We're rattling with Why & # 39; d You Push That Button. We have some more episodes left in the season, and today is about social music networks. Kaitlyn loves stalking Spotify feeds from her friends, while I keep my account hidden for everyone. I just want to listen to Britney Spears in peace. I can not make Kaitlyn send me text messages every time I listen, you know? Spotify used to allow people to direct the message tracks, but since then it has removed that feature, which leaves us with the friends feed. Why Spotify is not developing its social characteristics? Does the company hate us?
We brought Jordan McMahon, a social music fanatic, and Micah Singleton from The Verge to the show to talk about why they like to see the activity of their friends. Then we talk to Charlie Kaplan, the CEO of Cymbal, a social music app, about why his company is closing and why it's so hard to make a social music sticky experience.
You can listen to the episode here or anywhere else where you find podcasts, such as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play Music and our RSS feed. Also, read the transcript with Charlie below!
Kaitlyn: Great. We are here with Charlie Kaplan, CEO of Cymbal, which is a social music application, Instagram of music.
Charlie Kaplan: you have it.
Kaitlyn: Do you want to explain it better than me?
No, that was really perfect.
Kaitlyn: Was it?
It was, yes. This is how I do it in each meeting. Cymbal is a social music network for iOS and Android devices. We have been covered in the press. They have called us Instagram for music. If you have the application, then you can see why. Follow your friends or your favorite artists or record labels that you like, and then your feed, like an Instagram feed, becomes a constantly updated playlist of the songs that matter to the people you care about. There is also some kind of great technology behind this.
The world of music streaming, which is now the way people basically listen to music in the United States, is super fractured, so there's Apple Music, SoundCloud and Spotify. The technology behind Cymbal is that we wrote an algorithm that combined all those libraries. Kaitlyn, if you share an Anderson Paak song from Apple Music, and I play it on her, and I'm a Spotify user, just play from Spotify for me. That speaks to the broader vision of what Cymbal really is about, that is, helping people connect to the songs no matter what other things may be dividing them.
Ashley: We've talked a lot about Last.fm because it was so big.
I still use it.
Ashley: Oh, you do?
Ashley: Yes, for me in college, that's what we used. Back then, you downloaded many free things. Streaming was not a thing, so scrobbling was relatively easy because you only had your library on your computer or whatever. While now it is not so easy because, as you mentioned, the streaming services fractured. So it's great that they did that.
For sure. This is such a boring statement to make, but music has changed fundamentally in the last 20 years, and has undergone so many specific changes. It went from being a physical object, something you needed to drive to Tower Records and buy, to be data that were largely pirated and then divided into all these different streams. In one case, they are specific files. In one case, it is a radio transmission. So far, where it's essentially something you do not even have, you just pay to sign in. There is still a Last.fm integration in Spotify, but you're right, now that we are no longer based on a file system, where people have locally stored music, how is Scrobbling supposed to work? I loved it, though. I liked the "Verify my page" and those things.
Ashley: I know. I met people through Last.fm.
Ashley: Yes. In fact, many of my friends met other people through Last.fm as well.
That is so cool
Kaitlyn: We're talking in this episode specifically about the friends feed on Spotify, which is really fun for me. I get all my music recommendations without having to ask for them, and then I also troll people and say: "What the hell are you doing? Why are you …"? As my friend James will send me a text message at a random time and be like, "Still hitting that Jack's album Mannequin," or something like that. It's fun. It's fun to be able to spy on people in that way. I spoke with a girl who refused to be interviewed on the podcast due to anxiety, but said: "Every time my friends are in a break up, I simply look at the sidebar and then I steal their breakup playlists."
So she's a hoarder of break-up playlists?
Kaitlyn: Yes, she simply takes them from people without her knowledge.
That is incredible.
Kaitlyn: It's sad that that's the only social aspect of Spotify now.
