Funding Friday: The Backtrack Box

Dylan is a musician, an entrepreneur, a hacker, and a geek. That’s quite a combination and a good one at that. He’s come up with a better way for live musicians to play their back tracks without the need for a computer and lots of cables. It is called The Backtrack Box and he’s raising funds to manufacture it on Kickstarter. I backed this project earlier this week and think it is the perfect Kickstarter project; creative, unique, and something that should exist in the world.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Albert Wenger — July 13, 2018
Principles (Introduction)

Pandora and iHeartRadio subscription streams to impact Billboard’s charts

Billboard will begin using Pandora Premium and iHeartRadio subscription streams to inform its Billboard 100 and Billboard 200 charts, along with other streaming-inclusive charts, the company announced this week. Before, only Pandora’s radio spins were included. According to Pandora, the change goes into effect on July 14 and will bring nearly 6 million Pandora subscribers’ spins into the chart, from those who weren’t being counted before. iHeartRadio’s terrestrial radio stations nor its programmed radio streams will be reported to Billboard, and won’t impact chart rankings. Instead, its All Access and Plus subscription tiers will be added to the all-genre Hot 100, Billboard 200 and genre-based song and album charts, says Billboard. These changes are launching alongside a big revamp of how Billboard weighs streaming data for its charts. Starting with the rankings dated July 14, which cover streaming data from June 29 through July 5, Billboard will give more weight in the chart
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Advocacy groups knock ‘unjust’ copyright-extending CLASSICS Act

Copyright is a mess, but more of a mess in some ways than others, and one of the biggest messes right now is licensing music for digital broadcast. The Music Modernization Act aims to smooth over some of the biggest bumps, but a companion piece has aroused the ire of a collection of internet advocacy groups, who have voiced their concerns via a letter penned by copyright scholar Lawrence Lessig. The CLASSICS Act is the one in question, though no one is disputing the cleverness of its acronym: it stands for Compensating Legacy Artists for their Songs, Service, and Important Contributions to Society. And indeed the goal of the act is to harmonize copyright for musical works created before 1972, a sort of turning point after which copyright law changed considerably. The issue at hand, although due to the complexity of copyright any summary will necessarily be somewhat inadequate, is
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Amazon Music’s app adds hands-free listening, courtesy of Alexa

In September, Amazon announced it was adding support for Alexa voice control to its Amazon Music app for iOS and Android. However, it was implemented as a tap-to-talk function – something that didn’t quite mesh with the hands-free voice control experience Alexa is known for. Today, Amazon is addressing that problem by rolling out hands-free listening to the Amazon Music app instead, as a result of user feedback. That means customers can command Alexa to do things like play or pause music, move back and forth between songs, and create playlists by asking, as well as take advantage of Alexa’s more innovative features around playing music by mood, activity, genre, lyrics, artist or song title. For example, you can ask Alexa to do things like “play the song that goes ‘I’m lovin’ I’m livin’ I’m picking it up” and she’ll play Ariana Grande’s latest single, “No Tears Left to Cry,” notes
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Pandora’s personalized playlists go live for all Premium users

Earlier this year, Pandora announced its plans to challenge Spotify by taking aim at one of its rival’s top features: personalized playlists. Pandora in March began rolling out dozens of variations of personalized playlists, including those spanning moods, activities, and genres – all powered by its music database, the Music Genome. Today, Pandora says the rollout has completed and all its Premium users will now have access to these new playlists. The feature is meant to offer Pandora’s free users a reason to upgrade to its top-tier paid offering, Pandora Premium. This $9.99 per month service offers on-demand listening, playlist creation, downloads for offline listening, unlimited skips and replays, higher-quality audio and no advertisements. Premium users can share their personalized playlists with friends, even if they’re on the free tier, by sending a link. The free user can temporarily access Premium by watching a video ad as a way
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Pandora shares up 8% after surprise earnings beat

Pandora’s quarterly earnings report was music to investor’s ears. The digital radio platform reported a better-than-expected first quarter report after the bell on Thursday, sending shares up 8% in after-hours trading. Wall Street liked that the company showed a sizable increase in subscriber revenue, posting $104.7 million, a 63% increase from last year. Pandora has 5.63 million paid listeners, up 19% from the same timeframe in 2017. By contrast, Apple Music says it has 40 million subscribers and Spotify has 75 million, so Pandora is a distant third in terms of paid users. But the competition is already reflected in Pandora’s stock price. It closed Thursday at $5.75, which is up a buck for the past month. It’s also substantially beneath the $37 per share that the stock was trading at in 2014. Its market cap is currently $1.45 billion. In addition to subscribers, Pandora makes
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Philo and Pandora are offering a discounted, but temporary, 3-month bundle of TV and music

