In October of this year, Microsoft released the Music Deals apps for Windows 8.x and Windows Phone 8.1 but not with much fanfare. As it turns out, this app is a treasure trove of free and inexpensive music.
The way this app works is, there is a time-limited set of promotional deals for various types of music. Typically, there is one popular single listed very inexpensively ($0.99) and then there are three sets of themes for free or inexpensive albums. All of these promotions run for a variety of time periods, ranging from a week to fifteen days.
For example, last week there was a sale for fifty boxed sets, each at $2 only. These boxed sets typically sell for anywhere from $15 to sometimes even over $100, so these were fantastic steals. Last week also saw fifty free albums, all by popular artists.
This week the promotions continue and the discounted albums are popular rock albums and popular soundtracks, and the free albums include albums by artists like Ellie Goulding, ABBA, Imagine Dragons, etc.
The way this works is the Music Deals listing opens up the album in the Xbox Music app (or simply, Music app) on Windows or Windows Phone, and the discounted price is shown. Once you click on buy (or “get it free” when the album is free), depending on your settings, the music will start downloading or be marked as owned and available in the cloud for your use anytime in the future.
The beauty of this setup is that the music content is DRM-free and can be played on any device or software. So you don’t have to feel compelled to use Windows and Windows Phone’s music apps, you can use iTunes or pretty much any other software to play these tunes.
I am unclear what is the end game for Microsoft here. I know it will increase usage of the Music app, and maybe create more Microsoft accounts which can then be used to upsell premium services like paid storage or Office 365, but those seem like poor returns for the potential cost of the discounted music.
Regardless, this is a great deal for consumers and you should absolutely take advantage of these deals. Get the Music Deals apps here: Windows and Windows Phone.
Do you have a ton of space in your OneDrive account and don’t know what you want to do with it? How about taking the bold step of moving your music collection to OneDrive?
Wait a second, you may say. OneDrive does not “support” music files, you may say. Well, maybe not openly and definitely not as a streaming music service could. However, as I coincidentally found out over the weekend, as long as you have the OneDrive app (I tested on Windows Phone, iPhone and Windows 8), you may at least be able to play your music, one song at a time.
Through a variety of promotions and tie-ins, I have almost 240GB of space on my OneDrive, and very soon, it is going to be 1TB because I have an Office 365 Home subscription.
To The Cloud
First though, moving the collection. If you are like me, and have many ways to listen to your collection, and have multiple forms of backup running, you may be wary of moving things around. I took a deep breath and took the plunge, although I knew what I wanted to achieve: move the music to the cloud but not lose the local files, and still continue to back up to my cloud backup service, Crashplan.
So, on my Windows 8 “home server”, I took the music off the data drive and moved it to my OneDrive’s sync location under a convenient location like OneDrive\Music. It took a while to move my 120GB to the cloud, but once I copied it to the location, I let it do its thing uploading the music to OneDrive. This step should be identical if you have Windows 7 (or even a Mac) with the OneDrive sync client installed.
The advantage with this approach as opposed to leaving the music on the home server is that I now have the ability to access my music from virtually any device connected to the internet. At the same time, since the music is still on my home server, I did not lose the ability to play the music from devices on the home network like my Apple TV.
Backup vs Sync
One common confusion is mistaking backup for sync, or vice versa. I think of it this way: I want my important data to be backed up without any manual effort, and I want some of the digital memories synced so that I can access them from anywhere, at anytime. The nuance here being, the backup is a one-way data transfer from my home server to the cloud whereas syncing enables me to add to my music collection from anywhere. So the next time I see a great deal on Amazon Music for a $5 album, I can not only purchase it but also download it and make it available to my other devices.
Use the OneDrive apps
Speaking of being able to access from anywhere, what happens when you try to open one of your (DRM-free, of course) audio files? Well, it depends. If you open from a browser, it simply opens the dialog to download the file. This is because the OneDrive web app is not set up for streaming music. It is only meant to interpret documents (Office formats, text and PDF), pictures and video. In the mobile OneDrive apps on the other hand, you can navigate to the folder with the songs, and tap on the actual song and it will start playing the song.
