Music Apps That Don’t Exist Yet (But Should)
SPIN assembles a list of fictional music apps we wish existed for future smartphones and tablets
For the next week, SPIN will be venturing into the great unknown to attempt to answer some questions (or at least hazard some guesses) about the future of music. Join us as we look at what the world of music — the sound, the technology, the business models — may look like ten, 20, even 30 years down the road.
When Apple’s App Store for iOS first launched in June of 2008, you couldn’t escape the tagline: “There’s an app for that.” Technology’s app evolution, which began in 1983 when Steve Jobs envisioned a software-distribution center that would allow systems to be purchased via phone lines, has defined how we consume media in the 21st century. Music apps in turn have become particularly advanced; many offer “unlimited” libraries, and as a result, we’re more reliant on our phones as music players than ever before.
Today, in 2015, we can free up precious space on hand-held devices by streaming music on any of the following apps: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Songza, Amazon Music, Pandora, Google Play, Rhapsody, and myriad others. We can even better interact with the music in the world around us: Hear a song in the wild and Shazam or Soundhound will tell you its title. There are apps for song lyrics, music production, radio, DJing, finding live music, teaching music, and more.
Such a cornucopia of options begs the question: Is there anything we can’t yet do in the music app world? Or, more to the point: Is there anything we can’t yet do that we should be doing? Below, we’ve compiled a list of SPIN-vetted and approved music apps that should exist (but don’t yet), along with input from industry experts like Slacker CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones, Drew Thurlow of Pandora Industry Relations, Google Play Music Curator Parry Ernsberger, and more, who can fill us in on whether or not our tech ideas are viable.
App Name: WhatInstrument
What’s it for? Identifying the instruments in any song on your device, also giving you the tablature and chord progressions for any song as soon as it plays.
Could it actually work? “The Instrument Identifier app could be useful if you want to perform the song exactly like the recording,” says David Maurice, co-founder of the Foxgrove, a private electronic music and DJ school in New York City. “I haven’t heard of an app that does this, and it would be very hard if not impossible to create a product/app that could accurately identify individual instruments, but it could be possible if the information was already in a library.” James Bradley, founder of Brooklyn’s Sound Fix Records (R.I.P.), sees how the app could be a godsend for music-makers. “Jazz musicians would dig this — they’ve been known to start fights over chord changes,” he says. “I can never tell the difference between a clarinet and an oboe, so count me in.”
App Name: Wi-Free
What’s it for? Playing streaming music sans Wi-Fi, and you don’t have to “download” the track first like Spotify and Apple Music requires you to do. Magic? Maybe.
Could it actually work? “This is certainly an interesting concept,” says Slacker Radio CEO Duncan Orrell-Jones. “Music is the soundtrack to our lives, and we shouldn’t be limited in how or where we experience it.” Maurice is similarly intrigued. “Wi-fi-less streaming music definitely sounds like a good idea,” he says. “Most streaming apps currently have a buffer that keeps streaming even if you lose Wi-Fi connection, but only for a pre-chosen track/tracks that have already buffered in your playlist. The roadblock is that you would probably have to have the music preloaded/downloaded onto a device unless you already have a huge pre-embedded library in your device.”
Beautiful dream that Wi-Free may be, Drew Thurlow of Pandora Industry Relations is less than optimistic about its feasibility. “I think this becomes a reality when we have the ability to listen to music telepathically,” he says.
App Name: SongTruth
What’s it for? This pop-up app feeds the users factual tidbits about their favorite songs, much like VH1’s Pop-Up Video, referencing a Genius-style database with user-submitted annotations to provide the listeners with trivia about artists and tracks.
Could it actually work? “I’m all for Fun Facts, but the idea of reading while listening to music makes my head hurt,” says Google Play Music Streaming App Editor & Expert Music Curator Parry Ernsberger. “Also, people hate pop-ups and generally associate them with ads now.” Maurice, on the other hand, is in favor of the idea. “This would be a great app for music fans, and I haven’t heard of any app providing this type of function yet.” The only issue, he says, is the amount of hours in a day. “The major roadblock would be the sheer amount of time it would take to create individual content per song.”
Orrell-Jones, meanwhile, takes the pragmatic approach. “Since most users are listening to streaming services with their device in sleep mode — while they’re driving, for example — it’s not likely that a pop-up video feature would get widespread usage.” Bradley concurs, arguing the impracticality of such a feature once transferred from its TV-screen origins to a smartphone or tablet. “I can’t imagine this would catch on,” he says. “Too much clutter on a small screen. It was annoying when VH1 did it; keep it off my phone.”
App Name: RecordQuest
What is it? An app exclusively for crate-diggers, scanning any record store to tell you if if the vinyl you’re looking for is there, and if it isn’t, tells you where else to look on a map.
Could it actually work? “Now you’re talking,” says Bradley. “I can’t believe this doesn’t exist yet.” Maurice, though, points out one possible obstacle, such as “the declining demand of vinyl and maintaining an accurate inventory and map of where the vinyl is located.”
App Name: JumboWatch
What’s it for? Giving concertgoers their own personal JumboTrons, projecting arena video straight to your phone, no matter where you are seated in a concert venue. We already stare at our phones half the time while we “watch” live music — why not get an up-close look at the artist while we’re at it?
Could it work? “That’s a sad concept,” says Johnny Sierra of Brooklyn art-punk band the Death Set. “Kind of defeats the purpose of seeing live music. But this could be implemented as of now, I think. It’s the next level to everyone recording, anyway, which is what I see everywhere now.”
Ernsberger is equally skeptical. “So, you’d basically be buying a ticket to look at your phone for a few hours and get overcharged for Miller Lite?” she asks. “It’d completely distract from the performers onstage, which kind of defeats the whole purpose of seeing a show live.”
App Name: Samplified
What’s it for? On-the-go sample recognition, identifying all of the samples of pre-existing audio used in a particular track, and tells you where they originated and every other song they’re also used in.
Could it actually work? “The biggest question,” says Maurice, “is how audible is the sample in the track?” Ernsberger favors the idea, suggesting, “They should teach this in schools. Also, I’d fully support an app that identifies the original artist of a covered song. This would have been especially useful that time I thought ‘Boogie on Reggae Woman’ was penned by Phish.”
App Name: Prestige
What is it? An app to list all of the artists from whom your favorite band draws influence, creating playlists of said bands for your listening pleasure.
Could it actually work? “I haven’t heard of this service unless you count Wikipedia,” says Maurice. “The biggest [obstacle] is that it would take a significant amount of time to build the information accurately.” “Amazon and AllMusic do something similar (though not terribly well),” observes Bradley. “Seems like a worthwhile project.”
App Name: AdWipe
What’s it for? Clearing ads from your music app — install this on your phone, and whoosh, all those intrusive ads will disappear from your streaming service of choice.
Could it work? As cumbersome as the ad-watching experience can be from a user perspective, the sweeping response to an ad-free music app is a firm “no” from industry insiders. “I’d prefer to keep my job,” says Ernsberger. “I’m pretty sure this qualifies as Market Cannibalization,” Maurice says. “Just pay the $9.99 per month!”