Archives for posts with tag: Spotify

On Friday December 12th, at Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre, the BBC held their first “On the Beat” event, aimed at debating the future of music and technology. Given the hugely innovative work the BBC does in this area it’s perhaps odd that they’ve never held an event like this before, but I have to say it was a a highly engaging, thoroughly enjoyable day.

The event was hosted by LJ Rich, who hosts the BBC technology show Click – and who turned out to be a nifty pianist to boot.

The day was introduced by James Purnell, BBC Director of Strategy and Digital, who pulled some anecdotes out of Asa Briggs’ history of the BBC, especially about the BBC’s first chief engineer Peter Eckersley, who was arguably the country’s first DJ, playing gramophone records over the air. Purnell’s point was a clear one: that the coming together of music and cutting edge tech is in the organisation’s DNA.

The day’s keynote was given by Mark Mulligan, a veteran commentator on the impact of digital technology on the music industry. He gave a fairly riproaring history of music and tech over the last 21 years, pulling out the salient points about where we are now – “an age of unprecedented change and uncertainty”. With scarcity essentially killed off by Napster a decade and a half ago, it’s essential that the industry finds some other value, and for Mulligan this is fan engagement – “the most important currency”.

He also introduced what would turn out to be one of the major themes – “the tyranny of choice” – and finished on the note that the cinemas had consistently lost money until the introduction of popcorn. What was the music industry’s popcorn?

Mulligan was followed by a panel discussion about audience’s engagement with tech, featuring 1Xtra presenter, rapper and entrepreneur Charlie Sloth, Radio 2 and 6Music’s Head of Music Jeff Smith and Shazam’s VP of Product for Music and Platforms Cait O’Riordan. It was a fun discussion, with Sloth in particular telling it pretty frankly about media consumption by anyone under 25: “YouTube has changed the game”, “everything is consumed on on mobile”, “no-one watches TV” and (my favourite) “I’ve got a 10 grand home cinema but the kids don’t use it”. All salutory stuff, I think.

Smith’s presentation was, of course, about an entirely different demographic, the Radio 2 audience. For them, interestingly, digital is all about TV – that is, the closer media resembles TV in terms of functionality the more successful it is. It’s one of the reasons they’ve had quite so much success with red button live music shows: ELO in Hyde Park scored 1.2 million views for instance.

O’Riordan gave a fascinating presentation about the analysis of Shazam stats, discussing the relationship between Shazam acitivity, streams and radio play. She also talked through some changes to the Shazam offering, including a newly launched website, a news service and the sharing of Shazams. Clearly the company is at least in part positioning itself more as a content destination.

There was a lengthy Q&A with some really interesting points made. Smith made the observation that “radio has always been good at knowing the audience,” which I think is spot on. He also pointed out that for his audience, the connected home was definitely becoming “less scary”. But my favourite observation again cam from Sloth, who responded to the question “Won’t the now, now, now generation eventually settle into laziness and seek out the familiar?” “No,” he said, “It will only get worse.”

The second session of the afternoon was all about music metadata, which regular readers will know is a hobbyhorse of mine; the session featured Tom Allen from Metable, Brittney Bean, Songdrop CEO, Nicholas Humfrey from BBC R&M Online and Robert Kaye from MusicBrainz. The discussion covered a lot of ground; I was taken with some of the following observations:

  • Crappy metadata means people don’t get paid.
  • It’s difficult to get good metadata from the record labels Why? Well for one thing, said Kaye, the record industry simply “doesn’t trust these metadata hippies”.
  • For Music Brainz, it’s all about “what the artist intended” – and they go out of their way to ascertain this.
  • The publishing industry had made ISBNs work; why couldn’t the record industry make ISRC codes work?
  • Oh and for new bands, Google your band name choices before making any decisions!

