Pulselocker, a new streaming music service is launching in beta today aimed specifically at DJs. Unlike Spotify, Rdio, and other "mainstream" streaming services, Pulselocker is focusing explicitly on music selected for DJs, but more importantly it's offering an innovative new way of storing and managing music that goes well beyond what has been available before. It's available in Beta today on Macs at monthly costs beginning at $9.99 after a free trial.
Pulselocker isn't looking to unseat major players like Spotify, but instead betting that catering to a smaller and more dedicated DJ audience will lead to success and acceptance from the music labels its working with. So far, the service has over a million tracks and is aiming for five million by year's end — those numbers aren't very large, but they're specifically targeted tracks that the company hopes will appeal to a prosumer DJ audience. "Spotify and others were going after a very mainstream approach," Pulselocker CTO and co-founder Ryan Walsh told us, but the critical problem with those streaming services is simple: "It didn't resonate with us, [...] you can't DJ it."
Pulselocker's music files can be made available in DJ apps like Serato and Traktor
At first blush, Pulselocker looks very much like any streaming music service you've seen before, with an iTunes-like interface that combines playlist creation and music search with streaming and local playback. What's different is the technology that surrounds the local files for the music you download. As with other services, Pulselocker lets you store music on your computer for playback when offline — but the critical difference is Pulselocker's music files can be made available in DJ apps like Serato and Traktor.
That means that professional and amateur DJs will be able to use the music offered within Pulselocker in their own sets without purchasing each track one-by-one, but instead "renting" them in a specialized file "locker." Rented music files within the locker don't actually have any DRM on them at all, but are instead protected from redistribution by DRM built into the software on another level.
"FairPlay didn’t work."
There is "no new DRM," on the files themselves, Walsh says, "The idea of using DRM, we just think it’s a bad idea. FairPlay didn’t work." The different and more flexible DRM structure allows Pulselocker to choose which apps can and cannot access the rented music files — granting access to legitimately purchased DJ apps but keeping apps like iTunes from using them.
The result of that seemingly complicated setup is actually an elegant simplicity for DJs: the ability to use music in their mixes offline without having to fully purchase it. Those DJ apps don't need plug-ins or other modifications to work with Pulselocker, the company's technology makes its music appear just like regular files to approved apps.
Pulselocker's goal of appealing to both DJs and labels is baked into the company's business model. Artists actually have three possible ways of receiving royalties for music distributed through the service: at one rate when streamed, at a higher rate when "rented" in the locker, and at a yet-higher rate when consumers purchase the music outright.
The service isn't cheap as compared to other services. $9.99 is the baseline, providing unlimited streaming and a mere 10 songs in the locker. The price goes up in tiers depending on how large of a DJ locker you want, all the way up to $69.99 for a 1,000-track locker. "The subscriptions are higher prices, because they’re targeted more towards a prosumer," says Walsh.
"We're looking at solving problems for a smaller market."
Despite those more expensive costs, Pulselocker believes that it will do the same thing for DJs that iTunes did for consumers: simply offer a more convenient service than piracy at an acceptable price. Part of the benefit is the streaming baseline of the service, which Walsh tells us makes sense for DJs who want to hear more than a 120-second preview of a track before purchasing it.
It's not clear how large of a customer base Pulselocker will need to acquire for it to become a viable, long-term business endeavor. Hopefully the number isn't too large, because the service is an interesting new take on the streaming model. Niche or not, Pulselocker has found a new way to balance the needs of artists, labels, and a particular set of music consumers. The beta is expected to last a few months, with an official launch in in "early 2013."