Moving Past The Jukebox Model


Spotify announced today that it’s acquiring two companies: Soundwave and Cord Project. Both are small-ish startups, founded in the last couple of years, that have won accolades for their design chops. Soundwave in particular makes perfect sense for Spotify. It’s a social tool for finding, sharing, and talking about music, which are all things Spotify would like to be as well. Cord Project is a more curious fit: it’s an audio-first messaging app, a sort of walkie-talkie for the smartphone age.

What Cord really did—what founders Thomas Gayno and Jeff Baxter do best—is design audio experiences. “For years,” Gayno says, “we’ve been listening to music on phones and on laptops kind of the way we listen to music on our hifi stereo, by just looking for a song and hitting play.” We find and listen to music like we’re at the world’s biggest jukebox. Spotify has recently started experimenting with variations on that form, with features like Running and Party and the brand-new Behind the Lyrics feature it created with the folks at Genius. They’re trying to do more than just find you music you’ll like—they want to change the way you experience it altogether. That’s a hard problem to solve.

Through The Echo Nest’s incredibly detailed tech and its years of usage data, Spotify has a ridiculous trove of data about much more than just music. The Cord crew is the start of a new team at Spotify dedicated to turning that data into entirely new kinds of auditory experiences, “leveraging all the amazing technology that is available on my MacBook Pro, on my iPhone, all these things,” Gayno says. “The accelerometer, the geo-localization, all the social network data I have provided, is available for Spotify to create a compelling music experience.”

“The place to innovate is on the consumption side,” Baxter says. “So we’re still working on that. It’s still, what are unique ways that you can serve up audio to people, on phones, but also on devices of the future?” It’s not enough to have 30 million tracks in your library anymore. The streaming wars will be won by the company with the best experience, the best discovery, the best tools for listening to the right thing at the right time in the right way.

As SoundCloud seems to be moving towards Spotify’s model, Spotify in turn appears to be implementing tools for more SoundCloud-like interaction among users. And the idea of playlists and suggestions based on one’s activity, location, and such is intriguing. The streaming wars are apparently moving on from who’s the best at ‘discovery’ and into the social, user-experience terrain. Apple has had a history with social integration in their music services but, with the failure of Ping and the underwhelmed reaction to Connect, it’s an area that’s still up for grabs.

Soundwave presents some interesting concepts that Spotify could easily adopt. Here’s an interview with Soundwave co-founder Craig Watson on an episode of the Music Biz Podcast from a few months back:

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