If you’re looking for a new way to discover great indie music without having to spend hours digging through SoundCloud or Spotify playlists, a new app called Wonder can help. The app is the mobile extension of Wonder.fm, a music site created by We Are Hunted’s co-founder Stephen Phillips, who sold his earlier startup to Twitter where it later – and briefly – served as the basis of Twitter Music.
Phillips has since stepped back from Wonder.fm, which launched back in 2014, and now serves as an advisor. Today, Wonder is managed by David Lowry, a co-founder at Hydric Media, which is where the mobile app got its start.
Lowry previously worked at We Are Hunted, as did his business partner at Hydric Media, Eoin McCarthy.
Hydric Media may not be a household name known to consumers, but this technology studio has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands in the music business, including Spotify, eMusic, Sony, Bose, Viacom’s MTV, Gracenote, Echo Nest, and others. The company focuses on client work – building apps and other branded experiences, as well as offering consultation on app development projects.
For example, Hydric Media worked with Spotify on its efforts to collaborate with other brands. It did product development work for Echo Nest prior to its Spotify acquisition. It built the MTV Artists app for Viacom, the eMusic Android app, and more.
Client work continues to be the focus of Hydric Media, despite the launch of Wonder.
As Lowry explains to TechCrunch, Wonder was meant to showcase what the company is capable of producing on mobile – they didn’t intend for it to really take off as a hot, new consumer app of its own.
“Wonder is like our calling card – it shows what we can do, not only on the tech side in terms of discovery, recommendation and the backend, but also the front end,” he says.
Apple, however, began featuring Wonder on the App Store’s homepage shortly after its launch this month, which has sent the startup thousands of downloads. (It’s in the “teens” of thousands, notes Lowry). The app is also available on Android, but not as popular.
The way Wonder works to surface the best new indie tunes comes from being built on top of SoundCloud’s platform. The app uses a combination of tech and human curation to determine which tracks should be featured.
On the tech side, Wonder goes deeper than looking at metrics such as SoundCloud “likes” or plays. It also looks at other data, including likes per play, likes per hour, and more. In addition, if a track from an artist that’s previously been in the top five appears, that would be noted, too.
Wonder’s human curators – in-house employees who also work on other Hydric Media projects – vet the tracks Wonder’s algorithm suggests twice per day, acting as gatekeepers of a sort.
“Our tech highlights to our curators what tracks we deem interesting,” Lowry explains. “We tried doing it tech only, but we weren’t getting the quality we wanted.”
The curators don’t create the charts, however – they don’t have the power of editors. “The data takes over and actually determines the charts,” Lowry notes.
Because the app is meant as more of a demonstration of Hydric Media’s talent, and because it’s built on top of SoundCloud, the company has no immediate plans to try to have the app make money. The firm will continue to focus on its various client projects, which allow it to fund Wonder’s current development. The company has not taken in outside funding.
That said, Hydric Media does have plans to expand Wonder’s brand in the future. Its chart data is now being used to program a playlist of indie music on Spotify under the Wonder.fm brand, which will be refreshed weekly. There are only a few dozen people following this playlist today, and the algorithm behind it is still being refined, Lowry notes. That’s why the company hasn’t made a big announcement about it at this time.