Is Twitter’s #Music App a Game Changer? Probably Not
But… After clicking around, my initial excitement quickly turned to disappointment.
The baseline utlity for Twitter's #music is to help a mass audience at large find music that's popular on Twitter. Since Twitter is basically the ultimate real-time trending thermometer of what's hot, Twitter's attempt to capitalize on music makes sense. Music, like sports and general news, is particularly subject to popularity spikes. For example, when Drake released his new track, “Girls Love Beyonce,” on Twitter at midnight three days ago, the song title and other Drizzy related tweets quickly rocketed to the top of the United States trending bar. People want to listen to Drake's latest creation. More importantly, they want to talk about it.
In a way, Twitter #music is the social media network's attempt to cash in on those artist-driven spikes by driving you to buy and download related music. They know music fans of all different shapes and sizes are out there, so they might as well make money off it. The business goal is to keep music fans in the Twitter universe for acquiring music vs. jumping around to Soundcloud, iTunes, Spotify, and the many other ways people listen to what they want.
From a tech perspective, Twitter's #music app was built by We Are Hunted, a music tech development company that once aimed to compete with Hypemachine as the ultimate aggregator of trending music. We Are Hunted scoured real-time data about music trends on iLike, BitTorrent, Last.fm, MySpace Music, and other services before being acquired by Twitter. Now its core service has been shut down in favor of #music.
So what the hell does this thing do?
If you have a Rdio or Spotify account, the one advantage of #music is the ability to sign and sync your account with streaming full albums and tracks, just like you can do in Rdio or Spotify. If not, you're stuck with 30-second snippets like iTunes or Amazon. It's helpful if you want to hear the full song before spending 99 cents to download, but I'm not sure why you need a Third Party app to stream what you can do in the Rdio or Spotify native app. If you're already paying subscriber fees to Spotify which allow you to download music to your device of choice, this feature is pretty much worthless, except for the ability to listen to something new via #music's recommendation tabs.
#music's Popular tab simply shows you what's popular at any given time. Predictably, PSY is locked down in the #1 spot, followed by pop artists and bubblegum songs you'd expect to be on a page pulling music data from hundreds of millions of users around the world. Hey look! Taylor Swift! Justin Beiber! It's a cool tool in the sense that it's yet another list artists can brag about hitting, just like the iTunes and Billboard charts. The popular tab is great for a.) music industry people pissing contests and b.) people with FOMO who genuine care about where things fall on lists. I'm not one of those people.
The social personalization settings are #music's biggest tool. After all, Twitter knows A LOT about you based on the people and musicians you follow and what you and your followers tend to say about music. For the most part, their music algorithm has my tastes figured out: A good bit of hip hop, TONS of jam and indie rock, the occasional EDM track (… I make fun of Avicii a lot on Twitter), pop guilty pleasures, and a generous dab of country music, in the way a person puts Cholula sauce on scrambled eggs. My tastes are eclectic, unhinged, and generally all over the place. Yet at the same time, they're perfectly predictable for a professional, college-educated 20-something white male living in New York City. Twitter #music thinks it knows me, but it's really just a tip of a big musical iceberg.
This is where things with #music get weird. For example: I'm the type of person who would much rather have someone suggest an artist to check out than have a algorithim figure it out for me. For me, music discovery is usually 85% conversational, social, and REAL LIFE, with a friend saying something along the lines of “Hey, have you checked out this new A$AP Rocky/A$AP Ferg track that just dropped, it's fuckin' siccccccck!!!” This is especially true when scouring for new music. Thus, I use Twitter quite frequently to groupsource music recommendations from my followers. For example:
music heads, have any recommendations for dope nu-disco artists i should be checking out?
— Brandon Wenerd (@brandonwenerd) April 18, 2013
The responses from my followers were right on the money for the type of music I was looking for. But when I hit #music's “Recommended for Me” tab, it's a swing-and-a-miss. Instead of presenting something unique, I'm shown dozens of artists I'm already quite familiar with. Tea Leaf Green? I've been going to their shows since 2004. Big Gigantic? I have pretty much everything he's put out in my iTunes. Disco Busicits + Moe? Psshhh. I was on that train in high school. These aren't recommendations as much as it's telling me things I already know and already like. Plus there is this:
Seriously? DJ Pauly D?
a giant ┌∩┐┌∩┐ tomusic.twitter.com for recommending dj pauly d to me.
— Brandon Wenerd (@brandonwenerd) April 18, 2013
I'm equally disappointed when I hit the #nowplaying tab, which—although I follow about 1000 people, many very passionate about music—is barely populated at all. It seems like this part of the app is still figuring out what #nowplaying or #np data to pull from your followers and who you follow. It feels like the algorithim needs to be developed to collect music intel beyond just people using a hashtag to broadcast to the world what they're listening to. The #np thing is so 2011. Perhaps #music will eventually figure out a way to synch with a user Spotify info in a way similar to Facebook. Since most are not wont to say what they're listening to (…usually because the very act of listening to music itself is often secondary to doing something else, like, say, me writing this blog post), it probably makes more sense to automatically pull that song/artist listen data in real-time. That voyeuristic music experience is exactly what Facebook does and it seems to accomplish the goal of “what are my friends listening to” quite well.
The only thing I really like about #music is the “Emerging Artists” tab. I enjoy it in the same way I used to enjoy looking at the random ass CDs by artists I've never heard of presented by the cash register at Starbucks. It's a record store experience buried in the #music app. If you're REALLY into having an edge on music discovery (you hipster, you), this is potentially cool, easy-to-navigate tool for discovering up-and-comers. I'm a sucker for easy clicking/tapping/listening on a great grid layout. Makes me feel like I'm Daft Punk fucking around on a Novation Launchpad.
Eventually, I imagine #music will be a fantastic launching pad for artists to debut new material, be it entire albums, mixtape projects, or individual tracks. I'm sure Twitter will figure out a way to incentive popular artists and record labels by dropping new music internally within #music vs. going to another medium like iTunes, Soundcloud, or Vevo. Pretty much every rapper and DJ in the world is obsessed with Twitter vs. traditional, old skool methods of mass communication, so this seems to be what #music will naturally eventually evolve into as a distribution platform.
In the meantime, is Twitter's #music app a gamechanger? Meh. It's not available for Android users, which is dumb. Maybe if you like the idea of Ryan Secrest having an American Idol dance party (…how much did you pay him for that Tweet, Twitter?). Maybe if you're just going to use Twitter to listen to Bieber tracks. Maybe if you're a 48-year-old mom who just discovered how to express your thoughts in 140-characters or less and thinks all-things-Twitter is a revolutionary “wave of the future.” But for many of us, that future-via-Twitter experience came along three years ago. Twitter is no longer new or revolutionary. That boat is long gone. It's just part of our day-to-day lives now.
In otherwords, there's not a lot to see here. Move along.
Follow Brandon on Twitter here.