Xbox Music mobile

Above: Xbox Music mobile.

Image Credit: Microsoft

New radio name

One change is simple. Last year, its Pandora-like service was called Smart DJ. But people didn’t know what it was. So Microsoft tested a new name, Radio, in the Australian market. It found that usage of the service went from 6 percent of listeners using it in a week to 13 percent. Now it is rolling the name change out more broadly. Microsoft did more usability tests and found a couple of things. People expected it to be exactly like Pandora. And they also expected Smart DJ to be something that they would have to learn how to use. But the simple change doubled the usage and got people to engage more. Monetization comes from creating more “stickiness,” or usage, around the paid subscription.

The radio service has ads in the middle if you’re a free user. But paid users see no ads.

Bing searches also pull up more rich details related to music artists when you search for bands. If you search for Landa Del Rey, the artist’s pictures come up, her bio shows, and her songs are displayed. You can click on the Bing search result and start listening to a song from the Microsoft Xbox Music library.

Xbox Music Linkin Park

Above: Xbox Music shows off Linkin Park.

Image Credit: Microsoft

A new Microsoft approach to music

All of these changes are a result of a reorganization in how the company handles music. In the past, music teams were embedded in the various platforms such as Xbox or Windows. But the problem was that those teams had long product cycles, so updates couldn’t happen frequently.

In January, Microsoft brought the music teams together into a couple of locations. A team in Paris handles iOS and Android, while a team in Seattle focuses on Microsoft products. Johnson says that updates to Xbox Music can now happen more rapidly. About 10 percent of the team’s time is now dedicated to “hack days,” where they can work on anything they want and ship them more frequently as needed.

“Now we are more agile,” Johnson said. “We are now shipping every two to four weeks with something new.”

As an example of that agility, Johnson pointed to one new feature that lets you create a playlist based on a web page. An intern had an idea of “What if I go to a festival page and generate a playlist from that page?”

So he created it, working with other junior team members. The feature is integrated with Internet Explorer and Windows. It appeared in a recent keynote speech by Julie Larson-Green, the head of Windows and Xbox, at Microsoft’s Build conference. Now the “web playlist” feature is now one of the top new features in the Windows 8.1 version of Xbox Music coming Oct. 17.

Johnson said that there will be a lot of new marketing coming up to promote the new Xbox Music. It will be touted within Windows 8.1 and Microsoft will engage users through music bands such as Linkin Park, which has more than 55 million Facebook and Twitter users. Microsoft will cross-promote with those bands. Linkin Park, for instance, made an appearance with Microsoft at the E3 video game trade show this year. The idea is to use technology to help the musicians connect with fans and create their content.

“We will work more closely with content creators, artists, and bands,” Johnson said.