Twitter’s new music discovery service for finding bands and artists has been out for nearly two weeks now and that has given us plenty of time to put the aptly named #music through its paces. The service integrates with iTunes, as well as Spotify and Rdio, to find and play music based on artists you follow and other Twitter activity.
The tool is available in the form of a free iPhone app and as a web app that works in a standard desktop browser. Both the web and mobile versions feature the same functionality, so it’s time to find out whether the service is the powerful discovery tool that many of us have been hoping for.
The new #music service splits its expertise into four main sections on both the iOS and browser version – Popular, Emerging, Suggested and an area called #NowPlaying. On the iOS app, swiping left and right will move between these sections and in the web app users can simply hover the menu button in the top left corner – this should work a treat on touchscreens.
Popular artists are taken from Twitter activity site-wide, and it’s there you will find an overwhelming amount of commercial music. If you’re into more obscure sounds then you probably won’t spend too long here, but it’s still nice to get an up-to-date picture of what the micro-blogging community is currently listening to.
The Emerging section is designed to showcase so-called “hidden” talent, somehow extrapolated from Tweets. From what I’ve read on Twitter’s side, this list is mostly assembled from the #NowPlaying hashtag, something I’ll be getting to a little later in the review. It works fairly well, though some of the suggestions on this list aren’t as new as I’d perhaps like: established artists like The Gaslight Anthem appear next to truly obscure, non-verified accounts each time I have used the service.
The Suggested section takes artists you are following on Twitter and finds other similar artists based on these findings. It works, but you’ll need to follow enough artists to get a decent amount of suggestions. As someone who hasn’t really used Twitter to keep up with musicians, I found the few artists I was following when I started using the service produced some truly random results.
#NowPlaying is essentially a method of sharing music across the service. On both mobile and browser apps this features songs in Tweets tagged with the #NowPlaying hashtag from your feed, but its site-wide usage runs a little deeper. For artists the #NowPlaying hashtag is more than just a way to share your music, it’s how Twitter decides whether your band appears on the service or not. Artists wondering why they’re not recognised clearly need to Tweet more (and I’m sure Twitter would love that).
Unsurprisingly, Twitter #music requires you have a Twitter account, just like recent video venture Vine. Much like Twitter itself, #music also has an area for your personal profile. Here you can see recognised artists you follow and jump straight to their profiles. I found it slightly disappointing to only have the big artists I follow appear on this page, but that’s where the #NowPlaying tag comes in. It’s a clever way for Twitter to get artists sending out updates and music as the social network tries to make itself the new go-to for socially-inclined music fans.
Tapping an artist will take you to their profile and give you the opportunity to follow them on Twitter as well as seeing who they follow. This is billed as a great way to discover similar music, but it does rather depend on the artists ability to follow relevant artists. Some don’t, and this throws #music off the scent a little but it’s a nice way of passing on recommendations (in theory).
Streaming via Spotify & Rdio
In addition to 30-second previews of tracks that are pulled from iTunes, along with a link to buy, #music integrates streaming from both Spotify and Rdio. Connecting my Spotify account was a painless affair, and on the mobile side of things allowed me to play music from Spotify within the #music app. On the desktop there is no web streaming, and (for Spotify at least) users must have the desktop app open on their desktop. The play link will then trigger the loading of a song on Spotify in the background.
This is an ideal solution for using Twitter’s vast number of Tweets and baked-in discovery tools to listen to full-tracks on a service many users actually pay for. Occasionally something will go wrong when the song isn’t available on Spotify, and in this instance the 30-second iTunes clip won’t play either. This results in an error message about the song not being available which is a small bug, but one that the developers should probably fix soon.
I can’t vouch for Rdio but Spotify integration left me wanting more, particularly on the mobile side of things. When you listen to a song, and it plays in the #music app, there’s actually no way of saving that track with out exiting the app, opening Spotify, searching for it, and adding it to a playlist. The quickest way of “saving” a track is to actually Tweet it, a solution I didn’t find ideal. On the desktop this was less of an issue due to Spotify’s reliance on a desktop client. If #music created a playlist called “Liked from #music” in Spotify then I could sort out my saved tracks at a later point and I’d be quite happy.
Twitter’s new #music experiment is a bold leap forward into territory that’s already familiar to the social network. Many fans follow their favourite bands and artists on Twitter to get up-to-date information, remixes and tour details. Twitter also provides a way for fans to connect on a slightly more personal level with their favourite musicians.
#music rolls this into one neat, discovery package and once more artists start using the #NowPlaying tag then the already bustling service will feel a lot busier. Spotify and Rdio integration makes it the perfect accompaniment for users of these services, though a method of saving songs required to make it a truly useful partnership.
Twitter has done well to launch the service with so much momentum and it’s well worth checking out, particularly if you use Spotify or Rdio. Android users look out for an app “soon”, according to Twitter.