I got back from SXSW last week and started thinking back on the experience, and, being the nerd that I am, what apps I used. I hardly touched Twitter (not focused enough on people near me), I didn’t use Facebook (I hardly ever do), I didn’t open Yobongo (had enough people I already know to talk to). I had one Beluga pod going (never wound up seeing anyone in it), and one GroupMe group (for all the Eventbrite folks). I checked FourSquare when I wasn’t sure what show to go to (at least a couple times a day). Good ol’ SMS proved to be my killer app, but a new app called Soundtracking was a close second.
Soundtracking lets you post any song (be it playing on your iPod, playing around you, or just playing in your head) along with a photo, a location, a photo, and a message. It also (optionally) lets you share all those things in a nice polaroid-like format to Twitter, Facebook, and FourSquare. Within SoundTracking, you can follow other users (a key point — follow is the right paradigm for music sharing, not friend) and either like, love, or comment on their SoundTracks.
Why it worked so well for me at SXSW was because it streamlined my outbound communication. In seconds, I could give whomever I wanted a snapshot of where I was and what band I was watching, in a more media-rich format than was ever available before (you can listen to a 90 second iTunes sample when you check out someone’s SoundTrack, which, as it turns out, is almost always plenty).
The key to SoundTracking’s success, and why I think it stands to take off beyond where any music check-in app could otherwise go, is it’s realization that the music isn’t what most people want to share — music is just an important part of many moments, and those moments are what people want to share. Most people still listen to Top 40, and those songs aren’t interesting to share because everyone else is listening to them on repeat as well. However, a Top 40 song as part of a unique moment is totally worth sharing (ask your parents about a Beatles moment).
This point is proven by the Trending section of the SoundTracking app — I would wager every album on there has been in the Top 40. It’s also why 90 second samples work — almost everyone usually knows the song already, and all you’re really checking out is a moment anyway.
What’s important about SoundTracking is it represents the start of a new form of music distribution — horizontal integration. You might think SoundTracking is a music app, but it’s not — it’s a moment sharing app, like Path or Instagram or many others, but with music as its killer feature.
Music as a feature is incredibly exciting. It represents a new era of distribution for recorded music, allowing music to be plugged into more parts of life. It began with indie rock songs being licensed for commercials (without mention of the words “sell out”), and music of all shapes and sizes being licensed for video games and movies. Soon, we’ll see distribution through any number of apps, many of which will have very little to do with music or “the industry.” It seems to me like Google is best positioned to come in and set distribution open with a slew of APIs, but the opportunity is there for anyone.
What’s exciting to me about this future beyond the health of music as a profitable endeavor is it represents the first chance the music business has to go down a path that books and movies will struggle to follow — being purely auditory, music naturally has more applications, and so should be distributed as widely online as it is in real life.