together with simultaneous control, and Pulse Control, which offers visual prompts through colored lights. The controller comes in black, white, and red. It will be released in October.

Article details messy Beats by Dre-Monster split

Complete with quotes and previously confidential images provided by Monster, a new article at Gizmodo paints a surprisingly negative picture of Monster’s relationship with Beats Electronics, discussing how Monster lost virtually everything it had built when Beats left for HTC. Interviews with Monster CEO Noel Lee and his son Kevin Lee detail how Monster and Beats formed a shaky business arrangement, wherein the Beats side retained ownership of everything Monster developed. According to the report, Monster also footed the bills for manufacturing and distributing the products. While Beats contradicted Monster’s claims of handling industrial and audio designs for the headphones, Monster offered audio engineering and industrial mockups, and Noel Lee claimed Beats had nothing to do with engineering: “Absolutely not, they don’t have any engineers.”

The article also acknowledges that Beats’ success came from astute marketing — not from the sound — and that the products were both overpriced and hugely profitable. Kevin Lee suggested that Beats were marketed as “the hottest product to have, and sound will be a Trojan horse. And that’s what we did. Beats was in every single music video.” Notably, iLounge’s reviews never gave Beats products higher than a flat B rating, with most falling below that, often citing unimpressive performance to price ratios as a key issue.

When Beats Electronics left Monster for a partnership with HTC, Monster was paid only a small amount—“more severance payment than cash-out”—while Beats retained the audio, patents, designs, and the name. The article notes that Beats made $519 million in sales during its first year with HTC — up from $219 million in the previous year — taking control of 64 percent of the $100 and higher “premium” headphone market.

IK Multimedia releases AmpliTube Slash

IK Multimedia has released AmpliTube Slash, a special edition of its popular guitar effects app for iOS devices. AmpliTube is a mobile guitar and bass effects processor that allows users to turn their iOS device into a complete guitar rig and mobile recording studio. AmpliTube Slash is a signature version developed in cooperation with the famous Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist to model his entire rig of iconic pedals and amplifiers, including two classic rock amps—the Marshall JCM Slash Edition Silver Jubilee and the Marshall AFD100, both equipped with the Slash preferred 1960 Marshall speaker cabinet. Users can chain up to six pedal effects including Slash signature Delay, Gate, Octave/Fuzz, Chorus, Booster and Wah/Distortion in a fully configurable rig allowing the users to combine pedals in a 3 to 12 effects chain with one or two simultaneous amps and cabinets plus microphones. The app also includes 30 Slash tone presets, links to Slash songs and the ability to import and play backing tracks from the iOS music library or computer. Single track recording is included in the app with the ability o export recordings via e-mail, SoundCloud, FTP or iTunes File Sharing and users can upgrade to a four-track recorder via in-app purchase.

The main AmpliTube app has also been updated with the ability to add Slash gear a la carte via in-app purchase, and new features introduced in AmpliTube Slash including a new mixer and recorder section with loop points, visual metronome and tap tempo, digital audio and MIDI support, audio copy and paste and SoundCloud and fTP export for recordings. The AmpliTube series of apps are available from the App Store in several versions: the special edition AmpliTube Slash ($10) for the iPhone and iPod touch,
AmpliTube Slash for iPad ($10) are sold separately from the original AmpliTube, which is available in either full AmpliTube for iPad ($20) and AmpliTube ($20) for iPhone and iPod touch versions or a la carte editions that allow users to start with a free app and purchase the specific cabinets, amps and effects they want individually.

 

Amazon releases Cloud Player for iOS

Amazon has released an iOS app for Cloud Player, its cloud-based music service. The new Amazon Cloud Player for iPhone and iPod touch allows users to stream or download music stored in Cloud Player to their device; users can also listen to music already stored on the device and manage and create their own custom playlists. The app provides users with full access to their Cloud Player music library as well as seamless integration with existing playlists that are currently on their device. The app also provides support for listening to music in the background and is compatible with iOS lock screen controls and Bluetooth streaming. The Amazon Cloud Player service provides users with 5GB of free storage to upload their digital music library with unlimited MP3/AAC music file storage available for those who purchase an additional storage plan. Amazon Cloud Player requires iOS 4.3 or later and is available from the U.S. App Store as a free download.

Algoriddim releases vjay for iPad

Algoriddim, developer of the popular djay DJ mixing app for iOS devices has released vjay, a new mixing and mashup app for video content on the iPad. Providing direct integration with the iPad media libraries, vjay allows users to mix and scratch both video and audio content from iTunes along with personal video footage to create their own interactive audio visual experience. Users can also record their very own clips into the mix using the iPad camera and add real-time video transitions and audio visual effects, loops and real-time VideoScratch. Users can also take advantage of a three-band equalizer, on-the-fly BPM and tempo detection with AutoSync and a split output mode for pre-cueing using headphones and an appropriate DJ mixing cable. 

Resulting mashups can be saved to the iPad video library for sharing with friends or displayed on a TV using a direct connection or wirelessly via AirPlay. iTunes Store integration allows users to easily search for and purchase music videos on the fly directly from within the app. A free bundle of content is also included in the app to help users get started including a music video from Parov Stelar, a dance video from Lil’Buck and Yak Films, a soccer video by football duo F2, a skateboarding video from Stereo Vinyl Cruisers, a snowboarding video by Isenseven, a video of parkour artist group, Parkour Paris and a collection of visual art videos by VJLoops. vjay requires an iPad 2 or third-generation iPad running iOS 5.1 or later and is available from the App Store for an introductory price of $10.

Sony launches Music Unlimited for iOS

Sony Entertainment Network has released an official iOS app for its Music Unlimited streaming music service. Music Unlimited is a subscription-based cloud music service with a global catalog of over 15 million licensed songs available on such devices as the sony PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, BRAVIA TVs and Android smartphones and tablets. Use of the service requires payment of a monthly subscription fee. A Basic subscription ($4/month) allows users to sync and match their own personal music libraries with the Music Unlimited service and access and stream that music from any supported device along with a basic set of streaming radio channels; a Premium subscription ($10/month) provides users with access to the entire Music Unlimited collection for on-demand streaming with the ability to create playlists, add items to their personal listening libraries and listen to premium content channels.

The new iPhone and iPod touch app provides subscribers with access to their Music Unlimited subscriptions from their iOS devices streamed over either a Wi-Fi or cellular network connection. Premium subscribers can also add songs to their personal libraries for faster access, add to and edit playlists and browse Premium Channels and top songs in favourite genres. The Music Unlimited app requires iOS 4.3 or later and a subscription to the Music Unlimited service and is available from the App Store as a free download.

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