Why is Music Consumption Still Broken?

With hundreds of music services out there is anyone thinking of the users?

Music is (without a shadow of a doubt) an integral part of our daily lives. Be it humming to “I will walk 500 miles” on a roadtrip, headbanging to “Back in Black” at an AC/DC concert or being lost in the melody of Hedwig’s theme while enjoying a Harry Potter movie. Music holds a social and cultural identity in our daily lives.

The history of music and music aficionados has been long and diverse. The world has gone from operas, concerts, vinyls to match-box sized machines in their pockets to enjoy the music they love.

We consume music in many different ways every day, using offline media players or streaming services. Most of these media players auto-categorize your music according to Artists, Albums, Genres etc. Current music players allow you to organize and personalize it by creating custom playlists. Modern music players have come up with new and better visual designs, but they have become saturated in providing the user with an improved experience. So, what do these music players/services lack?

To understand this, we at Cubeit sat down to analyze how we actually listen to music today. To keep things simple, we will broadly divide our analysis into offline music (bought and saved on your devices) and online music (streamed by you on an app).

Offline Downloading:

These services mainly consist of websites/services like iTunes(currently apple music) which let you download music permanently for offline consumption, remnants of a time when bandwidth constraints prevented continuous streaming. Songs on iTunes can be previewed to a certain extent before purchasing them. Also a key feature integrated here is the purchase of individual songs. It broke the norm of buying an entire album just to listen to a single song; a nice option for someone who is more personally attached to his music and doesn't like paying for the extra bandwidth that streaming entails.

Online Streaming:

The landscape here consists of popular online sources like Spotify and Pandora, which let you stream unlimited music at nominal monthly fee. Also by upgrading to a premium plan you can listen to a limited number of songs offline for a limited number of days. Sounds like a nice plan for someone with a seamless internet connection and is willing to miss out on Taylor Swift and The Beatles (Spotify doesn’t have songs by these two artists). Realizing the potential of the streaming business, even giants like Apple have jumped on the streaming bandwagon, however their product offerings barely pack a punch. Read this. And this.

To dive deeper, we asked some more questions and tried to understand a music listener's behaviour irrespective of whether he was a death metal fan or a Beatles romantic. From this analysis, we categorized the ways people listen to music into two broad streams.

Active listeners:

It’s all about what you want to listen to right now. People do it all the time when they keep skipping tracks, till they reach the one that’s on their mind. They do it in the comfort of their living room with a remote in their hand or while carefully crafting the perfect queue of songs when hosting a party with some close friends.

The key point here is the active interaction in between the user and the device/application.

Passive Listeners:

These are the situations where you consider music partially as white noise. Situations like driving a car, reading a book, working etc. or in a social setting like a gym where music is always in the background. (A more apt example of this is me sitting and writing this blog with “La Vie En Rose” running in the background) Just press a single button and let go.

So the defining feature here is the minimal interaction with any device or application.

The Problem — Music’s very own Tower of Babel

The proliferation of music services, each of which tries to solve a different problem in music consumption, has further muddied the landscape for consumers. Sharing music is like building the tower of Babel, with everyone speaking a different language (a different app). If I find a song on Youtube, it might not be available on Soundcloud — a service my friend swears by. Why is music today constrained by the containers (apps) it is carried in? Shouldn't I be able to seamlessly share a song irrespective of where I find it, and be sure that the person I share it with can hear the song with a single tap? After all, the music is important, not the service.

Listening to music is not always a personal experience. It is also a social one. Just today a Techcrunch article quoted the 8tracks VP of Product, Jon Maples

“What we found overtime is that people don’t like being recommended stuff without knowing the reason why”

And what better reason is there than the people who we like spending time with voluntarily. We are more likely to trust our friends’ tastes in music than Billboard’s top 100 recommendation. Some of my friends use Spotify, I am biased towards YouTube while others have a massive offline collection. We love listening to similar genres of music but the hindrances in recommendations across services cripple our music discovery.

Current music applications have us chasing down the same rabbit hole over and over again, just with better graphics and a nip here and there. Music applications need to cater to all the different kind of music listeners. For example, I have a dedicated offline collection of songs that are not easily streamable online as well as an account on SoundCloud to stream the latest chartbusters. At the same time, I also like to spend time customising my playlists and discovering new music and I really shouldn't have to use different services for different “kinds” of music consumption i.e. I should have ALL my music in one place.

So all in all “We Need Change”

Cubeit Music Concept sketch.

Enter Cubeit. We realised that the music consumption experience is broken. Most of us listen to songs coming in from multiple sources (Google Play, YouTube, Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, Desktop) and there was really no way to aggregate this music. You might also want to collect recordings from WhatsApp or audio clips of your self-composed covers and mashups from your laptop. Song-discovery was also painful as you had to pick between relying on your friends’ tastes and using song discovery apps (Shazam, TuneIn). Another choice which you don't want to face. With Cubeit, you can discover new music with friends, just by creating a shared collection and inviting your friends to collaborate on it on the service of their choice.

With Cubeit, you don't have to open up 6 different apps to do 6 different music-related activities. You can access, stream, discover and share ALL your music in a more streamlined manner across services, without having to go anywhere else. You can stop worrying about managing your multiple music accounts. You can fix what’s wrong with the way you consume music, and have a much more enjoyable and enriching experience.

If you like what we are working on we are looking for beta users. Do make sure you sign up.

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I work as a UX designer at Cubeit. If you liked what you read and want to discuss it further hit me up on @_atharvapatil.

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