Investors bail-out SoundCloud in emergency investment round

Struggling music service SoundCloud just completed a $169.5 million emergency Series F funding round, TechCrunch reports. New York investment bank Raine Group and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek led the round, which Tech Crunch called a “do-or-die moment” for SoundCloud. Soundcloud’s investors approved the financing round on Friday morning, just ahead of the deadline.

Last month, the company laid off 40% of its workforce (137 employees), according to TechCrunch. Prior to this most recent investment round, which SoundCloud shareholders approved today, the company was valued at $150 million. In the past, it has been worth as much as $700 million. According to TechCrunch, SoundCloud, privately owned, says it is on pace to generate $100 million a year in revenue.

However, after TechCrunch broke the news concerning the severity of SoundCloud’s woes, musicians and avid music listeners alike offered support, CEO Alex Ljung says. TechCrunch reports that Chance the Rapper, who made his name via Soundcloud, made an effort to save the platform.

“I’ve been moved by the outpouring of commentary around SoundCloud’s unique & crucial role in driving what global culture is today (and what it will become tomorrow),” Ljung wrote. “You’ve told me how, without SoundCloud, there would be a giant gaping void in today’s world of music.”

SoundCloud does occupy a unique niche in the music streaming space. Unlike services like Spotify and Apple Music, which pay artists for the right to use their music, SoundCloud allows artists to upload their own music. The open platform model has helped to make SoundCloud “the world’s largest music and audio platform,” per the company’s website. The service features exclusive content like “breakthrough tracks, raw demos, podcasts and more.” Moreover, it facilitates direct communication between listeners and artists.

Rather than touting its uniqueness as a strength, SoundCloud is trying to compete with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. According to TechCrunch, the service could recover by “doubl[ing] down on the user-uploaded indie music scene, including garage demos, DJ sets, unofficial remixes and miscellaneous audio you can’t find elsewhere.”

The company could also increase revenue by scaling-up its advertising efforts and redesigning its paid subscription offerings.

SoundCloud employees told TechCrunch that morale at the company under Ljung’s regime was low, particularly following the layoffs. Though the company had planned the layoffs months in advance, it continued to hire new employees right up until the end. As a result, SoundCloud let some people go mere weeks after it had hired them.

Employees, according to TechCrunch, have accused Ljung of a lack of focus and a propensity for excessive revelry, and have noted “inconsistency” in the company’s product direction.

As part of the effort toward recovery, SoundCloud is overhauling its leadership. Kerry Trainor, who headed video-streaming service Vimeo from 2012-2016, will replace Alex Ljung as CEO; Ljung will become chairman of the board. Trainor will make former Vimeo COO Mike Weissman his new CEO at SoundCloud. Eric Wahlfross, who vacated his CTO position in January to become chief product officer, will remain in that role. Artem Fishman, who migrated to SoundCloud from Yahoo! to take Wahlfross’ place, will remain CTO.

In return for its investment, Raine will receive two seats on SoundCloud’s board. Fred Davis, who has worked with services like Spotify and Shazam as a music industry attorney; and Raine’s vice president, Joe Puthenveetil, who manages Raine’s music investments, will take those seats.

TechCrunch says the management shakeup—particularly the addition of the Vimeo veterans— could launch SoundCloud in a promising new direction. Years ago, YouTube was threatening to push Vimeo out of the market, and Trainor revitalized his service by underscoring and developing the aspects that differentiated it from YouTube: chiefly, according to TechCrunch, its emphasis on amateur art film rather than viral videos. SoundCloud might be wise to similarly sharpen its niche in a market of giants, TechCrunch says.

It may, alternatively, be of the service’s best interest to pursue a merger agreement. TechCrunch reported in January that Google had expressed interest in taking over SoundCloud.

Whatever its future, today “SoundCloud remains strong and independent,” Ljung writes.

Featured image via Flickr/Freenerd

Spotify-Backed Music Startup Raised $22 Million For Expansion

Stockholm-based startup Soundtrack Your Brand has raised $22 million in funding for global expansion and tech build-up. The company, started by an ex-Spotify executive and a co-founder of Beats, has already seen significant growth on its aim to provide music streaming services to businesses.

The company’s client list includes McDonald’s, TAG Heuer, and Toni & Guy along with operations for chains like Starbucks as well as thousands of other smaller businesses. It also operates Spotify Business in Sweden, Norway, and Finland. While not providing specific revenue or customer numbers, the company reports that revenue and customer base have both grown by more than 400% overall.

Soundtrack Your Brand uses its technology to select and play licensed music in stores and other retail locations. It was first founded in 2014 by Andreas Liffgarden, former head of business development at Spotify, and Ole Sars, co-founder of Beats. Liffgarden and Sars both tried to hire the other at different times in their previous tenure and discovered a shared view on what they saw as the untapped opportunity in the music-streaming world.

