Music legend Lyor Cohen works for YouTube now, and he wants you to pay $10 a month

Lyor Cohen and Chance the Rapper at a 2017 Grammys party

Why? Let him tell you.

Lyor Cohen used to complain about YouTube. Now he wants you to pay $10 a month for it.

What changed?

The very short answer is that Cohen used to run big record labels. Now he works at YouTube, as its emissary to music labels and the people who make music.

The longer answer is that Cohen wasn’t the only person at a music label with a gripe about YouTube. Many label executives have long complained that YouTube, which makes billions of dollars selling ads, doesn’t send them enough of that ad money.

In response, YouTube introduced an ad-free subscription service in the hope of mollifying the labels. Today they are rolling out a new version of that service.

And if you want the really long answer, with a bunch of turns, stops, starts and weird pauses, then I have a podcast for you: It’s the interview I conducted with Cohen last week, when he stopped by the Vox Media offices in Manhattan to show off the new service.

Cohen is one of the people I’ve been hoping to get for Recode Media since I started the show a couple of years ago. He’s a unique character in the music business — he got his start in the 1980s, as a road manager for early hip hop stars like Run DMC, and worked his way up the ladder from there — and he has a unique delivery, which can be both intimidating and hilarious, depending on your perspective. I always wanted to know how that would work as a long-form interview.

Now I know. Here’s 43 minutes of us chatting about YouTube, and Childish Gambino, and that famous/infamous Kanye West photo that Cohen showed up in a few weeks ago, and the role of music labels in 2018, among other things.

You can listen to that one below, or via Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Enjoy!

What about the new version of YouTube Music? As I always say when someone has a new app, it makes more sense for you to check it out than for me to tell you about it. So if you’re in the U.S. or a handful of other countries, you can start listening — or, at least, sign up to start listening — today.

But I do have a few quick thoughts about what YouTube is doing here:

  • At its core, the new YouTube Music is like the old YouTube music: It combines an ad-free version of YouTube, the video service, with the functionality of Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play’s music-only service.
  • There are a few new features, most notably the promise to serve you music suggestions “based on what you’ve played before, where you are and what you’re doing.” A year ago, it would have been no big deal for YouTube to tell you it was watching your usage so it could offer smarter suggestions about what you want to hear. Now, in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, that kind of surveillance seems like a double-edged sword to me, optically speaking. But Cohen and YouTube execs don’t seem to think it’s a problem. (Cue slightly uncomfortable Barry White discussion.)
  • As I noted last week, one of the big changes with the new version of YouTube Music is that it effectively comes with a price hike: YouTube used to bundle its music service along with YouTube Red, which gave you ad-free access to all of YouTube, along with original programing. Now YouTube Red is gone, and its replacement has a confusing name and costs $2 more (for new subscribers).
  • To me, the most interesting part of the new YouTube Music service isn’t the service itself, it’s YouTube’s efforts to get you to subscribe. Part of that will come from a big marketing push, but another part will come from YouTube’s efforts to make using free YouTube less attractive — to “frustrate and seduce” free users into becoming paid users, in Cohen’s words. So it will be interesting to see how hard YouTube really pushes the idea of making their core service less attractive. On the one hand, they wouldn’t mind if people signed up for subscriptions. On the other hand, they certainly don’t want to frustrate free users into using the service less and not paying for a subscription. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Tesla still isn’t shipping its $35,000 Model 3 — and Elon Musk keeps shifting his production targets

Musk says if Tesla ships the promised affordable version of the Model 3 first it will “lose money and die.”

Two years ago, Elon Musk unveiled Tesla’s first mass-market vehicle — the Model 3, starting at $35,000 — inspiring hundreds of thousands to deposit $1,000 to get on the waiting list.

But the company still isn’t shipping those entry-level, $35,000 models en masse.

Over the weekend, Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla will be shipping a more expensive version of its Model 3 starting at $78,000 before it ships the affordable mass-market car the public was promised.

