The phrase Tinder for X is something that gets thrown around a lot. Perhaps not as much as the Uber for X phrase but the former has definitely percolated into everyday conversations about nouveau-business ideas and entrepreneurship. All of this stems from what Tinder has popularized - the swipe. You left-swipe if you dislike something and right-swipe for the contrary. That is primarily the crux of Tinder's MO (I'm laying this out in the off chance of you being a troglodyte). Apart from match-making, this swiping mechanism has found some favor in the job-seekers industry. There are a few companies like Switch and like Super (which is closer to home) who employ this very Tinder-esque method of matching potential candidates with recruiting companies. While this paragraph sets the broad context of the Tinder business model, what I'm about to dive into is its specific application to music discovery.
I'll have you know that I love my music. Music discovery for me has primarily been through forums, news websites and in general talking about bands/genres with peers. This has been something that I have been actively indulging in for fifteen years. Naturally, seeing a news headline titled "X is tinder for music discovery" piqued my interest. I discovered more apps claiming to help discover music in similar fashion. In order to give them the benefit of the doubt, I decided to try a handful of such tools. To give you a brief on how they work, read on.
The Best Song: I came across this article on TechCrunch where they claim to be the tinder for music discovery. Best Song gives you the option to start your music-discovery journey by either selecting a genre or a top-40 list or other curated lists. It will then proceed to play a 30 second sample of a song. A left swipe changes the song sample while a right swipe will save the song to a list. Based on the track you liked, it will play a song which you *might* enjoy.
Choosic: This app unfortunately doesn't give you a clear starting point. It follows the same left/right swipe mechanism as the aforementioned Best Song. On the flip side, Choosic plays complete songs, which are essentially tracks from Soundcloud.
Next: This was coincidentally created by a Tinder co-founder. Next currently caters only to the itunes ecosystem. The app was created with the aim to showcase local talent on a bigger stage. The app will play a 30 second video sample for you to left/right swipe. Full songs are available on the artist's profile. Compared to the previous apps, Next is loaded with features. You can upload music, create an artist account, discover people with similar music tastes and scan leader-boards of artist rankings. This has been by the far the most promising app I've come across but not from the context of "music discovery". It can definitely be seen as an enabler for local talent.
Trackstack: This app which started off as a university project has been garnering attention on the interweb. Trackstack is still only in beta and is yet to be available to the public. The app asks the user to select a genre followed by a release date (year) before shooting off music recommendations. Trackstack streams its music from SoundCloud, BeatPort and Youtube.
Will I use any of these apps though? Slim chance. From a personal use case, I see a few fundamental issues with how these apps function.
- Reference point: I like a good starting point other than the very obvious 'genre' choice. While selecting a genre seems very intuitive, I'd like to have more options like choosing my favorite band and finding other bands linked through the same band members. What about artists signed on the same label? What about a geographical filter? There are many such possibilities and I guess with the right permutation and combination, you can give the user a good start for discovering new music.
- Database of songs: It goes without saying that for a music recommendation app to be adequately functional, its database of songs should be up-to-date, complete and licensed. It should cater to the mainstream, the obscure, international and the local artists alike. While using Best Song or Choosic, I found a dearth of fresh music to scroll through. After the fourth or fifth swipe, I'd come across either remixes of popular songs or what may seem like songs from only underground artists. There are only so many techno remixes of Adele's songs that I can stomach before ultimately un-installing your app?! I guess the reason for this is the licensing angle behind streaming music online. Unless you reach last.fm-like levels in terms of your database of songs, this won't fly.
- Correlation: I guess I'm being a little nit-picky here but I'd like to know why am I being made to listen to a particular song after a swipe. I'd like to know the correlation between the previously liked song and the current song being played for me. Is it because X number of people also enjoyed the next song? Is it only because of the similarities in the genre? It certainly plays an important role for the user to appreciate the underlying algorithm of the app.
Song samples: Call me old school but can one really form an opinion on an artist by listening to just one song, let alone a sample of 30 seconds? It's bad enough that people don't listen to full albums any more. I guess I'm questioning the very nature of these apps. By offering more information on the artist/band, it might be help the user make a better informed swipe.
There are plenty of other online resources to aid in music discovery. Here's a thread on Reddit which lists those tools. In this post I've only examined the Tinder-like apps and not covered the juggernauts of online streaming such as Spotify or Pandora. To sum up, it is still early for these apps to gain traction. I surmise the hullabaloo on 'music discovery' will still find fervour on online press because of its novelty, but it'll take a while for an app to cement itself as a successful Tinder equivalent for music.