Last.fm has fallen from favor in recent years. That’s a shame as its best feature – the ability to log every song you listen to from virtually any source on almost any Internet-connected device, giving you rich data about your music taste and letting you explore the long-term listening habits of other people – hasn’t been tried seriously by anyone else. Until now, that is.
Soundwave is a new mobile app launching today for iOS and Android. At its core, it’s a mobile-focused way to share what you’re listening to in real-time. Listen to a song on your device’s native music player on Spotify or Rdio, and it will add it to your profile, complete with cover art.
Discovery is currently the main thrust of what Soundwave is about. Users can follow one another and see each other’s activity in a feed as they listen to music. In most cases, you’ll be able to get an instant 30-second preview of songs that other people are listening to. Tap on any song and you can browse related content on YouTube and SoundCloud, or buy a download if you’re particularly moved by it.
For a slightly more unusual approach to discovery, you can pull up a map view. Users are geotagged via their device’s location, meaning that you can draw a circle around an area on a map and see what Soundwave users have been listening to in that area. It’s anonymized, so don’t worry about strangers figuring out that you always listen to Britney Spears on the train ride home.
The ‘how’ behind Soundwave is worth noting, when it comes to the iOS native music player. On Android, it’s pretty simple – run a background process that picks up metadata from the music player and you’re done. The sandboxed nature of iOS makes real-time logging of activity in the music player a lot more tricky. So tricky in fact, that Last.fm ended up launching its own music player app to get around the problem.
However, the Dublin-based team behind Soundwave have worked out a way around the problem. They’re not saying what it is, but it’s now patent-pending and they claim that Apple has given the all-clear for whatever workaround they’ve developed.
Soundwave is admittedly quite a simple idea right now, and it’s far from the first app to offer mobile music sharing (Soundtracking is a notable alternative, for example) but whereas most other apps of its ilk have gone down the Instagram route of deliberate, sporadic sharing, Soundwave is automatic and works without you thinking about it. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you, but Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was full of praise for the app when he met the Soundwave team at a conference in Ireland recently, and U2 frontman Bono is apparently also keen on it.
There’s a real buzz around Soundwave in Dublin. A few months ago I threw a few emails out to investors and entrepreneurs in the city to find out what startups they were excited about. Despite the app being a long way from launch at the time, every single one of them mentioned Soundwave. The team won’t say exactly how much funding they’ve raised but it’s “just over a million dollars,” including a contribution from U2’s management company.
At the moment, the only revenue source that Soundwave has is the affiliate revenue from music sales referrals within the app. However, ideas for the future include offering listening data to radio stations so that they can assess the music taste of their local market and becoming a direct marketing channel between artists and listeners. An API that will allow others to harness Soundwave listening data is also on the roadmap.
It would be nice if some of that data could be be fed back to listeners too, allowing them to see the kinds of graphs and charts that got Last.fm users excited all those years ago. If CBS isn’t going to invest in keeping its decade-old service fresh and relevant, someone else might as well pick up the mantle.
Soundwave is a free download and available now for iOS and Android.
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