By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
There’s a good reason no company has released a music subscription service that delivers the choicest cuts to DJs, even though most of them use laptops for some or all of the music they play in dance clubs around the world. The problem: DJ software is very specialized, with advanced features you won’t find in iTunes, Spotify, or anything else designed for listening to music, rendering the usual ways of delivering a music subscription utterly useless.
DJs need to add effects, trigger loops, cross-fade between tracks, set cue points, and employ all sorts of other fancy footwork to keep the crowd dancing. This requires storing music on the laptop itself, rather than streaming it from the cloud. And the file has to play, no matter what, with no lag, so any sort of DRM file protection is out of the question. If there’s even a slight chance that a song is going to falter, any good DJ will steer clear of it. Until now, that has meant either paying for downloads or pirating them.
Pulselocker, the world’s first subscription service for DJs, gets around this sticking point by letting the music download to the user’s computer, where it can be played by popular DJ applications including Native Instruments Traktor, Serato Scratch Live, Serato Itch, and Serato DJ Intro. If this beta-for-now service works (and from what we have seen and heard it stands a decent chance), it should do for DJs what Spotify, Rdio, and similar services have done for listeners. On top of that, it should enable music-makers to put their freshest cuts in the hands of thousands of DJs worldwide, nearly instantaneously, and get paid for doing so.
Before launching the service, Pulselocker co-founder and CEO Alvaro Galbete Velilla told Evolver.fm that his company interviewed about 200 DJs to find out how they were getting their music. Pulselocker co-founder and CTO Ryan Walsh said that many DJs opt for $15/month illicit FTP services, essentially proving that the subscription model works in this context — but that DJs also buy music from BeatPort, Juno Download, What People Play, Stompy, and TraxSource. The average BeatPort user, they said, spends $408 per year on it.
“They are iTunes for DJs,” explained Velilla, “but discovery is tough, and they feature what releases they want. It’s also very expensive.”
Pulselocker, whose tagline is “DJ millions of tracks without buying millions of tracks,” lets DJs pay at various tiers from $10/month for ten tracks, to $70/month for 1,000 tracks. These are 320 Kbps AAC/M4A files that are stored on the DJs Mac, from where they can be played by Serato or Traktor, with no restrictions. (The team says other platforms are coming soon, but for now, it’s Mac only.) If they like the song enough to incorporate it into their set on a fairly permanent basis, they can pay to buy it, freeing up room in their subscription for more tracks.
The (patent-pending) secret sauce: a folder where these non-DRMed files are stored, which is inaccessible by the user and all other applications. Essentially, it’s a locked crate of digital music, to which certain other apps have the key, due to being whitelisted at an operating system level to access the music. As such, the files feel like any other purchased or pirated songs; DJs can set cue points, loop points, add effects, and do whatever else they want, with next-to-zero additional latency, according to the creators.
Essentially, it decouples security from the files themselves. Serato can even make changes to the files themselves.
In return for subscribing, DJs can incorporate anywhere from 10 to 1,000 tracks into their sets, without buying music or paying for illicit FTP services (and hoping that the files sound good and are labeled properly). This is a big deal, because top DJs want access to the latest sounds, and staying on top of that requires lots of time and money in the absence of a subscription option.
Of course, none of this would matter without music that people want to hear. Some electronic music producers release tunes exclusively to BeatPort or other services; Pulselocker hopes to do the same eventually, but for now, there’s nothing stopping DJs from buying tracks from wherever they are available and incorporating those into a set that also contains Pulselocker songs, or even pirated MP3s for that matter.
More encouragingly, Pulselocker says it will have five million tracks by the end of the year, and that INgrooves, Fontana, The Orchard, Believe Digital, PIAS, Valleyarm, Virtual Label, Republic of Music, SRD and Essential Music are already on board, with several others having expressed interest at the Midem conference earlier this year.
A DJ subscription service makes sense, because it lets DJs snag the hottest tracks without spending a lot of time or money. As for improving music discovery, Pulselocker has another neat trick up its sleeve: the ability to follow other DJs and see what they’re playing. Eventually, it hopes to encourage DJs to re-release their own exclusive mixes of certain songs back into the system, so that the world-class talents can make money when other DJs play their versions or follow their sets.