The final panel of the afternoon was all about music discovery and featured Radio 1 and 1 Xtra’s Head of Music George Ergatoudis, Henry Firth, founder of Ping Tune (“The Human Music Network”) and Spotify’s Director of  Economics Will Page, each giving a brief presentation before settling into a discussion and Q&A. Some of the more interesting points included:

  • Streaming had reached a real watershed this year, with Meghan Trainor getting into the top 40 on streams only.
  • There’s a general sense that we’re “drowning in music”. Well-crafted, presenter-led radio can really help with this.
  • Indeed, despite all the tech, a recent Nielsen Music 360 report put radio a still the #1 route for music discoevery.
  • It’s all too easy for those of us involved in this to assume that services are more mainstream than they are; Soundcloud, for instance, as huge as it is, is still ultimately a niche service.

Along the way, reminding us that this is, after all, all about music, we had performances from two BBC Introducing artists, Sam Sure and LAYLA*.

So as I said at the top, this was a stimulating afternoon and I very much hope the first of an annual series.


* A great example of a music metadata conundrum in action – is she all in CAPITALs as per her facebook page or not?!

I’m not much of a fan of infographics, or at least the things that pass for infographics these days (I’m pretty sure that Edward Tufte isn’t impressed by them, that’s for sure). Still ‘n’ all, I thought this one posted by Spotify to celebrate their 5th birthday was quite natty. Hypebot point out that the line about 80% of their inventory being played at least once could of course be turned on its head: that 20% haven’t been played at all. That’s about 4 million tracks. If a piece of music hasn’t been played even once by a user base of 24 million does that place it beyond even the long tail?


As promised, following last week’s rather lengthy introduction, here the first of a few rambles around recent things I’ve picked up on in the realm of streaming media. First up, I was out for dinner with my old friend, former colleague and sometimes music collaborator Chris Jones a couple of weeks back.  Jones is a Frank Zappa die hard and mentioned, almost in passing, that the entire Zappa catalogue is now available in Spotify.  I was frankly astonished.  As far as I know, the Zappa estate, overseen by Frank’s widow Gail, had been pretty dismissive about the service, seeing it as returning poor revenues.

(For the record, Zappa himself a true visionary, proposed in the 1980s a digital network allowing the purchase of music.  This widely available and quite remarkable document explains it.)

I wrote on my own blog some time ago that I thought the Zappa’s estate’s position was mistaken.  I understood – and continue to understand – the potential concerns over the pitiful sums returned to musicians by Spotify (which I’ll return to in this thread). But I didn’t believe that a presence on Spotify would cannibalise income from Zappa catalogue sales elsewhere – or at least would only do so marginally. But the cost of not being available for streaming was future generations left unaware of the work of a man I personally believe to be one of the towering geniuses of 20th Century music.

I have no idea why the estate has “come round” – but I’m delighted it has. Now, if only Manfred Eicher would have the same Damascene moment  – or perhaps more prosaically just do the right deal – and get the ECM catalogue onto the service.

Next up: Pink Floyd, Thom Yorke and the question of investment in future artistic careers.


A couple of weeks ago I gave a series of talks at MIT, Harvard and General Assembly on the startup scene in the UK and London in particular. I spoke alongside Nick Hungerford, founder and CEO of Nutmeg, and David Hughson, the Tech City specialist at the British Consulate in Boston.

Nick is a Brit but had been doing an MBA at Stanford when he started dreaming about developing an online portfolio building and management tool. Logic would suggest that Nick should base his business in Silicon Valley. He’d received encouragement from no less than Eric Schmidt as well as numerous offers of funding and support. His co-founders were also there. But Nick decided to re-relocate home to get Nutmeg going so, in many ways, is the perfect case study.

Our audiences were pretty diverse – academics, entrepreneurs, MBA students and advisors. All very smart and ambitious, so we had to tell a clear and credible story and be ready to handle some insightful – and possibly incisive – questions. I’d like to run through some of my key points.

