image via Twitter #Music
Twitter just launched its new recommendation and discovery service, appropriately titled #Music. The app recommends artists to users based on what your friends are listening to, which artists you follow on Twitter, and which musicians are currently trending. The service is partnered with Spotify, iTunes and Rdio so users who subscribe to the third parties can listen to full songs. While #Music is a logical addition to Twitter, and the company boasts that it "will change the way people find music," its recommendation engine is by no means novel or even an improvement from other discovery apps that are currently available.
#Music is an app outside of your actual Twitter feed. It connects to your account, but does not display Tweets from who you follow. Rather, when the app is opened, it offers four features with accompanying interfaces that allow users to stream music: Popular (trending artists), Emerging (which Twitter describes as "hidden talent found in the Tweets"), Suggested (recommendations based on artists you follow), and #NowPlaying (artists and songs that people you follow have Tweeted about). Both the Popular and Emerging categories function very arbitrarily.
There are no explanations offered of how Twitter ranks its Popular category, with Demi Lovato holding the top spot, and M83 and Azealia Banks right behind her. Banks makes some sense, as she has an active Twitter presence and following - plus she released a new video on Tuesday - but does #Music rank its most popular artists based on following size? Apparently not, as Lady Gaga isn't even in the top ten, and she holds over 36 million followers, compared to Lavato's 13 million.
Similarly, the Emerging category feels just as random. The Appleseed Cast was ranked as the top emerging artist at approximately 12:30pm, but what characteristics make this act any more relevant than, say, Beach House—an already popular act that's marked as the #34 "hidden talent"? Not only does Beach House have thirty times as many followers as The Appleseed Cast, but both bands have released more than four albums each. In other words, they aren't really "emerging."
Interestingly, The Appleseed Cast is releasing a new album next week, which makes me wonder if earning the top emerging artist title is similar to a buying a promoted tweet. For all we know, these 'emerging' artist' labels could have paid for a spot on this new app's home screen. Twitter has certainly done its marketing for #Music, as the features' Twitter account boasts a series of re-tweets from celebrities and musicians who supposedly "love" this new feature.
playing with @twitter's new music app (yes it's real!)...there's a serious dance party happening at idol right now— Ryan Seacrest (@RyanSeacrest) April 11, 2013
The interface of #Music is extremely sleek, but for active music consumers, it doesn't offer any recommendation qualities that best Spotify's radio feature, Songza or Pandora. If anything, the app is a bit clunky. Rather than offering a fluent radio feature, #Music has me click on an artist's Twitter profile and stream one of his songs before it segues into songs by the musicians he follows. So when I peeped the Mount Kimbie account, I heard the electronic duo's new single "Made To Stray," then was moved on to Katy Perry, then to Jeremih, because Mount Kimbie follows those acts. This is frustrating, because I don't get suggested artists based on similar sound or genre characteristics (like Pandora or Spotify Radio) but rather based on the disparate tastes of musicians I'm interested in.
Even more frustrating is that artists need a verified Twitter account before users can listen to their accounts. This means that #Music's song scope is extremely limited. For those who like older musicians who may not be tech-savvy, #Music inherently excludes them from the service. The same goes for deceased musicians, whose music won't appear on the app unless the rights holders have created Twitter accounts for them. When I tried listening to the 70s Kraut rockers Can, the service couldn't find the group. It also kept sending me the error message "Sorry this track is no longer available" when I tried to play songs by modern artists like Disclosure.
To its credit, it is interesting to watch a quick dashboard that tells me the songs and artists that people I follow are tweeting about. At the same time, this is not much of a change from searching #np on regular old non-musical Twitter.
ABC profiled #Music before the feature went public and claimed that it was like a "21st century mixtape." This is clearly a glorified description, though, since users cannot create playlists, and the only way to directly share what you're listening to is to send out a tweet. Services like 8tracks and Spotify offer more clear-cut digital mixtape curation options that can be privately sent to friends, ultimately leaving Twitter's music service as, in my opinion, the weakest and most limited recommendation service.
The #Music Twitter account already has upwards of 2 million followers, so there's a strong possibility you can see which artists your friends (or Ryan Seacrest) are digging. At the same time, there are too many other music recommendation and discovery services out there—and Twitter's platform pales in comparison.