Understanding ‘Music Content Discovery’ and the future of Music consumption through Shazam..

As I have already said in several of my previous posts, one of the very basic aspects of building a business of any form over the Internet can be more successful through sharing of information, rather than hoarding it exclusively, because as we can see in this example, even the big Music Players like Itunes need the services of smaller music discovery Apps like SoundCloud SoundHound and Shazam to drive user traffic to their website.

Shazam is an app that allows users to record to any music playing in the surrounding and it maps the sound with its own database and provides the user with the details of the album/track and also links the user to places, where the music can be consumed/purchased legally. In a previous post which i had spoken about the HTC/SoundCloud SoundHound Integration ( see the Video), i had said that the audio data which was being received real time via the FM broadcast was pushed into a parallel pipe of the SoundCloud’s servers. I think that is not true, after i explored the Shazam app.

It is quite likely that like Shazam, Sound Cloud SoundHound too converts the real time music into a digital fingerprint and that fingerprint is sent to its servers, where it is mapped and the compared results of the album are provided. For this to happen successfully, it is only possible for an original reference copy of the album which should have been transformed into a reference Fingerprint, stored originally in Shazam’s servers. Only then can these apps match the finger prints and provide the user with the details of the album.

#1

So, what role is an app like Shazam playing in the current Indian legitimate music consumption Environment? As I have already said that currently, there are 2 types of legitimate music consumption. One is the Revenue Enhancer mode, where there are very few players left, and Itunes inevitably seems to be the king. ( Flyte is out.). The other one is the Piracy beater, Streaming model, where there is a whole lot of competition. There are several players in this segment – Saregama, Saavn, Dhingana(Rdio), Gaana, Wynk, Guvera etc. The latter environment is a largely competitive environment.

Last year, On April 3, 2013, Saavn and Shazam announced a partnership. The details can be seen here, and i quote from the website.

Music identification service Shazam today announced an exclusive new partnership with Saavn, the popular Indian music streaming service. The new partnership is supposed to give music fans a fun new way to discover the latest tracks from their favourite South Asian artistes in Bollywood and regional cinema

Shazam has already started mapping out Saavn’s library onto its music database. This could take a while since the announcement, given Saavn’s large library of not just Hindi but also regional music

The partnership between the two music-based apps will help Indian music fans figure out the name of songs and its artistes easily. Moreover, arrangement to purchase the music legally off iTunes is also being made by Saavn and Shazam. Listeners will also be able to share their finds with their friends on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ via Shazam. According to the announcement, more tracks from the inexhaustible collection of Indian music will be added every week to the partnered database.

The app partnership will widely cover popular genres such as bhangra, devotional, ghazals, Carnatic, Indipop and more. It will also encompass music in regional languages including Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada and Bhojpuri.”

So, over a year later, I have tested the Shazam app and seem to be reasonably happy with the results, and i present them to you, in an entirely Tamil context. So, let us see the potential of this app. Again, I did the same test, by testing a few songs that were playing live from an Fm station and a song that i had purchased from the now defunct ‘Flyte’.

#2Merged

Real time song discovery via FM or played in the background – As you can see that the App was able to bring out results, but its predictions don’t seem to work very well, always. Maybe, one reason is that, it has a larger database where it can push more Albums from music directors like Ilaiyaraja or Harris Jayaraj rather than a lyricist Vairamuthu. The only thing that was strange from that list was Ghajini, something, that i will come back to later. But, even in these 3 pictures, you can observe one thing. On discovering the album, the Shazam app is guiding users to Itunes and Saavn, which logically seems to be based on the agreement/partnership that was mentioned earlier, thereby providing Saavn an edge over its competitors, in this case.

Discovery of Rare songs – Most of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s must have heard hundreds of Ilaiyaraja’s tracks, without even knowing the name of the movie or having seen its visual. For e.g It is easy to associate ‘Maariyamma Maariyamma’ with Karakatakaaran, but how of us know which movie does the song ‘Raasathi Manasule” come from? It is Ramarajan’s movie, but how many of us know the name of the movie? What about ‘Amudhe Thamizhae?”, “Paaramal Paartha Nenjam?”, “Devadhai Ilam Dhevi Unnai Sutrum Aavi”.. Sure, we have heard these songs and know them, but do we know the names of the movies? So, this was a test, and here were the results.