1. Introducing the European startup ecosystem

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Europe is the biggest single market in the world, with free movement of goods and labour between member states. It also has an ideal time-zone, smack between the US and Asia. It’s host to several startup hubs – London and Cambridge in the UK, Berlin, Paris, Stockholm, Helsinki and Prague to name a few – and to several networks helping to join up the EU startup scene, including E-Unlimited, White Bull, Seedcamp and Tech Tour.

Of course Europe also faces challenges: principally that it’s a fragmented market with two dozen or more main languages, equally diverse tax regimes and general business and regulatory environments. But despite this (and on top of recession), Europe has been extremely successful in turning out world-beating tech startups, with Skype, Spotify, Shazam, Rovio and Mind Candy among the most famous.

2. Some startup clusters

Leading tech startups from Paris include flash sales outfit Vente Prive, dating site Meetic, Price Minister (ecommerce) and consumer healthcare specialists Withings. Paris is also host to several key startup events, accelerators and funds including Le Web, Le Camping and ISAI. One of their challenges, however, is that France has a very large domestic market, so French entrepreneurs often don’t have a global outlook. At the same time, culturally and politically France is anything but nurturing of its entrepreneurs. This might explain why London is the 6th largest French city!

Stockholm gave birth to Spotify, SoundCloud and one of the co-founders of Skype, Niklas Zennstrom although interestingly, none of the companies are based in Sweden. Online TV company Video Plaza is another one to watch and early stage investors Northzone Ventures and Creandum are based in Stockholm.

Finland is of course famous for one of the world’s biggest tech brands, Nokia. Its decline, as well as good government support, have given rise to several great Helsinki-based startups such as games companies Rovio, Grey Area and Applifier, accelerator Startup Sauna and the Arctic 15 startup conference. Swedish and Finnish companies tend to have a global outlook from the start as their domestic markets are so limited.

A personal favourite is Prague. I’ve worked with the guys at Node 5, a very cool co-working space and both Simon and I are mentors on the Startup Yard accelerator. (For a brief report on TH’s recent mentoring trip to Prague, take a look at this post on our tumblr.) Companies to watch include Brand Embassy, WebExpo is their big tech event and Wayra has set up an academy there – a clear indication of the City’s up-and-coming hub status.

Other very noteworthy European events include How to Web in Bucharest, Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, The Next Web in Amsterdam, Webbit in Istanbul and Web Summit in Dublin.

3. Something is definitely happening in Berlin!

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I think Berlin* is an especially exciting city at the moment. I first visited 2.5 years ago and the change in that time is palpable. Originally hailing from Sweden, SoundCloud is the poster child of the Berlin startup scene – and this week announced a revamp as its user base hit a staggering 180 million, or 8% of the internet population. They moved to Berlin to take advantage of the large talent pool of young engineers and creatives and of course plenty of relatively cheap post-industrial space in which to stick a team.

There’s also games company Wooga and e-commerce site Fab have located their European HQ in Berlin. Early stage investors include Team Europe and Early Bird Ventures. The Europas awards have just moved to Berlin and the vast plethora of tech events include Tech Open Air, Berlin Web Week, and Next Berlin. Both General Assembly and Wayra have set up there.

SoundCloud have their sales and marketing in London and investment came from London-based Doughty-Hanson. Our friends at Archify are funded by UK firm Balderton. It seems Berlin is a challenging place to raise funding unless you’re doing a clone of a successful US business model or an e-commerce play (Germany is a big e-commerce market).

4. And so to the UK

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Arguably the most successful tech cluster in the UK is Cambridge**. I couldn’t visit Cambridge Massachusetts without mentioning that Cambridge University is (also arguably) the best in the world and has a long history of spin outs including Harvard University itself in 1636! More recently ARM, Autonomy (worth every penny!) and Blinkbox. ARM provides the chips for most iOS devices and makes more money from chips than Intel.

The 1,500 tech companies in Cambridge employed 54,000 people and generated sales of over $20bn in 2011. It’s home to 12 $billion companies in total. There are also some very lively networks and events including Cambridge Angels, Cambridge Network, Cambridge Wireless, SVC2UK and Springboard. The Cambridge Cluster Map gives a really good sense of what’s going on in Cambridge and how the companies are interconnected. It’s worth noting as well that Cambridge is just 45 minutes by train from London.

