Monopolising Behaviour in Music

Sent out as part of the MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE weekly mailing

One of my favourite concepts in design is the monopolisation of specific behaviours. It means that a service or product does something so well, that people only think of your service whenever they need to do that thing. The best example of monopolised behaviour is Google, which has completely monopolised internet search behaviour. It has done that to such an extent that we now refer to that behaviour as Googling.

When we look at online music, we generally see people competing for bulk behaviours, not specific behaviours. Every company wants to be your go-to music destination. The music discovery segment is especially crowded. The best apps in music discovery don’t try to get people to engage in a whole new way of discovering music. Apps that do that usually fail. The most successful apps look at real world behaviour and figure out how to augment that, how to add value to that.

Do you know which apps I’m talking about yet?

SoundHound and Shazam. They are the best examples of two apps that try to monopolise the same music behaviour: identifying a song when you ‘discover’ it, so that you can listen to it later.

Internet radio seems like a specific niche, but it’s not. People listen to radio for all kinds of reasons, which means there are a lot of behaviours surrounding it. People might want to listen to radio to discover new music or old music they forgot about or never heard before. People might want to listen to radio to just have something in the background or to have fun with familiar music. Every one of these is a specific behaviour that internet radio services all try to cater to.

Then we have the segment of the all-you-can-eat music streaming services like Spotify, Apple Music, Google Music, etc. I don’t even know where to begin. There are library organisation behaviours, building playlists with friends, all kinds of sharing music with friends (and strangers), discovery, exploration, curation, commuting, active, passive… And pretty much all of the behaviours mentioned in previous paragraphs.

Now here’s the truth about the status quo: it really sucks at addressing specific behaviours. Spotify is a good product, but it’s not amazing for any particular thing, it’s amazing because it manages to put everything together without becoming a weird Frankenstein piece of crap. Frankenstein’s monster is a common metaphor in product management for referring to what happens to a product when random feature after feature is added. I digress.

Everyone wants to be the go-to music destination. This means it’s relatively easy to build something that addresses a specific behaviour way better than the status quo. Take an existing behaviour around music, such as the behaviour we picked for our app Fonoteka at Zvooq, which was on-the-go listening of releases people are already acquainted with. Then work on ideas to extend, augment, or add value to that behaviour. It can be that simple.

Disruption in music is not about doing something better or bigger than everyone else, it’s about doing something better and smaller.

So get to work. Think small, act big.


This first appeared in MUSIC x TECH x FUTURE. For a weekly fresh perspective and careful selection of must-reads on music, startups and where we are heading, subscribe here.


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