#3-Ilaiyaraja_Vintage_Songs_Discovery

So, the app isn’t doing bad. However, when i fed the song ‘Katti Vechuko Endhan Anbu Manasa’, the App was not able to detect the song.

BGM – BGM is Ilaiyaraja and Ilaiyaraja is BGM. I fed the app a few BGM samples taken at Random. The app was not able to detect mid piece BGMs from Dharma Durai and Guru Sishyan, although some of them were very famous Motif’s, but it was able to detect the Title tracks of ‘Gopura Vaasalile’ && ‘Varusham 16’.

#4-BGM_Tracks

The Ghajini Mystery – This seemed like a bit of a mystery to me. Ghajini was taken as a Random sample, from the Fm Radio, and i found that the Shazam App was able to detect the album, initially. Much later, i observed strangely that there was No Itunes link in the Album, considering that almost all other detections had an Itunes link. This led me to check out Itunes directly to see if the Album was available. Surprisingly, I could find out only the Telugu Version of the same movie, again composed by Harris Jayaraj himself. The Tamil version of the same movie was not available in Itunes. Surprising.!

So, i played the Telugu version of the same Rangola Song from Youtube and started the Shazam App. Surprisingly, as the song unfolded, Shazam detected the Tamil version of the movie, initially. This, I could attribute to maybe, because both the Preludes and initial lyrics of both Tamil and Telugu versions were same. As the song continued to play in Youtube in its Telugu Lyrics, I ran the Shazam app again, and this time, it detectedly correctly, the Telugu Version of the Ghajini App, but even in that detection, it does not show the Itunes link for the telugu version of Ghajini, although the Telugu version of Ghajini is available in Itunes, which leaves me baffling?

The_Curious_Case_Of_Ghajini

To Summarize, an App like this provides two major benefits to the Copyright Ecosystem.

1. It helps fans detect and find music, legally.

2. Unlike other physical media like Text or Video, where Copyright information can be embedded via MetaData, In Audio, this can be lost easily. This phenomenon is called as ‘Attribution Erosion‘, and at times, can even lead to accidental plaigiarism. Apps like these can help fans or remixers trace original copyright holders for additional rights or permissions like Remixing their original works, for example.

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‘Revenue Enhancer’ Modes Vs ‘Piracy Beater’ Modes

“Spotify really does not compete with Itunes, or with these retail store based services. Spotify directly competes with piracy, we are capturing users out of a piracy based environment and provide them unlimited access of music at their finger tips. They could share and sample music for free.” – Sean Parker, Spotify.

Piracy and online downloads had already deconstructed the album. You couldn’t compete with piracy unless you sold the songs individually. ” – Steve Jobs.

We live in times, where ‘Media Piracy‘ has become a definite ‘Way of life’. The Copyright Industry may not like it, but that is the way, it is. In fact, I’d like to think that ‘Piracy’ is one of the important issues that have emerged, evolved and continues to exist (or resist enforcement) as an important subset of the ‘Open Ecosystem‘ and ‘Digital Economy‘ of contemporary times. That may also be the reason, where you will find a lot of posts associated with ‘Media Piracy’ and ‘Copyright Infringement’ in this blog. It is also one of the main points of focus of my research.

There are two types of approaches used by Copyright Holders to generate returns and address the problem of Piracy – ‘Revenue Enhancer Modes‘ and ‘Piracy Beater Modes‘.( I don’t know if these terminologies have been coined by someone else, but in any case, I think that the names are quite apt.) Revenue Enhancer Modes typically are typically used to maximize profits, while Piracy Beater Modes are used to minimize losses. A Revenue Enhancer mode typically has little or no impact on Piracy, while a Piracy beater mode, if successfully scaled in ‘quantity sold/user views’ can cumulatively become a Revenue Enhancer.