It seems like Hulu and Spotify had the right idea, when they launched a discounted package last month that combined both of their services. Now, the low-cost streaming service Philo is doing the same – but not with Spotify. Instead, Philo and Pandora are teaming up on a combo deal of their own: $16 per month for 37 Philo channels and Pandora Premium. Or, for $20 per month, you’ll get 42 channels and Pandora Premium. Oh, but there’s a catch: Pandora Premium is only free for three months, not for the length of your subscription. Bummer. That’s a different deal than what Hulu and Spotify are offering, and is definitely more of a promo than a partnership. Still, it’s interesting to see others in the industry using the video/music combo bundle to sell subscriptions. Philo is a relative newcomer to the streaming TV market. Though the company had been around
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The Eminem AR show

With the debut of his Eminem Augmented app at Coachella last night, hip hop’s not-so-merry prankster took the (somewhat revolutionary) step of embracing the machine that so many musicians have raged against — by building an experience that actually enhances the way that modern fans see live music. Rather than fighting the mobile phone phenomena, which has fans watching sets through the reflected glow of a cell phone’s live recording, the multiplatinum megastar decided to lose himself in the moment… and own it. We figured, if the phones are going to be there and people are going to be putting them up in the air and looking at them anyway why don’t we provide a way to maybe change the way they’re perceiving the show,” says Def Jam chief executive (and former manager for Marshall Mathers), Paul Rosenberg. Developed by the multimedia production shop Drive Studios, Eminem’s live
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Instead of stealing instruments, musicians turn to Splice

“The percentage of Top 40 music made with our platform blows my mind” says Splice co-founder Steve Martocci. He tells me about some bedroom music producers who were “working at Olive Garden until they put sounds on Splice.” Soon they quit their jobs since they were earning enough from artists downloading those sounds to use in their songs. That led them to collaborate with famous DJ Zedd, resulting in the Billboard #12 hit “Starving”. Splice has attracted $47 million in funding to power this all-new music economy. That might be a shock considering Martocci estimates that 95% of digital instruments and sample packs are pirated since they’re often expensive with no try-before-you-buy option. Even Kanye West got caught stealing the trendy Serum digital synthesizer. But Splice lets artists pay $7.99 per month to download up to 100 samples they can use royalty-free to create music. That’s cheaper than it costs to
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Bolt Threads joins Modern Meadow in the quest to bring lab-grown leather to market

There’s a new world of lab-grown replacements coming for everything from the meat department in your grocery store to a department store near you. Lab-made leather replacements will soon join vegetable-based meat replacements on store shelves thanks to startups like Bolt Threads, which today announced that it would join companies like Modern Meadow in the quest to bring vegetable-based replacements for animal hides to market. Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley-based Bolt Threads raised a $123 million financing to expand its business beyond the manufacture of spider silk which had brought the company acclaim — and an initial slate of products. The announcement today of its new product, Mylo, is the first step on that path. Working with established partner, Stella McCartney, and using technology licensed from the biomaterials company Ecovative Design, Bolt is bringing Mylo’s mushroom-based leather replacement to the world in a debut of one of McCartney’s 
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iHeartRadio opens up its playlists to all users with launch of Playlist Radio

iHeartRadio is best known for its free service offering thousands of live, streaming AM and FM radio stations and its ability to create your own custom station, similar to Pandora. Today, the company is adding a new feature for all users – both free and paid – that blurs the lines between streaming radio and the typically premium-only option of using playlists: Playlist Radio. Like most playlists, Playlist Radio isn’t a random assortment of songs. Instead, the songs it plays are curated and programmed by radio DJs and other iHeartRadio staff. That means there isn’t an algorithm deciding what to play next – you’re listening to a selection of songs an actual person has put together. However, because it’s still “radio” you can’t do some of the things you could with the premium product’s playlists – like reorganizing tracks, adding or removing songs, or playing a particular song in the
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The Roadie 2 tuner ups your guitar game

The first Roadie tuner was a modern marvel. An automatic guitar tuning system, the little device connected to your phone to listen to your guitar strings and then set them to the proper tuning using an internal motor. The new model, the $129 Roadie 2, is even cooler. I’ve been using the Roadie 2 for a few months now and I’m hooked. I was never a good player or tuner – my ear wasn’t quite right and even with tools I couldn’t get my guitars exactly in tune. Now, however, with the Roadie 2 I just place the winding end on the pegs and press a button. A quick pluck of the string and you’re tuned in seconds. The Roadie 2 is completely self-contained and charges via USB-C. It has a built-in vibration sensor that can also asses the current string and change the tuning accordingly. The system also
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Spotify and Hulu launch a discounted entertainment bundle for $12.99 per month

Last fall, Hulu and Spotify teamed up to offer students a bundle including both of their services for a discounted price, compared with paying for each subscription separately. Today, the companies are announcing a similar discounted bundle will be available to all users. Spotify’s 71 million-plus existing Premium users will get the first shot at upgrading to the bundled subscription. Instead of paying $9.99 per month for a paid subscription to Spotify’s on-demand music service, they can choose to pay $12.99 per month for a combination of Spotify Premium and Hulu’s Limited Commercials plan. Later this summer, the bundled subscription will become available to all of Spotify’s 157 million users as well as any other potential newcomers to the two services. Starting today, Spotify Premium users will be given the option to trial the bundled subscription through a promotion that offers Hulu for 99 cents for a
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Join me for an ICO meetup in New York

I’ll be helping build a larger meetup focused on pre-ICO companies in New York on April 23 and I’d love to see you there. It will be held at Knotel on April 23 at 7pm and will feature a pitch-off with eight startups – I will write about the best ones – and two panels with some yet-unnamed stars in the space. I’d love to see you there so please sign up here. It’s free for early birds so hurry. The event will be held at 551 Fifth Avenue on the 9th Floor and you can sign up to pitch here. I’ll have more information as we get closer to the event. This is still an experimental format so let’s see how it works.

