Now Trending in Online Music Discovery
Appealing to Fans In The New Era of Listening
Everyone knows that the rules of listening to music have changed. We’re plugged into streaming services all day everyday and we rarely pause to even focus on what we’re hearing. It’s not that we don’t appreciate the music, we certainly do — how could we make it through our desk days without a soundtrack? If streaming services hadn’t come along, I would be bringing a walkman to work to get my daily music dosage.
I am not writing to debate attention spans or artistic appreciation, but rather to discuss the emerging challenges of music discovery. It’s become a tyranny of choice out there. There’s so much music and so many ways to hear it, all at our fingertips, that our focus has become fragmented. To help break through this clutter and play the game by these new rules, I want to discuss three areas I see as crucial for music exposure.
Beyond cross-device compatibility, the functionality of streaming needs to work across the web and feel integrated with other content consumption experiences. I believe part of the reason Spotify and SoundCloud have become so ubiquitous is due to their ability to have their software embedded on websites.
Modern listening is inextricably tied to multi-tasking and there is no more relevant place to learn about artists today than online. Now, with being able to embed songs directly into web pages, users can listen to an artist’s song as they read an article helping to introduce them to the artist they are hearing.
This kind of discovery and connection between audio and text has been a mainstay since MySpace, but it is now much more seamless. Spotify, for example, allows you to embed complete albums, curated playlists, or any other variation of their service to help support the content you are viewing. Whatever audio is most relevant to the content you’re viewing can be pulled in simply and cleanly. This kind of simultaneous exposure is invaluable for artists and fans.
Taking it a step further, SoundCloud allows for seamless streaming while you browse. Smart integrations such as the software being used on Pitchfork.com allows users to play a song while browsing the entire site. Although you may start listening to a track while reading a relevant article, it will continue playing if you then decide to read other stories or move on to a different page of the site.
Features like these will continue to enhance the web experience for music fans and will be critical to push forward. Whether it’s on a device or while browsing a website, no music consumer wants to be limited in their listening capabilities or interrupted while discovering something new.
Despite some services missing the mark (remember Ping? or Twitter #Music?) and the stalled efforts of others to build a true community-focused music platform, I still believe that users and personalized branding will be a driver of service preferences in the future.
While all of the top music services have tried to integrate profiles and other community features for its users, none seem to be taking hold. Perhaps these services aren’t building them in a way that invites exploration. There are three areas I want to highlight with some examples that suggest continued interest in the idea of music fan communities.
- Data. I love the way Last.fm presents a comprehensive history of my listening. Once connected with iTunes, Spotify, etc. It collects every track I listen to and continues to build my profile. The ability to go into the site, see exactly what I have been listening to recently, and play around with the data (slicing it by different time periods to compare my overall, or ‘lifetime’, listening with my most recent tastes, seeing what other users and friends who I am ‘compatible’ with are into, etc.) is quite enjoyable. The newer services never made it this fun and easy to present yourself as a listener. I hope as the newer streaming services reach peak usage that they will be able to build out a similar archive of data for listeners to share and review. At least half the fun of being a music fan is reviewing your own tastes and debating them with others.
- Discussion. Rap Genius has been making headlines in the blogosphere lately. The reason isn’t because of an exclusive release or artist feature, but rather due to the community involvement. The ability of well-known authors to casually drop-in and drop knowledge about Kendrick Lamar’s latest work is a treat for music obsessives. Go through a few of the top tracks on the site and you will quickly notice it’s not just select users or high-profile guests stopping by to comment and debate, but a whole community of fans. This breed of music fan is willing to get involved and wants to add to the conversations happening online. I expect that this kind of involvement will need to be embraced and serviced at a higher-level going forward. I hope an offering geared towards these fans will break into the features of mainstream services soon.
- Networking. SoundCloud is more than a streaming service, it’s a community of professionals and artists vying to get noticed. For electronic producers especially, I have seen the platform go from an archive of tracks to a digital calling card. Followers, number of plays, and the amount of available content from artists are all currency for those looking to be discovered or get signed. The addition of a creator component allowing artists to represent themselves will hopefully be considered and added to future iterations of popular streaming services. Being able to endlessly browse the music available today is great, but what about interacting with peers and discovering your next favorite artist who has yet to be found? Why shouldn’t we be able to do both?
While YouTube and the monetization of music videos continues to rise, artists are also beginning to use the platform and video content in general to share larger short films and other content series that integrate their music and help to get it heard. Music videos and online exclusives will always drive numbers for some artists, but the real area of growth seems to be in short films and branded content.
On the short film side, I want to point out that Drake’s recent Jungle video currently has nearly 3.5 million views — and it’s almost 15 minutes long. That’s a lot of time to spend with an artist online compared to our typical ADD consumption behavior. Clearly there is interest in diving deeper into artists’ worlds and viewing their creative output in a new, visually enhanced formats.
When it comes to working with brands, the word is out that it’s no longer taboo among artists. One of my favorite examples of an artist delivering content to fans through a branded channel is Action Bronson’s Fuck That’s Delicious series for Vice’s Munchies property. Here again, we see long-form video content driving views and engagement with artists. This kind of exposure is only going to become more necessary to bring in new audiences and fans for an artist as the industry continues evolving.
The world of music discovery is broad and varied and these are merely three areas I see as opportunities for larger services in the future. It will no doubt be interesting to watch how these trends and others may be integrated with larger platforms or addressed in new ways. With all the accessibly of music today, it is a great time to be a listener — let’s see where we go next.