We’ve all been there. That Hall & Oates/Raekwon/Country Teasers record has been your default go-to for weeks now. You need something else. This creative rut, and the more pressing required moment of headphone solitude, needs a new soundtrack. But with deadlines closing in and similar plugged-in cubicle drones all that’s within sight, there’s hardly the time or resources to trawl through the entire world of music to find something worth listening to.
Naturally, you’ll probably turn to the Internet. More precisely, that default Facebook chat group. “any new music recommendations?”. And of course, within a few Internet moments small collections of URLs are fired back. Bandcamp, Pitchfork ‘Best New Music’, an attached MP3. Data mayhem. With little connecting information or context.
So, you’ve refined the search at least. But half these guys work for record labels. The others have vested interests and terrible taste in music. You consider going public. A Facebook post baiting for “currents favs”, accompanied by a music note and thumbs-up emoji to ensure maximum reach. But, in addition to the potential social embarrassment of a public question eliciting zero responses, your Facebook friend list is an even wilder bunch. Musicians, parents-in-law, distant Irish cousins. There’s no way you’re getting anything useful from that.
Enter: 25 Most Played. A new iOS app aimed to help you sort through the junk and minimise the time spent searching for something worthwhile to listen to. “It’s all about fan-based music distribution”, explains 25 Most Played’s founder/CEO Anthony Gardiner down the phone from his New Zealand office when pushed for his 10-second elevator pitch, before quickly adding that “the main point we’re pushing is that at the moment we’re a music discovery service.”
Music charts have become embarrassingly archaic. Primarily based on sales, they’re more accurately defined as a snapshot of the best songs as judged by those that still still purchase music. Add to that the increasingly globalisation of music itself (thanks, Internet) and you’ve got the starting point for methodology behind the 25 Most Played app. “We’ve got users in New Zealand, Australia, America, England, even Turkey. We’re getting enough data, even from such a small dataset, to pull out some interesting stuff”, Gardiner explains with obvious excitement, adding that “a couple of weeks into the test phase, Rolling Stones popped up in the worldwide ’25 Most Played’ for one week.”
Gardiner sees this as the system’s main differentiating point. Whereby, the fleeting, hot-right-now mentality shouldn’t be the only measuring stick. “Rolling Stones are still popular these days, but charts only generally look at music sales, which I think is a flawed sample. Especially these days with everyone migrating over to streaming services. The data is there, it’s just never been accessed before in this way. In the past they had to go off sales because thats the only information they could get.”
25 Most Played is built off the back of two of the big boys – iTunes and Facebook. “When people install our app, they register using their Facebook data”, Gardiner explains of the simple process. “We store all their social information – who their friends are, their location, age and things like that – then, our app sends a little file to our database once a week and once we have that information, we merge it with the social information from Facebook to create really powerful data sets that the users can then customise to create really relevant charts.”
These redefined ‘charts’ allow users be create feeds of recommendations based on customised Facebook friendship groups (ie. those with good taste and no ulterior motives) as well as specific cities and countries. In this age of information overload, these charts are the much-needed filtering mechanism to iTunes’ 40 million plus song database, which 25 Most Played has complete access to.
The app’s development, which has been “about a four years project” for Gardiner from inception to it’s launch earlier this month, has been assisted greatly — and surprisingly — by Apple. “They’ve been fantastic to deal with”, Gardiner bluntly states, adding that they’re not nearly as “faceless” as they seem.
Gardiner theorises that the reason for their above-and-beyond assistance is at least in part because of their lack of online social identity. “Apple is fairly ‘unsocial’ as a company, no criticism meant by that, but they don’t have a Facebook page, or a Twitter account. The way our service has taken their data and merged it with a social platform [Facebook] is probably something that they’ve deliberately shied away from – for whatever reason – so for me to be able act as a confluent between these two big services, and big data sets, has been advantageous for them.”
The benefit for Apple comes from the app’s primary monetisation strategy, where people are able to listen to 30-second sample of songs and then, if they like what they hear, can purchase the song from iTunes directly within the app. 25 Most Played get a small cut from each sale, which although Gardener stresses is “peanuts”, he’s optimistic it’ll add up over time.
Which highlights the main hurdle 25 Most Played face – they need users. Not only to ensure cash flow, but also to make the app function as best as it can. It’s a classic chicken-and-egg scenario, where the quality of the product and how attractive it is to users is reliant on the number of users. In small networks – where only a few of your Facebook friends have installed the app – the data is still there, but isn’t particular rich. Of course, the value of the information you can personally extract from the app grows exponentially with every additional person within your network that joins. But it’s getting to that point which presents itself as the most obvious initial challenge.
However, Gardiner views their main issue as breaking the existing connotations associated with the description ‘music app’. “There’s going to be a bit of an educational piece”, he concedes, “Some of the initial feedback we’ve had from punters on the street is that when you say it’s a music app they say ‘oh, like Spotify’. Our app isn’t designed to replace any of the existing platforms, but in partnership with them. Even if you don’t use iTunes anymore, you can still have a look and use our service to then go and listen to music on whatever platform you’re comfortable with. Ours isn’t a replacement service but designed to compliment other platforms.”
For now at least, the app will remain intrinsically connected to iTunes. While the 25 Most Played developers have had a “pretty good ‘dig’ around the Rdio and Spotify APIs” the company’s current position is to wait and see what happens with the forthcoming, rumoured iTunes streaming service. The well-held belief at the moment is that Apple will relaunch and rebrand the recently purchased Beats music service as a brand new streaming platform and release it alongside it’s iOS 9 update towards the end of the year. While Gardiner is quick to clarify they haven’t ruled out future integration with a different streaming service, it makes the most sense for them to hedge their bets that Apple will most likely utilise their existing iTunes library for the rebranded Beats service, rather than build an entire new music database. If that is the case, 25 Most Played are well-positioned to seamlessly integrate their existing data within the services functionality.
Before that, 25 Most Played are focused on further refining their product in their “own backyard” — Australia and New Zealand — ahead of future overseas launches. You can download the app for desktop, tablet and mobile here. If you’re also a fan of our Facebook page your favourite songs will be automatically collated into a special chart of our readers favourite songs. The results of which we’ll be revealing in the coming months.