It emerged this morning that Twitter has chosen a kinda interesting promotional strategy for its new music application: as per The Verge, the company seems to have given pre-release copies of the application to various musicians, who’ve duly been tweeting about how “rad” and “jammin” and “epic” it is. But what exactly is it? And how’s it going to work? No one besides these musicians (who have presumably been sworn to secrecy) knows yet, but we’ve got some educated guesses, along with some unanswered questions.
The key thing to know about the new application is that it’s almost certainly based on now-defunct music discovery service We Are Hunted, which launched in Australia in 2009 and was acquired by Twitter early this year. The idea behind the service was similar to that of The Hype Machine, in that the site’s algorithm aggregated content and play counts from blogs, social media, YouTube, etc. and presented the results as a chart of the “web’s most popular music,” acting as a sort of Kasey Kasem for the 21st century.
We remember playing around with the site when it first launched and coming to the conclusion that it was an interesting idea that was somewhat lacking in execution — as we recall, the problem was that it turned out the web’s most popular music turned out to be both unsurprising and kinda shitty, meaning that the discovery aspect was lacking (unless trawling a chart that featured the Black Eyed Peas at #1 was your idea of unearthing cool new music).
Clearly, though, the idea had potential, and it looked good — the neat, graphic-heavy layout (which you can see here) was a lot swankier than similar sites like Last.fm or the aforementioned Hype Machine, and the mechanics were refined as the site matured — the potential to provide customized charts depending on a listener’s tastes was obvious, and we imagine that Twitter’s spin on the idea will work by reference to whatever a user has been playing/tweeting/sharing/etc. Twitter obviously thought enough of the site’s proprietary algorithms to shell out an undisclosed amount to acquire them earlier this year.
So how will the new application work? CNET claimed to have had a sneak preview in March, and reported as follows: “Twitter Music uses four main tabs. ‘Suggested’ recommends songs and artists based on a user’s follower graph — artists they are following, and artists that other people they follow are following. ‘#NowPlaying’ brings in links to songs tweeted by people you follow who tweet using that hashtag… ‘Popular’ brings in songs trending on We are Hunted, and an ‘Emerging’ tab tracks up-and-coming artists.”
This all sounds pretty credible, and ties in with what Twitter’s chosen “influencers” have been tweeting about the application since getting their collective mitts on it — American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, for instance, described how Twitter Music “shows what artists are trending … also has up and coming artists.” The up-and-coming idea is presumably to obviate the old We Are Hunted problem of charts only showing commercial megastars, and several sources have said that you’ll be able to tweet whatever you’re listening to from within the application itself (we look forward to our feed being flooded with bazillions of #nowplaying tweets. Yay).
For now, the Twitter Music homepage only contains a sign-in link that leads nowhere, but apparently there’s more to be found by digging into the page’s source code. According to this article at Ultimate Guitar, a developer by the name of Youssef Sarhan claims that he’s discovered that the service will provide “both a mobile and desktop app, and that it will connects users to music from streaming services Spotify, Soundcloud and Rdio, the music store iTunes, and the video platforms YouTube and Vevo.” Quite how he worked all this out from 21 lines of HTML remains unclear, but hey, we’re not developers.
The last point is the most interesting, because the key question with any new music service is: where’s the music coming from? We rather assumed that Twitter Music would have its own library, as opposed to streaming from other sources of sometime legally questionable provenance like We Are Hunted did, but maybe that’s not the case — there’s certainly not been any talk of Twitter being in negotiations with labels for licenses like Spotify, et al. If this is so, then we imagine Twitter must have come to some sort of arrangement to stream from someone else’s library. (We’re assuming that streaming from random blogs isn’t a solution that’s gonna fly for an application launching to 65 million users.)
If that’s the case, it’ll be fascinating to see quite how all the licensing will work. If it really does plug in to Spotify etc, Twitter Music would presumably have to have struck some sort of deals with Spotify, Rdio, etc. for its application to essentially act as a third-party client for those services. If such a thing has happened, we can’t imagine it was cheap, given that Twitter Music is essentially a competitor to those sites in the social space. (For what it’s worth, CNET claimed back in March that “so far, the app does not integrate with Spotify or other streaming services,” although maybe that’s changed.)
The other question is how Twitter makes money out of this. Will there be a subscription fee? If so, they’ll have an uphill battle moving users from established streaming services. And if not, well, who knows? Gawker ran an article about this time last year claiming that Twitter was running at a loss, and it’s hard to see how providing free services like Vine (and, perhaps, Twitter Music) changes this.
Indeed, we imagine this thing was expensive as hell to set up, licensing or no licensing. And the world of streaming music is already a crowded space. People like to throw around words like “social” and “sharing” and “discover,” but no one’s really managed to actually monetize such things as yet, certainly as far as music goes. Will Twitter Music manage to do so? And if so, how?