Business Matters: The Limits of #music

Twitter's #music service is a smart tactical move and a decent music discovery tool. Available in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, #music is likely to become a staple of music industry bragging rights. But widespread adoption could be difficult.

Twitter's acquisition of We Are Hunted, which resulted in the development of #music, makes strategic sense. Because #music's charts are created from Twitter activity, the service reinforces the idea that artists should make Twitter a primary social media tool. The more people are talking about and sharing an artist's music, the higher that artist will land on its charts.

Charts equal bragging rights. Expect to see artists and labels gloating about a position on #music. In fact, this is already happening. A Facebook-sponsored post by Austin-based musician Nakia implored people to tweet the hashtag #NakiaMusic so that his song "Tight" could move higher than No. 73. The manager for pop act Secondhand Serenade used email to let people know the artist's song "Shake It Off" had reached No. 1 on #music.

We Are Hunted was a clean, well-crafted music discovery tool that created charts based on online chatter in a variety of places. Twitter's #music retains its simplicity and elegance but builds its charts--each 140 entries long--only from Twitter activity. As a result, #music is an up-to-date snapshot of social chatter about music. Like We Are Hunted, #music requires almost no effort on the user's part. It just works. There are two main charts, "Popular" and "Emerging," where songs are laid out like a mosaic. Tracks can be selected individually or streamed continuously like a playlist.

Some tech blogs have criticized Twitter for "attempting to force itself into the foreground" and fretted that "an influx of music-related tweets would only add more crap for users to wade through." But Twitter is already in the foreground. It's already a place where conversation happens on a large scale. It's a focal point of marketing campaigns. It's so important that companies exist to artificially increase a user's follower count.

But #music may not be a popular destination. It's not Twitter's move to be a media company. Twitter does have ambitions to be a media company of sorts--its comedy festival with Comedy Central, for example--but #music isn't a media play in a traditional sense. The service doesn't create or license content, it's merely a reflection of existing Twitter activity. Nor is #music poised to overtake YouTube or Pandora as a source of music discovery. Users can only stream snippets of songs unless they pay for on-demand subscription services Spotify or Rdio.


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