Sony

Sony In $2.3 Billion Deal For EMI, Becomes World's Biggest Music Publisher 28

Sony said on Tuesday it would pay about $2.3 billion to gain control of EMI, becoming the world's largest music publisher in an industry that has found new life on the back of streaming services. Reuters reports: The acquisition is the biggest strategic move yet by new CEO Kenichiro Yoshida and gives Sony a catalogue of more than 2 million songs from artists such as Kanye West, Sam Smith and Sia. The deal is part of Yoshida's mission to make revenue streams more stable with rights to entertainment content -- a strategy that follows a major revamp by his predecessor which shifted Sony's focus away from low-margin consumer electronics.

The spread of the internet led to a shrinking of the music market from around 1999 to 2014, Yoshida said, but added that has turned around with the growth of fixed-price music streaming services. The deal values EMI Music Publishing at $4.75 billion including debt, more than double the $2.2 billion value given in 2011 when a consortium led by Sony won bidding rights for the company. EMI currently commands 15 percent of the music publishing industry which combined with its Sony ATV business would make the Japanese giant the industry leader with market share of 26 percent, a company spokesman said.
Youtube

Google Launches YouTube Music Service With Creepy AI To Predict Listening Habits (audioholics.com) 85

Audiofan writes: Will the new YouTube Music streaming service provide the soundtrack to your life? Google believes that its ability to harness the power of artificial intelligence will help the new service catch up to its rivals in the music streaming business. Google's latest attempt to compete with Spotify and Apple Music may finally have what it takes if it doesn't creep users out in the process. While the service officially rolls out on Tuesday, May 22nd, only some users will be able to use it at launch. What separates YouTube's music streaming service from the competition is its catalog of remixes, live versions, and covers of official versions of songs. It also uses the Google Assistant to make music recommendations based on everything it knows (and can learn) about you and your listening habits. "When you arrive at the gym, for example, YouTube Music will offer up a playlist of hard-hitting pump-up jams (if that's your thing)," reports Audioholics. "Late at night, softer tunes will set a more relaxing mood."

YouTube Music is free with ads, but will cost $9.99 for ad-free listening. There is also YouTube Premium, which will cost $11.99 per month, and will include both the ad-free music service and the exclusive video content from the now-defunct YouTube Red.
Businesses

3D Headphone Startup 'Ossic' Closes Abruptly, Leaving Crowdfunders Hanging (npr.org) 167

An anonymous reader quotes a report from NPR: Ossic raised more than $3.2 million in crowdfunding for its Ossic X, which it touted as the "first 3D audio headphones calibrated to you." But after delivering devices to only about 80 investors who'd paid at least $999 to for the "Developer/Innovator" rewards level on Kickstarter, Ossic announced Saturday it had run out of money -- leaving the more than 10,000 other backers with nothing but lighter wallets.

Ossic, which The San Diego Union-Tribune notes was founded by former Logitech engineers Jason Riggs and Joy Lyons, had excited gamers, audiophiles and other sound consumers by creating headphones that used advanced 3D audio algorithms, head-tracking technology and individual anatomy calibration to "deliver incredibly accurate 3D sound to your ears," according to its funding campaign on Kickstarter. In less than two months in 2016, it was able to raise $2.7 million from more than 10,000 backers on Kickstarter. It raised another $515,970 on Indiegogo.
"This was obviously not our desired outcome," the company said in a statement. "To fail at the five-yard line is a tragedy. We are extremely sorry that we cannot deliver your product and want you to know that the team has done everything possible including investing our own savings and working without salary to exhaust all possibilities."
Sony

Sony Is Done Working For Peanuts in the Hardware Business, New CEO To Detail Shift Away From Gadgets (bloomberg.com) 132

Kenichiro Yoshida, who took over as chief executive officer in April, is set to unveil a three-year plan on Tuesday that embraces Sony's growing reliance on income from gaming subscriptions and entertainment. From a report: The transition is already happening: even though the company sold fewer hardware products such as televisions, digital cameras, smartphones and PlayStation consoles in the year through March, it was able to post record operating profit. It's a tectonic shift for a company built on manufacturing prowess. Sony popularized transistor radios, gave the world portable music with the Walkman and its TVs were considered top-of-the-line for decades. With the rise of Chinese manufacturing, making and selling gadgets has become a business with razor-thin profit margins. Investors have applauded the transformation that's been under way since Kazuo Hirai took over as CEO in 2012, with the shares climbing more than five-fold amid a turnaround.
Music

