Starting next week, I take my show over to @enconnected.

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One of the great things about MVP gatherings is that you find yourself surrounded by individuals who are out making a difference for their communities, in some very amazing ways. One of those individuals, Travis Pope, has a great site going with enConnected. The focus of the site is to primarily discuss what’s going on with Xbox’s entertainment offerings. There are already great MVPs discussing the games aspect, so Travis is basically discussing “everything else”. One of the things I, also, realized being at MVP gatherings was that sometimes pooling talents together can create a greater impact than staying separate. Therefore, I’m taking my love and curiosity of Xbox Music over to enConnected starting next week.

What that means is that you’ll find all of my writing about Xbox Music over at that site: news, information, how-to, announcements, feature update reports, all of it. This site (tromboneforhire.com) will be used more to talk about music and music technology scene in general. There will, of course, be some mention of Xbox Music here but the bulk of what is written on that topic will now be at Travis’ site. I look forward to collaborating with Travis and enConnected to make that site a strong outlet for discussion and information, as it pertains to all of Xbox’s entertainment-focused offerings in the ecosystem.

I’ll even start out my time there with a contest… but that information comes next week. :)

I’ve always been fond of what Travis has been doing (even the high level of snark that comes with it). I’m sure that together we can do some great things and I’m excited about what can be accomplished when we put our minds together.

Let’s do this!

Can we ever have a #ZuneNation v2.0?

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I floated an idea to start up a community based around Xbox Music. This community would be similar to the #ZuneNation community that was started up around Zune. Back then, the ZuneNation community was more of a group of people rallying around the underdog. One of the more endearing things about Zune was that it felt like a scrappy startup that was going against the iPod juggernaut. With some innovative features and a robust social offering, Zune gave plenty for its users to sink their teeth into. A similar thing, I’m certain, can happen around Xbox Music but the question becomes what’s the rally cry?

You see, during Zune’s days people immediately made it a Zune vs. iPod battle. The David to someone’s Goliath. The Bad News Bears to someone’s Yankees. Today, Xbox Music has many more competitors: iTunes, Google Play, Beats Music, Spotify, to just name a few. We’re at a point where people have plenty of services at their disposal, so there really isn’t a one on one matchup. With Zune, ZuneNation became the label for people who had no problem bragging about their Zune HD, who had no problem getting on Twitter and chatting up the latest music news and Zune features. They regularly read and gathered at “Inside the Circle” to find out the latest, participate in contests, and generally help each other get the most out of the Zune platform.

So, if a community *were* to rally around Xbox Music, what’s the identity? What’s the common core? Are we all Xbox users, in general, cheering on a service on our favorite platform? Are we rallying behind a service that wants to be the first truly all-in-one offering that does everything well? Are we simply cheering on Microsoft? Are we simply cheering against everyone else? With Zune it was pretty cut and dry: Cheer on the underdog going up against the major Mt. Everest of music services. Now? Not so much.

Part of the problem is that Xbox Music first has to win over ZuneNation. There are people who continue to use and cherish their Zune devices and the Zune PC software. If any kind of central and unified community is going to form both Zune users and Xbox Music users will have to find out what their common calling card is. Frankly, dedicated Zune users are going to have to become dedicated (and proud) Xbox Music users. Once we’ve all gathered under the same tent, the task of coming together becomes much easier.

But for that to happen Xbox Music has to work hard this year. This year can be a breakout year, but things like the cloud collection and ease of use on Windows Phone has to be fixed. Many will still probably use a Zune device for things like road trips and going to the gym, but they should feel comfortable using Xbox Music when necessary as well.

I would love to see another ZuneNation. That was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had as MVP. When Zune said “Welcome to the Social”, none of us could have imagined how far that statement would go. We need that again. It definitely needs to happen.

I await the day when we can shout the phrase: “Welcome to the new social!”

Got some unavailable music in Xbox Music? New (!) messages offer better info.

Usually, when you see you have unavailable music through Xbox Music it comes with reason #RF7784S or some such error code. But now, at least Xbox Music on the web is offering a little more insight as to what is going on. When you hover over the (!) next to unavailable music, you’re presented with these types of messages:

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This, to me, goes a long way to helping the average listener understand why their song works in one place, but not another. And let’s be real, record labels have plenty of control over this content. It’s high time we just start acknowledging it.

Xbox Music: A lovely and scattered set of puzzle pieces.

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It’s no secret that I love Xbox Music. I think it will have a breakout year in 2014, and become part of the overall conversation with other music services. However, when I sit and assess this service across everywhere it wants to be, one thing still remains: it’s a hobbled mess. It can be a beautiful mess, but it’s a mess nonetheless. About the only thing that stays consistent across all versions of this platform is cloud-connected playlists. Everything else still needs to find their way to each other.

Here’s what I mean. Right now, I have both a standalone Xbox Music app on my Windows Phone in addition to the Music+Video hub. Neither one is suitable for all of my needs. The hub is terrible for playlist management and doesn’t even see all of the songs in a given playlist. The standalone app has great playlist management, but the app itself is entirely too slow for me to even care. So what do you do? You use Nokia MixRadio (or some other music service, of choice) until this situation is cleared up. With Window Phone, I’m curious to see how things are improved with the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 system.

People on iOS and Android want offline playback (beyond just playlists). People on Windows 8.1 want better cloud collection management and metadata editing. People on Xbox One would love to be able to stream music that can’t currently be matched to the cloud collection. People on Windows 7 would like any kind of solution at all. All of these things (and more) need to be addressed, and they need to be addressed soon.