Yes, and, in fact, if you look at Spotify, they have regressed so much of what they have done in terms of developing social functions. Remember about a year ago that they had a DM tool, which is now gone. It's a really interesting problem, and I think it's the kind of problem they're going to revisit. I think they have to do it. If you look, only from the commercial point of view, it used to be that these broadcast services differed according to their libraries, so Apple Music had The Beatles, and Taylor Swift was very selective about where she would put her things, Prince and Beyoncé and Jay Z only in Tidal. But in recent years, we have approached parity. The more money there is in streaming, the more artists say: "Our music has to be everywhere." These services can not compete according to what they have. It's not like Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, and I do not know if it ever will be.
Kaitlyn: We were talking about Spotify going back to social things. How do you think they should do that?
This is my great theoretical vision of the transmission business: I think the more people buy streaming subscriptions, the more money there is in the broadcast industry, the more artists will realize that their music should be everywhere. Why miss the millions of people who use Spotify and are simply on Apple Music? Also, this is a footnote: the payments the artists receive are to a certain extent a function of the size of the pot. How many people pay for these transmission services? I think it's going to be like grocery stores: buy Frosted Flakes at Duane Reade, and you can buy Frosted Flakes at Whole Foods. I know Duane Reade is not a grocery store, but.
Ashley: They sell Frosted Flakes.
Kaitlyn: Yes, totes.
There he goes, that's the point. I think that, as it has always been, it will not be about the inventory. It's going to be about the experience. If the objective is to be a monopoly transmission service, which can question the merits of that goal, but if the objective is that, look around and think about which companies on the Internet have managed to become monopolies. My theory is that Facebook is a very interesting company to watch. Why is there no more Friendster or why there is not really more Myspace? I think about that, if you went out on a Friday night and hundreds of your friends were at a party, and since four of them were at another party, you would probably go to one where a hundred of your friends were at.
I think that, inherently, social tools create a kind of monoculture. Spotify has this interesting initial advantage. They have more subscribers than Apple Music, at least for now. For a short period of time, you can argue that, if you feel that most of your friends are on Spotify and you are on Apple Music, if there is a social experience, your friends are talking to each other there, and are producing memes or whatever , and interesting funny things are happening, and the celebrities are talking, you can leave the other party and go to the Spotify party.
Ashley: It's interesting because we did an episode about Venmo and its social feeding.
Oh yes, I heard that episode.
Ashley: Yes, and it was like, "Well, we really created the social feed because it helped us commercialize." If you see your friends using Venmo, you instinctively think, "My friends use Venmo, I should be in Venmo." So, do you think that this social feed is really good from the marketing point of view for Spotify, so you should invest in it? ?
For sure. I think it's almost like anything. I do not want to be too self-referential, but I loved your guys' episode on Instagram. Why is there only an Instagram? It's not like it's an idea that can not be replicated, but why should it be replicated? Everyone is already there. Why do another? What makes Instagram great is that everyone is there. It is not necessarily that there is something magical about how I like them, or how the photos are loaded. I'm sure that helped to have an advantage, but that's because that's where things are happening. Honestly I think it would not even be that hard to build. Spotify now opens to this features section. It's like, "This is the record that comes out today, and here's our recommendation for a playlist for you," and all that. Why does that matter to you? You care because I listen to the Dixie Chicks and they told me I should listen to another Dixie Chicks album. That's a good personal recommendation, but it does not have the power to say, "All my friends are checking this." You talk about social feeding, right?
It's such a powerful way, and I think it's an undercooked and underdeveloped way of having that other thing. I remember when the album came out of Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered. Do you remember that? I think it was 2016 too. We were opening Cymbal that morning and started moving through my feed. Everything was green.
Kaitlyn: That really ugly green army.
I was in bed, and I remember thinking, "I have to listen to this before I get to the office because, otherwise, I'll feel like an idiot." My friends will be talking about that, and it's clearly important. It clearly matters. That group pressure. That social power is not in Spotify. Personally, I think that's what the transmission will win.
Ashley: Do you think that users want this?
