Developers Are Using Foursquare As A Platform For Location-Based Music Services

Long before social check-in location service Foursquare recently disclosed that it has a very respectable 7.5 million user accounts, the question over the service's utility for the music industry has lingered.

During his MidemNet keynote appearance in January, Foursquare co-founder Naveen Selvadurai ducked a question about how artists can best use the service. And after Foursquare released an update to its service at South by Southwest (SXSW), head of product Alex Rainert was asked how the new version would affect music fans. He gave an answer about finding better sushi.

The fact is, Foursquare isn't really doing much with music-at least not now. But a good number of location-based mobile app developers are, creating applications that combine music with location data in innovative ways. The music industry will have to quickly wrap its head around how to capitalize on this trend.

One of the more recent entrants is SoundTracking, the first mobile app from Schematic Labs, founded by former imeem chief marketing officer Steve Jang. Unveiled at SXSW, SoundTracking lets users check into a location and tag that check-in with whatever song they're listening to at that moment, along with a photo and comment from the user. That song can then be shared with other SoundTracking users, as well as more broadly through Facebook, Twitter and even Foursquare, offering 30-second samples and iTunes buy links.

There are many more. SuperGlued takes a more concert-based approach in which users can check into a concert they're attending through Foursquare and get recommendations on other upcoming shows. Soundtrackr lets users tag songs to a location to create an Internet radio station. Spotisquare has users build crowd-sourced playlists tagged to specific venues. Even the Recording Academy has joined the bandwagon with its MusicMapper app (Billboard, Feb. 12).

Most, if not all, these apps use Foursquare's application programming interface, or API. Tagging a song on SoundTracking or checking into a concert on SuperGlued can be shared through Foursquare just as if it was Foursquare's own service.

That suggests that Foursquare is less a service than it is a platform, like Twitter and Facebook. Twitter wasn't the first to create a system for sharing links to music on its service; companies like Blin.kr and Tinysong did. Facebook isn't creating customized profile pages for artists-RootMusic is with BandPages. By making their APIs available to developers, Twitter and Facebook encourage the creation of applications designed for more niche uses than they are interested in pursuing on their own. Foursquare is no different.

So let's not worry so much about Foursquare and focus more on the broader issue: location-based services.

At first blush, it's hard to see how location matters much to a music app. After all, why do I care where you are when you share a new song? But location music apps are tapping into a broader trend in the mobile app market-developing apps meant for use by groups of people, rather than just individuals. For music discovery in particular, that's an important distinction.

"Like a lot of things with music discovery, it's about social discovery," SoundTracking's Jang says. "There are several things that go together to add context to that expression of music you're having. There's a desire and demand to share that moment, visually and with audio."

To date, the music industry has only lightly dabbled with location. Last September, James Blunt asked fans attending an album launch party to check in using Facebook Places for access to three streaming songs. Fans who checked in at concerts also got a free download.

Soulja Boy and Universal Music Group issued an app called SouljaWorld, which created a Foursquare-like experience exclusive to Soulja Boy fans using technology from DoubleDutch.

But with so many developers now competing in the music/location space, it's only a matter of time before more artists and labels start incorporating the technology. After all, labels still haven't figured out how to best incorporate mobile apps into music promotion and distribution, something that's particularly true for artist-specific apps. Location gives them yet another option to consider.

"How does a band or a tour manager take advantage of this tool?" Gartner Group analyst Mike McGuire asks. "It will take a while for this to play out."

It's already clear that consumers will use location apps, McGuire notes. "The next question," he says, "is how the industry will take advantage of it."

••••For a comprehensive list of music location apps with descriptions of each, go to Billboard.biz.