The CEO — who announced the specs of this luxury-priced vehicle on Twitter — said the company would “lose money and die” if it started by shipping the lower-priced Model 3 that starts at $35,000. He also said he would need three to six months after achieving a production rate of 5,000 cars a week to ship the Model 3 if the company wanted to survive. Cutting losses to become profitable recently became a priority for the wildly outspoken CEO.

For years, the cult of Musk persevered even as his electric vehicle company stuttered in its efforts to meet production and delivery deadlines for its limited-quantity luxury vehicles like the Model S and Model X. Now, as Tesla takes on its first mass-market vehicle, it’s facing the same difficulties it faced for previous vehicles — but with much more scrutiny than the company has ever faced before.

Part of that is because the Model 3 is an important marker for the electric vehicle manufacturer. According to Musk, his ultimate goal for Tesla is to aid in the transition from a carbon fuel economy to an electric one and in doing so help save the environment.

That can only be done if there is a wide swath of Tesla’s electric vehicles taking the place of combustion ones that are already on the road.

And achieving that rests heavily on making an affordable car. But the targets on the production and delivery of this electric vehicle for the masses are constantly shifting.

In addition to focusing on selling the higher-priced Model 3s, Tesla has pushed back deadline after deadline for the rate of production, causing many to question whether the company is capable of making the transition from being a limited-quantity luxury vehicle manufacturer to becoming one for the masses.

Originally, Musk aimed to produce 5,000 Model 3s a week by the end of 2017. He shifted that rate goal to 5,000 cars a week by the end of March 2018 and then later lowered it to 2,500. The company fell 250 short of that adjusted goal as of April, only producing 2,250 Model 3s a week.

The company is now finally ramping up from the car of the few to the car of the many — the company delivered 8,180 of the Model 3 sedans in the first quarter — but that process has put a great deal of strain on the company’s business as well as staffers.

As Tesla continues to navigate a longer-than-expected production hell, it has posted another quarter of record losses.

And Musk has lost some of his top people:

  • In the middle of what he called a critical moment in Tesla’s history, Doug Field, the SVP of engineering, took a leave of absence. Tesla says he is not leaving the company and is just taking time to “recharge.”
  • As the company faces federal inquiries into the role its driver-assist feature, Autopilot, played in recent crashes, Tesla lost its main contact National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Matthew Schwaller who was the director of field performance engineering. Schwaller has gone to a purported competitor, Waymo, to join its safety team.
  • Before him, Jim Keller who led the software efforts of Autopilot, left to join Intel.
  • Another senior Autopilot staffer, Sameer Qureshi, was hired by Lyft to work on the ride-hail company’s self-driving efforts earlier this month.

Now, there’s also been a shift in how the company is run. Musk said he is flattening the management of the company, meaning departments will report directly to him, in order to make it easier to communicate. Musk had already taken the reins of several departments — including Field’s, which was vehicle production. In February, Musk also took command of the Tesla’s sales and service arm after its head, Jon McNeil, left to be the COO of Lyft.

Confidence in Musk from Tesla’s following does not appear to be waning, however. As of the end of the first quarter of this year, Tesla still had more than 450,000 Model 3 reservations, and demand for the higher-priced vehicles, the Model S and Model X, reached record highs at the end of 2017, according to the company.

Amazon is selling facial recognition technology to police, allowing them to analyze ‘millions of faces in real-time’

Amazon knows you were here.

And the ACLU is furious.

Amazon found itself at the center of a brewing privacy controversy on Tuesday after the American Civil Liberties Union disclosed that the tech giant is selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement that the company has said “helps identify persons of interest against a collection of millions of faces in real-time.”

In a letter to CEO Jeff Bezos, the ACLU and a couple dozen other civil rights organizations called on Amazon to “stop powering a government surveillance infrastructure that poses a grave threat to customers and communities across the country.”

The facial recognition technology, called Rekognition, is sold by the company’s fast-growing Amazon Web Services unit that generated sales of more than $17 billion for Amazon in 2017.

