Merchant Innovation

The Sounds Of Summer Gone Subscription

Every summer needs at least one song. In 1960, it was the Brian Hyland classic “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.” In 1965, it was “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. The summer of 1976 gave America both its bicentennial celebration and PYMNTS’ house favorite “Don’t Go Breakin’ My Heart” by Elton John and Kiki Dee.

The high-water mark for summer music was probably 1983, a triple-threat year that gave us three solid classics “Every Step You Take” by The Police, “Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These” by the Eurythmics and “Flashdance (What A Feeling)” by Irene Cara. OK, 1983 had maybe two undeniable classics.

Yes, the summer of yesteryear songs have continued to age into classics, even if that yesteryear is now in the 1990s. Like big butts? Cannot lie? Thank Sir Mix-A-Lot for his 1991 summer anthem “Baby Got Back.” Still remember all the moves to the “Macarena” for reasons you can’t quite explain? It’s because you were alive during the summer of 1996 and learned by osmosis.

Sure, we modern music fans can judge (and congratulate ourselves on our better taste), perhaps point to how not-embarrassing 2017’s choice of “Despacito” was, for example. But the jam of 2016 was a Justin Timberlake song written for the “Trolls” movie, which failed to bring sexy back in any meaningful way, and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” didn’t dominate 2012 because a bunch of people didn’t download it.

Our intensive study of the summer songs subject also turned up the fact that, though there is no formula for writing the song of the summer, there do seem to three topics that will at least up your odds:

  1. Falling in love with “the one”
  2. Breaking up with “the one”
  3. Color commentary on the scenery observed at the beach or in the club

While it is hard to write a good song, various big-tech competitors  which have spent the last few years trying to break into the music business (in a manner of speaking)  are learning it can be even harder to figure out how to deliver that “good” song to a customer, especially if one is hoping to make money on the transaction. However, the competition rages on and, as summer 2018 is heating up (literally and figuratively) and the competition to be this summer’s song is underway, a quieter competition is underway among the music platforms that want to be the place where customers hear the new hit.

Songs Come To Instagram

Insta-enthusiasts had a problem: It was almost impossible to properly score their Instagram videos to music. Unless the background music was clearly written by the Instagrammer in question, videos with music in the background were almost certain to be pulled down by the service, which was wary of accidentally tripping into copyright infringement or intellectual property disputes with the music industry.

That, it seems, will be changing — albeit in a limited way.

Thanks to a deal Facebook made with record labels, a catalog of available songs for use in videos will now be available to users. According to Facebook, users will have thousands of songs to choose from, and a list that will include artists like Bruno Mars, Dua Lipa, Calvin Harris and Guns N’ Roses.

The news followed Facebook’s announcement that Instagram has 400 million daily users, and 1 billion monthly users. Snapchat, Instagram’s main competition (and sometimes muse), on the other hand, added 13 million daily users to its 191-million-member platform in the six months between the start of Q4 2017 and the end of Q1 2018.

Snap doesn’t have any deals with the record industry to date, meaning users looking to literally rock out with their postings will probably be heading to Instagram. To use the feature, users can select a song (chosen by browsing song titles, artists, genres or just various moods) to accompany a video they have already shot, then choose a specific snippet to accompany their movie. When others tune into a music-equipped Story, the song will post automatically, along with a sticker to see artist and song title info.

Instagram has confirmed that musicians and rights holders will be compensated for the use of their songs, yet has not specified how those payments will work.

How well will it work? Most experts believe this is a jump ball, and will depend heavily on how well the songs available in Instagram’s playlists match up with what Instagrammers want to hear and use.

Speaking of playlists…

Spotify Is The Summer’s Hottest Tour?

Spotify’s RapCaviar and ¡Viva Latino! playlists are already popular, and according to Rolling Stone they are on track to become highly lucrative for the streaming service that owns them, via summer tours set to kick off in Chicago on August 23.

This summer will not be the first pass Spotify has taken into live music. “RapCaviar Live” first started touring last August as a six-date tour though, for summer 2018, it’s expanded to 13-dates.

