Music Sharing Apps Begin to Proliferate – But Are They Useful?

Matt Rogers and Ryan Rockefeller
Courtesy Photo

Matt Rogers (L), co-founder and CCO of Radeeus and Ryan Rockefeller (R), co-founder and CEO of Radeeus.

Scott Vener, music supervisor for Entourage, may just have the next big music app -- but that doesn't mean he's without competition. In the past year, a slew of personalized music sharing apps, which allow users to directly send songs via text-based messages (as opposed to opening a streaming app and copying and pasting a link) have invaded the music/tech space with the hope of changing how we collectively listen to music on mobile devices.

The market for apps like Boomio, Rithm, Undrtone, and Radeeus, to name a few, is promising: last year's IFPI report projected mobile listening market penetration to reach 36.2 percent by 2016 from 12.9 percent in 2012. "That equates to two billion potential music service customers worldwide," said EVP of digital partner development at Sony Music, Ole ObermannAnother study argued that there's potential for listeners to move toward collective listening (for example, how Facebook users can listen to friends' Spotify songs that show up in their newsfeed).

Mike Wagman, CEO of Rithm, an app with which users can send each other songs, text-based messages, and custom emojis and stickers, has noticed this music-sharing trend. After launching MavenSay, a Toronto-based social sharing app, he noticed that its music recommendation aspect was the most popular among users and decided to make it a standalone app.

Since launching in beta in July of last year, Rithm has amassed about 3 million users, according to sources (Wagman declined to share numbers or finances.) Right now, its song library is culled exclusively from Soundcloud, which Wagman admits is "not ideal" but says he plans to change their catalog availability as part of a commercial re-launch in February. 

Rithm has often been described (inaccurately, says Wagman) as the "Snapchat of music," but that title belongs to competitor Boomio, which raised $1 million in seed funding this past December. With Boomio, users can send their friends and followers a "boom," a one-song play and text message that leads to the options of either buying the track on iTunes or listening to it again within one's own feed. In Boomio's case, every song is fully licensed; it's part of the idea that listeners are rewarded for supporting the artist, either by purchasing their material or paying it forward to someone else who might.

"While the licensing agreements mirror digital streaming licenses, they also have some unique things," says Boomio co-founder and evp of content Bob Case. "We're teaching new behaviors. The original reason Boomio was created was to build that communal experience of music, like, 'Have you heard the new Kanye record with this guy Paul McCartney?' Music has become so individual in the digital age we lost that communal experience." 

That's also the premise behind yet another permutation, Radeeus, which bills itself as a "global headphones splitter, where users can listen to music together in real-time, no matter where in the world they are." It's the first music venture from Ryan Rockefeller, who co-founded it with childhood friend Matt Rogers. "We were on a train trying to share headphones, and couldn't help but think, 'There's got to be a better way to do this,'" he tells Billboard. "So we ventured into this exploration of proximity-based listening, but soon realized, 'Why limit ourselves to just what's playing around us? It shouldn't matter if you're next to someone or across the globe." 

So they applied a more "scalable" model, enabling users to "broadcast" to followers any music from services like Soundcloud and Spotify. Rockefeller cites its utility for groups running together, or people in long-distance relationships -- "It's surprisingly intimate, even when apart, knowing another person is sharing that moment with you." Though Rockefeller bootstrapped the app, they raised an additional $630,000 in series A funding.

Though it hasn't been a challenge for these apps to find investors with resources and often name recognition, they also first have to convince potential users of their utility. In a blog post in 2013, former Twitter vp of product and Google project manager Satya Patel addressed users' "mental inertia" about apps: "Once a user begins to think of an app as addressing a need well, it's really hard to get him to switch to another app to address the same need, even if it does it 'better'," he writes.

Though he didn't get it quite right about Snapchat, which could reportedly be valued at $10 billion, he does have a point. If mobile consumers are already entrenched in their iMessage and Android chat apps, and view sharing their Spotify habits on Facebook as the only necessary social media aspect of listening to music, then it could be difficult to reach a sustainable adoption threshold; especially since users of these apps have to re-build their friend base from their Facebook friends or contacts list. 

Take last August's ComScore report, for example: the average person's most-used app takes up 42 percent of total app time, and the top three apps account for 69 percent. In other words, it's hard for upstarts -- like, say, music messaging apps -- to gain a foothold. And yet, a younger audience (Wagman estimates Rithm's main users to be between the ages of 18 and 24) has proven quick adopters of messenger apps like Kik, which has been increasing its music presence lately. Maybe millennials are accused of being politically apathetic because they're too busy looking at their screens.