In an AWS blog post from November, Amazon said that the Washington County Sherrif’s Office in Oregon “has been using Amazon Rekognition over the past year to reduce the identification time of reported suspects from 2-3 days down to minutes and had apprehended their first suspect within a week by using their new system.”

But the ACLU argued in the letter to Bezos that the technology “is primed for abuse in the hands of governments.”

“This product poses a grave threat to communities, including people of color and immigrants, and to the trust and respect Amazon has worked to build,” it added.

In a statement to the New York Times, an Amazon spokesperson “stressed that the company offered a general image recognition technology that could automate the process of identifying people, objects and activities” and that “the company required customers to comply with the law and to be responsible when using Amazon Rekognition.”

The revelation comes as concerns over law enforcement’s use of facial recognition technology have intensified amid mass protests in the U.S. in recent years over everything from police brutality to gun control to deportation tactics.

Other entities that have used different features of the Amazon Rekognition technology, according to the AWS blog post, include Pinterest and SmugMug, which use it to identify text within images that users upload to their platforms.

At the same time, the ACLU also pointed to Amazon’s own blog post that says “you can accurately capture demographics and analyze sentiments for all faces in group photos, crowded events, and public places such as airports and department stores” as proof that the technology could be used for mass surveillance.

The controversy could resurface privacy concerns about other advanced technologies from Amazon that the company is commercializing. Amazon’s high-tech convenience store, called Amazon Go, uses hundreds of cameras to help identify which products customers pull off of shelves so they can be charged automatically upon exit. Amazon has said that it does not employ facial recognition in these stores.

Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo devices have also come under fire recently from security researchers who say they have been able to remotely control Echo devices by embedding commands inaudible to humans into music recordings.

Slack’s new tool for developers lets people do more work without leaving Slack

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield

The messaging company is allowing deeper integrations with tools like Asana, Zendesk and HubSpot.

The business communications service Slack is launching a new set of integrations for app developers that will let their users do more than just chat.

A new tool called “Actions” will allow Slack’s eight million users to turn their messages into things like project tasks or customer-support tickets, starting with deeper integrations with a handful of partner apps, including task-tracker Asana, customer support system ZenDesk and marketing tool HubSpot.

Slack will announce the new feature at its developer conference in San Francisco today, after which any apps that integrate with Slack can also build similar actions.

The launch of Actions is Slack’s latest move to become more of a front-end for work, and not just a messaging service.

Slack has had app integrations since its launch in 2013, but those have mostly been to either enhance the chat itself — like using the Giphy plugin to search for gifs — or to close the loop on simple yes-or-no-type tasks, like approving or denying an expense report in Concur.

This is the first time Slack users can send detailed information into third-party apps, which could be a time-saver. Here’s an example of what it looks like today: Pretty limited and simple.

Here, a Slack user is chatting with his colleague about how they need their legal team to sign off on a project. The user can highlight the text and click “Create a task …” action to generate a task in Asana.

Next, the user will be prompted to fill out a form like this one to finish creating the task in Asana.

A former ‘Shark Tank’ contestant wants to use Amazon’s Alexa to make interactive children’s books

Novel Effect won funding from the TV show but raised $3 million from Amazon and other investors instead.

Alexa-powered speakers are a huge hit for Amazon, but we have yet to see many companies launch products that take advantage of Alexa’s voice platform.

Here’s one that wants to try: Novel Effect, which is creating media designed to be used with Alexa and other voice-activated systems.

Right now, Novel Effect’s main offering is built around children’s books: It has created sound effects and other audio integrations for dozens of kids books, which get triggered when you or your kids read the books aloud. Here’s a video that gives you the basic idea:

This seems like a pretty simple application, but CEO Matt Hammersley, a former patent lawyer, says there’s more going on than you think. For starters, all of the language processing is happening via Novel Effect’s own software, which means it should work with just about any hardware/software combination.