While Spotify has faced some difficulties monetizing the streaming part of its music service, live touring has turned out to be a sizable revenue generator. Global Head of Creator Services Troy Carter announced earlier this year that Spotify’s Fan First program  a loyalty program run in house, designed to offer unique experiences and merchandise for dedicated fans worked with 700 artists and made $40 million in ticket sales in 2017.

As a point of context offered by Rolling Stone, John Mayer spent a year on the road and toured across the continents in 2017; his tour netted $50 million. And Spotify says it’s just getting started.

“We have a lot more coming in 2018,” Carter said.

Today, that “more” is being delivered in partnership with other live music industry players. Ticketmaster is selling the tickets for the ¡Viva Latino! ,and RapCaviar Live was co-promoted by Live Nation (Ticketmaster’s parent). However, Rolling Stone noted, given the crowds Spotify is already proving it can draw, and its increasingly massive and global user base and music catalog … well, it might not want to partner in the live music space for that much longer. Spotify might just decide soon it would rather compete and own the whole show itself.

Then again, deciding to compete against the already well-established and savvy? That can sometimes can end in a sad song. Just ask Jay-Z and Beyoncé.

 TIDAL’s Sad Sonata

Beyoncé and Jay-Z say they don’t care about streaming numbers — or, more accurately, they sing about it. On the track “Nice,” from their recently released joint album “Everything Is Love,” Mrs. Carter had no love to offer streaming numbers.

““If I gave two f—-, two f—- about streaming numbers, would have put Lemonade up on Spotify,” Beyoncé defiantly sang.

For a whole weekend, the Carters lived up to that, releasing the album on the streaming service Jay-Z tried to build: TIDAL. But, by Monday morning, they may give a little bit of a f— about streaming numbers after all, since the new album dropped on Spotify and its much, much larger audience.

Things started out promisingly for TIDAL, or at least splashily. Jay-Z’s vision was to create a streaming service that artists could love, from which artists could profitably earn money. Its early investor list was a who’s who of music at the time — Arcade Fire, Beyoncé, Daft Punk, Madonna, Rihanna,and Kanye West were all early joiners. TIDAL even got the deal to be the sole distributor of the late Prince’s content, and they managed to beat Apple to the market (Apple Music launched a few months after TIDAL).

It was a big idea, built on big ideals.

“Will artists make more money? Even if it means less profit for our bottom line, absolutely,” Jay-Z boldly asserted to Billboard in 2015. “Less profit for our bottom line, more money for the artist: fantastic. Let’s do that today.”

However, things didn’t turn out that way. Even with its generous payout structure design, TIDAL artists, in general, weren’t making money. The biggest and best-known names in the world could make money — but, then again, they make money on Spotify, too.

Exposure matters, though, and while Spotify and Apple have been showing persistent growth, TIDAL hasn’t.

Reports in Dagens Naeringsliv, a Norwegian newspaper, alleged that TIDAL had been too generous in reporting how many users it has — and how many hours those users are listening. The media source presented a long report, claiming that TIDAL had falsified streaming numbers for Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo” and Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.” The newspaper partnered with the Center for Cyber and Information Security at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology for the report, saying that more than 90 percent of TIDAL users saw manipulated listening stats and that the company logged over 300 million fraudulent streams for the two artists.

TIDAL vehemently denies the claims. But he damage, one might say, is already done. The estate of the late Prince is now formally trying to dissolve its deal with TIDAL, and even TIDAL’s two biggest and most unapologetic boosters turned to Spotify for exposure within two days of their album’s release.

There is no incentive to write the song of the summer, after all, if no one hears it. And while we can debate the myriad of places people will be hearing the music this summer (on Instagram, at a Spotify-sponsored concert or just at the beach on a good old-fashioned radio), it seems certain that almost none of them will be listening to TIDAL.

For those keeping score at home, so far, Drake’s “Nice for What” is an early favorite for the 2018 song of the summer.

Happy listening.

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