Big question If you think about the history of "social music", it is full of companies that did not realize it. Saucer, right? This Is My Jam, perfect example. Twitter, #music, perfect example. People have tried this question over and over again: how do you build an experience to share music? On the one hand, you can see this question and you can say: "This must mean that it will not work". But, on the other hand, if you go to the current affairs on Twitter at any time, it is guaranteed that a third of them are related to music. It's like, happy birthday Harry Styles, they're the BBMA, always something. If you look at the list of the hundred most followed people on Instagram, such a large percentage of those people are musicians. If you go to your Instagram stories, your Snapchat stories, at any given time, guarantee that they are just screenshots of what people are constantly playing. Music is really everywhere on social networks. I just think that it has not been the combination of a really fun experience, where people feel excited to share what they are really investigating, that is also listenable. I think that combination of things, in my opinion, could break the nut there.
Kaitlyn: So, Spotify does this now, and if you take a screenshot, it's automatically like, "Are you trying to share this?"
Ashley: This is really going back to what you were saying, where Spotify knows that people care about sharing music, but they also realize that not everyone is in the same application. As if he did not use Messenger, but Messenger is tremendously popular, so people use it. It offers you the places you might want to share that are not just text messages or something like that.
Kaitlyn: Did you ever explain why you got rid of the DM function?
Well, the people I've talked to on Spotify have had mixed answers to that question. Some of them said that they felt that this was a problem that Spotify did not need to solve, that the message was being solved by other companies, and that they should only be integrated with other people. But I think one more important point I've heard from the people there is that they're not sure what the social experience of that company should be. They want to build something. They want something to work. They just do not know what will work. Once again, it's a strange thing, where if you look at people who have tried to create dedicated social music experiences, there are not 60 million applications for users. But at the same time, if you look at any successful social network, a lot of what happens there is music. I think they just do not know what the strategy really is.
Ashley: Do you feel that it is the design of these products that does not make them work? What have you learned from your experiences? What do you think is something that people need to know about designing products like this?
That's a great question. I learned a lot about it, and I can offer some ideas that are a kind of critique of what the Spotify experience is like, but I also have, I think, a broader idea, which I think is really important. Let me start with the second, just because I think it will sustain some of my opinions about it. Again, returning to part of the historical vision of music. Until 2016, which was the first year that broadcast services were the main way Americans paid for music, there was never a time when it was easy and legal to send a song to someone. I could make you a mix tape, but that does not work for hundreds of millions, billions of people. Or, once I got the MP3s, they were protected with DRM, and I'd buy it in iTunes, and I'd have to put my iTunes password for it, or I'd have to extract it from somewhere, and I was illegally sending a song to someone, and nobody would sanction it.
It was not until 2016 when the case began to arise that most people were paying for these transmission services. The problem remained, however, that transmission is a plurality. At the end of 2016, I regret that my numbers are a little older, but at the end of 2016 there were about 100 million global broadcast subscribers, and I think 43 percent of them were on Spotify. That was the most part. The largest transmission company in the world had a minority share of all subscribers. What does that mean? If Beyoncé wants to release a new single, and enters her Twitter, and has more than 100 million followers on Twitter, there is no streaming option she can choose so that all her followers can hear that song. Even if she chooses YouTube, that's the worst option in terms of being paid. I think that until there is a service that most people use, or that there is a way to bypass services, I just do not think social music is really feasible on a global scale. It would be as if we spoke three different languages, the three of us. We could not socialize. I think that is something really important. I think if it's not reliable to share songs with people, then people will not share the songs exactly that way, or they'll find a pretty clever solution.
In terms of Spotify in particular, I think you're talking about feeding the side of the thing, is not it so silly that I can not even hit it?
Kaitlyn: Yes, that's true.
But think about it from Spotify's perspective. If everyone on Spotify was just playing, and I got a notification on my phone that Kaitlyn liked my song, I'd open Spotify and then we'd talk about something.
Kaitlyn: Right, yes. It also does not feel social, it feels creepy. If I see a friend listening to an album and I say: "I wanted to verify it", I do not want to start listening to it immediately because I do not want to be seen.