The goal Liffgarden and Sars put together filled a specific gap in the market for businesses who faced a limited, boring, or potentially illegal music choices. The most common practice was for businesses to use their own sets of CDs or mix tapes, or, alternatively to subscribe to services that send these items to them, However, those services are costly and tedious to refresh, and satellite radios don’t offer much control over music choice. Using streaming services like Spotify would be against the law since those types of services are only licensed for non-commercial, individual use.

While there are other competitors, like Mood Media, Play Network, and ImageSound, Soundtrack Your Brand differentiates itself in music selection and a simple sign up process. The service can be set up without any additional hardware besides a store’s speaker system and WiFi.

The latest round of funding brought in Balderton Capital, Industrifonden, Telia, and the H&M’s family investment fund HMP, bringing the total raised by the startup to about $40 million. Previous investors include Spotify, PlayNetwork, and Wellington.

SoundCloud Co-Founder Steps Into New Role

Artem Fishman, former Yahoo Vice President of Engineering has been hired as Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President of the music streaming service SoundCloud. Eric Wahlforss (pictured in featured image), co-founder of SoundCloud, is now the Chief Product Officer, a newly-created role. This role has Wahlforss running point on strategy and initiatives on products to be launched later on in the year. Wahlforss, from SoundCloud’s headquarters in Berlin, will oversee engineering, design, data, and insights.

In his new role, Fishman is responsible for creating and giving shape to SoundCloud’s technical vision and strategy, as well as leading its global engineering organization. “Artem is a seasoned engineering executive who brings with him a wealth of experience and a positive, collaborative mindset,” said Wahlforss in a statement. Previous to his employment at Yahoo, Artem worked at HUGE, a digital agency, Thomson Reuters, and the New York Times.

“We’re delighted he will be joining SoundCloud as our new Chief Technology Officer, which is a key role as we continue to innovate and grow,” Wahlforss continued, “Fishman has a keen interest in deep technical skills and data-driven approaches, which, alongside his leadership skills and passion for our product, will be of real benefit to the engineering organization.”

Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Alex Ljung explained the new hire further, stating “That will allow Eric to have a laser focus on leading and aligning the exciting product initiatives we have slated to launch this year.”

“SoundCloud is a truly unique platform in the music streaming space,” Ljung continued, “We have ambitious goals to further innovate the user experience for our connected community of creators, curators and listeners, and as we enter into this next stage of growth, Eric and I felt it was important to bring in a senior leader to oversee engineering.”

Aspire Heads to NYC; Creativity, Achievements and Education to be Highlighted

Whether it be food, business, or fashion New York City has well-earned it reputation as the greatest city in the world. New York City is also known for its diverse creativity. In February, it hosts an event that will hopefully bring inspiration to artist over the world. The event is called the ASPIRE FESTIVAL.

ASP FEST, created by iConcept Media, seeks to give aspiring talent exposure to thousands of people. The audience, in turn, has the chance to get closer to artists who have dedicated so much time to their work. It is the Aspire Series’ hope that not only the artists, but the audience as well, benefit from the event.

The anticipation for what Aspire has in store continues to build as the inaugural event, the first of many like it, draws near. A range of 25 to 50 artists will display their talents. Aspire says that exhibits will vary from fashion, film, cooking, and performing and fine arts. Audiences can look forward to parties, inspirational speeches and conversations as well as art exhibitions each day of the event.

Three various artists will have the opportunity to present their talent within nineteen minute segments. During the segments, the artists will get their chance to perform, converse it the audience, or be interviewed by the host.

After its time in New York City, Aspire says it plans to head to Art Basel Miami Beach. Art Basel Miami Beach has its own set of extraordinary talent. As for New York City, the event will take place from February 23rd to February 26th and hopes to shine light on the imaginative accomplishments of creative minds from around the globe.

Taylor Swift is Not a Fan of ‘Apple Music’ and They Listened

Apple Inc. just announced that its new music stream, Apple Music, will launch next week. Many wait in anticipation, but not all are happy as multi-platinum selling recording artist Taylor Swift chooses to opt her music out of the service.

Swift is known for opting out of music streaming services in the past. She delayed her album “Fearless” for release with Spotify and now she has done the same with Apple Music by refusing to release her new album “1989.”

The reason? The three month free-trial that Apple is offering with its release on June 30. According to Swift, Apple was not going to be paying the artists, writers or producers during the free period. When she was told this, she believed it to be “shocking” and “disappointing.” She wrote a letter asking Apple to reconsider their decision, which they have actually agreed to.

Swift took out her frustration on Tumblr saying,

“Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”

Singer Swift referred to the company as, “astronomically successful” and asked them to “pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.”

Apple responded to Swifts request, agreeing to pay artist’s during this trial period.

Eventually after the free period is over, users will have to pay the $10 monthly fee for its services. There is also an optional $15 family plan to share with up to six people.

Still Swift continues her protest:

“These are the echoed sentiments of every artist, writer and producer in my social circles who are afraid to speak up publicly because we admire and respect Apple so much. We simply do not respect this particular call. I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress.”

