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Friday
Jan072011

Top 6 Missing Features From Thumbplay Music

I AM THE most ungrateful person I have ever met.

At this moment, I have access to eight million songs. They are at my fingertips. And I’m not happy. It’s not enough. It’s not that I’m disappointed with the number of songs available.

It’s that every time I attempt to search for another artist or navigate within the app, I find shortcomings. They are small things. But they prevent me from enjoying my music experience in the way that I should. Or at least in the way that I think I should. 

In 2001, for $399, Steve Jobs gave music fans the ability to store one thousand songs in their pocket. Nine years later, eight million songs won’t suffice. Why?

No matter what the music industry does, we’ll all be unsatisfied customers.

If they meet the expectations of one generation, they’ll let another down. Music fans said they wanted eight million songs in their iPod – in the palm of their hands – playable from anywhere, at anytime. Basically, I have exactly that. It’s the dream of any sane music fan:

All-you-can-eat music – at an affordable price – streamed from the cloud.

The Holy Grail of Music

I can even download albums and make them available to be played offline. In the event that I am camping in the woods or apocalypse happens, Frightened Rabbit’s “The Midnight Organ Flight” will be the soundtrack of my end of the world experience.

That is, until the battery power of my iPod runs out in less than three hours. Then it’s rioting and pillaging for this guy. But anyways, cloud-based music is an exceptional feat.

For music fans, it’s the Holy Grail. Why go to the record store when the history of recorded music – or at least the small majority of it that’s available to be licensed and not Kanye West’s singles or albums by Garth Brooks – is sitting in my pocket? My thoughts exactly.

There’s little reason to visit the Wal-Mart unless you desperately need to hear “Friends in Low Places” on a Frisbee that will scratch and be useless if you look at it wrong.

This is the future. Every fan in the world discovered the web and hasn’t stopped searching for lyrics and porn since. But if this cloud-based music service is everything fans ever asked for, why isn’t it satisfying? Put simply, there are important things missing.

In past month, I’ve had the pleasure of using Thumbplay Music. I had recently bought myself an iPod Touch and wanted to experiment with a cloud-based music service.

It’s been a pretty good experience. I’ve mostly used the mobile app and have only dabbled in the desktop player. But, I wanted to highlight six of the most important missing features of Thumbplay Music and make a case as to why these additions to the service would be meaningful. Not all of these suggestions are going to be perfect and many of them the Thumbplay Music team may be in the process of implementing. I’ll save the rest for last.

And like I said, in offering up these several criticisms, I feel like the most ungrateful music fan – ever. Thumbplay Music can do better. Here’s why eight million songs isn’t enough.

6 Features Missing From Thumbplay Music

1. Import Music – In Thumbplay Music, you can import music and playlists from iTunes. That feature works fine, but I don’t have much music in there yet.

I want to be able to import my music from thesixtyone, Pandora, and Slacker too.

I realize that there are complications to doing such a thing, seeing as Thumbplay Music and Slacker will soon be competitors once they offer on-demand streams.

But, I’ve put quite a bit of work into favoriting songs on those sites and would like access to them. God knows how many gems are hidden within those Pandora stations.

Additionally, I would like there to be an export feature. Like bookmarks in a web-browser, I want to be able to leave a service with some kind of record of what I did.

If I want to try out another music service, I can leave with my artist list. I don’t expect this list to be compatible enough to be imported into a rival service, but I would like access to it. That way, I have my user information if I do choose to unsubscribe.

  • Let me import and export my music easily. It’s stored in many places.

2. Library Builder – I want there to be an entire music section in Thumbplay Music that resembles the “People You May Know” section of Facebook.

As soon as a feed it one artist, I should be able to quickly add and close out images of artists that I may know. Right now, it’s a semi-painful experience to add artists to my library, it takes time, and Thumbplay Music doesn’t even tell me which artists I’ve favorited already in their “Similar Artists” section. Because of this, I end up checking back to artist pages that I’ve visited prior, just to find out that they’ve been added to my favorites.

This feature can be cross-sectioned by genre, popularity, location, and whatever else. It should be amazingly simple to build a gigantic music library – now.

This might as well be one of the first screens that a user visits:

“Welcome to Thumbplay Music. Please check off all the artists that you’re familiar with and we’ll help you build up your music library with minimal effort.”

  • Every music service should have with a comprehensive library builder.

3. Playlist Refresh – Thumbplay Music has a great feature called Playlist Genie. Trouble is, for being a Genie; it’s actually pretty terrible at granting me my wishes.

Don’t get me wrong. The playlists that it creates are spot on. I wouldn’t expect the results to be any less from a playlist generator that’s powered by The Echo Nest.

Beyond that though, it falls short. The first thing that I would like my playlists to be able to do is to refresh themselves. Right now, I have several genie playlists that are geared towards the same artist. If I could just refresh the playlist, I wouldn’t have to create another one. Also, if the playlist generator remembered my previous searches, it would know that I’ve been searching for many of the same artists and am getting tired of having to type them every time that I would like to discover artists that are similar to their sound.

You can right click on an artist and create a new custom playlist instantly. However, the playlist that gets made is directed towards the song and not the artist.

Plus, pretty soon, you have a mess of oddly named playlists.

  • Playlists need to be smarter. They should refresh and memorize artists.

