Any artist can decide whether or not to include their music in the big music subscription services, just like any app developer can decide whether to sell their app for iOS devices. Thom Yorke is the latest artist to make waves in the former area, pulling his new band Atoms for Peace from Spotify, Rdio, and Rhapsody, because he says subscriptions don’t pay out enough to artists (all-access technology will ultimately benefit culture, but that’s a different story).
One app Thom Yorke does like, SoundHalo, sells live music shows online, so you can watch them in close-to-real time (i.e. during the actual show) or after they take place. If you buy a show, you can stream it online or sync it to any device, including loading it into iTunes. This costs $1.50 per song or $15 for the whole band’s set, in the case of Atoms for Peace, although prices vary.
(You also get a free 30-second preview of each song, might be enough to make a decision whether to see a band “in person or not.)
Not only is Atoms for Peace the second band (after Alt-J) to sell a show through the service, but Thom Yorke, Nigel Godrich, Flea, and the rest of the group even played the app’s official, out-of-beta launch party, of sorts, which you can now watch online or in the SoundHalo Android or mobile web app.
Yes, you can can install SoundHalo on your Android, but there’s no iOS version. The company says it is working on that, but as of today, if you’re on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you’ll need to use your device’s web browser to watch stuff on SoundHalo.com, instead of using a native app.
The reason for this, dollars to donuts, is that SoundHalo doesn’t want to give 30 percent of its revenue from iOS users to Apple. We say this in part because we’ve thought about what happens when people sell content through iOS apps before, and in part because when SoundHalo does manage to release its iOS app, you won’t be able to buy shows within the app.
Instead, iOS people will have to buy the shows in a web browser before watching them in the iOS app, while their friends with Androids can buy the show right there in the app and watch it.This is a matter of not just convenience, but speed (after all, in some cases, fans might be frantically trying to get into the show before they miss another song).
“We are currently developing an iOS ‘Player’ which we intend to launch on the App Store in the near future,” says the company. “This will let users download their purchased offline content direct to their iOS device for offline playback.”
The workaround will enable SoundHalo to sell shows without giving 30 percent of the revenue to Apple as part of the in-app purchase program.
It’s also a bit of a pain.
SoundHalo declined to divulge to Evolver.fm its revenue split with artists (“What we can say is that SoundHalo pays a favourable royalty split to artists and associated rights holders,” said a spokeswoman). Whatever it is, neither side would likely countenance a 30-percent or even 60-percent (if only one party covers Apple’s piece of the action) pay cut — especially considering that SoundHalo has to produce the videos, develop apps, pay for bandwidth, and so on.
Today, SoundHalo is new, and consists of little more than the belief of Thom Yorke and friends, and one other band, in a company that says it can make online music pay. I thought that would start happening five years ago, and I was wrong, for the most part. Why? In part, this is because it’s expensive and hard to scale; everyone involved in the band has to agree to sell a show online (these permissions involve just about every copyright a song can have).
The intersection of two unstoppable trends, online distribution and live music, would seem to hold a lot of promise, but it has yet to take off. If more music fans are going to buy shows to watch on their devices, which would make live online music online the artist-friendly panacea that Thom Yorke wants it to be — then they’re going to run up against Apple’s 30-percent policy, too.
Could the web really be a better platform for selling live online music than iOS? So far, it’s looking that way.
SoundHalo is reportedly courting Metallica, Linkin Park, the Black Keys, Green Day, and other artists, as well as Verizon, Samsung, Google, Skype, and advertising firms.