'Yanny vs. Laurel' Reveals Flaws In How We Listen To Audio (theproaudiofiles.com) 235

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few days, you've probably heard about the controversy over "Yanny" and "Laurel." The internet has been abuzz over an audio clip in which the name being said depends on the listener. Some hear "Laurel" while others hear "Yanny." Ian Vargo, an audio enthusiast who spends most of his working hours of the day listening to and editing audio, helps explain why we hear the name that we do: Human speech is actually composed of many frequencies, in part because we have a resonant chest cavity which creates lower frequencies, and the throat and mouth which creates higher frequencies. The word "laurel" contains a combination of both which are therefore present in the original recording at vocabulary.com, but the clip that you most likely heard has accentuated higher frequencies due to imperfections in the audio that were created by data compression. To make it worse, the playback device that many people first heard the audio clip playing out of was probably a speaker system built into a cellular phone, which is too small to accurately recreate low frequencies.

This helpful interactive tool from The New York Times allows you to use a slider to more clearly hear one or the other. Pitch shifting the audio clip up seems to accentuate "laurel" whereas shifting it down accentuates "yanny." In summary, this perfect storm of the human voice creating both low and high frequencies, the audio clip having been subject to data compression used to create smaller, more convenient files, and our tendency to listen out of devices with subpar playback components lead to an apparent near-even split of the population hearing "laurel" or "yanny."

Music

YouTube Unveils New Streaming Service 'YouTube Music,' Rebrands YouTube Red (gizmodo.com) 107

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: YouTube Music, a streaming music platform designed to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music, officially has a launch date: May 22nd. Its existence will also shift around YouTube and Google's overall media strategy, which has thus far been quite the mess. YouTube Music will borrow the Spotify model and offer a free, ad-supported tier as well as a premium version. The paid tier, which will be called YouTube Music Premium, will be available for $9.99 per month. It will debut in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Korea before expanding to 14 other countries.

One of the selling points for YouTube Music will be the ability to harness the endless amount of information Google knows about you, which it will use to try to create customized listening experiences. Pitchfork reported that the app, with the help of Google Assistant, will make listening recommendations based on the time of day, location, and listening patterns. It will also apparently offer "an audio experience and a video experience," suggesting perhaps an emphasis on music videos and other visual content. From here, Google seems to be focused on making its streaming strategy a little less wacky. Google Play Music, the company's previous music streaming service that is still inexplicably up and running despite teetering on the brink of extinction for years, will slowly be phased out according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, the paid streaming subscription service, known as YouTube Red, is being rebranded to YouTube Premium and will cost $11.99 per month instead of $9.99. (Pitchfork notes that existing YouTube Red subscribers will be able to keep their $9.99 rate.) YouTube Premium will include access to YouTube Music Premium. Here's a handy-dandy chart that helps show what is/isn't included in the two plans.
Music

Tidal Is Reportedly Months Behind On Royalty Payments To Labels (theverge.com) 40

According to a report from Dagens Naeringsliv, streaming service Tidal is "behind with payments directly to the three major international record companies." The claim is backed up by two executives from a label and its Sony-owned distributor. They say they have not seen royalty payments in over six months. The Verge reports: According to a translation by Music Business Worldwide, Sveinung Rindal, CEO of distribution company Phonofile (a Sony subsidiary), told the Norwegian paper, "It is correct that there are delays in payments from Tidal," while Frithjof Boye Hungnes, CEO of Propeller Recordings, confirmed, "We have not been paid since October ... People are talking about withdrawing [their music from Tidal]; I think there is a pretty upset mood." Last December, a separate report from the same newspaper said that Tidal was running out of money, suggesting that it only had about six months of working capital left. The news comes shortly after the service was accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. Tidal is denying any such wrongdoings, saying: "We have experienced negative stories about Tidal since its inception and we have done nothing but grow the business each year."
Youtube

YouTube Expands Music Credits: Makes It Easier To Identify the Song Featured in a Video (pitchfork.com) 20

Next time you hear a song featured in a YouTube video and you are not sure what it is called, or who made it, you can find out by clicking (or tapping) the "show more" button. From a report: YouTube has announced that the platform is expanding the credits available on videos featuring music. The new description feature, called "Music in this video," provides credits -- which includes artist, songwriter, label, and publisher -- on both music videos and fan-uploaded content that contains recorded music. This feature will also include a link to available official artist channels and official music videos. The expanded credits are made possible by Content ID, a YouTube system that uses copyright owners' information and a database of files to identify and manage content.
Transportation

