I ♥ music streaming services. In case you don’t know what this is about, check out Simfy, Deezer, Spotify, Rdio, MOG or a couple of similar services.They all offer access to a huge catalogue of music, currently more than 13 million tracks, that you can listen to on your computer (in your browser or desktop player) or via an app on your mobile phone (if you subsribe to a premium plan that costs about 10 €/month). No need to download and save MP3s, sync your music collection with your iPod/iPhone/whatever and do frequent backups anymore.
The first time I got to fully experience music streaming it felt like the first time sitting in front of Audiogalaxy or Soulseek, the famed Peer-to-peer services, and having a seemingly unlimited number of albums, tracks and mixtapes right at my fingertips. How awesome. I stayed up all night and was looking for rare tracks where it was virtually impossible to get hold of the vinyl version or CD, at the same time my mixtape collection grew rapidly. Now while I have always been a nerd for music, I found myself staring at the searchbox a lot of times and thinking about something to enter. That’s when browsing other users’ collections came in handy that seemed to have a similar taste or had an eclectic mix of music that looked promising. It didn’t cost anything but a lot of time to unearth the gems from these collections, but being a student I had plenty of it.
With streaming services it’s not very different: While all of the services offer an abundance of music (13 million tracks is more than I can listen to in my lifetime, sadly) they do a rather poor job when it comes to music discovery. Here’s a commercial for French service Deezer (recently launched in Germany).
While it shows nicely how the mobile version fits into daily life it also shows one major assumption that Deezer and the any other services rely on: The willingness of the user to create playlists out of the millions of tracks. The level of risk is high – remember the 1% rule (aka the 90/9/1 rule) that says that only 1% of all internet users are actually creating content?
For me the reality check already fails at 0:02: When the male protagonist swiftly turns on the music on his mobile I’d find myself browsing around what to play and probably end up with one of the albums that I’ve listened to the other day. I don’t really create my own playlists because I don’t find the time to do so and it doesn’t really give me joy since I spend way too much time in front of a screen everyday already. Plus, given that I cancel my subscription and move on to another service, all of my playlists are useless and I have to set everything up again. It’s even worse for your average Joe Smith that isn’t really up-to-date with the latest music and who is totally overwhelmed by the choice on offer.
Looking at the albums that the mobile app of German service Simfy is recommending doesn’t help much: Every week a selection of 8 mainstream releases and popular artists is displayed, that’s it. Alexandra Stan or Pitbull, anyone? Even if Joe had a few friends that are not only Simfy users but also belong to the 1% that create content online (read: playlists) AND have a similar taste in music he’d still be left alone sitting on the side of his bed wondering what to play because a list of playlists is nowhere to be found in the mobile app – except his own playlists or the ones that he’s favorited before in the browser or desktop version.
So how to find cool playlists? Neither Simfy or Deezer do a great job here or give playlist discovery much space in their browser or desktop versions which is hard to comprehend. But as I said, even worse, playlists can’t be discovered at all in the mobile apps.
How does the market and innovation leader Spotify handle this? Playlists are a big part of Spotify’s user experience, especially with the newly-added Apps within Spotify where artist playlists can be found (e.g. in the Def Jam app). Older apps like ShareMyPlaylists help finding the best-rated user-generated playlists, additionally the playlists are curated by the ShareMyPlaylists team.
This helps a lot to discover both new and old music within Spotify – if you’re using the desktop version. If you’re – like me – primarily using the mobile app, there is not a single way to discover playlists. The news tab of the app comes with 10 recent tracks and releases each week plus the twitter stream of the Spotify account. No recommended playlists, nowhere. Still, Spotify does a way better job to incorporate playlists into their service than their competitors. It’s understood that Spotify wants to leave the content curation job to third partners, fair enough. I’d just expect the mobile app to come with the core features of the desktop version, especially since the mobile app is maybe the biggest selling point of the premium subscription.
Conclusion: While I view content curation and music discovery as maybe the most important factor in the effort to reach a mass market this area is treated rather poorly throughout all services (except Spotify who are “outsourcing” it). What’s a shop that has 5000 different brands of whiskey on offer really worth to the occasional drinker if he’s left alone by himself standing in front of the shelves, without the advice of an expert? While the internet has eliminated quite a few gatekeepers, the importance of trusted sources has grown exponentially to the volume of information that is available online. I’m looking forward to see this reflected in the products of streaming services, with Spotify being the one to make the first attempt in this area with their app ecosystem. What are you waiting for, competition?
I’ve received quite a lot of responses to my post in the last days and would like to highlight two fresh and new services that both do a great job regarding curation: First there’s gogoyoko.com from Iceland that have a great selection of independent music on their site and provide a steadily growing number of carefully compiled playlists from both members of their team as well the gogoyoko users.
Then there’s Norwegian service WiMP that takes curation to a whole other level: WiMP is all about recommendations that are frequently updated by experts for each country where the service is available. Both the desktop version (that runs on Adobe AIR) as well as the mobile app feature really cool playlists and additionally there are numerous album lists. The good news is that WiMP is launching in Germany at the beginning of May already but if you’re really curious you can request a login to the closed beta version here. For me this is really an alternative to Spotify and I’m sure you’ll love this, too.
I’m glad to see so much development happening right now in the world of streaming. To me, this is much more exciting than the same old discussion about the low royalty payments – the combination of the pay-per-stream model and the rapidly increasing number of streams might just turn into the most sustainable business model ever seen in the music business. I’m very sure that eventually music streaming will be deeply tied into the daily life of everyone (at least in the western world) and might even replace radio some day.