Twitter #Music, Hands-On: The Good and the Bad

Twitter music was already a concept long before it was an application, so it comes as little surprise that Twitter’s new #music app is built top to bottom around how users already interact with music on Twitter. 

#Music arrives with the potential to streamline the way the music-consumption process happens within the Twitter ecosystem by focusing on habits that have been slowly developed over the seven years Twitter has existed. In this regard, it succeeds by taking a simple, list-based approach to song curation while simultaneously giving fans instantaneous access to artists on Twitter and the ability to discover new music through them.

The basics of the service are covered in our initial story, but here’s a deeper look.

THE GOOD

Until today Twitter only had its trending topics to direct users to what was popular, and these are only sometimes music-specific; #Music not only separates “Popular” music from the pack, it identifies “Emerging” artists as well. These are designed to be dynamic, updating constantly to stay in touch with the ever-changing musical landscape. 

The value a user derives from Twitter is entirely based on who they follow, and the #Music’s cover art-based interface leaves the user no more than two clicks away from following or tweeting about any artist they discover within the app.

By default, iTunes powers 30-second clips of each song within the app, but by authorizing Spotify or Rdio, users can listen to songs in their entirety. Playing a song on #Music will count as a simultaneous use of the service, so using Twitter #Music on your phone will pause your desktop instance of Spotify.

Rdio has since announced a special promotion that gives users a discount in order to get them to try the full #Music experience.

The last two sections, “Suggested” and “#NowPlaying,” are only available after signing in to Twitter and are curated entirely based on the user, who they follow, and how they interact. The “Suggested” list will serve up artists followed by those you follow, and “#NowPlaying” will serve up specific songs they tweet about. Follow more people who follow artists and tweet about songs, and these sections will improve over time.

One of the most powerful engines of recommendation are artists themselves behaving as curators. Click on any artist right below their portrait (which contains their top song) and a list of other artists that they follow is revealed. 

THE BAD

Two glaring cons of the service are how Twitter determines which accounts belong to artists, and which tweets actually include music.

The subheader for the “#NowPlaying” section suggests that it is music “Tweeted by people you follow,” but it’s unclear as to what exactly this entails. A quick cross reference between the music in the app and the Twitter feed of the person who Tweeted it (shown by a tiny thumbnail) reveals that direct links to Spotify and Rdio will easily allow the tweet to surface as music. Spotify and Rdio contain most but not all acts. Bandcamp, Bandpage, blogs, Soundcloud and particularly YouTube stand as glaring gaps of sources of new music that, when tweeted about on its own, may not register within the application. (Twitter has said that it is exploring relationships with other music services.) 

For example, a tweet from Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (@blobtower on Twitter) reveals that he tweeted about a song called “Tiff” by Polica. The tweet itself mentioning @thisispolica is a retweet containing a link to a Pitchfork article that only contains a Soundcloud link to the song.

The service also doesn’t allow users to break down music by genre – i.e. users can’t search for “hip-hop” or “jazz” – only artists, and defaults overwhelmingly to popular and indie music. (See Glenn Peoples' take for more on this.)  

Furthermore, as pointed out by David Greenwald, in order for a song to even show up within the app it needs to be tweeted about first. This makes #Music more of a spotlight, rather than a true discovery mechanism.  

Last, if an artist’s music isn’t in iTunes, Spotify or Rdio, it may show up as “unavailable” within the app and interrupts the user’s experience. 

Overall, by leveraging the already active and dedicated music community, Twitter #Music is one of the best applications when it comes to a no-frills approach to exploring music on a track level. However, its growing pains, particularly with regard to search and genres, make its initial incarnation a work in progress.