The Twitter #Music service launched to the public Thursday is a smart tactical move and a decent music discovery tool. But unless efforts are made to widen its potential reach, Twitter #music will play a small role for the social media company.
Twitter’s acquisition of We Are Hunted, which resulted in the development of Twitter #Music, makes perfect strategic sense. The service reinforces the need for artists make Twitter a primary social media tool. Its charts are created from Twitter activity. The more people are talking about and sharing an artist’s music, the higher that artist will land on its charts.
We Are Hunted was a clean, well-crafted music discovery tool that created charts based on online chatter in a variety of places. (The We Are Hunted web service was retired when the acquisition was announced. Its Spotify app is operational for the time being.) Twitter #Music retains We Are Hunted's simplicity and elegance but builds its charts -- each 140 entries long -- only from Twitter activity. It's hard to say if confining the service to Twitter activity makes a practical difference to the end user. Twitter #Music feels like the most up-to-date snapshot of online music trends currently on the market.
And like We Are Hunted, Twitter #Music does all the heavy lifting for the user. There are two main charts -- "Popular" and "Emerging" -- where song are laid out like tiles. Songs can be selected individually or streamed continuously like a playlist. Once the user links Twitter #Music to a Twitter account, two additional charts can be accessed: "Suggested," which has artists recommended based on other artists followed on Twitter, and "#NowPlaying," the songs recently played by people followed on Twitter.
But Twitter #Music is hamstrung in two important ways. First, users must subscribe to either Spotify or Rdio to listen to full songs on both the web versions and the iOS app. Non-subscribers can use Twitter #Music for discovery but are limited to brief iTunes samples. This is a problem because consumers are unlikely to flock to a service only to listen to samples. What's left is a relatively small group of people willing to pay for on-demand music. Spotify has about 6 million subscribers worldwide. Rdio has an unknown number of subscribers but the number is much smaller than Spotify’s. So there are probably fewer than 7 million people in the world who have the ability to enjoy Twitter #Music at its fullest. In contrast, any person in the world with an Internet connection can stream music at YouTube and 70 million people listen to Pandora each month.
Twitter's decision to partner with Spotify and Rdio does make sense, however. Using YouTube videos would strip out advertising and violate the company's terms of service unless otherwise authorized. Using popular hosting platform SoundCloud would be impractical because not all songs would be available (plus, it is promotional in nature and doesn't pay royalties to labels or artists). Using on-demand services with large catalogs allows Twitter #Music to provide an uninterrupted stream of music. But unless it finds ways to broaden its potential audience, or until on-demand services get far more paying subscribers, Twitter #Music will serve a limited audience.
Second, the service embraces fans of mainstream and indie music but ignores fans of other genres. The “emerging” chart could theoretically have many genres but like We Are Hunted’s emerging chart, it is dominated by music that sounds like it came from Silver Lake or Brooklyn. There are no charts for genres such as country, hip hop, heavy metal, jazz or classical. Other genres could be added in the future, however. We Are Hunted had genre charts for rap, metal, folk and electronic.
At least Twitter #Music got off to a good start with a clean launch not long after being featured on "Good Morning America" and a mostly functional site (I did experience some problems in loading the "Suggested" and "#NowPlaying" charts). It helped that Twitter stayed quiet on its We Are Hunted acquisition until last weekend. Springing Twitter #Music on the public without months or years of anticipation and hype means expectations have been kept in check.