Just as the idea of a playlist extends a musical moment beyond the end of a song, a web application enables a rich browsing experience that isn’t bordered by page refreshes every time you interact with the screen. This idea is particularly important for music websites where audio continuity is the paramount consideration. In a choice between interrupting your music or seeing what’s on another page, you’ll almost invariably choose to keep listening. In the past we’ve protected users from unwanted pauses by buffering clicks to new pages with this helpful popup:
Nonetheless, the value of a music discovery service is limited by being unable to explore the site while you’re listening. From the very first version of 8tracks, we’ve wanted to enable continuous playback while keeping the entire site accessible. But it’s only recently that more robust web technology has become widespread and we were able to implement our “pervasive player” in a way that wasn’t hacked together or only available on one platform. In particular with the launch of the Next Soundcloud, we saw much that we could learn from and also some ideas to improve upon in our own transition.
As many of you know, we’ve seen a big uptick in iOS (iPhone and iPad) listening since release of our 2.0 version of that app last October. At the time, iOS comprised 22% of our total hours streamed. Ten months on, in August, iOS has jumped to represent 49% of our hours streamed.
However, listening on Android hasn’t seen as much of a shift. Last October, Android chalked up 9% of our hours streamed; last month, it just tipped 10%. So we’re making a big investment in Android, and Martin Marconcini joined us in the spring to help take things to the next level.
In October, we’ll be releasing our 3.0 version of the Android app, and it’s going to be hot. However, there’s some cool features we wanted to introduce sooner, and so we released 8tracks v2.2.10 last week.
Google+ sign in
We like Google+ and know it’s a first class citizen in the Android world. So we went ahead and added Google+ sign in, giving you an alternative to Facebook.
Bluetooth, Home Screen Widget & Remote Control
Many listeners requested we support these features again, so they could control 8tracks from supported devices. While this will run 8tracks in the background, it’s by design — that’s the Android way! (Note that what runs in the background is small and only controls the above features.)
On Monday, we launched a revamp to the 8tracks website. We think it’s a big step up on several fronts:
A proper Feed
Clean & minimal design
The homepage now offers one-click access to the 3 critical paths for enjoying 8tracks — Home, Feed & Explore — from any page on the site.
HOME lets you quickly pick up where you last left off (“Resume”), even if your last listening session was on mobile. And if you want to “change the channel” you can readily jump to any category you’ve previously preferenced:
Mixes you’ve simply listened to in the past (Listening history)
Mixes you’ve liked or collected (Liked mixes, Collections)
Tracks you’ve favorited (Favorite tracks)
Tags you’ve either visited frequently or actively “preset” (Presets)
Mixes we THINK you’ll like, based on mixes you’ve liked in the past (Recommended for you)
The new FEED (discussed below) allows you to discover new mixes and music through your social graph — people you follow on 8tracks.
And the EXPLORE section is now more readily (or at least obviously) accessed, allowing you to discover new mixes and music based on some combination of activity, mood and genre tags.
A proper Feed
While 8tracks is fundamentally a social network, we’ve largely eschewed many of the trappings of a typical social network feed. With this 3.0 website revamp, we’ve placed a new Feed front and center. The new Feed includes 2 types of items (for now, but more to come):
Mixes published by DJs you follow (we’ve always had this in the form of the “Mix feed”)
Mixes LIKED by listeners you follow (there’s now a reason to follow other listeners who’ve similar taste)
We think the Feed will allow you to better tap others for unearthing gems of interest on the network.
Clean & minimal design
The old version of the site had evolved incrementally, and we felt it was time for a bit of a refresh. The new site:
Removes unnecessary borders
Adopts a sexy new font (well, we think so)
Increases the size of mix art in our “list” view while retaining the option for a visually-focused “grid” view
Offers you the ability to filter any list of mixes by key criteria (Feed, Liked, Trending, Newest & Popular)
Unifies presentation across page types (home, profile, mix)
We’ve always prided ourself on a simple, focused and compelling design, and this ups the ante.
We hope you like the changes and, as always, welcome feedback. We’ll be introducing 3.0 versions of both our iOS and Android apps this fall so stay tuned!
As we prepare for our 5th birthday party here in the 8tracks loft, we thought it’d be fun to show you the steady — and now accelerating — growth that you’ve helped us achieve.
8tracks reached 5m streaming hours *per month* in Nov 2011 — 40 months after its launch in Aug 2008. We reached 10m hours by Sep 2012 — 10 months later — and 15m hours in half that time. We added another 5m hours in only 2 months and now consistently top 20m streaming hours per month.
Thanks again for your dedicated listenership! We look forward to making 8tracks an even better place to discover and enjoy music in the days and years to come.
Recent media coverage of the digital music sector has tended to lump all types of music streaming — notably, the radio-style delivery of Pandora and the on-demand access of Spotify — in the same bucket.
