All the world’s music and no way to figure out what to listen to next. This was the problem with Spotify until today. Its flimsy What’s New and Top Lists discovery channels showed you what’s popular, but there was no way to learn about artists or get recommendations from experts. And the radio feature? Ugh, it followed a great track by UK indie rockers The XX with a 10 year old Creed song. But during the launch of its app platform this morning in New York, Spotify unveiled new integrations that unlock the potential of its massive music catalogue. Last.fm contributes band biographies, Rolling Stone provides celebrity and editor playlists, and Songkick helps users find nearby concerts from their favorite bands. The apps could inspire longer listening sessions that expose users to more ads, get them more attached to their paid accounts, and share more links that drive referral traffic from Facebook.
A core disadvantage of music on demand services is that they put the burden of choice on the listener. Unlike Pandora, which you can fire and forget, Spotify requires attention as users have to pick what to hear next when their current song, album, or playlists ends. If they’re not sure what to pick and are tired of the bands they already know, they can disengage.
But the beauty of Spotify’s comprehensive catalogue and subscription model is that you can listen to anything, and you don’t have to pay for each additional song like with iTunes. This gives discovery on Spotify high potential and low cost, but users need guidance. Rather than try to convince them of its own expertise, Spotify has tapped trusted music services and publications to lead users to the promised band, err, land.
Last.fm was a powerhouse in the days before legitimate streaming on demand. Its scrobbling plugins let users track their listening activity on iTunes, Spotify, and other players. With the launch of its app, listeners will no longer have to skip out to Wikipedia to find out how and where a band formed. Last.fm will leverage its rich music interest graph to create playlists for users based on their previous listening history.
Rolling Stone will also contribute playlists, but these are handcrafted by the magazine’s editors and the artists themselves. Rolling Stone puts out a playlist issue each year, and inevitably someone collects the MP3s of each list and starts torrenting them to others. Rolling Stone’s Spotify app will make listening to Bono’s favorite David Bowie songs easier than piracy.
There’s a debate over whether Spotify’s streaming royalties can financially support bands. I believe the key is using cheap or free listening to get people loving bands and then paying big bucks to go to their shows and buy their t-shirts. Songkick‘s new Concerts app for Spotify formalizes this flow, allowing users to discover and buy tickets for nearby shows by the bands they’re listening to. Songkick’s co-founder and CEO Ian Hogarth tells me “The average American goes to 1 concert a year. We want to get them to go to 5 shows a year.”
Other partners that will be launching apps include TuneWiki, The Guardian, Dagbladet, Hunted, Soundrop, Top10, Billboard, Fuse, Gaffa, Pitchfork, ShareMyPlaylists, Tunigo, and Moodagent.
Spotify seems to be following in Facebook’s footsteps. Rather than divert attention building niche functionality, it has opened a development platform so it can concentrate on the core product. Every music publication and startup should be thinking what they could do with access to Spotify’s library. Imagine playlists based on your location, Facebook Likes, or Twitter updates. Recommendation apps that pair music with your current mood or meal. Printed poster collages of your favorite bands. T-shirt suggestions. Hogarth tells me, “A ton of creativity was unleashed by the Facebook platform, by the iPhone platform. This is going make developers excited about music again.”