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FADER Explains: Twitter's #Music App

Twitter's new #Music service, already deemed "insane" by Wiz Khalifa, launched publicly yesterday. Partnered with iTunes, Rdio and Spotify, it joins an already-crowded field of music recommendation and sharing services, with Twitter aiming to further engross its 200 million, music-enamored users. Here’s what we know about why the app exists, how it works and what it says about the way we listen to music now.

What is Twitter #Music?

A new music recommendation service, usable via web and a standalone app. #Music became available on web and for iPhones on April 18th, and it's coming to Android phones soon. Using technology acquired from Hunted Media—the team behind the now-defunct music discovery site and app We Are Hunted—#Music scans Twitter conversations and detects talked-about tracks. It's organized into four main navigations tabs: both "Popular" and "Emerging" rank Twitter's most-discussed and hidden gems (today, recent GEN F artist Laura Mvula is ranked #1 in the latter). "Suggested" recommends artists based on your taste, and "#NowPlaying" aggregates songs mentioned on Twitter by your friends. There's also a "Me" section, displaying artists you follow. Twitter #Music's charts are created from Twitter activity, reinforcing the idea an artist must tweet to be heard: you can only listen to music from artists with verified Twitter accounts.

What was We Are Hunted?

A site and app. It developed its own search technology to monitor music on blogs, YouTube, BitTorrent and social media conversations, then made recommendations based on those findings, placing popular songs into easy to scan charts. Twitter bought the company near the end of 2012. Months before, Wotnews, a news aggregating site that had partnered with We Are Hunted, shut down and folded into We Are Hunted, and company's small team moved from Australia to New York. We Are Hunted recently moved again, to San Francisco, where Twitter's headquarters are located. Their site went mysteriously offline in March. On March 13th, tech site CNET reported that Twitter was using We Are Hunted's technology to build a new music app. On April 11th of this year, We are Hunted officially announced the acquisition, shutting down their website and all We Are Hunted accounts. (You can still access their charts and make artist-inspired playlists on their Spotify app.)

What can you do on Twitter #Music?

Scan charts of 140 popular and emerging songs, see a grid of what your friends are listening to, and find artists you might want to follow or buy music from. By clicking the tiles—which resemble We Are Hunted's old site or the grids of Jay-Z's Life + Times site—you can follow the artist on Twitter and play music. The app defaults to play 60-second preview clips from iTunes, but Spotify and Rdio subscribes can link their accounts to hear full songs. (Though not a part of the launch, Soundcloud, Vevo and YouTube were previously rumored to be integrated with the app. Talking to The Next Web last week, Soundcloud said they've been "in regular discussions with Twitter on a number of initiatives.") Songs with explicit lyrics can be blocked, if you'd like, and there's a search for finding artists and Twitter users. Users can listen to songs individually, or press a play button to cycle through all the songs in one tab. The app's music player, which spins like a turntable, encourages users to share what they're listening to with a button to generate tweets pre-inscribed with the #NowPlaying hashtag, the artist's Twitter handle and a playable-on-Twitter iTunes preview. The goal of all of this is to capture the attention of Twitter's already active users: prompting them to listen to and buy more music and follow more artists within the Twitter system. In turn, there's an incentive for artists to use Twitter more enthusiastically, as an army of tweeting fans could win them prime real estate on the app's charts, which would presumably attract even more followers (and paying fans).

Do people already love it?

No, but they seem to like it okay. The chief complaint is its default reliance on iTunes preview samples. Twitter has 200 million active users but only a small fraction of them—the nearly 7 million Spotify and Rdio subscribers—can listen to full songs on #Music. Making it worse, emerging artists don't always have a lot of music on iTunes. For example, when I clicked play on the "Me" tab, featuring artists I already follow, I heard a short clip Katie Got Bandz' "Pop Out" three times. You can't rearrange the tracks or share playlists here, like you can on Spotify. But more conceptually, hardcore Twitter-using music fans likely already know what their friends are listening to. For them, the opportunity to step outside of their niche and see what's trending globally may be exciting, but services like Rdio have already offered that far more effectively, with users curating widely-followed playlists that mirror weekly charts on iTunes and Billboard for any given genre.

Who will Twitter #Music be competing with?

Pretty much everyone. The social music recommendation game is packed, and growing. There's old stalwarts like Hype Machine and Last.fm, and more recently This Is My Jam, Rdio and Spotify. Pandora has 67 million active users and Myspace has relaunched with a music focus. The internet's biggest players are also aggressively courting music fans: Facebook redesigned its news feed in March, creating a devoted music feed which makes recommendations, alerts you to album release dates and what friends are listening to. Google is preparing to launch two subscription music services this summer, one for YouTube and another for Google's Android music platform, Google Play. They've already signed up Warner Music Group, and are negotiating liscencing deals with Universal and Sony. Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre's headphone company, Beats Electronics, have taken meetings with Apple and raised $60 million for an upcoming subscription service called Daisy. All these companies are perhaps encouraged by a recent report that shows overall global revenues from music rising for the first time since the Napster era, in part thanks to subscription services, which now account for 10 percent of global digital music profits. It's hard not to imagine subscription services growing even more popular with services like #Music driving users right into their arms: while iTunes previews are the first thing #Music tries to play you, a subscription (free or otherwise) to Spotify or Rdio pretty clearly gives you much more tracks your buck. Files that take up space on hard discs and external drives already disorient young people. In 10 years, the scrap pile of files I've been hoarding since getting my first dial-up connection will feel as antiquated as a ziploc sack of cassettes.

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FADER Explains: Twitter's #Music App