In fact, these two primary types of music consumption are quite different in terms of:
There’s way too much to cover in one post, so I thought it’d be useful to drill down on each of these points of differentiation in a series of shorter entries. Let’s start first with the value proposition.
One helpful way to think about online music services is to consider their historical analogs. Internet radio — what Pandora, Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio, 8tracks, Songza, Slacker and others offer — is designed to function just like regular (terrestrial) radio: listeners pick a category of programming (e.g. music of a format or genre, for an activity or mood, or that “sounds like” one or more artists), hit play, and then tune in passively.
People who listen to radio — whether delivered over the air, via cable, satellite or internet — benefit because music has already been selected, reducing their time and effort. Listeners can be lazy. Unlike the 30-60 minute format of television or the 90-120 minute format of film, the five-minute format of music lends itself to “packaging” so that a listener doesn’t have to keep returning to his device time and again to pick another track. While the album accomplishes this objective to a certain extent, radio offers longer listening and greater variety.
Because radio is programmed by people or algorithm for long-form listening to a variety of artists, it is also the primary means for music discovery (for listeners) and promotion (for artists). This has always been true of traditional radio, albeit less so since the homogenization of the airwaves in the wake of deregulation in 1996. And it is even more true for internet radio, where spectrum isn’t scarce. Pandora plays a wider variety of music than terrestrial radio, and 8tracks extends even further down the Tail, with two in three tracks streamed from independent labels or artists.
As internet radio becomes increasingly ubiquitous, more artists have the opportunity for meaningful exposure, and more listeners have the opportunity for meaningful discovery.
While internet radio is the heir to terrestrial, cable and satellite radio, on-demand streaming—what Spotify, Deezer, Rhapsody, Rdio, Daisy/MOG and others offer—is the natural successor to older forms ofinteractive listening. From vinyl to (ahem) 8-track to cassette to CD to (most recently) digital download, sound recording formats have evolved relatively quickly over the last 50 years. But across all of these formats, the objective is the same: listeners pick a specific song or album or artist, hit play, and then tune in on demand, whenever and as often as desired.
People who listen to a CD, download or on-demand stream benefit from tuning into exactly the music they already know and love. Physical formats for recorded music are purchased and “owned” in the normal sense; digital downloads are sometimes purchased and may be hosted locally or in the cloud. A listener can stream a file she’s uploaded to a “music locker” in an on-demand manner. However, the most widely used on-demand services are those that offer a large, pre-populated catalog of music and require (or seek) a subscription rental fee.
The most voracious music consumers no doubt stand to see the most value from on-demand subscription services: rather than pay $1 for a track on iTunes or Amazon, they can instead stream it — and pretty much any other track that comes to mind — fully gratis on Spotify (subject to ads) or for $5-10 per month on any of the other on-demand services. The relative value proposition to an artist depends on how much a listener tunes in, as the rumored magnitude of Spotify’s sound recording royalty ($0.003 per play) suggests that ~200 plays of a given track would be required for an artist to earn as much revenue as they would from the sale of a download. By way of comparison, Last.fmscrobbling indicates I’ve listened to Moderat’s A New Error more than any other track, for a total of 144 times.
Radio (Pandora) makes it easy to listen to a particular style of music, with less control but the ability to be lazy; once I’ve discovered new music through radio or friends, I can listen to exactly that track or artist, whenever I want, on an on-demand service (Spotify). The former promotes the sale or rental of music, while the latter — a rental model itself—largely replaces the need for listeners to purchase downloads on iTunes or another digital music store.
In my next post, I’ll highlight the size of the markets for these two types of music consumption.
Internet radio is awesome generally because you get highly relevant programming yet don’t have to go to the trouble of compiling your own playlists. And by giving people who know & love music a platform for tastemaking, 8tracks delivers the highest relevancy – the right music for any taste, time and place.
But to accomplish this mission, 8tracks also has to be available everywhere, at any time. You can already listen from your desk (web), on the go (iPhone, Android, Windows, Blackberry) and in your living room (Sonos). It’s conveniently-delivered music without the grunt work – so you can go to 8tracks radio, press play, and add pleasant sounds to your daily routine effortlessly, integrating it as part of your life. Because radio lends itself to multi-tasking, listeners can feel good about bobbing their heads to great tracks all over the place, from morning until night.
However, we’ve historically been absent from one key listening scenario: the car, which today represents more than a quarter of all radio listening. That’s why we’ve partnered with Aha Radio, which will bring 8tracks to the automobile dashboard. By the end of 2013 Aha Partners will be integrated into more than 40+ models of vehicles, including Acura, Chrysler, Toyota, Ford, Honda, Porsche and Subaru. Get ready for a more accesible 8tracks, as we add more ways to listen from your vehicles, and beyond.
Case in point: take a look at my typical day, and you’ll see that 8tracks fits into my life almost 24/7. (Full disclosure: I may or may not be lying about a morning workout being typical.)
7:45 am – Wake up groggy and tired. Turn on a motivating mix to fight the grump inside of me.
