For music services like Rdio or Spotify, the size of their music catalogs used to be the major differentiator. But now that they are all roughly the same, there are two other factors they need to distinguish them: the first is the physical goods they sell along with their digital media and the second is software. Gracenote is the latest company to realize the latter.
Bundling music with a pair of headphones works because the music itself is becoming a commodity product. But headphones will play any music, making the package deal a simple merchandising trick. To really differentiate, media companies will need bespoke software, and since music companies aren’t exactly known for their legions of cutting-edge dev teams, this will mean building a platform for third parties.
This may seem like an obvious strategic move to software companies, since APIs, frameworks, and platforms are a great way to get the public to build things for you, pre-validated and exactly what they need, essentially for free. Platforms also have the benefit of allowing people to customize a technology they like for other uses. In this case, it’s the Shazam-like technology of music identification.
Gracenote’s MusicID Live technology is a platform for exactly this function. A lot of festival-goers wander to different stages, not knowing the name of the band or song being played, as do people who drift through radio stations or hear a song in a commercial. Gracenote already powers iTunes Match (among many other things) but is now smartly allowing people to build this feature into anything they want. Other media companies could take a hint. Each one has information in their servers that could be put to different use—remixed, for lack of a better term—by individuals who have a specific need or idea.
In the late ‘90s with its initial developer program, Gracenote found out that without a dedicated purpose and support, focus tends to drift and the ability to maintain a developer program properly becomes too hard. In February, Gracenote opened its new developer program and says that 100,000 registrants want to use its technology already. As for why now, president Stephen White says that though Gracenote has been aware of the demand, ultimately resources inside the company are too limited to create all of the things it would like to accomplish. "I’ve always been a big believer in it [developer access], so getting back was important to me," White says.
One of the fruits the new program that Gracenote saw early on was having a single developer enable song identification for the streaming service Deezer. Neither Shazam or Soundhound offered a way to connect to one of Europe’s largest streaming services, so Gracenote’s fingerprint database was able to make that happen. The developer has since partnered with the telecom Orange.
In early August, Gracenote introduced MusicID Live to developers at the Outside Lands music festival and hackathon. The Live technology—which fingerprints music coming off the soundboard, allowing apps to identify live music on the fly—was a perfect fit to offer up to interested developers. One of the uses for it was an app that crowdsourced the live data and could recognize which band was playing which song at each stage in real time.
When I spoke to Gracenote about this new technology, White and VP of marketing Graham McKenna both pointed to Soundcloud and The Echo Nest as examples of other companies letting developers push the limits for them. They also acknowledged that allowing developer access is just something any competitive music company needs to be onboard with. Software is the differentiating value add for music subscribers now; it’s not the song catalogs anymore. And those without proper developer programs must be in denial—just ask Rhapsody.
[Image: Flickr user Peter Taylor]