4. Updated Music – Inside of the Thumbplay Music app, there’s a “Featured Music” section. This is one of their most important features and personally, I think they’re blowing it. On the top of this section, there’s several albums featured.

I’m convinced that they haven’t changed since I started since I started using their music app. I’ll be blunt. I don’t give a fuck if Keri Hilson, Ghostface Killa, or Twista have albums out. Those recommendations were irrelevant to me the first time and they’re irrelevant now. I’m searching for new music to listen to and every time I check back into the “Featured Music” section, there’s nothing new. I’m left underwhelmed.

At the very least, flag the music I’ve checked out before. That way, I know what I’ve given a chance already and can move on. Thumbplay Music marks the things that I’ve downloaded, so tell me what music I’ve listened to prior. Don’t waste my time.

The way to succeed at being a cloud-based music service is to curate and I think Thumbplay Music needs to improve their role in this process. Also, when you delve into their genre section, the lists end abruptly. There’s no option to display twenty more results. Help me find more music and I’ll listen to more music. It’s that simple.

If the music gets old, I’ll get bored and end up leaving the service.

  • Curation is key. Services need to help the users find new, relevant music.

5. Ranking System – Songs are ranked solely by popularity in Thumbplay Music.

The only filter that users have to discern how good a song might be is by how high it’s ranked in the “Top Songs” section of an artist. You don’t know how good or bad an album will be, or whether or not you’ll like an artist that’s similar to another.

You’re led blindly through an oasis of music with no idea how good any of it is.

They should integrate a Digg style ranking system into their mobile app, because I need more information. The artists and albums that are recommended to me need context.

Otherwise, the options are meaningless. Yes, the point of a cloud-based music service is to eliminate the risk of trying something new. It can’t waste my time though.

I spent the money. Now, save me the time. Rakings help me pilot Netflix.

There’s no reason why a music service should be without a ranking system.

  • Help users find music. They need a hint as to what the best options are.

6. Better Search – Lastly, the search in the mobile app isn’t predictive. This is a minor complaint, one that will be solved in the near future. The names of artists aren’t easy to spell out all the way and if you get it wrong, no results are returned.

Even if you’re one letter off, search won’t bring you to the artist that you’re looking for.

We now live in a Google Instant culture and typing everything out isn’t a task that any user expects to do. Also, searching for songs with general names is impossible.

  • Search must be smarter. It disappoints users when they can’t find a song.

Conclusion

Overall, Thumbplay Music is a great service, but it lacks in these six categories.

There were some other minor discrepancies that I can live with, but they wouldn’t turn me away from the service. (See below.) I’ve heard from their CEO that they’re going to be incorporating a radio feature soon, which is why I didn’t talk about that.

Additionally, their mobile app doesn’t have any social sharing features available.

You can tweet songs directly from the desktop player, but there aren’t such options in the app. Again, they’re probably working on this feature. OK, so maybe I’m not that ungrateful.

These days, most fans are thankless. We want it all, but better.

Additional Notes

A. I’m upset they there’s no single song repeat.

B. I was perplexed as to why multiple singles by Kanye West and Eminem were missing, but I know that someone at a major label is responsible for that stupidity.

C. Sometimes, the mobile app navigation doesn’t make sense at all.

For instance, if you’re listening to the “Top Songs” by an artist and navigate away to the “Featured Music” section, there doesn’t appear to be any way to navigate back to the artist page. So, you’re stuck elsewhere.

D. The other confusing thing that Thumbplay Music does happens when you log into Thumbplay Music on your computer at the same time that you have the mobile app open.

It doesn’t like that. It will kick you out of one of the places and ask you to re-login on the mobile app. Perhaps, this isn’t an error that everyone will encounter, but while writing this, I was kicked out of the service many times for connecting like this.

E. Also, it would be nice if they decided to organize “Offline Albums” by artist and not album names. I have several albums downloaded by the same artist and they don’t sit next to each other in my music collection.

F. You can’t resume your last listening session.

G. The mobile app can’t generate Genie Playlists.

Reader Comments (5)

Going down in a blaze of glory to Midnight Organ Fight would definitely be on my 'things to do just before dying' list too. Freaking awesome album.

I think a lot of music services could take notes on everything you've put up here. Interoperability would probably be highest on my list, though I realize the companies owning the services aren't in the business of being nice to each other. Rather than making me put in the music I like by myself into every service, give me a god damn .csv already.

January 7 | Unregistered CommenterMark D

After a several months of pure reading joy, that's the second article on MTT that irritated me. For me, the post written in stirred, agitational language telling how nice it is to use some random-i've-never-heard-of-and-now-do-not-want-to-anymore webservice for listening music is just confusing here.

January 7 | Unregistered CommenterVospi

@Vospi

First, sorry to disappoint, as I am the Editor of Music Think Tank. It was my judgement that you might like this post. Second, you're reading a music industry publication. The future of cloud-based music is a big part of the shift in how music is consumed. That said, I felt this review of Thumbplay Music would be well-received.

There will be plenty more artist advice posts and other reading on the way.

-Kyle

January 7 | Registered CommenterMusic Think Tank

Nice to see some variety for a change.

I get tired of reading posts about "artist promotion".

Thanks Kyle.

January 8 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

@ Kyle

Thank you for your reply and for the articles. This blog is exceptionally good.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterVospi

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