8:30 am – Run as fast as I can to catch my bus, go to the gym, break a sweat.
10 am to 7 pm – Work a lovely day from 8tracks headquarters.
8 pm to 10 pm – Read a book, catch up with my mom on the phone, maybe art journal or stalk exes on the interwebs.
What is it about this mix that’s so compelling to so many listeners? The playlist is a sweet compilation of indie rock songs by lytebryte25, with the evocative title “songs to lie on your bed and stare at the ceiling to.” Along with some well-chosen artwork, it’s this winning combination of a perfect mood, a specific setting, and well-crafted playlist that keeps people coming back to hear your selections.
That’s one of the special things about 8tracks: you may not know exactly what you want to hear, but if you want some sounds to escape while you stare upwards contemplating existence, or while you sweat, dance, mourn, laugh, or just live, someone out there has made a playlist just for you.
Curious about what other mixes have blown up on 8tracks? Take a look at the top 10 most played 8tracks playlists of all-time:
Thanks to our excellent, dedicated DJs – the curators on the 8tracks network – nearly 800,000 mixes have been published since 2008. And their audience continues to grow: since 8tracks raised funding in August 2011, both the number of listeners per month and hours of listening per listener per month have tripled, resulting in a nearly 10X increase in total hours streamed, which just topped 22m in April. Over the same period, listening on mobile has increased from 1% to now 50% of all hours streamed.
Thank you DJs, listeners, raging fans and supporters for being part of the journey as we seek to offer the best music for any taste, time and place. A million plays is just the start of the growth you’ve helped us achieve!
8tracks DJs and listeners have long had the ability to embed mixes in their own blog or website. But given all the quality blogging and CMS platforms out there, we thought we could offer something more robust, plus give a little love back to the developer community. To this end, we’re please to announce the launch of our first set of official Open Source plugins.
First is an update to our WordPress plugin by Jonathan Martin. You can now embed single mixes as well as entire mix collections – these can be all the mixes you’ve personally published, mixes by your favorite 8tracks DJ, or mixes tagged with your favorite combinations of genres and moods.
Second is a brand-new Joomla module from Emir Sakic, which includes all the functionality of our WP plugin plus the ability to specify the pages on which you’d like the mixes to be displayed, and the ability to customize their placement on a page-by-page basis.
Feedback, comments, and feature requests that could make these plugins more useful to the community are most welcome. And any developers who are interested in helping us build plugins for other platforms, send a note to email@example.com. Thanks and enjoy!
To kick off the new 8tracks blog, I thought it’d be useful to explain how I first arrived at the concept behind the business. While 8tracks was founded in October 2006 and launched in August 2008, its origin dates back to a business plan I wrote some years earlier.
In 1998, after 3 years in London, I moved back to the States to attend business school at Berkeley. I’d noted in my application that I wanted to start an internet music company, but I didn’t really know of what sort. Real Networks, Liquid Audio and N2K were companies I’d uncovered when researching whether music could be delivered on the internet, and Michael Robertson’s MP3.com would emerge shortly after I started at Berkeley. But it wasn’t until September 1999 that I found my real inspiration: Napster.
Downloading anything you could think of was pretty cool. But what happened once that was accomplished? What was next? For me, the most compelling feature of Napster 1.0 was the “hotlist” button. After downloading something interesting or a bit obscure, I could click on the “hotlist” button next to the uploader’s name to reveal the other music on his hard drive. It was, for me, the first example of *social* music discovery on the web. Admittedly, since the files weren’t sorted in any meaningful way, it was quite unorganized. But I knew there was something big there.
At the same time, I was listening to a lot of the electronic music I’d come to love in the clubs of London. It was intriguing that fans of these myriad styles often didn’t know or follow the artists actually creating the songs. Because there were so many fragmented producers of electronic music, the DJ served as listeners’ focal point. Facing a nearly infinite catalog of music now available via Napster, listeners needed a way to find new stuff they’d like, and I thought there could be a way to replicate this DJ paradigm online.
So, during the fall of 1999, I wrote a plan for a business I called “Sampled & Sorted” as part of a media management class. The name sought to describe literally the value proposition a DJ on the service would offer to listeners: sampling a bunch of music in advance, and sorting the best tracks into playlists that would be of interest to those with shared tastes. But the name also referenced certain key elements of dance music culture — the fact that a lot of electronic music is created from samples, and the oft-heard UK clubgoer’s query: “You sorted, mate?”
The plan outlined a service on which DJs would create profiles, including playlists and photos, and link to others on the service whose taste they respected. Listeners could create their own profiles and tune into DJs’ playlists. The Digital Millennial Copyright Act had been enacted about a year earlier, and its compulsory license for webcasting seemed like the right way to offer a free, legal, ad-supported, radio-like experience. In short, Sampled & Sorted would offer what would later come to be known as a social network, but focused first on streaming electronic music and eventually on all music.