Yes, as if you were dragging on them or something.
Kaitlyn: Yes, so I have to remember to go back to that and hear that tomorrow or something like that. It does not feel like a social activity.
Yes. I think that's fundamental to that experience. I just think there are ways you can go back to work on that and change the experience a bit, to make people a little more aware that listening is sharing. Because they have already done that with that diet. Then make good ways for people to notify each other about what is happening. And you can take it deeper than that.
I also think that one of the best things is, again, that example of opening Cymbal and seeing everyone listening to Kendrick. That was so powerful for me. Or again, as a record comes out everywhere, To Pimp A Butterfly came out.
I remember it came out, and then I was on Twitter, and then the album, the album's run time is like 70 minutes or something like that. And less than 70 minutes after the album came out, people said, "It's a classic, it's a perfect album." You have not even finished the album yet. But the collective listening experience led many people to socialize around them. I think the proof is in the cake with that, that maybe there's still not a great way out for them, but people are motivated to talk about that.
Kaitlyn: Listening parties are definitely a big thing in the Tumblr fan communities, like the Harry Styles parties and whatever, the Justin Bieber parties. They tend to be just people trying to increase things, because they say, "I love Harry, I need him to get an individual number one, which he has not yet had, I'm sorry, I guess with what you were talking about, the music is always in Twitter
Ashley: Cymbal was an independent broadcast service of the agnostic, so why do you think it did not work?
You face a multitude of challenges when you start a new social network, especially in 2018. One of the most important is that the commercial proposal of Facebook is that it is the social network. Everyone is already there. Two billion people are there. It is not necessarily competitive to start with the premise: "We are going to build a social network". That already exists. And, nevertheless, the value that a social network has, in my opinion, once again, is on the part of who is in it. Instagram is great because everyone is there. We faced these interesting dynamics in which we were able to build this fabulous community of people who wanted to get to a place where they could share their favorite songs and connect with people who liked similar things, but who went a little further and looked for people such as Once more casually interested in music proved to be really challenging. I think that in many cases or not they were so passionate about music to download a new application, or on the contrary, maybe they felt something like: "Why do I need a new social graphic in my life?".
I would say that I really believe that someone will solve this problem and that it will only be a matter of time. As more of us buy these subscriptions and continue to build with services that have API open, I think a great company like Twitter or Facebook will make an incredible integration of shared song and then those services will be social networks for music, or the services of transmission will generate incredible social experiences.
The advice I would give to the next person who works on this is that every great application, every great tool, has to start from a place of real need. What do I have to do? In the case of Cymbal, what pushed us towards the successes we had was the feeling of "I just heard a song that I love and I need to share it". I think we would have been much more successful if the people you need to share with, that group of people may be a little bigger. That's like a chicken and egg problem, right?
Ashley: Yes. I'm thinking about this because I'm fine, when scrobbling was something big, let's say before the era of streaming, I feel that scrobbling was so important because the way you discovered music, at least personally, was like Pitchfork, for example. Then blogs, like music blogs. It was work, and Kaitlyn has written a lot about this, but it was work to find these recommendations. I feel that the social function gave you a need. I filled a need where you said: "I have to learn new things, because I literally do not know". Now the algorithm satisfies that need. Where are you now, are you raising Kendrick, and it's like, Kendrick is the discussion, Beyoncé is the discussion. There are these artists that are the discussion, and then there are all the others, that maybe you feel that the algorithm fills the need to discover them.
Right. I think that is very true. I think that for many people, music is only part of their lives. It's what they do while cooking or while working or something. They have music they love, but the discovery of music as a concept may not be so central. It is not a central problem in their lives. That said, I think everyone is delighted with the experience of listening to something new they love. I also believe that, once again, there is this kind of cultural vector of music, which is so relevant. It is so important for what people talk about, and how people connect with each other. I totally agree with you. The algorithm has made it much easier to consume music, but I do not necessarily know that it has made music itself more important in people's lives. I think that is the true power of social music. It somehow describes why you care. Not if you like it, but why it is important.