Welcome to “CMND/CTRL”. This is a brand new feature from Punktastic that will bring you a regular roundup of what’s been going on in the online world of music; covering everything from apps you need in your life right now to great stuff that bands have been doing online. It’s written by our keyboard-warrior-in-chief Tom Aylott, and for edition #1 we’re covering some of the big hitters’ new features to kick us off…
This first edition of CMND/CTRL features progressive moves from three of the bigger names in the “online music world”, and as someone who works from home on a computer almost every day, I end up crossing paths with all three regularly. The changes will effect both consumers and creators, and all three are worth noting as something to keep an eye out for soon.
First up is the fresh expansion to Rootmusic’s popular BandPage Facebook app into ‘BandPage Everywhere’. I’ll admit that I’ve got a generally negative opinion about apps like BandPage on Faceboo so far. BandPage and others tended to stick out rather than integrate, and they came across as a bit “MySpace” and/or outdated in their execution. With ‘BandPage Everywhere’, BandPage is aiming to be more than a simple Facebook app to become an all-round solution for bands. Widgets and simple websites now extend from the same Facebook page based idea, and may well be the thing that turns BandPage into the information hub it wants to be.
If you’re familiar with BandPage you’ll be at home with the more frustrating ends of the admin set up, and it’s here where it really needs to improve (to improve end user experience as well as from a content creator’s perspective). The new BandPage Everywhere menu allows a band to take their BandPage content (audio, video, tour dates, bio) and create widgets and free subdomain websites from it. Once you’re used to the clunky input systems, you’ll find you can knock together a pretty decent site in no time at all. There’s also an option to upgrade a page for $1.99 a month, promising full control over styles, advance engagement tools (sign up/tweet for download), banner videos and custom styles for people who like your page.
I really do think this was a natural step forward for BandPage. From a user perspective, band websites need to be concise and link through to the band’s other social networks quickly to be useful these days. If you’re creating a page, you’ll find that the spinny wheel of death on the admin pages is really frustrating, and it does take a basic eye for design to get the free websites looking good. It’s also lacking in things like a blog facility or share buttons that you’d expect from a site so invested in Facebook. To show you what’s possible, I made a really quick Punktastic one to show you what you can expect to get in 5 minutes setting up a subdomain site (or what you can expect as a user visiting one of these new pages): https://punktasticdotcom.bandpage.com/
All in all, it’s a fairly simple solution to creating a band website, but the fact that you can manage your music on Facebook at the same time as bringing in music from YouTube + SoundCloud and BandsInTown tour date info should make it an attractive prospect for aspiring rock stars. Well worth checking out to see what you can make of it, so snap up those .bandpage.com URLs now and give it a go to see if it covers the bases you need!
The Next SoundCloud
We’re massive SoundCloud fans here at Punktastic. Most weeks our “Stream For The Week” comes via a SoundCloud widget, and for ease of use and professional feel they’re leading the pack – only BandCamp seems to manage to keep pace (and that’s probably because of the sale of physical alongside digital). Things like BandPage Everywhere above depend on Soundcloud for their audio streams, and it’s the API behind the scenes that makes the service even more useful across the board.
Now, SoundCloud are making moves to update the look and feel of their current set up, and the focus seems to be on trying to make people use the site less one dimensionally. I’ve never really been tempted to follow people on the site and didn’t get on so well with the dropbox either, and the site is definitely overdue a new lick of paint. It’s still in Beta at the moment, so you can only really get glimpse of how your page will end up looking rather than the nuts and bolts under the hood, but happily it seems to be much better catered to content streams and has definitely made me think about using the site more for discovery in the future.
With the default page being much more focused on ‘Streams’, it should get far more people using the site in a social way rather than just for streaming tracks. The four mainfeatures/updates with this new site are aimed at doing this as well, and though none of them fundamentally change how it all works, they’re all valuable addition;
Continuous Play allows you to start listening to a sound on the site and continuing to do as you navigate around the wesbite, and this is a subtle change in functionality that really does make the something to use more actively.