I hadn’t noticed this earlier, and while this is good, it by no means makes the OneDrive app a music player like Amazon Music app or Google Play Music app. For example, the app does not play an entire folder. It does not understand playlists. When you skip a song, it simply returns you to the folder instead of playing the next song.
But the fact that it can now stream (not download and then play) is a good sign that perhaps the OneDrive app may unbundle the photos/videos, documents and music features into their own apps just like Google and Amazon have done. I can see a OneDrive app like it is today, for general storage features, an Office app to only surface the files that Office mobile can open, OneDrive Photo app for pictures and videos, and OneDrive Music or Xbox Music app to surface audio files.
Owning music vs renting
I say all of the above but I am one of those who has slowly learned to give up trying to deeply control the music collection. I mostly rent music via one or more of the streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, iHeart, etc. I am also a paying subscriber for Xbox Music Pass which lets me play any song from their catalog on-demand. As a result, the real need to listen to music I “own” (because you know, this collection goes way back to the Napster and Kazaa days), has gone down tremendously. There are still some comedians whose performances I have in my collection which are not available on iTunes or Xbox Music catalog. There are also some Bollywood songs which did not match when I tried iTunes Match and also Xbox Music matching, but those are general the exception rather than the rule.
And then there’s services like Apple’s iTunes Match. It allows one to “match” their local collection with iTunes’ catalog and whenever there is a match, iTunes allows you to listen to the songs from any authorized device. The service is not free, but at $25/year it is a small price to pay for hassle-free management of your music collection. It also allows customers to upload the songs which do not match, although the uploaded songs would count against the iCloud storage quota. Once Apple’s newly announced storage plans go in effect, it would be a good idea to let iTunes completely manage the collection, which is taking one more step towards freeing up your collection. Xbox Music advertised long ago that this feature was coming to the service but so far it only does matching but does not allow you to upload unmatched music to the cloud.
Use the cloud, any cloud
To conclude, I recommend that you start thinking about simplifying your data management. Why leave stuff on your hard drive when you can use the cloud? For digital stuff like music and photos, it is better to make the cloud your primary “drive” and sync it to the devices you use. I used OneDrive as an example in this article but feel free to explore the cloud of your choice. It won’t harm going instead with Google, Amazon, or coming soon, Apple because all of the big ecosystem providers understand that providing a reliable storage solution is key to keeping customers “sticky”. Start planning the move to the cloud, as long as your bandwidth permits.
What’s your personal cloud situation? What about owning vs renting music, do you use any of the streaming services? Which ones? Why? Let us know!
The folks over at Microsoft’s Xbox Music Developer group announced on July 3 that they were extending the Xbox Music API more generally to all third party developers. This REST-based API, announced at //Build earlier this year, encompasses metadata, deep linking, playback and collection management.
This means, a developer with any interest in pulling up information or content related to music, can now use the Xbox Music catalog and resources and integrate them into their apps. There are various possibilities like a video editor being able to use background music, video game makers allowing custom soundtracks, or something as simple as a band’s fan page pulling up metadata from their catalog on Xbox Music.
The more interesting news in the blog post comes later, where they announce an affiliate program:
Every user you redirect to the Xbox Music application can earn you money on content purchases and Xbox Music Pass subscriptions. You currently will earn a 5 percent share on purchases and as the Xbox Music pass is at the core of our service, 10 percent on all music pass payments for the lifetime of the subscription. In the US for example, that’s one dollar, per user, per month!
That’s no small change, if you ask me. The Xbox Music Pass is a pretty good deal as it is, and if a developer can lead someone to that vastly underrated product and their customer is able to sign up, a 10% commission is pretty sweet.
The headwinds are strong for Xbox Music because established players like Spotify have also opened up their catalog to developers in a similar fashion. It remains to be seen if the developers find the API and/or the affiliate terms strong enough of an incentive to build against the Xbox Music API vs the others.
One thing to bear in mind is the new Microsoft is not going to remain uni-platform anymore. They have shown all signs of being completely platform-agnostic to prepare for the new normal where Windows becomes just another platform that Microsoft services support.
