Last week pop icon Beyonce Knowles joined the long list of entertainment industry performers on Twitter when she signed up to the service, which is already a hit with celebrities the world over.

While many artists are beginning to realise the potential of the service for interacting with fans, Philippines-based startup Twitmusic is taking engagement with music on Twitter to the next level.

The service was founded late last year and The Next Web caught up with Stefano Fazzini, one of its four co-founders, to see how things are progressing.

First however, an explanation. In simple terms, Twitmusic is a music playing service that allows tracks to be easily shared on Twitter, giving songs a greater chance of spreading across the service.

The site is very Twitter specific, with Fazzini admitting that they adopted similar aesthetics to help artists and users feel more comfortable on the website. That’s a move aimed an encouraging usage on Twitter, in a similar way that they might opt for Twitpic over Flickr when tweeting a picture.

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Existing Twitter users can sign in easily, using an app that syncs to their Twitter account. From here sharing what you are listening is equally straightforward. Once logged in using a Twitter account, mentions of songs can be shared to a Twitter feed with one click, by selecting ‘Love’, ‘Retweet’ or ‘#nowplaying’ (a popular hashtag for music lovers).

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Users can, of course, also leave comments, and each track has details of the number of plays, who has listened to it and who has loved it. Artist details are taken from Twitter and includes details of their follower counts and the number of songs they have on the service.

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Track discovery is a big part of Twitmusic and, as well as a listing of similar songs on the service, there is a dedicated new artist discovery page and the musicians and music featured on the homepage is regularly changed to keep things fresh and varied.

“We’re not biased, on the homepage we include music that we think is cool,” Fazzini, who looks after business development, says. “We don’t feature people there because they are paying us, we mix it up to help get unknown music out to Twitter.”

His view are echoed by fellow co-founder and marketing director Sandra Seifert who explains that they want to hook listeners up with new songs. “We want people to find someone that they like — such as Jason Mraz — and then find another artist that they might like, all thanks to Twitmusic.”

Users wanting to by a track can click the ’buy a song’ link, which usually goes to through to the track on iTunes, where they can buy a genuine copy of the track. Interestingly though, Bryan Adams, who is one of the feature artists, suggested to Twitmusic that it should consider selling tracks on the artist pages themselves, and it is something that the company is investigating.

The sale of music would add an interesting revenue stream to the service, which is very much a win-win for both listeners and artists as the service is free for both sets of users.

“We’re not charging users,” Fazzini told The Next Web, before explaining that the company will move towards a fremium model that would give artists (and management teams behind them) access to powerful analytics, in addition to what is already on the site.

Right now, the advanced analytics are not available but, aside from the number of plays and details of who has been listening to their music, artists can see graphs of cumulative plays and locations, as below.

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Twitmusic can already count on some heavyweight backing with Mraz, Adams MC Hammer, (rapper) Bow Wow among the more notable near-4,000 artists that have signed up to put tracks on the service.

A launchpad for new tracks

“Recently we’ve been noticing that a lot of managers from labels have been contacting us directly because they want to use Twitmusic as a launch pad for new singles,” Fazzini says, revealing it fielded such enquiries from dance act Dmitri Vegas & Like Mike and international DJ Ferry Corsten .

Given the huge role that Twitter is playing within the entertainment industry, Twitmusic is hitting a sweet-spot for artists that are serious about getting their music on Twitter.

“Many of the artists see Twitmusic as a launch pad for Twitter, when they add music it here it go out to all of their followers. In fact, Jason Mraz [who has more than 3.3 million followers] used Twitmusic to launch his latest single ‘I Won’t Give Up’ on Twitter,” Fazzini reveals.

Feedback from artists has been overwhelmingly positive and some very well known musicians gone so far as to tell Fazzini and his team that they prefer Twitmusic’s service to Soundcloud, and other more established alternatives.

Not just for the big boys

While artists like Adams, Mraz and others are already household names across many parts of the world, Twitmusic isn’t exclsively for well known artists.