Any business model or legitimate service that typically charges money for the consumption of legitimate copyrighted media content, without having a sizable impact on piracy (or no impact) is called a Revenue Enhancer. A business model or legitimate service that may or may not charge money directly from the user for consumption of legit copyright media, but which has the potential to disrupt the Pirates market is called a Piracy Beater. For e.g Selling a single music album ( consisting of 5 or 6 songs) in Itunes for Rs.100-120 can be called a Revenue Enhancer Mode, where as music subscription services that allow users to listen to music for free on the Internet and allow them to download Unlimited songs/albums for offline hearing at Rs.100-120/month for listening like Saavn, Gaana and Airtel’s Wynk can be an example for Piracy Beater modes.

A legitimate movie disc being sold locally for Rs.30 is an example of a piracy beater but when the same movie is provided online digitally to be viewed at a cost of Rs.30,  it is more equivalent to a Revenue Enhancer mode. This differentiation in understanding is important because a physical pirated disc costs Rs.20-30 whereas an online piracy service does not charge the customer any money at all, atleast not directly. So, when a legit provider provides a service online even for as low as Rs.25, it should be considered as a Revenue Enhancer mode. 

PiracyBeatersVsRevenueEnhancers

In today’s times, when the life span of a movie has shrunk down badly, Revenue Enhancers are best employed in the nascent stages of a movie or in the immediate aftermath of a music album’s release. After a certain point in time, ( typically days or weeks, or a month at max for a successful movie) returns from Revenue Enhancer modes start to shrink down. It is during the period of a revenue Enhancer that ‘Anti Piracy‘ activities or ‘Promotional‘ activities for a movie are also at their peak. Once the nascent time period is over, Piracy Beater modes start to become active. Revenue Enhancer modes typically fade into the background, while Piracy beater modes slowly take over. The arrival of Piracy Beater modes co-insides with slowly reducing PR activities and also declining Anti Piracy operations.

Revenue Enhancer Modes try to maximize revenue on a ‘Per Person basis’ while Piracy beater modes attempt to monetize on a ‘Mass Scale‘. More over, Legitimate revenue enhancer modes tend to leave possibilities (unavoidable in a modern Digital World) that can be exploited for infringers or Pirates. ( I plan to do a seperate post on this statement). Attempting to exploit PiracyBeater modes for such digital loop holes yield no additional benefits of any kind and are there fore logically irrelevant.

Revenue Enhancer Modes typically have no competition with Piracy beater modes, although Piracy Beater modes may compete with Revenue Enhancer Modes. For e.g a Legitimate copy of a movie can be seen freely on Youtube. If the same movie is available on other paid platforms like Google Play/Movies or Itunes, most users who have watched the movie for free on Youtube are less likely to watch the movie on the pay to watch services.

Thalaiva_PiracyBeater-RevenueEnhancer

One possible exemption to this broad characteristics of Revenue Enhancers and Piracy Beaters might be quick, first time broadcast of new cinema on private satellite TV. These days, first Broadcast on TV typically happens within 1 or 2 months, from the first theatrical release. Traditionally in the pre Internet years, a Tamil movie would be broadcast after a period of 2 years**. There was some sort of a minimum time period back then. With the advent of digital internet piracy, it simply doesn’t make sense to delay broadcast of a movie for so long. More over, in such a spurious environment, where every day gets delayed, the chances of the potential broadcast viewer seeing the movie, through a pirated disc simply increases.

So, modern day broadcast combines the best features of both modes. It attempts to generate revenue by ‘scaling in numbers’, ‘supported by advertisements’, which from the viewer’s point of view is like a Piracy Beater mode*, yet is done as soon as possible, now typically within weeks of a movie launch in Theatres, making it appear like a Revenue Enhancer mode, from the perspective of a Copyright holder.

*Unlike viewing a movie on an Internet service like Youtube, where advertisments are minimal, and the user experience is not disturbed, watching a movie on TV can be quite painful, considering the number of advertisements, played between the movie. No matter what the quality improvements, Broadcast TV it cannot compete with Piracy on the ‘uninterrupted’ front.