For all that was said about Zune, one thing was for sure: It just worked. When you had the PC software, Zune on Windows Phone, a Zune HD and the Zune streaming client on Xbox 360, things just seemed to work more smoothly. Now, people have to cobble and piece together Xbox Music to make it even work on the phone, the TV, and the PC. Again, I think that Xbox Music will be able to turn this around, but for the time being the issues with this service just get louder and louder.

I root for this little engine that could. Come on little engine, you can do it!

Some takeaways from the Xbox Music API session at Build 2014

Today, I got to watch the Xbox Music API session at Build. I was curious about the notion of having Xbox Music available for every app. There are some very important takeaways from this session. I’m going to outline them below, but it would be better if you watched the entire session for yourself. Just note that all you’ll see is the PowerPoint presentation and not the examples that are displayed on a second screen.

So, some of those takeaways:

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1. Xbox Music wants to make itself available to apps beyond just ones for music playback

2. They acknowledge that having good music to license for apps can be challenging and expensive. They hope to change that.

3. The basic Xbox Music API allows what other APIs allow: music content information, deep links into the marketplace, etc.

4. A new pilot program (upon approval) allows developers access to a limited catalog of music that they can use at their whim. These are songs they can use for inline playback and offline playback. These songs can be remix and picked apart. These songs can be used to emphasize a certain part of an app or game.

5. It was acknowledged that this is a limited catalog from emerging artists, but Xbox Music made note that these are good song selections that developers are free to use without worrying about licensing or other expensive barriers.

6. The limited catalog of songs do not rely on the user having an Xbox Music Pass, or even be online at the time that the song is called upon.

7. Developers, via the affiliate program, can make money too. By linking users to tracks they enjoy, from the app directly into Xbox Music, developers will earn 5% off every song purchase and 10% off every new Xbox Music pass sign-up.

So imagine having a game, and when your user completes an important section instead of a generic track, you can call upon a premium song to play at the end of the level. Imagine that you didn’t need the entire song, but you needed a slice. Imagine that you didn’t need that slice, just the awesome guitar riff that is a part of that slice. With this new pilot program, that level of detail and customization is available.

This, is exciting. I knew that Xbox Music was going to make it interesting, but I had no idea they were going to take it to a level where developers can be more free to use music for their apps and not just generic sounds, but premium quality music from artists.

Take a look at the video, for more in-depth information.

Xbox Music API to be discussed at BUILD 2014

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This is awesome! I was hoping that the Xbox Music API would be presented at BUILD 2014, and it looks like that will happen. This Friday, interested developers can come find out how to incorporate the Xbox Music service into their apps. This is great for those who want to create third-party music players, musically social apps, and more. The workshop is aimed at developers on an intermediate level. I’m excited to find out what was discussed and see the apps that result from this hands-on knowledge.

In related Xbox news, Phil Spencer — who I’ve had the pleasure of listening to at previous MVP Summits, is becoming the new head of Xbox. As Phil notes on the Xbox Wire blog:

As Satya noted earlier today, I will now be leading the Xbox, Xbox Live, and creative teams including Xbox Music, Xbox Video and Microsoft Studios as we deliver the next generation of games and entertainment. Combining these teams will strengthen the connection between some of the world’s most innovative creators and those building the Xbox itself. I am incredibly proud of the talented Xbox employees around the world and believe, like they do, in the power of technology to bring games and entertainment to life across console, PC, tablet and mobile devices.  It’s been a remarkable year for Xbox and I am honored to lead the team at this incredible time for Microsoft and the games industry.

On a personal note, I couldn’t think of a better person for this gig. To hear Phil speak, especially in a candid, open setting is to listen to a person who has his ear and heart in the games industry and always wants the best for gamers. I’m looking forward to see how his leadership spreads across the Xbox platform and what that means for us Xbox users going forward. Congrats, Phil!

Question: Will @Xbox Music’s API be discussed at BUILD 2014?

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If you recall, Microsoft recently released an API for their Xbox Music service. At the time, the API was announced to let developers do the following things:

  • Get the details of an album, an artist, or a track if you know its ID.
  • Search for any album, artist, or track details based on a string of keywords—for example, “Madonna hang out”.
  • Get the top tracks and newest albums of an artist.
  • Get a deep link that redirects nicely to the Xbox Music applications, whether on the web, on Windows Phone, on Windows 8, on Windows 8.1, or from some other platform.
  • Get album covers.
  • Get artist images.

What’s unique about this is that developers can create some meaningful community-oriented applications around Xbox Music and fill some of the gaps that had been left behind with Zune was discontinued (mainly create apps that do more social stuff). Once this was announced however, nothing much was said. There’s been no revisit of the API, no announcements of apps that use it or anything else of substance.

Which brings me to BUILD 2014.

Of course, BUILD typically doesn’t announce their sessions ahead of time, because that would hint around what’s going to be introduced/announced during the keynotes. I would *hope* though that Xbox Music’s API at least has a session built around it. For one thing, it’s Xbox One related (if we’re going to talk about things as they relate to Xbox One at this event), but more importantly Xbox Music is becoming more OS-agnostic. The service is available through Windows, iOS, and Android with standalone apps. Developers can feel free, now, to create meaningful Xbox Music experiences that work on these platforms and could possibly tie into the standalone app. Plus, there’s that talk of Microsoft investing in (if not outright buying) Xamarin, which helps developers port apps across multiple platforms with greater ease.

If you can’t tell, I’m excited for the potential things that this API could bring, and I think BUILD 2014 is a prime opportunity to showcase what’s possible.

Maybe things are at a lull because it’s at BUILD where some experiences will come to light.

We shall see next week.

P.S. – My birthday is next week (April 3rd) and seeing something done with the Xbox Music API would be a nice gift.

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