Using ideas from Tinder and Vine to power music discovery

I’ve been thinking lately about popular social media apps like Vine and Tinder that emphasize a brief snapshot of content and allow you to move quickly through a brief feed or stack, and how their technologies could inspire new ideas for the music industry. Short-form video platform Vine has already produced multiple artist signings, particularly with Republic, who signed Us The Duo and Shawn Mendes thanks in part to their strong Vine presence. Dating app Tinder, on the other hand, is harder to integrate with music, but iHeartRadio recently used the app to host a Valentine’s Day sweepstakes.

My first idea was a fairly simple thought inspired by a look through Vine tags such as #6secondcover, during which I noticed some songs were hard to identify because their most recognizable hooks weren’t included in the six-second recording. Such an omission is likely to have negative implications on the potential virality of the Vine. As such, I initially considered the idea of a Vine account that simply posted six-second snippets of popular songs (or those with a high potential of exposure through Vine, like we’ve seen with MisterWives’s “Reflections,” Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Boy,” and Jason French’s “You Just Want My Money”), giving cover artists a good idea of optimal song snippets to cover in their Vines while also providing a promotional opportunity for artists and labels. While that would be difficult to do without paying labels for the use of their songs, it’s a technique that labels’ marketing teams can co-opt to help their own artists’ songs gain exposure. Mary Lambert’s team at Capitol Records did this well last fall, using SoundCloud to make available the most memorable six-second clips of her single “Secrets” as free downloads for use on Vine. In addition, I came across the app Hook’d, which has a similar idea, having already partnered with artists and labels to give its users background music over which to record vocals without the cheap knockoff instrumentals of karaoke.

While reflecting upon this initial idea, my friend Adam Soybel, who has a background in radio and is now an A&R consultant at Atlantic Records, thought of it as being “like callout, but for Vine.” Callout is a term describing radio’s market research technique: playing a few bars of new songs and gathering potential listener reactions to help consider whether they should include those songs in their station’s regular rotation. Industry research sites like RateTheMusic and HitPredictor already provide research solutions, but they rely on outdated websites and have no mobile apps. While I hadn’t been thinking about it from the aspect of research and discovery, the idea could definitely be adapted to that effect as well. With that new perspective in mind, I came to another thought. Pop music is realistically my home genre — much of the music I like is pop and the podcast I co-host focuses on academic analysis of pop songs — and while thinking about the younger core audience of pop radio, I began to think about Tinder, over half of whose membership is under 25. One of Tinder’s main points of interest is its card-swiping UI, in which you swipe through a stack of potential partners, gesturing right or left to approve or reject each match. This UI has been emulated by numerous apps in a wide array of industries, including news, shopping, and job hunting, making it a newly familiar interface for users. As Janel Torkington put it while writing about Tinder’s interface, “it’s the ideal UI for making a decision about now.”

So why not use the card-swiping UI as inspiration for a music discovery or callout app? It’s probably the closest parallel to the analog act of digging through crates of records, which has become much less common as music moves digital. Combining ideas from both Vine and Tinder, imagine an app that presents to you a series of tracks with cover artwork, plays you a short audio sample including its hooks, and lets you swipe through to express your opinion of what you hear.

Tinder for music idea - sketch of in-app survey view
Sketch of a potential survey view. (iPhone template via Ryu Billy.) (View on Mix)

The proposed app is fairly straightforward, making it easier to solicit direct feedback on music without the technological barriers of many current research solutions. A stack of music would be presented with cover artwork and basic song information, and like Tinder, a listener would swipe left or right to give their opinion on the track. Like with current solutions, labels could submit multiple tracks to research potential radio singles — in addition, demographic data could be given to help determine optimal radio formats to target or press appearances to book.

Alternately, such an app could be used as a music discovery platform (as if we need any more of those!) or something more useful for labels’ A&R departments. Consider another version of the app that connects to the SoundCloud API and, before presenting songs for feedback, allows the user to input certain restrictions, such as genre tags or maximum number of SoundCloud followers or plays. From there, tastemakers could find tracks that fit their criteria more easily than through what SoundCloud’s often-frustrating search engine allows.

Tinder for music idea - sketch of in-app view of liked songs
Sketch of a potential post-survey list of liked songs. (iPhone template via Ryu Billy.) (View on Mix)

When a session is finished, an alternate view (sketched in the image above) would show users a list of songs for which they swiped right and indicated interest. This view could be monetized through affiliate links to iTunes and Amazon downloads, or it could offer a free download in exchange for an email address or social media engagement, thus building an artist’s mailing list or social following. (Note: RateTheMusic does show a list of all songs in a survey after participation, but does not offer any additional info beyond the audio sample.)

While I don’t plan to develop this app myself, I wanted to share this idea with the hope that it might inspire further thought on how the music business can use technology not directly connected to it to evolve, especially as label decisions become increasingly driven by data. If you’d like to discuss this idea further, please feel free to reach out via Twitter or email.

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