Fazzini points to the example of British rapper Mr Rootsy whose 6,700 Twitter followers are a small spec on Jason Mraz’s masssive audience, yet the lesser known artist has found much success with the service.

Mr Rootsy is one Twitmusic’s most popular musicians, in fact he is its number most recommended artist (a fact he proudly states on his Twitter bio), and his most popular song — ‘Look At Me Now’ — has seen almost 20,000 plays on Twitmusic to date.

Clearly for an artist with a modest following, these kinds of numbers, which will undoubtedly grow, are encouraging and give a direct route to finding new fans and growing popularity.

Providing greater analysis

It is clear that content is the key for Twitmusic and, with that in mind, Fazzini digs into the upcoming detailed analytics that will be provided to artists.

The analytics package is important for two main reasons. Not only will it service as additional encouragement for musicians to put their music there, but it will be premium and therefore contribute revenue for the company, which is not yet monetising its service.

Fazzini says Twitmusic is currently focused on growing its user base and catalogue of music and, with that in mind artists are already (and will continue to) enjoy a basic set of features. Alongside free song analytics there is an allowance of 150 MB for each track, which could be extended, although the focus on providing greater intelligence.

“We are planning to provide better tools for analytics, which will collect data and provide them with details of the listener demographic that they have on Twitter”, Fazzini reveals.

The forthcoming analytics will introduce a service that goes beyond simply listing the number of plays or follower numbers for artists, to provide some genuine details for artists that use Twitter seriously.

Fazzini explains that ”currently, Twitter doesn’t supply this kind of information for musicians” and that the type of information will be similar to the data which Twitter provides advertisers, in order to give them a fuller idea of who interacts with their paid-for content.

Artists using premium data will be able to see a range of information such as gender, city, state using data from Twitmusic’s own service and systems that assess interaction and users on Twitter.

There’s no confirmed launch for the paid-for services, which Fazzini says will come “within the end of the year”. While they will go unnoticed by listeners they are an important step to generating revenue and keeping the service afloat and free to use.

For musicians and labels, the statistics can help them gauge their demographics on Twitter, giving them an opportunity to develop their efforts with key audiences in mind.

Competitors

Twitmusic, which Italian-Filipino Fazzini conceived with his brother when he returned to the Philippines from Europe, is unique in being the only music service that is dedicated to Twitter, but it does have a less specialized rivals.

There are a number of sites that push content — including music — to Twitter but they lack the longterm vision of Twitmusic, according to Fazzini:

“At the moment we don’t have any direct competitors, there are some services but they don’t help promote musicians, they don’t provide analytics or on-site discovery tools.”

SoundCloud, YouTube and other online music services are similar in function, but while the content can be shared to Twitter, none are built specifically for the microblogging service. Fazzini explains that the level of integration gives listeners a chance to express more from Twitmusic:

“The engagement on other sites is minimal, most of them only have a tweet button which is very banal. It doesn’t allow users to express whether they love a song or are listening to it now. We think our service is ideal for spreading music on Twitter because everything that users do goes back to Twitter.”

Why Twitter?

Given that Facebook is approaching 850 million users, why did the founders pick the smaller pool of Twitter users?

“We saw a problem and wanted to fix it”, Fazzini explains. “There were already a bunch of apps designed to help artists promote themselves on Facebook, but we saw Twitter is an untapped platform as there are no specific services catering for musicians.”

“We didn’t want to compete other apps on Facebook and, instead, wanted to provide a service for what we saw as a big market opportunity on Twitter,” he recounts.

Arguably, Twitter has its advantages for music too. While Facebook has a host of different services running through it, the simplicity, brevity and, of course, viral-nature of Twitter’s platform is arguably suited to quick mentions of what users are listening to.

“It’s quick and real-time’, Fazzini says, “which explains why a lot of our artists use the service as a broadcasting platform.”

Connecting artists with their listeners

One addition benefit of Twitter is the increased engagement levels, both for fans and artists too. Every form of engagement on Twitmusic include an ‘@ mention’ to each artists involved, allowing them to keep up with what is being said, listened to and loved on the service.

