After a month of rumors, Twitter publicly launched its #Music service for iPhone and the web this morning — and you'll no longer have to be among the rich and famous to play around with it. Twitter #Music is a simple, visual way to explore songs and artists who your friends are listening to and who you may not know about, just by signing in with an existing Twitter account. It's a music exploration service that actually has you exploring — poking around at a grid of logos and artwork and searching through profiles, rather than curating yet another account of your own.
Some sections are more useful than others
The app and website are broken down into four sections: Popular, Emerging, Suggested, and #NowPlaying. Each section displays a grid of album art and band logos that individually expand when you tap or click on them, letting you quickly follow or listen to an artist. By default, #Music will play short iTunes previews, which work surprisingly well here as a way to try out new music. If you have a Spotify or Rdio account however, the app can play full tracks instead.
Some of #Music's individual sections are going to be a lot more useful to certain types of listeners than others. Depending on your tastes, Popular is either a glossy way to flip through the hot new radio hits or a dreary reminder that no one listens to the same music as you. The Emerging section appears to be Twitter's attempt to unearth the next Justin Bieber, and works by featuring "hidden talents" who are just gaining traction. It does a nice job of showing off a mix of lesser known and unheard of artists, but it also ended up playing Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who have been around for over a decade.
Grimes, Kanye West, and Dolly Parton
For those interested in discovering new artists, Twitter #Music is at its strongest in its Suggested and #NowPlaying sections. The former is able to analyze the tastes of even the least prolific of tweeters, resulting in a charming curation of artists that you like and artists that you've never heard of, without you having to enter any preferences into the app. Its suggestions can be pretty good, but like any recommendation engine, it can sometime be a little off the mark: for me, Suggestions displayed Grimes, Kanye West, and Dolly Parton side-by-side.
The app's #NowPlaying section shows off artists that people you follow have been listening to by scouring their tweets for relevant links. It's an obvious, visual way to show off what the friends and figures that you're following have been enjoying lately, though it can occasionally grab the wrong artist from a link. If you're interested in who else a friend or artist is listening to, you can open their profile page, and #Music will display all of the artists that they're (sometimes unabashedly) following. It uses the same grid as the rest of the app, and lets you start playing a song from each of the artists as well.
Spotify and Rdio integration is fairly limited
On both the iPhone and web, #Music allows a track to keep playing as you browse across different areas of the service, and an ever-present spinning record in the lower corner lets you pull up playback controls and tweet the track that you're listening to. You can skip back and forth between the tracks that Twitter has selected for you, but there's no way to choose a song or listen to more than one piece from a given artist. On #Music's website, it will display either an iTunes, Spotify, or Rdio link to the song that you're listening to. But on mobile, #Music only links to iTunes for you to purchase the track — and neither version will let you add music from the app to a collection on Spotify or Rdio.
#Music's biggest success is the simplicity with which it pulls in songs that people you follow have listened to, giving you a slew of really personal recommendations. It can run a little sluggish on anything but the iPhone 5 and web, but it's far from unusable on older hardware. #Music isn't trying to replace existing music services, but it's a fun, commitment-free complement that enhances a social network that you're probably already using.