This past Ramadhan holiday, I have finally surrendered and accepted various invitations – no, challenges – to play SongPop. At first, I didn’t want to invest myself in yet again another ‘versus’ game platform which I would be neglecting (sorry, Draw Something friends who have been nudging me for the past month), but I finally relented and have been playing ever since. My wife has also started playing (she’s a fellow music geek) and I must admit that I haven’t the slightest clue about ‘Today’s Hits’ or ‘Punk’.
The game hits people from various sides – some like it because it challenges their song repertoire (I suck, apparently), some like the friendly competition it gives, and for others, it’s an opportunity to rediscover music. Old songs seemingly forgotten, that tune that you know the title yet don’t seem to remember the title or artist, or finally matching a riff to a song. And the more people play it, the more songs and songlists they can unlock with the hard-earned coins. Well, if you consider yourself a music fan and you haven’t played, I do recommend giving it a spin.
Most players probably won’t notice, but SongPop does not sit in the grey area of DMCA and gets their songs from bogus file sharing sites. They are properly licensed for public performance royalties, and there are buttons leading to music download stores if you’re interested: after a game session, the song titles and artists list will come out, and a “Download on iTunes” button will appear; on the Facebook version, there are links to iTunes, Amazon MP3, Youtube and Spotify when you hover over the song title (I haven’t tried the Android version yet).
I wouldn’t be surprised if SongPop would partner with one of the major labels to launch an album or single – I’d think it would be great for launching ‘Greatest Hits’ albums as people would already know the songs.
So the other reason why I’m addicted to SongPop, is that it’s simply genius. The recorded music industry has relied on platforms to perpetuate their business – an A&R/production arm to find, train and break new artists and strengthen established ones, an artist promotion platform consisting of media channels like TV, radio and magazines; a music production, distribution and sales channel to produce, distribute and sell the recorded music products.
The business model platforms mentioned are necessary so that music labels can concentrate on creating hits, and let the platforms do the rest and make money for the company. Rinse, repeat – the music may change but the platform stays the same.
SongPop is such a platform – one very good technology framework that can be filled with any type of music and offered as such to the consumer. The other genius part is their licensing deal with the collecting societies, which usually charge per play or in bulk per year – and they make money from either the sale of the premium version app, or from the ads on the free version, not to mention any affiliate deals they have with iTunes and friends. That would be the third genius part, their business model. I have no idea on their business plan sustainability, but the ingredients look right.
This is exactly what the music industry needs – something that goes beyond selling recorded music, but sells an experience; something that either the consumer or advertiser will pay for. Something that can be used as a music discovery tool, and create music purchase interest. An experience that does not really emphasise on selling recorded music, but facilitates it if needed. One link in a long – and much-needed – value chain of music products.
But there are always caveats in creating technology platforms for music – Guitar Hero was heralded as one of the best music + technology products, and was treated as a platform to funnel more music into it and make more money. Yet sales declined after five years and was announced to be ‘on hiatus’ in 2011.
What really happened? Quality went down, the song offering could not expand fast enough (well, at least for the official version) and people simply got bored. Even Draw Something has lately had a challenge on retaining high usage, and that’s for a game which can almost be fed any word to guess by pictures, and not “limited” to songs.
I’d love so see SongPop expand – expand game mechanics, add prizes to make it more interesting or even make local version apps for India or China who have a very large song database to tap into. In the meantime, do you play? I’ll challenge you to a 90′s alternative playlist.
Ario is a co-founder of Ohd.io, an Indonesian music streaming service. He worked in the digital music industry in Indonesia from 2003 to 2010, and recently worked in the movie and TV industry in Vietnam. Keep up with him on Twitter at @barijoe or his blog on http://barijoe.wordpress.com.