AirPod Android Music Volume Issue

I use Bose QuietComfort 35 headphones when I’m on my desktop and laptop but I prefer the Apple AirPods when I am on my phone. They are small, light, and fit well in my ear. But I’ve had this nagging issue with the volume on my AirPods when I stream music on my phone (SoundCloud, AppleMusic, YouTube, etc). The volume from all of those apps is super low when you use AirPods on Android. I wasn’t walking much in LA, mostly driving with my phone bluetooth’d to my car, and this issue didn’t affect me much. But since I’ve been back in NYC and walking a lot again, it came back with a vengeance. So I finally figured out how to fix it, by simply googling and finding this Reddit post. Here is how you fix it: 1/ Go to the settings app on your Android phone, scroll down to
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Alexa’s routines can now play music, podcasts and radio shows

Alexa’s routines are getting a musical upgrade. First launched last year, routines allow Alexa device owners to string together a series of actions that kick off with a simple command — like “good morning” or “I’m home,” for example. Until today, the feature included support for news, weather, traffic, smart home skills, as well as, more recently, a set of “Alexa says” commands that let you add a little personality to a given routine. Starting today, Alexa can play your favorite music, podcast or radio show in a routine, too. To use the feature, you’ll select an artist, playlist, album or station from your music library or one of the supported streaming services. Currently, the supported services are those that already work with Alexa — Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Saavn, Deezer and TuneIn. Amazon says you’ll also be able to create a volume action to control the audio output
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Easter Eggs

Happy Easter everyone. I would also like to wish folks a happy Passover. My topic today are Easter Eggs. Not the kind that kids find hidden in the back yard, but little features that developers hide in the software applications they build. I love Easter Eggs in software apps and I encourage our portfolio companies to allow this practice in their engineering teams. Easter Eggs bring whimsy and fun to software, something I feel that is badly needed and much appreciated by users. And a good example of an Easter Egg, likely a result of today also being April Fool’s Day, is Waldo showing up in my Google Maps this morning. Well done Google.


USV TEAM POSTS:

Rebecca Kaden — April 1, 2018
USV Thesis 3.0 Albert Wenger — April 2, 2018
World After Capital: Laying a Foundation (Regulation & Self-Regulation) Bethany Marz Crystal — April 2, 2018
Dear
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Your Google Home can now stream music to any Bluetooth speaker

Google today announced a small but important update for its Google Home devices: you will now be able to control all of your Bluetooth speakers and stream music to them right from your Google Home devices. Until now, you could only use your Google Home’s Bluetooth capabilities to stream music to them (from your phone, for example). But now, you’ll be able to use your Google Home Mini which doesn’t exactly have the most impressive built-in speakers, to control the Bluetooth-enabled bookshelf speakers you have in your living room. Indeed, as Google notes in today’s announcement, the company decided to add this feature because its Google Home Mini users requested it. The regular Google Home does have a pretty passable speaker, after all. To enable this new feature, open the Google Home app on your phone or tablet, look for your device settings and then the “default music speaker” menu.
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Hip hop finds its beat in the startup scene

Hip hop stars are taking their reputations to Wall Street and Sand Hill road. Unlike their rock star brethren, who’ve historically been disinterested in dabbling with startups, quite a few hip hop artists have amassed good-sized portfolios. They’ve seen a few big hits too, most recently including a massive up round for zero-commission stock trading platform Robinhood, which counted Jay-Z, Nas and Snoop Dogg among its earlier backers. But just how deep does the hip hop-startup relationship go and where is it headed? To shed some light on that question, we put together a review of Crunchbase data on the startup investment activity of famous musicians. We looked at both hip hop and pop stars, culling a list of 21 artists who are either active investors or have joined one or more rounds in recent years. The general conclusion: Artists are doing more deals, raising more funds and
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Watch Alexa rap with Too Many T’s in this interactive music video

Alexa can already sing and rap, but now she’s the star of a new music video by the English rap duo Too Many T’s. The London-based rappers this week released an interactive video that lets Alexa sing along by triggering with voice commands, then pausing while she answers. The result is essentially a duet between Alexa and Too Many T’s that you can listen to at home using your own Alexa device, when played within earshot of your sound system’s speakers or some other source of audio. In the video below, Too Many T’s explain how the interactive experience works and demo it with an Echo Dot. If you don’t have an Echo device of your own, this would be the one to watch: However, if you do have an Echo or some other Alexa-powered speaker, you’ll want to play the “Home” version of the song instead. This is
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