Image: Via Flickr/GabboT

Amazon Continues to Remain the Biggest Online Retailer

One of the biggest online retailer is exceeding their own expectations by passing its estimated sales for the first-quarter.

Bloomberg analysts projected a $22.4 billion in sales for the company. The company announced Thursday April 23rd of a 15 percent jump to $22.7 billion.

Amazon is reported to be the largest cloud-computing service seller with their Web Services saying their revenue increased by 49 percent to $1.57 billion.

More focus is being put into the companies biggest revenue outlet. Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos said money and focus is being put into new warehouses and data centers.

He also wants to add media content for Amazon Prime members to attract more members. Tom Szkutak the chief financial officer reported that Prime members bring in much of the companies earnings saying, “It is a great platform to feed.”

The companies goal is to have most of its 278 million active shoppers as Prime members.

A new addition to the Amazon market is a hotel-booking site as well as a home-improvement workers listing in attempts to attract all spectrums of customers.

Share have risen 6.5 percent in extended trading as well as stocks gaining 26 percent in the year so far.

It is recommended that buying an Amazon stock is a good idea right now. Robert Drbul a Nomura Securities International Inc. analyst tells Bloomberg, “For a company of this size, for them to continue to generate this kind of revenue growth is nothing short of impressive.”

Amazon not only generates money from their own gains but from the websites that use the Amazon Web Services for data storage and computing power. Companies like Pinterest and Netflix helped generate $265 million.

An analyst from Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles said, “They’re making a very healthy margin with AWS and they should get a higher margin as they continue to grow.”

Amazon has mastered the skill in making their competitors their clients. More than 2 million merchants have deals with Amazon for allowing them to sell their goods on their website where Amazon then gets a cut of their sales.

Amazon has added a new feature for Prime members who reside in six particular cities including Manhattan, Dallas, and Miami that offers free one-hour shipping on certain products. A feature called the Amazon Dash Button allows customers to order everyday products and groceries in a flash.

Another new feature is the voice-activated light switch connected with their Echo speakers.

Many of their new features are only available to the 35 million Prime members on Amazon.

Ben Schachter, the Macquarie Research analyst estimates that 50 percent of U.S. households will be Prime members by 2020.

Schachter says, “This has major implications for both Amazon and key retail competitors.”

“The only really bad news was international,” said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Sucharita Mulpuru.

Amazon’s international sales have dropped 1.8 percent to $7.75 billion but Mulpuru also said, “Lots of other companies have struggled with international growth.”

Ohio State University Band Director Fired Over Scandal

The self-proclaimed “Best Damn Band in the Land” is forced to march on without director Jonathan Waters in the unofficial season kickoff with the Columbus Symphony. The Ohio State University band’s ex-director is currently under investigation after allegations revealing the band’s “sexualized” culture, including rituals that forced students to march in their underwear, be called sexually explicit nicknames and perform sexual skits—all while Waters turned a blind eye.

Waters, who has led the 225-member band for the past two years and has directed some impressive half-time shows, including one that landed the Buckeyes a spot in an Apple commercial, has been fired for his involvement in the risqué tradition. The accusations were raised by a concerned parent after learning that band mates were sexualized and made to swear secrecy oaths. A 23-page report details the findings of the investigation, which reveals an “annual tradition of members marching across the field in their underwear under the supervision of the Marching Band directors and staff, including Jonathan Waters.”

While many are relieved the director has been fired from his position, Buckeye band mates from years past feel sympathy for the director that has to be punished for rituals that have been going on for decades.

“This has been going on. Waters did not start this—it’s a culture that’s been going on for a long time under everybody,” Diana Gilmore, a member of the band in the 1970s, told the Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio State’s new President Michael Drake told ABC, “This is 2014, and we respect our students as young adults. We respect women, and we respect all the different people who work with us. We respect diversity. We just had to make a square-wave change between this report, which was unacceptable, and the future, which we start today.” He continues in a statement to say, “Nothing is more important than the safety of our students.”


Amazon Launches Prime Music

Amazon revealed its new music streaming service for U.S. customers who are subscribed to Prime. It is pitted directly against the likes of Spotify and Pandora.

Amazon’s new service starts out a few steps behind in terms of variety. For now, Universal Music Group’s expansive catalog won’t be available, and tracks from Warner Music Group and Sony are expected to be more than six months old. But Prime Music does have a possible advantage; there won’t be forced advertising as songs play, unlike the free versions of Prime Music’s competitors, Spotify and Pandora.

The Prime program is huge for Amazon, as Prime subscribers spend twice as much money as non-subscribers spend. Prime Music has a tall hurdle to climb, as Spotify offers 20M tracks and Pandora offers 1.5M tracks. Apple’s purchase of Beats Electronics for $3B is hard evidence that they intend to stream music to their devices, thereby adding another serious competitor to the fray.

Prime Music appears to be suited to fill a need for its intended audience.