Right now, the company has an iOS app, but it’s working on an Android version, as well as an Alexa skill. On the road map is a version of the children’s book idea that will sync up with animations and sounds effects on smart TVs; the company says it has lots of other people, like toy manufacturers, who want to explore different applications.

If any of this seems familiar, there’s a good reason. Novel Effect got national TV exposure last fall when it appeared on an episode of ABC’s “Shark Tank.”

Hammersley left that episode with an offer from investor Lori Greiner to invest $500,000 in the company. But he says that when he ended up negotiating the terms with Greiner after shooting the episode, he realized he could get a better deal from other investors. (I’ve asked Greiner’s team for comment).

Now he’s raised $3 million from a group that includes Amazon, via its Alexa Fund, as well as investors including Alpha Edison, TenOneTen Ventures and Waverly Capital.

Tech Today: Cheering Micron, Liking Smartsheet, Defending Pure

Variants have been disclosed of the computer-chip bugs that hounded Intel and AMD in January, Micron Technology price targets zoom following its analyst day meeting, Tesla’s abandoning the mass-market mission that has propped up its valuation according to the WSJ, Facebook’s facing off against the EU as a top security watchdog says there will be more Cambridge Analyticas, Pure Storage shares are defended after its shares dropped on a merely in-line forecast, and Smartsheet is the pick of the litter of the late April IPO cohort.

Recode Daily: Even Barack and Michelle Obama work for Netflix now

Plus, live from Belgium, it’s Mark Zuckerberg; Facebook is full of could-be CEOs — but no one ever leaves; and 24-karat chicken wings.

Even Barack and Michelle Obama work for Netflix now. Working under the name Higher Ground Productions with a multiyear production deal reportedly in the high eight figures, the former First Couple will work on scripted and unscripted series as well as docuseries, documentary films and features; their Signing the Obamas is the latest, and by far the biggest, in a string of moves by Netflix to lock up the entertainment industry’s highest-profile producers — most recently poaching Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy — in exclusive production and development pacts. In March, Penguin Random House signed the Obamas to a joint book deal that pays them a reported $65 million for their respective memoirs. [Daniel Holloway / Variety]

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If it’s Tuesday, Mark Zuckerberg must be in Belgium. Today — just days before the European Union’s new, strict data-privacy laws known as GDPR go into effect — the Facebook CEO will appear before EU regulators to “clarify” Facebook’s data practices; originally planned as a closed-door meeting, the hearing will be livestreamed. Here’s how to watch, starting at 12:15 pm ET / 9:15 am PT. [Kurt Wagner / Recode]

The Federal Communications Commission is reopening its review of Sinclair Broadcast Group’s $3.9 billion bid for Tribune Media, and will take new public comments on the proposed merger until July 12. Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the agency should not move forward with its review while a court considers a lawsuit against the FCC over media deregulations that could impact the proposed deal. [Harper Neidig / The Hill]

A growing faction of Google employees — more than 4,000, including dozens of senior engineers — has tried to force the company to drop out of a controversial Pentagon drone program called Project Maven. But Silicon Valley’s history is inextricably linked to military work — the internet itself grew out of a project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Meanwhile, other tech giants — including Amazon and Microsoft — have recently secured high-profile contracts to build technology for defense. Here’s a look at how some tech employees feel about these defense contracts. [Nitasha Tiku / Wired]

Recode Presents …

Tech and sports are colliding. What will they look like in the future? Pro lacrosse player and entrepreneur Paul Rabil will join Kara Swisher on this week’s Too Embarrassed to Ask podcast. Send us your questions for Paul and you might hear them on the show! Tweet your Qs with the hashtag #TooEmbarrassed or email them to TooEmbarrassed@recode.net before 10 am PT / 1 pm ET today.

Top stories from Recode

Facebook is full of could-be CEOs — but no one ever leaves.

“The stakes are more intense than ever.”

A former Uber engineer is suing the company for discrimination and sexual harassment.

The engineer, Ingrid Avendaño, said she was hospitalized because of the stress of working at Uber.

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24-karat chicken wings and the allure of eating gold.