Twitter is the latest big partner for music technology company The Echo Nest’s music intelligence platform. The pair have inked a deal that will make it easier for music app developers to pull in tweets from Verified artists on Twitter.
The deal involves matching artists on Twitter with their IDs on The Echo Nest’s Rosetta Stone database. The latter company explains that developers of music apps will now be able to suck down tweets for thousands of artists with a few lines of code, rather than having to access them individually.
The first developer to make use of the partnership is Australian startup The Filter Squad for its Discovr Music app, which will be making more use of tweets in an update for its iOS app due for release this week.
This isn’t about apps for individual artists, where it’s easy to incorporate their Twitter feed. It’s about music discovery apps and other kinds of apps that cover hundreds or thousands of artists.
“The Echo Nest’s cutting-edge music data platform will enable thousands of developers to build new ways for music fans and artists to connect on Twitter,” says Twitter’s director of media business development Glenn Otis Brown in a statement.
“The sky’s the limit on the creative Twitter music applications that the Echo Nest’s developers can now build.”
The deal follows other recent high-profile partnerships for The Echo Nest. It’s working with EMI on a series of artist ‘sandboxes’ allowing developers to work with their music and related content, while its recommendation engine is being used by iHeartRadio and Spotify for their personal radio features.
Music Ally talked to The Echo Nest’s CEO Jim Lucchese to find out more about what the Twitter partnership will mean for app developers and the music industry.
“On one level, it’s a really big deal, and on another level it’s an important step towards hopefully a lot more to come,” says Lucchese. “The underlying problem being solved here is mapping the Twitter music ID space to the rest of the music ID spaces out there.”
Lucchese points to the increasing prominence of artists’ Twitter feeds in the last year, yet says this hasn’t necessarily been matched by the integration of Twitter into the swathe of new music services and apps that have emerged during that time.
“Whatever music app pops into your mind, the integration of that Twitter activity is really not prominent,” he says. “It’s the ID resolution problem – which is arguably the least sexy, but one of the most important problems that digital music apps face – which is probably the culprit.”
What Twitter gets out of the partnership is lower friction for developers to integrate it into their music apps. Meanwhile, developers get more artist content to round out their apps. And, of course, the artists get their tweets seen by more music fans.
“I do think this is really the first step,” says Lucchese. “If you think about all the rich contextual conversations about music taking place on Twitter, there are plenty more interesting challenges and nice payoffs in the apps space by digging into that. We’re talking to Twitter about other things we can do to enhance music discover in and around Twitter.”
Lucchese says that The Echo Nest has found music to be a high priority for Twitter in its dealings with the company, and he also praises its openness to integration with third parties.
He is also excited about Twitter’s recent partnership with Apple to make its service part of the iOS software that runs iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices – something he sees boosting the willingness of developers to bake Twitter more deeply into their own apps on that platform.
Filter Squad’s David McKinney is also enthusiastic about the partnership. “Previously, you could follow one of your favorite artists on Twitter, but there was no way to deal with the hundreds or thousands of music artists in an efficient way,” he says.
“There are some great music artist Twitter lists around, but they’re really patchy, and this new data set allows us to build out richer, deeper experiences around an artist more effectively. It also means that music fans who don’t actually use Twitter get to view and be involved in the artist’s ecosystem and conversation.”
See our separate interview for McKinney’s full views on Twitter and The Echo Nest’s partnership.
On a wider level, Lucchese is enthusiastic about the progress made by The Echo Nest in 2011, building on its historic focus on “the three D’s” – discovery, data and developer APIs.
“We’ve seen an explosion on the discovery side, signing 27 new deals in 2011,” he says. “On the data piece, while data is never the frontline story, it is often the foundation of many of the stories being told in the music space.”
And developer APIs? “That whole argument around ‘will larger media companies and content owners collaborate with app developers?’ is not a ‘will’ conversation any more. It’s a ‘how'” he says.
Lucchese adds that this is not just about music labels: many artists and their managers are also increasingly clued-in on the potential benefits of collaborating with developers – or at least removing some of the barriers those developers face when trying to work with music.
“Many artists and managers are considering creative application developers as part of their creative team,” he says. “The way they thought of a music video five years ago, they are thinking of application development now, and ways to create partnerships with developers. We’re seeing a lot more of that.”
The Echo Nest has also been one of the companies most active in the burgeoning music hacks scene, epitomised by the now-global Music Hack Day events.
Lucchese admits that there is a debate going on about the commercialisation of these kinds of events, at a time when some events outside the Music Hack Day initiative have been offering big-money prizes and/or charging developers to attend.
“Creating music apps is a great thing, and we want to see more money in developers’ hands,” he says. “But some people think hack days are more like startup camps where people are building micro-businesses. They’re camps for developers! Much of what comes out of a hack day is decidedly non-commercial: it’s about building an idea and seeing where you can take it in a short period of time.”
He says The Echo Nest is figuring out how to navigate the conversations around commercial interests, as it decides which events to support in 2012. However, even when the hacks created at these events are non-commercial, Lucchese thinks they will increasingly find their way into mainstream music services.
“What comes out are often concepts that can be very complementary to other commercial services,” he says. “Last year a lot of cool hacks looked at applying data and people’s music activity to do fun, socially-oriented things. And you’ll see more of that stuff living in actual music discovery services and other apps this year.”
But he warns again against seeing APIs, apps and hacks as purely commercial entities from the moment they are shown off to an audience of peers.
“These are not even demo tapes, let alone finished releases,” he laughs. “They’re jam sessions!”