They may not have produced a band as big as The Beatles, and may bear some responsibility for the musical output of Claude Francois, but the French are hoping that a little of their savoir faire could help boost the fortunes of the struggling UK music industry.
French music streaming service Deezer announced on Thursday that it will launch in the UK this month, hoping to lure music fans from services such as Spotify and We7. The service is styling itself as a new online record store where fans can come for recommendations and new music tips as well as finding their favourite tunes.
“We’re offering the best of both worlds,” said Deezer UK managing director Mark Foster. “We offering music fans access to any of the music they like on the device of their choice but we are also giving them to chance to discover new music. Other services are great if you know what you want to listen to – but with Deezer there is a real human element. We’re bringing the emotion back into discovering new music.”
Listening to Johnny Hallyday would not be compulsory for UK listeners, he assured. “It’s an on-demand service – if you don’t ask for Johnny Hallyday, you won’t get Johnny Hallyday.”
The service is already a big player in France with 20m users, compared with Spotify’s 10m users across the whole of Europe. It has 1.2m subscribers to its premium service, slightly less than Spotify’s 1.6m paying customers and is aiming to post a profit this year.
Deezer users in the UK will be able to listen to a variety of radio “stations” based on different musical genres for free, as well as accessing “smart radios”, which create radio stations based on similar music to one chosen artist.
But to listen to recommended songs and full tracks – perhaps from big French names like MC Solaar or electro act Justice – users will have to pay £4.99 per month for unlimited streaming on their computers, with £9.99 per month also giving them full access on mobile phones, with the ability to store tunes to play offline later.
But it is with its editorial slant that Deezer UK hopes to put some clear water between itself and close competitor Spotify. Promising a team that “live and breathe music”, once a week the site will give recommendations of new music in 12 different genres.
Users can share favourite tracks and playlists and offer comments on chosen tracks to create a noisy online community, said James Foley, head of editorial. “What’s the point of having a celestial jukebox if you don’t know what to play on it?,” he asked. “You wouldn’t go into a record store and want to be served by a robot, you want a human who can share their recommendations. We’re aiming for a cross between a digital magazine and a record shop where you can listen to all your favourite music.” The site, as well as covering recent mainstream pop releases will also have room for more avant garde tastes, he said.
Experts argue that Deezer’s success in France is largely based on a deal with Orange, which bundles Deezer with other products for its mobile and internet customers – making the service feel as if it’s free. Its chance of success in the UK will rest on it forging a similar deal with a large internet service provider here, following in the footsteps of Spotify, who recently signed a deal with Virgin, according to independent music analyst Mark Mulligan.
Sources close to the company say they are close to setting up a “similar deal” in the UK and are “finalising licensing agreements with all majors and key independents”, but this is unlikely to be as powerful as the French deal due to a lack of a dominant internet service provider in the UK, said Mulligan.
“This is a welcome addition to the UK music industry, but it’s not going to transform the market,” he said. There was a risk, he added, that as Spotify had already cornered much of the subscription market the launch of Deezer risked fracturing the nascent streaming model.
“It feels like a bit of a European Its-A-Knockout competition at the moment,” he said. “You’ve got plucky We7 flying the flag for the UK, a Viking invasion from Spotify and then a Norman invasion from France. It’s like history repeating itself.”
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.