Twitter #music review

Twitter #music focuses on discovering music, rather than listening to it. It looks good on the surface, but quickly comes across as a thinly veiled too to increase user engagement after some use.
Photo of Twitter #music

After months of rumor and speculation, Twitter has officially unveiled #music, the company’s surprising foray into the music space. Twitter #music (pronounced Twitter Music), however, isn’t like any other music service on the market. Twitter #music leverages your social circle to serve up music recommendations and song samples. In this regard, Twitter #music is fairly effective, but it asks you to jump through some rather bizarre hoops to receive those personalized recommendations or listen to full tracks—hoops that will likely turn away many people expecting a true streaming music service. Note: I’m reviewing the Twitter #music website, but there’s also an iPhone app.

Getting Started
Pointing your browser toward music.twitter.com takes you to a panel-driven interface which displays by default the 140 most popular songs currently trending on the 140-character social network. If you’d like to bypass the most popular artists, a drop-down menu in the upper-left lets you check artists who are Emerging (described as “the hidden talent found in the Tweets”), Suggested (recommended tracks based on musicians you follow), Now Playing (music “Tweeted by people you follow”), and the ones you follow, called Me in the menu.

An artist panel features an artist’s photo, the artist’s Twitter handle, and song name, but mousing over it reveals more information. A highlighted panel becomes greyed out and reveals the artist’s name, a Twitter follow icon, an “Explicit” label when appropriate, and a play button which streams a crisp iTunes song snippet when clicked (you can also purchase the song from iTunes). This is easily Twitter Music’s most disappointing and frustrating aspect as you need to use other services—namely Rdio or Spotify—to listen to tracks in their entirety. Existing Rdio and Spotify subscribers may see the integration as a nice touch, but those who don’t subscribe to those streaming music services (or use a non-supported service like Slacker Radio) may feel left out in the cold.

Music Discovery, Not Music Listening
Clicking the big, blue “Play Full Tracks” icon lets you select either Spotify or Rdio as a music source. Twitter #music then requests permission to access either Spotify or Rdio. I logged into Spotify using my Facebook account, but I still couldn’t access full-length songs because I needed a $9.99 per month Spotify Premium account (it’s the same with Rdio). That would’ve been nice to know beforehand.

So, I whipped out my credit card and subscribed. A few minutes later, the “Play Full Tracks” icon became a “Spotify Settings” icon when I returned to it. Clicking the icon let me disconnect Spotify from Twitter #music. An additional option becomes available when you click the gear icon—it lets you ban explicit songs. The banned songs will still appear in the Twitter Timeline, but you can’t play them.

I dove into the music catalog by playing the #1 most popular song on Twitter—Demi Lovato’s “Heart Attack.” It was, as one would expect from crowded sourced recommendations, typical pop music fare. At least the audio streamed smoothly and sounded good. The Twitter #music player has a skip icon that lets you jump to the next most popular song, but there’s no back/rewind button. Instead, you simply click a panel representing a previously played song to hear the track again. It also serves up a single track from an artist at a time—there’s no way to see, for example, an album’s track listing from within Twitter #music. You can, however, click on the Rdio or Spotify icon to visit the external artist pages on those sites if you’d like more information.

Twitter #music also gives you the option to Tweet what you’re listening to at the moment. My immediate thought was that if the service caught on, my Timeline would be filled with these annoying shout outs and links to Rdio and Spotify. I could happily do without it.

That said, Twitter #music may serve music artists fairly well. No matter where you are in the app, an artist is staring back at you. The sheer number encourages exploration, but that may not result in finding music you like. In my case, the Popular section meant nothing to me—it was mainly pop swill. Now Playing, the music tweeted by my Twitter buds, didn’t help much either (at least on launch day). There were nine recommendations and none moved me. The Emerging section was a mixed bag of potential Vice-worthy indie darlings, but certainly a step up from Popular. The Suggested section proved the most helpful as it recommended songs based on the two musicians I follow: Chuck D and Talib Kweli. Naturally, there were a lot of hip hop-heavy songs from the likes of Q-tip, Pharoahe Monch, and Bumpy Knuckles. I would have preferred if my actual tweets influenced the suggested artists, too, as I tweet about all types of music. In order to get a more varied suggestion range, I would have to follow more artists—and I don’t want to do that. I prefer a clean Twitter feed.

There’s also a search button, but it doesn’t return song results—it returns user names. Type in “Walk This Way” and you’ll get zilch unless that name is actually a Twitter handle. In this instance, Twitter #music felt even less like a music service and simply a tool to drive up engagement numbers.

Room For Improvement
The intermingling of music and social network in the manner presented here is troublesome. I like, for example, John Mayer’s music, but do I really want to follow his Twitter account in order to receive Mayer-like recommendations? No.  Plus, I don’t want to clutter my Twitter stream with a slew of artists just to help sculpt personalized suggestion results.

The Twitter brand has given this service a lot of buzz, but I predict that the hype will quickly fade when the limitations arise. By requiring users to sign up for a premium Rdio or Spotify account and follow musicians to receive personalized music recommendations, Twitter #music has erected roadblocks for those who simply want to hear a quick song or two. That’s not to say that Twitter #music doesn’t have room for improvement. Should Twitter #music implement album info and create a way to get personalized recommendations without the need for users to follow artists it could be worth consideration. But for now? Pass unless you’re a Twitter diehard.

Specifications
Type Personal
Free Yes

Verdict
Twitter #music focuses on discovering music, rather than listening to it. It looks good on the surface, but quickly comes across as a thinly veiled too to increase user engagement after some use.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc