Since being founded in March 2006, no social media outlet has done more to connect artists and fans than Twitter. The 140-character tweets have pushed musical artists to the front of the direct-to-fan revolution. In fact, out of the top ten personalities on Twitter, seven of them are musical artists1. This dynamic has not gone unnoticed.
In March 2013, Twitter announced that they would be releasing a new stand-alone music discovery app called Twitter #Music. The Australian-based music data company We Are Hunted provided the technology, which was originally used to collected data from music blogs and Internet radio stations and then establish artist rankings in a Billboard-style chart. Twitter quietly bought We Are Hunted late in 20123.
Twitter #Music takes advantage of the heavy usage Twitter gets from musicians and fans and filters data from their activity into charts. Activity generated by a well-known artist’s music is picked up on Twitter’s “Popular” chart; lesser-known talent is placed in the “Emerging” chart.2 In addition, Twitter users are also given access to two other listings. The “#Suggested” Chart” is based off artists that users follow on Twitter, while the “#NowPlaying” chart shows music recently played by people a user follows on Twitter2. The Twitter #Music plays the iTunes preview of a song within the app. The full version of the song is available only for subscribers of Spotify or Rdio.
By April 2013, Twitter launched the Twitter #Music app for iOS. After endorsements and support from Good Morning America and celebrities such as Ryan Seacrest, Wiz Khalifa, and Jason Mraz, many Twitter users were expectant. Upon release, Twitter #Music rose to #6 on Apple’s free app rankings. The heaviest usage and interaction with this app came from Internet radio stations–which led to a huge jump in the use of #NowPlaying as a hashtag to share music. On the first day, Chris Brown, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Lil Wayne were the top tweeted artists.
Reports showed that Spotify was the most predominant source of shared music, closely followed by iTunes and more distantly by Rdio4. Immediate reactions to Twitter #Music were also evenly divided between positive and negative. Negative reviews critiqued the lack of Android support, while positive reviews centered on excitement over the new app4.
Just a few months before Twitter #Music, Twitter had released another program, Vine, which allowed users to post short 6-second videos within their tweets. Vine quickly rose to #4 in Apple’s app store and is now #24 as well as #2 in Social Networking 5. Vine has performed much better than Twitter #Music, which is currently #293 in music and is not listed in the top 1,500 apps.
The reasons are not hard to find. First, Twitter #Music was always a stand-alone app; Jason Feinberg, Epitaph Records VP of digital strategy, said the exclusion from the Twitter app made it foreign to Twitter users. 7 Second, there was no music player for Twitter #Music. If a listener wanted to listen to a song, she either got the iTunes preview or was taken to a Spotify or Rdio player—which, of course, directed her away from the familiarity of the Twitter app. Finally, Twitter #Music lacked diversity. Its charts did not cover a broad spectrum of sound. Most of it was indie alternative or up-and-coming hip-hop music. “You [have] a list of very obvious stuff that the masses [are] engaged with, and another list of indie cool, tastemaker tracks, but nothing in the middle”, said Feinberg. He added: “It [is] missing 60%-70% of the things people [are] interested in.”7 (Twitter has since added extra charts to cover more musical ground, but first impressions are hard to shake. Except for a new playlist link to iTunes, much of the Twitter #Music’s recent activity has come from Spotify.)
Early in November, on occasion of Twitter’s much-publicized IPO, it was felt that the company would discontinue Twitter #Music to minimize risk for investors. Since then, however, Twitter’s success collecting about $1.8 billion, for a total company valuation of $14 billion has, it seems, energized its music division.
It appears that it will now be folded into the full Twitter app and included as a new feed, along with news, TV, and movies7. Twitter would use this information to more effectively target advertising, especially, to its music inclined users under the new leadership of Bob Moczydlowsky, former senior VP of product marketing at Topspin Media, the storied new media marketing service. Twitter #Music, in short, might not be lingering in the shade for much longer.
Certainly, Twitter will have to do more than curate charts if it is to create a community of real-time, in-the-know, music fans. Corey Denis, founder of Not Shocking, a San Francisco-based music marketing firm, has remarked that Twitter can operate at both ends of the music transaction, both serving the artist and the fan. The two are indeed strong users of the platform. Given its increased popularity, Twitter could end up officiating over an arranged marriage or a marriage that is truly made in heaven. Neither would be neutral for the music business.
By Dan Servantes
1. Sisario, Ben. “Twitter to End Its Music App, Which Never Made Much Noise.” The New York Times. October 21, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/22/business/media/twitter-to-end-its-music-app-which-never-made-much-noise.html?_r=1&
2. Peoples, Glenn. “Business Matters: Twitter #Music Has Potential – But It’s Limited.” Billboard. April 18, 2013. http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/digital-and-mobile/1558821/business-matters-twitter-music-has-potential-but-its
3. Newton, Casey. “Twitter acquires We Are Hunted, readies standalone music app.” CNET. March 13, 2013. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-57573859-94/twitter-acquires-we-are-hunted-readies-standalone-music-app/
4. Gruger, William. “A Look at Twitter #Music’s First 24 Hours.” Billboard. April 20, 2013. http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/digital-and-mobile/1559004/a-look-at-twitter-musics-first-24-hours
5. “Vine” http://www.appannie.com/apps/ios/app/592447445/ App Annie
6. “Twitter #music [app]” http://www.appannie.com/apps/ios/app/twitter-music/ App Annie
7. Pham, Alex. “Reports of Twitter Music’s Death Greatly Exaggerated.” Billboard. October 25, 2013. http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/5770536/reports-of-twitter-musics-death-greatly-exaggerated-from-the-magazine