Jun 30, 2009
I have been playing around with 8tracks.com today and I am really digging it. 8tracks.com is a site where you can arrange mixes of 8 or more songs and then share them with friends.
It’s a bit hard to write reviews of legal music services on the web because they are so often hamstrung by their licensing deals from the music labels. When you think about the hoops that services like Last.fm, Lala.com and 8tracks.com have to jump through to give users a legal and free music experience on the web, it is amazing that any of them can even exist.
While I have often made clear my love of Lala.com (mostly on Twitter but also on this blog), I think I’ll start using 8tracks.com a lot more in the coming days. But for a very different purpose than I use Lala. Like most people, I don’t have access to my full music collection at the office. Lala has helped me get a good portion of it into the cloud for remote listening. However, I often find myself streaming music from places like Pandora and Last.fm. Those sites are pretty good at playing similar music to what I listen to at home. And they can give you a fairly uninterrupted listening experience for hours on end. That is fantastic. Since the mixes on 8tracks.com are often only eight songs long, you typically need to find a new set of songs every half hour. That might make it hard for 8tracks.com to compete with some of the aforementioned services when it comes to getting people to listen to hours of music at a time.
Where 8tracks blows those competing services out of the water is in social music sharing. People in my generation grew up making and listening to mixes. And while we’re somewhat out of the habit, as soon as I started making mixes on the site, I began to love the experience of mix-arranging like a 17 year old in 1998 who just discovered Modest Mouse. (Yeah, that was me.) And now that I am creating mixes, I want my friends to listen to them. 8tracks has made mix-making so easy that I want to make a mix for every person I have ever known. One for my girlfriend. One for my college roommate. One for my co-worker. And since I made the mixes, they are going to listen to them. Because knowing that I made it for them will make the experience more meaningful than listening to songs picked by a computer program.
Think about this: you have an hour left in the day. Do you fire up Last.fm or Pandora and type in Pixies to listen to some Pixies-ish rock? Or do you open the mix I made you and attached with a note saying: “Hey man, remember when we used to jam out to these songs?” Yeah, thought so.
With that clearly powerful and emotional use-case in mind, I’d plan for it directly if I was in charge. I would create an option to “Make someone a mix” and make it stand out as distinct from making a general mix. Furthermore, I’d add a final step to the mix making process in which a user is prompted for the recipient’s email address. When making a mix is positioned like that, it feels more meaningful than making a mix for the general population who probably don’t care about how I put Pavement right next to a song from my old band. I’d even make adding a password to these personal mixes optional. This would make the whole experience more intimate. I’d focus on intimacy as one of the core values the service delivers. Along the same line, I’d make it easy for me as a recipient to purchase the whole mix with one click. While I am hesitant to buy music online in general, I just might spend ten dollars to own every song that my cousin picked out for me on this rainy Wednesday.
Here’s a mix I made of the type of smooth summer sounds that I am slightly embarrassed to like: