Digital Dialogue

Digital Dialogue is an interview/guest-blog series presented by Byta, and written by friends of Byta. Exploring niche, behind-the-scenes topics within the digital realm of the music ecosystem, Digital Dialogue presents readers with insights into challenges, successes and passion topics in the day-to-day life of those working deep in digital.

Music Streaming in the Niches Reaches New Audiences with Dan Mackta (Qobuz)

Music Streaming in the Niches Reaches New Audiences with Dan Mackta (Qobuz)

Who are you? Where do you work?

Dan Mackta, working out of Qobuz US office in New York City. Qobuz is a France-based high quality music streaming and download platform. 

Fun fact: Qobuz’s name comes from a musical instrument, kobyz/qobyz.

What are you currently listening to?

Various Artists – The Old Town and Barry Soul Survey: https://open.qobuz.com/album/ykhf8w2obr8nc

Great comp of rare ‘60s soul and r&b from classic NY independent labels.

Give us a small insight into your daily routine…

I oversee all our activities in North America, Northern Europe (including the UK), and Australia/New Zealand. I work with the team on music initiatives, marketing campaigns, business development, and everything else. It is never the same two days in a row. The best is when we are doing something unique, for example tonight I am going to Django A Go Go, at Town Hall in NYC, it’s the 20th anniversary of this annual Django Reinhardt-focused festival and Qobuz is sponsoring it this year.

Music Streaming in the Niches Reaches New Audiences

In the course of my job building an audience for Qobuz, I have discovered that for fans of music outside the prevailing pop genres, there are still many misconceptions about how music streaming works. Can you believe it? There are music fans out there who don’t stream! Qobuz has an editorial focus that includes a lot of attention to classical music, jazz, and other non-mainstream genres. Due to this focus we find a lot of new customers in a cohort of older consumers (Gen X and Boomers) who are maybe just a little more serious about their music listening experience. Despite spending large amounts of money and time on their music hobby, these fans are often not participating in the streaming economy and are missing out on the incredible opportunities that modern music streaming offers.

Why would someone go to the trouble of seeking out and acquiring physical copies of music they wanted to listen to when it’s available at a click of a button? The first reason, of course, is that audiophiles and dedicated music listeners have long contended that the audio quality of a CD or vinyl record is superior to what one can get on music streaming services. This belief held true, depending on what country you lived in, until Qobuz launched its service. Most music streaming services to this day offer primarily lossy, digitally compressed audio. Qobuz was the first to offer lossless and Hi-Res (24-bit) music streaming, delivering audio quality equal to or better than that available on CDs. Since our launch, other streaming services have recognized the opportunity and joined Qobuz in offering this kind of fidelity. Now, with high quality streaming hardware and excellent home and portable audio systems increasingly available and affordable, serious music fans who are not extraordinarily wealthy can easily access a massive library of music and enjoy it in full lossless or high resolution beauty. 

Another area where mainstream streaming has let down the veteran music aficionado is satisfying the impulse to learn more about the artists and recordings while listening (liner notes). In this case, niche services and single genre specialists are stepping in to offer experiences that provide this desired context and deeper engagement with the creators of the music being heard. In the case of Qobuz, credits and editorial content, like premium audio quality, have been part of our ecosystem since the beginning. We display all the recording credits that we get from record labels, our own original album reviews, as well as digital booklets that can be viewed inside the Qobuz apps. 

The third objection to music streaming that I hear from our experienced, musically-well-educated audience is that there is no way a computer can know what they want to listen to better than they do. I explain that the tech giants behind the big streaming services have unbelievable resources invested in the research and development of algorithms that in fact actually do know what music they should be listening to! But for music fans who started listening long before the celestial jukebox was anything but a glimmer in an unrealistic futurist’s eye, that just doesn’t cut it. The familiar boutique record store experience, centered around personalized recommendations of new and classic albums, made by individual humans for individual humans, is still sought after in-person by music fans around the world. In its streaming apps, while Qobuz offers some algorithmic recommendations and playlisting, the emphasis is on expert human curation and choices made by genre specialists. In other words, it is a niche service where it’s not computers, but rather super-knowledgeable record store clerk-types telling you what you should be checking out. Only we don’t make fun of you for listening to Billy Joel too. 

Modern streaming is just not well-understood by these music loving niche consumers who are generally not as interested in Top 40 pop and other super-commercial music. These listeners are unlikely to be convinced to join the streaming economy by giant campaigns with famous current pop and hip-hop artists. It’s hard, near impossible, to superserve specialist audiences when also needing to be all things to all people. There have always been people who mainly care about convenience and want to use the same apps that their friends use. However, when it comes to music, where there are significant niches that are left out of the mainstream conversation, smaller players like Qobuz are able to address lots of listeners who otherwise would not be able to benefit from the incredible richness of a quality music streaming experience. By recognizing and encouraging niche streaming services, the music industry will continue to find areas of growth. It’s clear that a great many consumers are curious to hear more than just what’s happening in the mainstream!

Where should readers go to find out more? Any further reading or digital gurus to recommend?

Head to Qobuz for all the information on our service and offering.

And, the Qobuz magazine is right here, no subscription required!

Thanks for being part of Byta‘s Digital Dialogue series, Dan!