Are you a developer building apps which require music? Are you using Spotify or anything else? Would you sign up for Xbox Music Developer program? Let me know below.
[All images courtesy Microsoft/Xbox blogs; header image is from the author’s computer]
CMD.FM is a nifty little website that lets you play various genres of music from SoundCloud.com in a nice in-browser terminal window, almost evocative of the bygone DOS days.
With all the player controls managed by textual commands, terminal aficionados on Unix or Windows alike will feel at home with the black and neon presentation. The service fetches songs from SoundCloud and plays them in the form of a radio governed by tags or genres; however unlike the convention of typical radio broadcasts, this one can be paused and songs skipped.
Whether it’s just a vintage itch that you need scratched or you need a new online radio for your arsenal, CMD.fm with SoundCloud’s backing makes a solid pick.
Earlier this week, Kim Dotcom, the flamboyant German-born entrepreneur and founder of file hosting site Mega, stepped down as director of the startup. Mega was launched in January this year and coincided with the seizure and shut down of Megaupload, its predecessor.
Launched with much pomp and show, Mega has undoubtedly been a success. Dotcom reported that the service acquired 100k registered users within the first hour of its launch, a number that jumped up to a million in two days. Kim also reported 500 uploads to Mega’s servers every second! According to other statistics published by the company, it currently hosts more than 50 million files. If the startup is doing so well, one may ask the question, why is the founder stepping down from administration?
Leaving Mega under the reigns of CEO Vikram Kumar, who was instated in February this year, Kim Dotcom has decided to move towards fresher ventures and brighter pastures. At the top of his bucket list right now seems to be a new music startup, which he’s decided to call Baboom. As tacky as the name may sound, the idea itself is not new. Dotcom has wanted to make a revolutionary music service ever since his row with Universal back in 2011.
Back then, the proposed name was Megabox, but Dotcom decided to use something better and without the mega branding. He has also said that the new company will be owned and managed completely by him, unlike Mega. Dotcom says the Baboom project has already received several millions in funding and tie ups with artists is an ongoing process.
Baboom aims to be a free music streaming service, wherein artists will receive 90% of revenues which will be collected using advertising. There will be a subscription model too, which will provide for an advert-less experience.
“I am really excited about Baboom. I can’t wait for artists to see what i have created for them. Their entire career can be managed on Baboom. Artists never had more freedom, transparency and control.” — Dotcom
Dotcom doesn’t plan on launching a less-than complete product, so we’ll have to wait a few months however, he does plan on keeping the excitement up throughout the waiting period and this teaser of the website he provides helps with just that.
In an emailed statement to a publication, Mega CEO Vikram Kumar said Dotcom — otherwise known as Kim Schmitz — resigned “to be able to focus on the extradition case, an upcoming music website, and to build a political party.” However Kim recently found out he can’t exactly run for parliament. His twitter says “I cannot run for parliament because I’m not a New Zealand citizen. But I can be Party President. So be it.”
So there we have it. New music service on the block and Kim Dotcom playing politics in New Zealand. How will it stack up against the formidable labels and how will he vie for the good public eye? Only time will tell.
A little more than a year ago, Flipkart launched Flyte with more than a million tracks spread across a wide array of genres. The objective was to revolutionize the Indian market by offering high quality, DRM-free music downloads at an affordable price. The recording industry hoped that the digital music store might entice Indian music lovers to give up piracy. Fifteen months on, it’s clear that Flyte didn’t quite live up to the expectations. Flipkart has announced that it will be shuttering the service on June 17, 2013. Purchased music will continue to remain available for download until August 18, 2013.
“We have realized that the music downloads business in India will not reach scale unless several problem areas such as music piracy and easy micro-payments etc. are solved in great depth”, said Mekin Maheshwari, head of digital media and payments at Flipkart. “Which is why, we feel that at present, it makes sense to take a step back from Flyte MP3s and revisit the digital music market opportunity at a later stage.”
