How Can Social Networks Master Music?

Musings on how Facebook, Twitter & Instagram could sing a new tune


Recently, Vine announced a suite of features that allow users and artists to add music to their videos and discover new tracks. A few months earlier, Flipagram raised a huge round to go after music in a big way, striking deals with artists and positioning themselves as the new social hub for artists to connect with fans. But other popular social networks and social apps haven’t quite figured how to crack music; sure, they’ve all got artists on board, but none of them are doing anything really ground-breaking. Arguably, the most important social network for music remains the late, lamented MySpace, which still technically exists, but come on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are all sorts of clever and creative things social apps could do in the music space. The following are just ideas, and I’ll state up front that I haven’t spoken to any of the folks at these companies, so if these are actual things that will launch soon, great minds and lucky guesses, etc.

We might as well start off with the grandaddy of them all, Facebook. At some point Facebook probably looked at the mess MySpace became and decided to avoid betting too big on music, for obvious reasons. That’s all well and good, but Facebook is now enough of a global, established brand that it could take some risks in music and not really suffer if they don’t pan out. Rumors have flown about a streaming service in the site, which at first seems like a terrible idea, but consider how mainstream Facebook’s audience is. Outside of certain territories like the Nordics, the audience for music streaming services is still pretty young, whereas Facebook’s audience varies wildly in age (anyone whose Nana likes every picture they post can attest to this). Maybe Facebook doesn’t need its own service, but what if it partnered with another service and baked something in, in order to reach an older audience.

The other thing Facebook could do is make the homepage more verticalized, with music as a vertical. I realize there is a way to do this now, but it takes extra steps and isn’t exactly intuitive — if you could scan updates from artists you follow (and friends, and celebs, etc) in different tabs, maybe artist posts wouldn’t disappear into the mass. A more lean-back experience when it comes to finding out about tour dates and appearances would also be helpful; rather than having to search for dates, I could just get an invite whenever a band I like is coming to town.

Twitter and Instagram both have the same problem — sure, plenty of artists use the service, and some use it better than others, but none of them go beyond simply using it to create a unique experience for fans. I’m not saying some artists don’t create very cool content, but they create the same type of cool content that an actor or athlete or interesting person creates. Nothing in the ecosystem sets musicians or music apart.

In Twitter’s case, they seem to be leaning on Vine for this, which is fine, but doesn’t go far enough. They could certainly experiment with a more lean-back experience, especially for artists who don’t tweet that often. I follow some great artists on Twitter who rarely post anything, and often wind up missing on song releases or shows because they fail to say anything. If Twitter could look at the artists I follow and send me notifications in my stream about their upcoming releases or events in my area, that would be less work for artists and great for fans.

Twitter has also gone big on major events, which is great, but what about smaller events? I was at Irving Plaza in New York last night for the L7 show — not a giant event by any stretch of the imagination, but one that I wanted to socialize and view other people’s social content. Aside from the search feature, which is often inaccurate with certain popular terms, and hashtags, which plenty of people don’t use, there’s not a great way to look at all the content around an event. Maybe if there was some way to Storify an event so it could be easily monitored in real time, and facilitate connections at the show. Artists could even get in on it and use it to take requests and poll fans.

Instagram has plenty of artists as well, but again, nothing separates them from athletes or models or just a person taking a snap of their brunch. One of the biggest problems, again, lies in the feed, and the fact that it’s simply chronological and all mixed together. It’s hard for me to create verticals to view content and make sure it doesn’t pass me by, and it’s hard for me to share content within the app — especially important for artists who want to engage with fans by sharing particularly good fan-created content.

Aside from that, the biggest flaw in Instagram is that you can’t add music to images or video (at least legitimately; you can certain film something with music in the background). Flipagram’s numbers have grown exponentially in the last year and there’s clearly a demand to marry music and photo and video content, so it’s odd that Instagram hasn’t jumped on board. Even if artists were able to embed a song clip in a still image, it would be a huge differentiating factor.

All three major social platforms have done a great job on-boarding artists, but now it’s time to take some next steps and make music stand out. People are so deeply invested in music and have such a deep connection to it — and anything that helps make that connection stronger is a win for these companies.


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