Community: The Crown Jewel of 8tracks


Yesterday we launched 8tracks Forums, allowing our community of over 11 million registered listeners to communicate with one another in a more personal way. We’ve long allowed listeners to comment on mixes to show gratitude or engage DJs in a dialogue around the music:

mix commentLast year, some of our most active community members formed a group on Facebook — “8tracks Friends” — to facilitate shared conversations and support real-world friendships among group members. These weren’t the only listeners looking to build friendships with other 8tracks listeners and DJs, and we’ve received a growing number of requests for private messaging.

As we began to think about a way to encourage interactions between members of the 8tracks community, we discovered Discourse, a dynamic, open source forum and private messaging platform that can be branched and personalized. Discourse gives us a smart way to facilitate conversations between — and speak directly with — the folks who care most about 8tracks, an essential step to making 8tracks the best music sharing community.

And that community is going to meet up IRL! This Friday, members of the original 8tracks Friends group on Facebook will be flying into San Francisco from around the country to meet us and one another in person for the first time. We’re beyond excited.

Finally, we’d like to welcome and introduce you to Monica Semergiu, who will lead 8tracks’ community building efforts as our Community Manager. As we grow and evolve, it’s important for us to remember and support our community, the crown jewel of 8tracks and a daily reminder of why we do what we do.

8tracks ❤s OpenAura


openaura

Music listeners today have unprecedented access to a deep catalog of music across myriad genres from ‘round the world, thanks to inexpensive tools for production and free distribution on the internet. But with unlimited offerings on tap, it’s not always easy to find new music you love, much less learn about the creators behind that music along the way.

When you choose an 8tracks playlist based on a theme or genre, you’re served a wide variety of tracks by different artists, and you likely discover more music than you do on other music services. However, to support this discovery experience, we’d like to help you learn more about the artists themselves, rather than letting the songs become merely a cog in a themed radio station.

Accordingly, we announced this week that we’re tapping OpenAura’s Artist Info API to deliver deep, accurate and current information about artists big and small, offered up through our pervasive player.  Using OpenAura’s API, we tap into a central source of information on artists, one which allows artists to control their online identity and earn revenue from that content. Artist bios and images are updated and refined over time, and independent artists have an equal opportunity for representation.

We view 8tracks as essentially a “matchmaking” platform for listeners and artists, as mediated by our DJ community, and so we’re particularly excited to leverage OpenAura to help further the bonds between music creator and music consumer.

8tracks in the living room


Xbox_screenshot_4

After months of work, we’re excited to announce the 8tracks Xbox app. There are a lot of connected devices and related hardware for the home — Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast, to name a few — but 8tracks on the Xbox is a particularly good fit.

First, Xbox is the most popular set-top box in the US. More than 48m people have signed up for Xbox Live — far more than Apple TV (13m) and Roku (5m).

Second, nearly half of our audience is aged 18-24. By comparison, 51% of college males or 31% of all college students own an Xbox. Existing 8tracks listeners can now tune in from a familiar device, and new listeners can discover us through their Xbox.

As on 8tracks’ website and apps, Xbox listeners can browse playlists by genre, activity and mood tags.  Beyond liking mixes and following DJs, listeners on Xbox can navigate the app with voice commands, hand gestures (using the Kinect), and the good old-fashioned controller.

If you have an Xbox, please download the 8tracks app and enjoy. Meanwhile, we’re looking forward to spreading the 8tracks love on future platforms. For now, it’s game on.

Building a single-page app, one page at time


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:

Screen Shot 2013-08-30 at 4.55.14 PM

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.

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Android love


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.)

If you’re on an Android phone, come get 8tracks v2.2.10 in the Google Play store!

 

8tracks on the web goes 3.0


On Monday, we launched a revamp to the 8tracks website. We think it’s a big step up on several fronts:

  1. Homepage navigation
  2. A proper Feed
  3. Clean & minimal design

 

Homepage navigation

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!

Five years of streaming on 8tracks


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.8TRACKS-5YR-GRAPH-v2

The radio isn’t the record


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:

  • Value proposition
  • Market size
  • Competition
  • Business model
  • Royalty expense

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.

 

The Regency TR-1 transistor radio
The Regency TR-1 transistor radio

RADIO

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.

 

 

The Technics SL-1200 turntable
The Technics SL-1200 turntable

 

ON-DEMAND

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.

 

[Originally posted on Medium]

8tracks goes where you go


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.

 

11pm – Venture off to dreamland.

 

How to get one million plays on 8tracks


  • Step 1: Publish a great mix in 2009.
  • Step 2: Wait four years until 8tracks clocks 5 million listeners per month.
  • Step 3: Be proud; you’re an 8tracks millionaire.

Today’s post celebrates the first 8tracks mix to reach over one million plays, a mix which was published in February 2009 and has steadily become the all-time most played mix on the site.

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!