∞ Transcription app offers editing audio via text interface

descript

Have you ever transcripted audio recordings into text manually? Without proper software or in combination with hardware, transcripting audio files is quite a time consuming and difficult task.

Descript is a new type of audio editor that lets you edit audio by editing text instead of waveforms. That means it does transcription (both automated and human-powered), but more interestingly, it lets you move the audio around by simply editing the transcript.

If you’re a podcaster or an editor at the radio, Descript looks like something you should give a try to make your work a lot easier. Currently only for MacOS and English as a language, the maker Andrew Mason promises a solution for Windows coming this year (register for a notification on this) and more languages possibly later. It’s worth checking out the Descript blog with more interesting use cases and tips.

Jimmy Iovine believed in cultural gatekeepers and lost to algorithms

Jimmy Iovine’s role at Apple Music became seemingly redundant because he held onto his vision to present and curate music from humans for humans in an age of rising capabilities of artificial intelligence and thus effective algorithms. In my opinion the final nail in the coffin was the aquisition of Shazam by Apple at the end of 2017. Apple may be felt left behind in the area of AI and Shazam can make articial intelligence products and services like HomePod in combination with Apple Music much smarter than before. It also means that human expert music curation is visible on Beats 1 Radio only.

Let’s look at Eddy Cue (Apple Senior Vice President who oversees Apple Music) in 2014 when he explained the Beats deal:

 

Eddy Cue cited three major reasons for the aquisition of Beats back then:

  1. people: incredible talent of Jimmy Iovine, Dr Dre & team
  2. product: incredible headphones
  3. service: beats music – first subscripition service done right due expert curation

The Wall Street Journal reports recaps 3,5 years later:

Mr. Iovine is one of the last of a team of prominent music executives Apple gained when it bought Beats Electronics LLC in 2014 for $3 billion. Former Chief Executive Ian Rogers, Beats co-founder Dr. Dre and Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor, another top Beats executive, have all left or distanced themselves from the company since the Apple deal, people familiar with the business said. Beats President Luke Wood, who oversees the headphones business, remains.

The headline of the article is subtle as a sledgehammer: “Jimmy Iovine’s Planned Exit From Apple Music Raises Leadership Questions”.

When Eddy Cue talked with CNNMoney’s Dylan Byers at the South by Southwest conference on 12th of March 2018 he didn’t mention anything at all about the strategy change at Apple Music (from 44:19 in the clip):

Dylan Byers: Let’s talk what was formerly the core product of Apple which is music. Spotify is going public. Do you wish that you had sort of nip Spotify in the bud several years ago? I mean they do have a crazy subscriber base I think it’s double what you guys have at Apple music?

Eddy Cue: Look we have 38 million subscribers and we don’t talk about our trials and these are people that given us their payment method, estimated we have 8 million trials I don’t know how quite what the numbers were, that is really not that important.

Dylan Byers: What is important?

Eddy Cue: When you look of the numbers of subscribers that Spotify and us have together and you look at the number of people that are listening to music around the world or even something as simple as the number of people that come to visit our App store every week, we have half a billion people that are visiting the App store every week and now you are talking about just north of 100 million music subs – we’re like THIS big in the scheme of things. So the real opportunity for music and it’s not about Spotify or us or the labels it’s about artists, is how they get their music to everyone around the world and how they get compensated for that. That is what we’re trying to do. We both have to grow by significant amounts in order to get the numbers in which it should.

Eddy Cue didn’t even blink at “formerly the core product” of Apple, says numbers aren’t important but then again are, didn’t explain how Apple is supporting artists in any way better than Spotify let alone how to grow subscriber numbers.

The number one reason why Apple Music is adopted well in the United States is not because of a subscription service done right (formerly known as Beats) but rather it comes pre-installed (WSJ):

Apple’s music business has been gaining momentum and is poised to overtake rival Spotify Technology SA this year in U.S. paid subscribers. That is mostly because of Apple Music’s reach across many of Apple’s 1.3 billion devices world-wide—on which its app is included by default—rather than the exclusive content agreements delivered through Mr. Iovine’s close relationships with artists, according to music-industry executives.