“If they use the Twitter app, they will receive every piece of interaction direct to their cell phone, allowing them to respond to fans and see what is being said,” Fazzini says. “We’ve had artists contact us saying that they are happy because they are able to get feedback from fans in real time.”

While artists may not check every single mention, they are able to gauge feedback from Twitmusic in a far easier way that Facebook apps, where they must return regularly to see how their music is being received.

Instead, Twitmusic allows them to keep up on the fly, which can help them build relationships with those that listen to their work.

“It creates an artist-fan interaction around their music, which is something artists need to do.”

The service has reached a lot of endorsement from tweets from popular artists, that include Mraz, Bowow and others:

Reaching the industry

Being based in the Philippines hasn’t stopped Twitmusic reaching out to artists thanks, in many cases, to Twitter itself. One of the benefits of using the service is that it allows a direct approach which, most importantly, means that correspondence and sign-up of artists is completely free.

In particular, Twitter has been a good ground for catching up and coming talent which might be more prepared to embrace a new service, as Seifert explains.

“Initially we leveraged Twitter to tweet artists directly. But obviously the bigger the following of an artist is, so your tweet drowns in all of their tweets. We were lucky to catch a few of the big artists, but luckier with those up-and-coming artists and especially DJs, who would sign up when we told them about the service.”

However, for most artists the teams behind the scenes are the most effective point of contact for artists, from Seifert’s experience. That often means contacting the management behind artists who are releasing albums or other promotions, to see if Twitmusic can help build awareness.

“The most effective way to bring artists on is management, they are quick to respond and get involved. It’s addition PR for the artist and it is on Twitter and free, so it’s a win-win for them.”

Seifert explains that the conversation doesn’t end there, and the team remains in contact with musicians to better service them and their needs. “We keep in touch with the artists and, for certain features that we are about to launch, we ask them to get involved and test it out before it goes live. This is really a service for musicians and they help us build it.”

There is also a clever option which allows fans to invite their favourite artists to join the service, a feature that shows just how neat the integration with Twitter is.

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Future plans

While the service is still very young, having been founded less than six months ago, it is seeing some encouraging take-up.

Currently, Twitmusic has more than 3,400 artists who have contributed more than 7,500 songs. While the company doesn’t give user numbers themselves, Fazzini does reveal that mentions of its songs (all engagements) have touched more 11.6 million Twitter followers, while the total reach of all of its artists on Twitter tops 20 million followers.

Fazzini is bullish about future growth and the company is aiming to sign up a minimum of 150,000 artists by the end of 2013, which would represent a huge increase in the content and potential visibility that the service could get.

Unsurprisingly, Twitmusic has seen plenty of interest from investors. The company has been talking to four investors across Asia and the US, and a US-based accelerator program but, Fazzini say, the right deal is about contacts and business development potential not simply money.

The team is keen on a move to the US, which is logical given that it would put them in the same physical location as the world’s largest massive music industry, and that is likely to be  a key factor to consider when it does take investment.

As for the future of the service, aside from ramping up on content, discovery is one key area that it is looking to expand its efforts. Seifert says that, once it is ready, it will shift its efforts and cater for “real music lovers”.

“We want to grow the content and, in the long term, once we have enough content we can to shift to become the ultimate discovery tool, using real-time and fresh and new content from Twitter.”

Content is certainly the prime issue for the service right now. Though it has artists like Mraz, the international superstar only has one track on the service, while other services boast fuller catalogue of artists.

Perhaps a move to the US is the push that will see artists give more tracks to the service which, in turn, is likely to bring users and artists from other services to it.

However, despite its lack of widespread content right now, Twitmusic is open to all international markets — its listeners comes form some 379 different countries — and while that may be complicated due to licensing and other, it does put the service ahead of some rivals.

So you’re looking to hear new music, or take a look at a site that could become a major online music service, then you owe it to yourself to look at Twitmusic; especially if you’re a big Twitter user.

➤ Twitmusic