Maheshwari’s statement highlights just how deep rooted the problem of music piracy is in India. With dozens of websites offering the latest music releases for free, and local CD-wallahs selling pirated media with hundreds of songs for less than a dollar, most Indians consider purchasing music legally a folly. Flipkart also made its task harder with a crude delivery system. The online music library lacked even the most basic features, and the download manager was stupid enough to drive anyone up the wall. There were also rumors that Flipkart had failed to renew their licensing agreement with the music labels. Flyte had managed to amass almost 100,000 customers during its short existence. So, it’s also possible that stubborn record labels sealed their fate more than music piraacy. Apple recently stepped into the Indian market with the launch of iTunes in India. It’s unknown how well it is faring in India; however, Apple is unlikely to give up so soon.
It has long been rumored that Twitter is looking to step into the music space. However, no one quite knew exactly what the popular micro-blogging service was planning. A short while back, Stephen Philips, the CEO of a music startup called “We are Hunted”, which was acquired by Twitter less than a week ago, officially announced Twitter #Music — a new music discovery service that is powered by Twitter conversations.
Unlike previous Twitter features and services, #Music is not integrated with the existing Twitter experience. Instead, it is accessible via an independent web app and an iOS app (Android app will be launched later). The main purpose of #Music is to aid music discovery by surfacing music being played by your friends and shared by artists you follow, in addition to showcasing trending and emerging tracks. You can browse through band and artist profiles, view their top tracks, and get a taste of their music. By default, Twitter plays a short preview pulled from iTunes. However, if you are an existing Spotify or Rdio subscribers, you can log into your accounts to enjoy full tracks from their respective catalogues.
Twitter is aiming straight for the mainstream audience with its new #Music app. In addition to partnering up with two of the biggest players in the online music segment, it also went to Good Morning America to announce its new feature. Currently, Twitter #Music is restricted to US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand; however, more countries will be supported in the future.
Nokia has just announced Music+, a premium music streaming service for Lumia devices. The service will cost $3.99 per month in the United States and €3.99 per month in Europe. The service is essentially an upgrade to the company’s existing Mix Radio service. Mix Radio is a free internet radio service which is run by Nokia. The service allows users to listen to Mixes for free, though users can only skip a limited number of songs. If you hear a song you like, you can purchase it within the application. Finally, the service also allows users to download Mixes for offline listening. Mix Radio is currently only available to Nokia Lumia users.
Why would one want to subscribe to Music+, anyway? For one, the service gives users a lot of benefits over the standard Mix Radio service. When you subscribe, you’re instantly given access to unlimited Mix Radio skips as well as higher quality music streams. Nokia is also launching a desktop Music+ app which is only available to subscribers, so you’ll be able to listen to your favorite Mixes when working from your computer. However, the biggest Music+ benefit would have to be the fact that you can download as many Mixes as you’d like for offline listening. Standard Mix Radio accounts are capped at four downloads at a time.
Loewe, the premier home entertainment systems brand from Germany, has launched Soundbox in India. The device has been brought to the market by NavShiv India Retail Private Limited, the official distribution partners for Loewe in India.
Soundbox offers an impressive surround experience and Loewe claims it to be the technologically most advanced and customizable audio device in India. The sleek digital stereo amplifier cum speakers comes with a customizable surface in vibrant colors as well as metallic and high gloss chrome finish. Soundbox allows you to play music with an iPhone or any other MP3 player, from the radio or a CD, or any source via the USB or Aux-In port. The top panel features an iPhone/iPod dock and an integrated CD drive with slot-in mechanism. The device comes with a Loewe Assist remote that not only works with Soundbox but other Loewe televisions and playback devices as well.
The brand Loewe comes with the promise of best in German technology which perfectly blends top of line technology with elegant style. The Soundbox caters to the personal and social musical beats of its customers. The sleek and stylish device comes with a changeable skin that adds to the fun of the play and play device.
– Naveen Rao, CEO, Navshiv Retail Pvt Ltd
While the stylish device makes for a great luxury gadget device and ideal for house parties, the price is a little steep at INR 49,000. It is, however, an elegant accessory for your living room and seamlessly plays music without the hassles of a complex setup or a bunch of cables.