'Bird Scooters Are Ruining Venice' (latimes.com) 375

Nate Jackson, writing for LA Times: Although I would like to avoid them, I have no choice but to consider them because I live in Venice, which is where the first Bird (electric scooters) hatched and where the flock is thickest. Bird's founder and CEO, Travis VanderZanden, says, "We won"t be happy till there are more Birds than cars," so I guess I am supposed to get used to it. [...] Suddenly, almost daily, I have some near-collision with a Bird scooter rider -- he who sees nothing but the phone in his hand, thinks of nothing but the next text, and hears nothing but whatever music he has chosen to pump through the white inserts protruding from his wasted ears. He who, despite all that, is still traveling up to 15 mph on the street or sidewalk.

Aside from road safety, which has been discussed thoroughly in this and other papers, Bird is also tearing away at the fabric of our Westside society. In Venice and Santa Monica, where Bird is centralized, thousands of people live on the streets, which helps explain the scooter's popularity. With a press of a throttle button, one can be whizzing along, leaving it all in a blur. Bird calls this solving the "first/last mile" problem. Problem? Is it a problem for a twentysomething to walk a single mile? To most residents, Venice itself is the solution: The weather is perfect, the ocean is a stone's throw away and each block has something interesting to see. But to walk through Venice is to understand that human misery exists just outside the frame of your Instagram feed.

Businesses

Apple Prepares 'Apple Pay' Credit Card To Offset Slowing iPhone Sales (marketwatch.com) 85

An anonymous reader quotes the Wall Street Journal: Apple and Goldman Sachs are preparing to launch a new joint credit card, a move that would deepen the technology giant's push into its customers' wallets and mark the Wall Street firm's first foray into plastic. The planned card would carry the Apple Pay brand and could launch early next year, people familiar with the matter said...

As new iPhone sales growth slows, Apple is focusing on services such as mobile payments, streaming-music subscriptions, and App Store sales. Apple Pay, which generates revenue on each transaction, is a key contributor, but adoption has been slower than executives hoped... Apple could take a larger cut of mobile payments from the card if it is used for purchases, the person said. Currently, when a consumer pays for a purchase using the digital wallet on the iPhone -- regardless of what credit card the customer charges -- Apple receives 0.15% per transaction. Apple could more than double that under the agreement with Goldman, one of the people said.

The deal also reportedly includes having Goldman Sachs offer loans to customers at the Apple Store.
AI

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant Can Be Controlled By Inaudible Commands (venturebeat.com) 100

Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, and Google's Assistant were meant to be controlled by live human voices, but all three AI assistants are susceptible to hidden commands undetectable to the human ear, researchers in China and the United States have discovered. From a report: The New York Times reports today that the assistants can be controlled using subsonic commands hidden in radio music, YouTube videos, or even white noise played over speakers, a potentially huge security risk for users. According to the report, the assistants can be made to dial phone numbers, launch websites, make purchases, and access smart home accessories -- such as door locks -- at the same time as human listeners are perceiving anything from completely different spoken text to recordings of music.

In some cases, assistants can be instructed to take pictures or send text messages, receiving commands from up to 25 feet away through a building's open windows. Researchers at Berkeley said that they can modestly alter audio files "to cancel out the sound that the speech recognition system was supposed to hear and replace it with a sound that would be transcribed differently by machines while being nearly undetectable to the human ear."

Music

Jay-Z's Tidal Accused of Faking Kanye West, Beyonce Streaming Numbers (qz.com) 43

Subscription music service Tidal has been accused of faking the streaming numbers for Kanye West and Beyonce. "Kanye West's 'The Life of Pablo,' which was the first album to go platinum primarily from streaming, and Beyonce's platinum record 'Lemonade' were released exclusively on Tidal for periods in 2016," reports Quartz. "By placing their albums on the fledgling platform, which was relaunched in 2015, both artists risked losing big paychecks." From the report: West's album was said to have been streamed 250 million times in the first 10 days on the service. And Beyonce's record was reportedly played 306 million times in 15 days. While it's not hard to believe Bey and Yeezy could hit those numbers, they rang false to some, as Tidal said it had 3 million members then. However, according to an in-depth investigation by Norwegian newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), Tidal has reportedly manipulated those streaming numbers, to potentially make the company appear more profitable or increase royalty payments to the artists at the expense of others on the service. This is something Tidal vigorously denies and says the DN report is part of a "smear campaign."

