Making Music a Social Experience

The mobile app Playlist moves one step further than conventional music streaming apps – by making music a social experience. It allows users to listen to songs at the same time and chat while they do so.

Making Music a Social Experience
The mobile app Playlist ventures into real-time music listening territory

There are numerous online music streaming services and their accompanying mobile app, which provides access to millions of songs spanning across every conceivable genre. However, listening to music on such platforms is primarily a solitary experience. As we all know, music is much better appreciated when listened to in a social setting – which explains the demand for music concerts and festivals. Now, two Stanford engineers have launched a new mobile application that allows users to listen to music and simultaneously have a social experience while doing so.

The app – called Playlist – is the brainchild of serial entrepreneurs Karen Katz and Steve Petersen, both of whom has had past experience in online and digital music. While Katz previously co-founded Jam Music, Peterson created the software architecture of PortalPlayer Inc., which powered the iPod music player. They were able to secure funding for the app through Stanford’s StartX fund. “The world has gone social, but music has been largely left behind. That’s a real gap,” explains Katz, as to why the founders wanted to build Playlist in the first place. She also said, “Ever since we started listening to music from our mobile phones, it’s become an isolated experience. And music is the number one thing we do on our phones.”

So, how have the founders tackled the problem of making music a social experience through Playlist? The primary feature of the app allows several users to join a playlist being played real-time. So at any given time, there will be several listeners listening to the same music on the laptop or smartphones and posting comments on the group chat for that specific playlist. It’s an idea to unite music and messaging by synchronizing streams, so people could listen to songs together at the same time and chat while they do so. Users also have the ability to collaborate on playlists as well – adding songs that goes along the theme and genre. The app uses machine learning for social recommendations, collaborative playlists, large-scale group chat, and behavior-based music programming. The “Music Match” algorithm helps users find people who listen to the same kind of music.

However, Playlist sometimes seems to overcomplicate simple tasks. Importing playlist is not straightforward from other apps, and the decision to leave a group chat is also a long-winding process. The player interface also offers the option to like, share, mute and skip the current playlist – a lot of options that takes the focus away from the music and messages. However, Katz says that the design choices they’ve made here are based on extensive user testing and feedback – which revealed that young people demanded all the buttons and options.

During the beta testing period in 2017, Playlist acquired more than 500,000 users as a result of its real-time nature. Katz says, “Out of the gate, we saw 10 times the engagement of Pandora. People have, on average, 60 interactions per hour — like chats, likes, follows, joins, adds and creates.” The app plans to monetize through advertising and, as for now, has kept the app free of subscription fee. The app will allow users to feel more connected while listening to music on it – as they can communicate their emotions through the group chat.