SoundTracking, the iOS and Android app with 2 million active users that lets users share with others the music they are listening to, is releasing an update today that takes the app to a new level of usefulness. It is adding song requests and dedications; hashtag support to track trending topics; support for new languages; and, in a move that makes it more competitive with Shazam, automatic music recognition by way of its deal with Gracenote. The new features are all about improving discovery, but they are also signs of how, while the app remains free to download and use, it is adding in functionality to prepare for a time when it will be focusing more on generating revenue.
“We are exploring other forms of monetization in the future in terms of premium music features,” Steve Jang, co-founder and CEO of developer Schematic Labs, said in an interview. For now, revenue is limited to cuts SoundTracking gets from affiliate deals with iTunes and RDIO for download sales and subscriptions. But with the iOS and Android apps now coming with local editions for Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Japanese and Korean languages, Schematic is raising its game with how it scales out the service, aiming first for countries where the English language edition has already picked up traction.
The recommendation and request feature has been one of the most requested features on the app, Jang says. Think of it as the (“more furtive and private” says Jang) equivalent of the direct messaging feature on Twitter: while the main SoundTracking app lets you broadcast to your friends and contacts your own music — and in turn post those details on social networks like Twitter — the requests and dedications is a way of sending a link directly to friends, in the form a private dedication. Schematic, incidentally, is also including the converse of this kind of direct messaging: users can also block others now if they start to sound a little too much like a broken record, or hit a bum note. Deleting notes is now also possible in case you are guilty of either of these.
Hashtag support, meanwhile, is something that SoundTracking is adding in response to social-media-friendly SoundTrackers using them anyway. “People have been adding hashtags in SoundTracking for a while,” Jang says, “so we finally decided to add official support for it.”
What that will mean is that users will now be able to click into hashtags within the SoundTracking app itself to see other people’s posts around a particular topic. While requests are all about strengthening relationships on a one-on-one level, hashtags opens up SoundTracking to becoming a significantly more dynamic platform, giving users who are not otherwise connected a way of tuning in to each other.
This is an important part of building up the SoundTracking brand and platform, to keep it from being less of a piggy-backer on other social networks. Jang tells me that currently, more than 90% of SoundTracking’s music activity is shared externally into social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare. He sees this as a positive for now: “This is what differentiates our experience as a sharing and discovery focused service versus a playback-focused app,” he says. “Most music services are more lean-back passive experiences, and songs and stations are generally shared by users less than 1% of the time.”
Hashtags also points to another important current for Schematic: how it may one day incorporate advertising and marketing services. One of the most popular on SoundTracking today is #nowplaying, but you can see how SoundTracking could get used by brands use hashtags to promote campaigns, as they do on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. It’s not something that Jang rules out when I ask about it: “Hashtags are great for brands and for anyone who is interested in getting the word out for a community in an integrated and native way,” he says.
Music recommendation furthers what hashtags introduce: it is a way of using the platform to pull in new information to your stream as much as push out your own. The feature, Jang says, has been created using an integration with Gracenote and the new product, musicID, has been jointly created. The version in this new release is much faster and now works continuously and is automatic. Trying it out, it’s not unlike Shazam’s music recognition service in terms of how well and quickly it works. It also gives Soundtracking more functionality, as you can now use it to help discover something catchy that you hear but do not know. (And for now, it’s ad-free.)
All of this is to help the app pick up more users, and also get current SoundTrackers using the app more. Jang says that currently, 127 songs per second are shared, liked, loved, or listened on SoundTracking, with location (and the mobile element of SoundTracking) playing a big role: more than 60% of “music moments” are tagged by users with a city, neighborhood, or venue.
In future, we may see more music consumption on the platform. Jang says the company’s “Song of The Day” beta — free, full-length streams of a new single from an emerging artist, curated by staff and then delivered via push notification to our mobile app users — has been “going well.”
“It drives immediate new awareness of the selected artist and album and drives directly into both a viral sharing dynamic and also album sales and pre-orders via iTunes,” he notes. Artists in the beta have included Phoenix, Avicii, Fall Out Boy, and Pretty Lights.
Jang says that there have also been some unexpected trends emerging as SoundTracking has grown. For example, running the new features in a limited beta, they’ve found out that some people have actually started to connect with previously-unknown people through hashtags, and then use the dedication feature to get more connected, before eventually going offline and attending music gigs together and eventually dating each other.
It will be interesting to see whether and how Schematic may leverage this kind of detail, but for now it is a clear sign of how “affinity networks” — social networks arranged around specific interests, a focus point for VCs today — indeed do have a lot of potential in a world where more general interest platforms may become too noisy.