The DN's report investigated streaming numbers since 2017, when it reportedly obtained a hard drive of internal Tidal data with more than 1.5 billion of rows of user play logs. Those logs were from two periods -- from late January to early March, and mid April to early May -- totaling 65 days in 2016. Its reporters tracked down subscribers from the logs, and presented them with their apparent listening history, which the users said didn't add up.
"We have through advanced statistical analysis determined that there has in fact been a manipulation of the data at particular times. The manipulation appears targeted towards a very specific set of track IDs, related to two distinct albums," found the researchers (pdf) at NTNU's Center for Cyber and Information Security. "The manipulation likely originates from within the streaming service itself."
Music

Surging Demand For Vinyl LPs Has Raised Hopes For Reel-to-Reel Tape Deck, Which is Returning To Sale For First Time in Decades (bloomberg.com) 244

It's no secret that sales of vinyl music are at the highest in decades. Even the lowly cassette tape is regaining popularity as some millennials embrace analog music over digital downloads and streaming services. But for the first time in more than two decades, a German company is reviving what may be the ultimate format: a new reel-to-reel tape machine. From a report: Dusseldorf-based Roland Schneider Precision Engineering this week will introduce four Ballfinger reel-to-reel machines, bringing back a technology that dominated professional music recording for most of the 20th century and is now making a comeback with audiophiles and artists including Lady Gaga. The sleek machines, some of them customizable, will retail from about 9,500 euros ($11,400) for the basic version to about 24,000 euros for the high-end model, which features three direct-drive motors, an editing system and walnut side panels. "Digital media is great, but experiencing music is more than just listening to a sound file -- it's sensual, it's reels that turn and can be touched," says Roland Schneider, the machine's designer. "When it comes to audio quality, nothing else in the analog world gets you closer to the experience of being right there in the recording studio than reel-to-reel tape."
Communications

Google News To Be Revamped, Incorporate YouTube Videos and Magazines (arstechnica.com) 34

Google News is reportedly being updated with a "new design" that will "incorporate elements of the [Google Play] Newsstand app and YouTube." It will be powered by Google's AMP technology and is expected to launch at Google I/O 2018. AdAge was first to report the changes. From a report: A Google News redesign is surprising considering that the current design is less than a year old. It's unclear if the current design is just being tweaked to incorporate YouTube and Play Newsstand or if the whole thing is being scrapped and rebuilt. The report also mentions that Google News will get a new app. Google Play Newsstand is currently an odd hybrid of magazine store and RSS reader. The report says that Google Play Newsstand is going to close as part of the Google News redesign. This is the second time we've heard of a "Google Play" brand getting the axe: Google Play Music is also expected to close when it merges with YouTube. We should learn more about the changes at Google I/O, which starts next week on Tuesday, May 8.
Music

Pandora Stock Surges 25% After User Data-Based Marketing Push (marketwatch.com) 32

An anonymous reader writes: Pandora's stock had its best day ever on Wall Street, rising more than 25% after reporting their subscription and other revenue had surged 61.3 percent to $104.7 million. Previous users have apparently been lured back with targeted marketing touting a new service that lets users briefly play their favorite songs on demand if they'll watch a short ad. "Pandora said it ended the quarter with 5.63 million subscribers to its Pandora Plus and Pandora Platinum paid services, which was 19 percent higher than the same period a year ago," reports one Silicon Valley newspaper. March saw more former users returning than in the same month a year ago -- for the first time in 18 months.

And an important factor was switching from brand-based marketing to data-based marketing -- that is, "using the information that Pandora has on users' listening preferences." Pandora's Chief Executive brags to MarketWatch that "We really have world-class data-science capabilities. We just never used them in our own marketing."

Engadget reports: Revenue for the quarter rose to $319.2 million, up 12 percent over the first quarter of 2017... But Pandora is still losing money. The company posted a net loss of $131.7 million, a slight improvement on the $132.3 million loss in Q1 2017. Overall engagement is down year-over-year, with active listeners dropping 4 percent to 72.3 million. Listener hours dipped from 5.21 billion to 4.96 billion.
Google

YouTube Gets 1.8 Billion Logged-in Viewers Monthly (engadget.com) 51

On stage today at Radio City Music Hall, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki made a surprising revelation: the service gets 1.8 billion logged-in viewers every month. And that doesn't include people who aren't logged in -- which means the actual number of people watching YouTube is definitely much higher. From a report: Last June, the service had 1.5 billion logged-in watchers. On TVs alone, people are now watching 150 million hours of YouTube every day. The latest figures are yet another sign that YouTube's reach is staggering, something that Wojcicki wanted to make crystal clear for the audience of advertisers and potential partners at its annual BrandCast event.
Education