So if it is not the superior user experience of Apple Music that will win people over, what is it? And who at Apple has the vision “to grow by significant numbers”? Jimmy Iovine’s job at Apple Music is vacant (WSJ):

Mr. Cue now will have to determine whether to continue dividing responsibilities between Messrs. Kondrk and Robbin, elevate one to a more public role, or look externally for someone with music-industry ties to assist with artist relationships.

It is really worth watching how many hopes Eddy Cue had in 2014 at the Recode Conference about the aquisition of Beats. He lost the team, he still has the headphones (which are overshadowed by Apple’s HomePod and AirPods), he has a music subscription service that turned from human curation to integrating Shazam’s AI capabilities. There is simply no place anymore for the Defiant Ones at Apple (produced by HBO and not Apple’s video division).

It is also worth reading what Trent Reznor said, one of the championed cultural gatekeepers that Jimmy Iovine tried to introduce to Apple in line with the Beats deal:

For a couple of years, it’s been full time at Apple immersing myself in this extremely interesting stuff, and doing that has helped me realize how much I appreciate being an artist and how valuable time is.

∞ Virality is dead – cultural impact is more important than money

Bob Lefsetz had an eureka moment: we’re at The End Of Virality. To do something the hard way to get it right means a commitment for the long run. You can’t fake cultural impact.

In music, what appears like virality, is oftentimes an after the fact clean-up victory lap. What this means is your ascension will be slower than ever before. Instant success is nearly impossible. And if it happens too fast, for whatever reason, you’ll fall back to earth almost quite as fast.

So there was a monoculture. That was what MTV in the last part of this century was all about. You get on the service and everybody knows your name.

Then the internet killed that and the key was to get everybody on the internet talking about something. And that worked for a while.

But now, just like we no longer send jokes to each other in e-mail, we don’t forward cute videos or any of that crap, and if we do post them on our Facebook page most people ignore them, because they’re being dunned to pay attention all day long and they just ain’t got that much time.

You’ve got to do the hard work and appeal to a core which sustains you. The rest is nearly unachievable and is gravy at best.

Appreciate the new day and act accordingly.

Link: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/2018/03/16/the-end-of-virality/

Spotify and the discrete charm of inevitability

Music streaming company Spotify is going public on the New York Stock Exchange on April 3rd 2018. It’s all about fresh money from a broader set of investors for a company in need. Technology analyst Ben Thompson looks critically at the business model:

Spotify is in one sense an aggregator, in that it increasingly controls access to music listeners, and to the company’s credit, it has demonstrated the ability to exercise power via its control of music discovery and popular playlists.

Being a true aggregator, though, means gaining power over supply; Spotify doesn’t have that — the company doesn’t even have control over its marginal costs — and it’s hard to see where the profits come from.

There is one more possibility: Spotify could one day cut out the labels altogether — the idea certainly makes sense on a conceptual level.

The marginal costs Thompson is referring to are the royalties it pays the music industry (not just record labels but also songwriters and publishers).

For Thompson, the promising inevitability to make “Everything as a service” is based on the idea of a new service-based economy that deprioritizes ownership in favor of renting what you need when you need it. He cites sharing services in industries like software, cars, homes and music as examples. As long as consumers frictionless discover these services, access them in a low-threshold way and start using them as ubiquitous commodities it should all be fine and dandy. Spotify as a music streaming service does meet all these consumer friendly criteria on the surface. Below that it is a bloody mess of fake charts, major labels as stakeholders infight, black market for playlists and lawsuits for not paying fair royalties.

Let’s recap: Lower marginal costs can only be achieved by cutting out the labels. Cultural decontextualisation of music is not a problem but a requirement for Spotify to overcome the missing profit potential. Cutting out labels means getting rid of a huge part of marginal costs but also of the cultural bottle neck so everybody can upload music. This inevitably creates a bubble where music and music making gets devaluated even more.

By the way, have you heard of YouTube?