Sets have become one pretty waveform rather than separate ones, and they also sit in the stream alongside the tracks. Again, it’s pretty subtle, but it’s the little things that will make more people stick around and get used to using SoundCloud as a site rather than a service.
Realtime Notifications and Reposts are not something you really need to have to enjoy or use SoundCloud, but both will make the site feel more “alive” and they do feel like they belong to the new set up. The real-time nature of Twitter isn’t something people might want to translate to an audio site like Soundcloud post-MySpace, but these sort of real-time features will do them no harm and it’s endeared me to an aspect of Soundcloud I’ve neglected generally in the past (for better or worse).
Whether Soundcloud do see themselves as an aspiring music focused social network or not and whether people need ANOTHER site to check everyday remains to be seen, but I can see the Beta changes being quite interesting in shaping the way that people use the site. If the The Next Soundcloud helps people discover and interact with eachother more, there’s no reason it can’t do well. The main downside with the site at the moment won’t change too much with this update by the looks of it, which is a bit of a shame. It’s still feels like a marketing tool from a content creation perspective, and it’d great to see ways that bands could generate revenue from royalties somehow in the future. It’s not even to put anyone off using the site, but there’s still a hope that basic streaming royalty options will arrive at some point.
Whether you consider Spotify to be a precursor to a new industry model or a sale cannibalising low-payout disaster, you have to admit that they’ve gone about business with some style. What iPods were to Mp3 players, Spotify seem to be becoming for streaming services, and when it’s one that my mum’s heard of, I have to think that they’re probably doing a great job getting the name out there.
Spotify’s most notably recent venture is into making itself into an app platform. It’s not new (we’ve been building one at Punktastic for a while that’s tentatively penned for an Autumn launch), but now a bit of time has past and the launch line up of apps is behind it, a new wave have arrived to test the waters of the Spotify ecosystem. Most don’t quite seem to be doing as well as they should;
Rancid’s new app feels a bit flat and pointless. A few playlists and the Rancid catalogue are available and not much else are in it, and it’s hard to see it staying updated and keeping people interested. It would have been great to see a full and exclusive track by track on each album from the band and there’s not actually much to read at all. It sits in line with Rancid’s current online presence well, but it’s hard to imagine it being anything more than a momentary curiosity. I’ve rarely revisited the app since installing it. Focusing on individual bands when there’s already a bio page and discography available for them seems like doubling up functionality, and having something a bit more overarching like an interactive Hellcat records timeline (you can have that idea for free, guys) with commentary on each release would have been so much more engaging.
Likewise (and I’m aware this probably isn’t particularly going to come across as much apart from picking at an alternative publications to this one), the NME and Pitchfork apps are a bit one dimensional. Considering that they’ve each got a great presence online and professional writers, it would have been great to see them use the background services in Spotify more. Things like a searchable archive of content for further music discovery rather than trying to drive traffic to the respective sites would have been impressive. That said, both look clean and are easy to use, it’s just hard to imagine people staying on there for too long or using it regularly at the moment.
Worth a note after the negativity, Tunewiki has been on Spotify Apps since launch and it’s probably the best use of the platform so far. Bringing up the lyrics for the song you’re listening to is a masterstroke, and it makes using the Spotify platform fun and different. It adds a dimension to Spotify itself, and that’s going to be the important thing for the success of the platform.
Right now, the app platform feels a little like it’s not being utilised enough, and with things like recommendations, toplists, Facebook authentication and user favourites stored under the hood, most app creators could be doing a bit more with it. The key to Spotify’s success could lie in the app platform, but it has to be used better. If artists could see how being on Spotify improves merchandise and ticket sales, they may not be so quick to denounce the supposed fairly meagre income it provides. The app line up right now seems to be ignoring that particular use, despite the fact there’s no reason you can’t do things like add Google Analytics right into your app.
Right now, Spotify’s apps have all the potential but miss the mark more often than not. Hopefully the notion that an engaging app can drive and track interest, discovery and actual money being spent will hit home soon and it’ll be utilised better!
Thanks for reading the first CMND/CTRL, we’ll be back in August for another round! If you’d like to tell us about your service or a great website we should be featuring, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org!