Here come the music apps

May 12, 2010

As a music application developer, I  have long been vexed by a problem that has made building and releasing a music application very difficult –where do I get the music? A music application needs music – but adding music  to an application is very hard.  I really have  just a few choices:  (1) I can use unlicensed content and hope nobody notices, (2) I can try to make the deals with the labels, (3) I can restrict my app to non-demand radio and pay per-stream royalties,  or (4) I can just skip the music.  None of these options is very appealing to me – If my application gets popular I will either get sued by the labels or swamped by music licensing fees.  It is better for me if no one notices my app at all. Even resources like album art and 30 second samples are tightly held by the content owners.

What a crazy world!   We are at this incredible point in the history of music with millions of tracks at our fingertips. Now more than ever, we need new ways to explore, organize and share music – but any kind of creativity in this space is stymied.  I could build the coolest music app in the world that could help millions of people connect with music, but without a source of legal content, my application will never see the light of day.    In my last year while working at the Echo Nest, I’ve seen some really amazing music applications made by very creative developers. These are apps that would make your jaw drop – but you’ll never see them. The apps are languishing on the virtual shelf because there’s no good way to get legal content for the apps.

This weekend at Music Hack Day San Francisco we are going to change this. We are going to make it possible for developers to build applications around music content and release the applications to the world without having to worry about music licensing.  To do this, we are working with Play.me a new digital music service that offers on-demand music.  With the Echo Nest / Play.me program a developer can write music applications using all of the usual Echo Nest APIs – and include streaming content from the millions of songs in the  Play.me catalog. Play.me is very generous with its content giving a user 5 hours per week of on-demand music (once a user goes beyond their 5 hour allotment, full-streams are replaced with 30 second streams). Play.me’s strategy here is simple – they hope that by encouraging innovative applications built around their content they will attract more paying subscribers who get access to unlimited streams.    The Echo Nest and Play.me platforms are well integrated letting developers write apps that take advantage of all the deep Echo Nest data – artist similarities, news, reviews, blogs, bios, images, video and even our deep track-level music analysis for every artist and track in the Play.me catalog.  This is a big deal for music application developers.  We can finally build applications around real music without having to worry about being sued or going broke paying licensing fees if our apps get popular.  And if our application brings new subscribers to Play.me, we can make money through an affiliate program.  (Here’s the fine print – Play.me is currently US only (sorry, rest of the world), and to hear the full streams you need to register with Play.me (you just need an email address, no credit cards required))

There are already some apps that have been built on top of the Echo Nest / Play.me APIs:

MusicExplorerFXThe  award-winning Music Exploration tool.

Slice – a music exploration and discovery application for the Android Platform

PlaylistPathfinder – a novel application that creates playlists by finding paths through the Echo Nest artist similarity space.

I’ll write in more depth about  these apps in subsequent posts – but the story for these apps are nearly identical – they were cool apps that were languishing on the music shelf because there was no way to release them with licensed content.  Now the apps can be released to the world and even help the application developer make some money.

Over the years, we’ve seen many different ways for people to discovery new music come and go.  When I was growing up, the radio DJ was the primary way people people discovered new music.  The DJ was the tastemaker for the generation.  For the next generation, I think  music apps will be one of the primary ways people discover new music.

If you have idea about a cool new music app, but have been stymied by the problem of how to get content for your app, check out this program.  More details will be forthcoming during Music Hack Day San Francisco.

(Reposted from MusicMachinery.com)