Imagine yourself discovering a hip new band on Spotify while you chat live with other fans — or even with the band itself. Thanks to Oslo-based music start-up Soundrop, you can do just that. The two-year-old music service provides a social platform through which you can listen to music, share your opinions about it, and occasionally hang out with the artists who create the songs that you’re hearing.
The service is available on Spotify, as a standalone Web player, and, starting November 25, via French streaming company Deezer. Soundrop is among the latest generation of technology firms changing the way people discover music. To better understand Soundrop and its influence on the music listening experience, I talked with its head of partnerships Cortney Harding. In her exclusive interview, she shares some advice for artists, too: work harder to connect with your fans and share engaging content or die.
Harding knows whereof she speaks. Music and technology define her professional life. Throughout her career, she has been editor of Billboard, writer for YPulse, and founder of her own consulting firm that connects startups with the music industry. In many ways, she and Soundrop represent the kind of influencers who are re-defining the music industry by applying content, technology, and brand savvy.
I recently used Soundrop to interact with artists AM & Shawn Lee as they played their new album La Musique Numerique, which was akin to having a listening party with other fans and the artists. And yeah, the experience was pretty cool. Fans took turns asking AM & Shawn Lee about their music via an online Q&A moderated by Harding, and we learned interesting little details such as the fact that Lee learned how to play the Mattel Synsonics drum machine for La Musique Numerique.
Nearly 200 artists, including Imagine Dragons and Robin Thicke, have hung out with fans in Soundrop listening rooms. The company relies heavily on its Facebook page to announce new appearances, befitting its social nature. And if Soundrop has its way, hanging out with fans will be the norm, not the exception.
As Harding says in the following interview, “Artists . . . need to be engaged on a social level in an authentic way. Because fans have so much more choice, an artist that doesn’t work to connect with them will quickly be forgotten.”
How would you describe Soundrop to the uninitiated?
Soundrop is a way to discover, share, and socialize around music. Users can either create rooms where they upload music and chat, or join existing rooms to discover music and hang out with other people who love the same music. We have rooms for almost every genre and even rooms based on times of the day or certain themes (waking up, working out, relaxing, etc).
Additionally, we bring artists in to chat with fans. Every week more artists come into Soundrop. More than 200 already have. It’s a great experience for the fans and the artist can use their reach to drive streaming revenue.
Soundrop currently exists as an app on Spotify, Deezer and as a standalone web player, play.soundrop.fm. Each of those apps acts as a different door in to the same virtual room. So you can join one of our rooms in Spotify, while I can join on the Web and we’re listening to same song and chatting together in real-time.
How have you made Soundrop a social experience?
Users can chat with one another in all the rooms, which makes the experience of discovery so much richer. You have the opportunity to ask an artist a specific question about a song while you are both listening to the track, or talk to someone halfway around the world about a song you both love.
What am I missing out if I use Spotify to discover new music without Soundrop?
You’re missing out on a lot of social engagement and the wisdom of the crowd. I love Spotify playlists as much as anyone else, but you can’t interact with the creator of the list or other fans, and that limits the experience. Plus, Soundrop is the fastest way to discover a lot of great music.
Many early adopters of Soundrop associate it with the Spotify app. But you’ve recently launched a web player. Tell me about the web player and other plans you have to expand the Soundrop experience beyond the Spotify app?
The web player is powered by YouTube and that made our platform available to people who live in markets where Spotify is not yet available. We also have a Facebook app that’s powered by YouTube, so artists can embed their Soundrop room directly on their Facebook page
You just announced Soundrop’s availability on the French-based Deezer music streaming service. What is the strategy behind being available on Deezer?
This is really our vision being fully realized. We want to connect music fans wherever they are and ultimately see more people embrace streaming music.
We never built just an app. We’ve actually built a platform that runs across any platform that can offer streaming music. If you join our Indie Wok room, for example, you can listen with Spotify, I can listen on Deezer and someone else can use our web player. It’s all in a real-time sync.
This also means we can help artists drive more revenue from these different platforms, so everyone wins.
What are some of your favorite listening rooms and playlists?
I’m partial to the Chill Out and Classical rooms for listening while I work and the Indie Wok room for listening at home.
You recently launched Best Of playlists. How are those working out for you?
Great — we are starting to get some real traction and I think they will be very influential. I’d love to have bands ask their fans to favorite tracks and it’s a dream to be able to break an act on our charts.
Where is your growth coming from? What global markets?
We actually follow the global music market quite closely. So our top markets are the U.S., UK and Germany.
How do you collaborate with artists on Soundrop?
For an artist, Soundrop is their best tool to drive streams and video views. Every artist in Spotify now has a Soundrop room. They can share take control of their rooms and share them with fans. Of course, our most high-profile events have been live chats with artists like Zedd, where more than 6,000 simultaneous listeners were chatting with him. It’s a pretty amazing experience for a fan to be able to engage with an artist about the music they love and create.
You’ve been involved in music as a journalist and now with Soundrop. How do you see the music industry evolving?
I think we’re slowly moving from a transaction model to an engagement model — whereas traditional retail was very 1:1 (1 CD purchased equaled x profit for an artist) now with streaming you see a more shared pie. It’s in everyone’s interest to grow the pie and work with streaming services — I’m always bummed when otherwise forward thinking artists don’t understand this.
Artists also need to be engaged on a social level in an authentic way. Because fans have so much more choice, an artist that doesn’t work to connect with them will quickly be forgotten. They need to think of themselves as content creators and curators — I’d follow an artist on Pinterest that pinned interesting stuff but would never follow one that just promoted themselves.
How do you personally discover new music? Who are some of your favorite finds lately?
I love the Indie Wok room and best-of playlists in Soundrop, and I’m lucky to have friends who still work as music journalists and share a lot of great music — Maura Johnston and Jason Lipshutz are two particular favorites. I also scan the usual suspect blogs (Pitchfork, Brooklyn Vegan) on a daily basis.