Some YouTube Stars Are Being Paid To Sell Academic Cheating (bbc.com) 125

A BBC investigation has found that more than 250 YouTube channels are being paid to sell academic cheating. Specifically, they are promoting EduBirdie, which allows students to buy essays, rather than doing the work themselves. From the report: The BBC Trending investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views containing EduBirdie adverts selling cheating to students and school pupils. EduBirdie is based in Ukraine, but aims its services at pupils and students across the globe. Essay writing services are not illegal, but if students submit work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be severe. The company is not just aiming to capture the attention of university students with its advertising. Popular YouTubers, some as young as 12, are being paid to personally endorse the service. In some of the videos YouTubers say if you cannot be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie has a "super smart nerd" who will do it for you. The adverts appear in videos on YouTube channels covering a range of subjects, including pranks, dating, gaming, music and fashion. Following the BBC's investigation, both have now removed videos with EduBirdie adverts from YouTube. A YouTube spokesman told the BBC: "YouTube creators may include paid endorsements as part of their content only if the product or service they are endorsing complies with our advertising policies. We will be working with creators going forward so they better understand that in video promotions must not promote dishonest activity."
Businesses

Digital and Analog Audio's Curious Coexistence (cnet.com) 345

Steve Guttenberg, writing for CNET: It's a funny thing, the ongoing turntable sales surge shows no signs of slowing down, but nearly all new music is recorded digitally. It seems like a contradiction, turntables and LPs are purely analog in nature, but nearly all new (not remastered LPs) made over the last 30+ years were recorded, mixed, and mastered from digital sources. Older, pre 1980 LPs were made in an all-analog world. Today's LPs are hybrids of a sort, the grooves are still analog, but the music was probably made in the digital domain.

Be that as it may, LPs, regardless of vintage, can sound great. While pre-1980s records may be richer in tone and warmth, there are lots of more recent albums that sound just as good or better. In other words vinyl's sound quality or lack thereof has mostly to do with the quality of the original recording, and the choices made by the recording, mixing, and mastering engineers.

Despite the overwhelming number of digital recordings, there is still a tiny percentage of all-analog recordings being made. To cite one mostly analog studio, the legendary Electrical Audio, which owner Steve Albini told me records and mixes around 70 percent of all of its sessions on tape.

Microsoft

iTunes Now Available From the Microsoft Store For Windows 10 (windowscentral.com) 26

iTunes is now available in the Microsoft Store, almost a year after Microsoft first revealed it was working with Apple to get iTunes listed in the Store. Windows Central reports: For a portion of Windows 10 users, iTunes' appearance on the Microsoft Store may not matter much because they can use the standard desktop app. Where it will have an impact, however, is for anyone using Windows 10 S, which is locked down and only allows installation of apps from the Microsoft Store. For those users, the full desktop iTunes experience should be available here, complete with access to Apple Music streaming and iPhone syncing.
XBox (Games)

Xbox One April Update Rolling Out With Low-Latency Mode, FreeSync, and 1440p Support; 120Hz Support Coming In May Update (theverge.com) 48

Microsoft is rolling out a new Xbox One update that brings 1440p support for the Xbox One S and X, as well as support for AMD's FreeSync technology to allow compatible displays to sync refresh rates with Microsoft's consoles. A subsequent update in May will bring 120Hz-display refresh-rate support to the Xbox One. The Verge reports: FreeSync, like Nvidia's G-Sync, helps remove tearing or stuttering usually associated with gaming on monitors, as the feature syncs refresh rates to ensure games run smoothly. Alongside this stutter-free tech, Microsoft is also supporting automatic switching to a TV's game mode. Auto Low-Latency Mode, as Microsoft calls it, will be supported on new TVs, and will automatically switch a TV into game mode to take advantage of the latency reductions. The Xbox One will also support disabling game mode when you switch to another app like Netflix. Microsoft is also making some audio tweaks with the April update for the Xbox One. New system sounds take advantage of spatial sound to fully support surround sound systems when you navigate around. Gamers who listen to music while playing can also now balance game audio against background music right inside the Xbox Guide. Other features in this update include sharing game clips direct to Twitter, dark to light mode transitions based on sunrise / sunset, and improvements to Microsoft Edge to let you download or upload pictures, music, and videos.

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