Have you heard of the streaming music service called Songza? I’m going to guess that most of you have used it or are using it right now (as I am). It is relatively new to Canada and in just 70 days it has been downloaded 1 million times and has fed 160 million music streams.
If you haven’t heard of Songza, think of it as a bandwidth-sucking customized radio station that you can listen to on your computer or mobile device. There are plenty of unprofitable competitors in this space right now that have been around much longer and have many more users, features and licensing agreements – including Pandora, Slacker, Spotify and many others. While I question the viability of a business trying to move music from radio frequency – which is essentially free to consumers – into one that costs us for consumption in data fees, there is no doubt that these companies are the test cases for a number of mobile trends that will take shape in the coming months.
Trend #1: The Network Effect
We bought our first MP3 players for a single reason – to play music. There was no sharing, no social engagement. It was a solo experience. Think back to those iconic white headphone iPod commercials – people loaded up their iPods, headed out into the real world only to remain completely isolated.
With services like those mentioned above we are starting to see a social aspect in all of them and music discovery and listening is changing as a result. We still see the headphones, the deadpan stares but the isolation is not as deep. That person could now be listening to a song that was recommended by a friend from half way around the world whom they’ve never met in person. They could be listening to a playlist put together by someone they will never interact with but they share common musical tastes. These companies have ushered in the music discover era and have made the act of putting on noise-dampening headphones and tuning out a social experience.
Trend #2: The Network is the storage
Remember when the size of the hard drive was the single most important selling feature because it meant you could store more songs, more apps, more podcasts, more videos. Remember converting all your CDs into MP3s and transferring them to your device? My last iPhone had 32 gigs of music stored on it. My newest iPhone has none.
I’ve made a conscious effort to conserve space on this device – call it an experiment in lean data hoarding. I bought the iPhone with the smallest storage capacity on purpose. Music was by far the biggest memory hog and I’ve now eliminated it completely leaving more room for podcasts (which will be next to go), apps, videos and photos.
LTE is the reason. I’m lucky enough to have a semblance of it here in Ottawa and I’ve come to rely on it quickly. The speeds make real-time anything an expectation and I plan on taking full advantage of it. This, and a move towards slightly cheaper data charges, are large reasons the cloud has taken centre stage in this first act of the mobile performance and will fuel the age of pervasive computing. Companies like DropBox, Box, Amazon and Apple have sensed the shift happening from local to networked storage and consumers are following.
Trend #3: Location-based data consumption
Location has already been baked into everything we do on our mobile devices today. Every photo, Tweet, Facebook post, call, text message and destination is catalogued and stored somewhere.
Location has become dial tone.
Much of the focus to date has been on the location based marketing efforts but it won’t be long before we turn our attention to location based data consumption. There have been a few examples already of innovative bands offering their music as a location-based experience. You have to be in a specific location to be able to access the music. There have also been a small number of companies that are offering location-tagged audio services. Broadcastr and Talkbits are two that come to mind.
Each of these offerings adds context and an experience to the data. Each also signals the way much of our data will be consumed going forward.
A company like Songza, who’s differentiation is in the way they act as a music concierge, will eventually add a new layer of location to this service. They’ve already got the base to start – they use time of day to determine the type of music they should present you. Next you will see them adding a layer of location to enhance the experience even more. For example, a quick location check upon launch and they will know you are at the gym and tailor the song lists to your preferred workout music. It doesn’t take any imagination to understand what happens next.
Trend #4: Location and context-specific commerce enablement
I know, terrible title but massive impact. A service like Songza, which is currently audio ad free, will eventually realize they must make money (I HAVE been accused of being a genius sometimes). Take location, take time of day and take context — all the things that make mobile and pervasive computing important — and put them into a waiting and willing ear and you have a powerful and relevant experience. Take all that and add an ability to buy with an audio cue through something like Siri and you’ve got people buying at the least likely of places.
There is a goal here. The goal is to close the path to purchase with as few interruptions as possible. Getting a message in front of someone is a simple endeavour, having them convert to a customer is the challenge and, wether my thinking comes true or not, the lesson here is to stop thinking like everything will continue in a linear and predictable manner. It hasn’t. It won’t. And those that think it will are ripe for being disrupted.
What do you think? Are we witnessing the evolution of music discovery or just the evolution of radio?