** Back in those days, the AD intro would sound, “Indhiya Tholaikaatchigalil mudhan murayaga”. These days it sounds “Thiraikku Vandha Sila Maadhangalile..”

Welcome BitTorrent Sync. Itunes – Good Riddance.

POST UPDATED ON 13-12-2015

Most users who have had the luxury of using any of Apple’s hardware products would definitely recommend it over other Operating Systems. I would make this inference based on a personal experience having used a series of other Tech products across various other Operating Systems and having used just one Ipad Mini – My only Apple device to date. Most users who have had the luxury of using any of Apple’s hardware products would definitely recommend it.

The answer is simple. No matter how complex the ecosystem is, Apple products provide a user experience that few can match. I got my HTC One V, a littler over two years ago. Following the Android Phone, i purchased my first Apple product, an Ipad mini 6 months later.
Barring the huge deviation in cost, what makes Apple products so loved, inspite of several restrictions being placed on its usage both for the developer and the end user, when compared to its other contemporaries?

My guess would probably be this – No matter how complex the ecosystem is, Apple products provide a user experience that few can match. I guess that it probably has to do with Apple being involved with nearly all aspects of Product building – The Hardware design, Software Builds and OS Management. Top to Down in any Apple product, only Apple is involved. More over, the focus on few form factors of each product makes standardization a lot more easier for the developers, so, it may make a lot of integration and compatibility issues a lot more easier could be one more reason.

I got my HTC One V, a littler over two years ago. Six months later, I had an Ipad Mini in my hand. In these 27 months, I have had trouble several times with my Android Phone. Understandably, my Phone has become obsolete long ago, and just the installation or updation of a few Apps can slow down my Phone very much. It also must be mentioned that I do not side load Apps in Android and have always download from the Official Play Store for Android. In these 27 months, I have had trouble several times with my Android Phone. Understandably, my phone has become obsolete long ago, and just the installation of a few apps can slow down my phone very much. Not to mention that although, I do not side load apps in Android and almost always download from the Official Play Store for Android, my phone has become victim of crazy attacks which are most likely due to some Virus/Malware finding its way.

In spite of this, my phone has been a victim of several crazy attacks which are most likely due to some Virus/Malware finding its way. Not to mention the crapware that was PreBundled in the Phone and hogs up so much Storage space and RAM on the phone, and is virtually unremovable. The Ipad Mini on the other hand has been virtually seamless.
But like many out there, I had to literally battle it out with the iconic ‘ITunes Application’. For someone who is used to seamlessly, pushing a mobile device into a USB port and transferring data, I was not ready for ITunes. Much as i read many videos over the Internet and tried my own hands at it, several times, I never understood how ‘ITunes’ was supposed to work. Sometimes, it worked by a Fluke, but i was never able to understand how it did and replicate the procedure. The experience was a real nightmare, in short.

The Ipad Mini on the other hand has been seamless. There is no slow down of the Tablet despite me loading a lot of apps and this may eventually boil down to the seamless tie down of hardware-software Integration that can only be possible with a company that does both. But like many out there, I had to literally battle it out with Itunes. For someone who is used to seamlessly, pushing a mobile device into a USB port and transferring data, I was not ready for Itunes.
BTSync
Eventually, I came across BitTorrent Sync. BitTorrent Sync is a decentralized Peer2Peer based ‘Skip the Cloud’ syncing software Application that supports a multitude of Desktop and Mobile platforms. The syncing is super fast as there is no centralized cloud server like Dropbox or Google Drive. It is without doubt much more secure and most importantly, there are no limits on how much data can be transferred. The process is also relatively seamless. Best of all, it makes use of the Speed of the Local WiFi network, so speeds are blazingly super fast, unlike the traditional Apps which are limited by the speed of the Internet connection.
Through BTSync, I have now discovered a seamless way of transferring files ‘to’ and ‘fro’ my Windows Desktop to the Ipad Mini. Once the Initial configuration is done, and both devices are connected to my Wireless LAN, the BTSync App takes care of syncing data across both the platforms, thus now enabling me to seamless import and export data out of IOS.
Most importantly, it is free.