5. The 800-pound gorilla

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But by any measure, London is very much the startup capital of Europe. London consists of several hubs: Soho has been a world-leading TV and movie post-production centre for years; the City is of course one of the oldest financial centres in the world; and the so-called TV triangle on the city’s western fringes is home to some of the most famous broadcasting brands, including the BBC, BSkyB, Discovery, Virgin, Endemol, Red Bee and Disney.

And then there’s Tech City, or if you prefer, Silicon Roundabout – the relatively new tech startup scene in London’s East End. I say “relatively new” advisedly as there has been a handful of tech companies in the area since before the tech bubble of the late 90s. But the growth in the last few years has been truly phenomenal. The area has plentiful former industrial property that seems de rigeur for startups, and while London is of course an expensive city, this area is (that word again) relatively cheap. It’s retained much of the Bohemian character that reaches back to the colonization of then-dilapidated Huguenot housing in Spitalfields by artists in the 60s and 70s, but the last half-decade has seen a pretty radical facelift occur, and for a while it seemed that every week saw a new bar, restaurant or gallery open. And of course, alongside the startups, the big guns have moved in, with Google, Amazon, AirBnB, Intel, Cisco and Ebay among them. It’s a heady mix.

Widening out from Tech City then, a few points about London in general. The city is the largest market in the world for media and entertainment; ditto financial services. It’s home to the largest VC community in Europe, with most VC investments in Europe actually made in UK companies. And the city is remarkably cosmopolitan, with about 300 languages spoken; it’s an ideal city from which to internationalise your company. And while not perfect, our government is listening, and improving the environment for startups.

6. Show me the money


Atomico, who specialise in mobile and telecoms, have invested in Quipper (mobile quizzes), Rovio (think Angry Birds), Fon (the free wifi people) and (streaming music and recommendations).

Passion Capital, who “invest in ambitious entrepreneurs who have global ambition for their early stage digital media and technology startups”, have stakes in Duedil (a quite brilliant due diligence service based on Companies House data) and Smarkets (a betting exchange).

DFJ Esprit have invested in StrikeAd (mobile ad delivery), Conversocial (social CRM), LoveFilm (which I think needs no introduction!) and Lyst (a slick women’s clothing e-commerce site).

Connect Ventures, a new fund, have invested in Ondango (a platform for integrating a shop into your Facebook page), Space Ape Games and Secret Sales (discount designer goods online).

DN Capital have funded Shazam (media discovery) and Mobile Roadie (an app creation tool).

One of Europe’s oldest private equity firms, Doughty Hanson has invested in SoundCloud and Handmade Mobile (a platform for monetising social media).

And Balderton Capital have funded Wonga (personal loans), Natural Motion (games tech), Memrise, (game-based learning – and brilliant imho), Betfair, Archify (for organising and archiving all your online activity) and scvngr (“a game all about going places, doing challenges”).

7. London movers and shakers


For commentary, news and general maven-ing, I suggested following @mikebutcher, @brisbourne, @techcityuk, @TCEurope, @WiredUK, @robinwauters and of course @guardiantech.

There are several accelerators around the UK to watch, including Springboard, Healthbox, Oxygen, Wayra, BBC Worldwide Labs, Seedcamp and Level 39 (starting in mid-January).

London is host to several co-working spaces, with new ones popping up all the time. Among the best known now are TechHub, The Trampery, Google Campus, The Hub and White Bear Yard.

And among the many tech events in the UK are Le Web, London Web Summit, Silicon Milk Roundabout, Seedcamp Week, Internet Week, Noah, Digital Shoreditch, Wired UK and the wonderfully-named Silicon Drinkabout.


* For more on the Berlin startup scene, see Simon’s recent post.

** And for more on Cambridge, see Simon’s report from Silicon Valley Comes to the UK.