Hands on: Twitter #Music

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Just as we strongly suspected, Twitter took to Good Morning America Wednesday to announce its new music discovery service, #Music. Celebrities from Ryan Seacrest to Moby have been crooning about #Music’s merits is for a few weeks now, but until today we haven’t been able to get our hands–and headphones–on the service, now available at music.twitter.com and as an iOS app. So how does #Music stack up to the streaming apps you know and love? Read past the break to find out.

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The #Music interface is pretty similar both on the web and iOS. When you load up the site or app you’ll be greeted with a pretty attractive grid of artists’ photos and their corresponding Twitter handles. #Music is arranged into five groups–”Popular,” “Emerging,” “#NowPlaying,” “Suggested” and “Me.” For now, let’s just focus on Popular, as it’s the first screen you’ll see when loading up #Music.
Popular picks and ranks the trendiest 140 (get it?) musicians on Twitter. Mouse over any of the photos and you’ll see a play button. Click it, and an you get a 30-second preview of the song in a player across the bottom of your screen or window, but you can unlock full tracks if with a Spotify or Rdio account. Beware, though, as both Spotify and Rdio require premium accounts to sync up with Twitter #Music. Once you do get connected, however, the audio quality on par with other services and and songs will roll one after another, a la Pandora.

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Of course, it wouldn’t make sense for Twitter to create #Music if you couldn’t broadcast everything you’re playing. The site’s music player features a button that lets users tweet about the song they are listening to, along with a link to the track in either the iTunes Store, RDio or Spotify, depending on which app you’re connected to. Each artist’s photo also features a button in the top-right corner so you can follow them. Click on an artist’s name, and you’ll go to a page where you can see musicians they follow, along with a requisite song for each.

With the service’s “#NowPlaying,” “Emerging” and “Suggested” sections, Twitter #Music is also aiming music discovery. “#NowPlaying” combs the timelines of people you follow for songs and displays them in the same fashion as the “Popular” section. “Emerging” features some unknown artists that you might be hearing in the future–though admittedly, my music tastes aren’t hip enough to know any of the 140 artists #Music selected for the list.

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Finally, the “Suggested” tab recommends songs, presumably based on the musicians you follow. I’m a pretty avid hip-hop fan, but as of this morning the only artists I only followed Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, so I didn’t have high expectations for my recommendations. But to my surprise, clicking on “Suggested” pulled up decently comprehensive list of my favorite rap and R&B acts. As I followed some of my other favorite artists, the Lady Gagas and Justin Timberlakes in my “Suggested” section were replaced with musicians I might actually listen to.

If it sounds like you might want to ditch your other service and turn up #Music to 11 (or 140), you might want to press pause for just a second. The service only allows users to play one, predetermined song for each artist. Even worse, for some of the artists, the song choice doesn’t make sense. Clicking on Justin Timberlake obviously plays his recent hit, “Suit and Tie.” But click play on Frank Ocean’s photo, and you’ll get a “Fertilizer,” a 40-second bridge track from his 2012 album, Channel Orange. For people hoping to use #Music as a primary music streaming service, those two shortcomings could be potential dealbreakers.
Twitter #Music succeeds on its simplicity and attractive format, but it’s hard to see it being used on a regular basis at this time. The service relies too heavily on plug-ins from Spotify and Rdio, likely by design. But it begs the question why someone would use #Music over either of those services, which have comparable or better discovery and sharing features already. Still, #Music is worth keeping an eye on–Twitter itself also had pretty humble origins. We all know how that one worked out.