How Facebook Became The Home Of Music Discovery

You’ll have noticed the updates, remorselessly colonizing your Facebook news feed and ticker. Real-time Spotify alerts: an ever-open window into what your friends are listening to. Facebook has integrated other music services in this way, too, such as Rdio and MOG, but almost no-one is using them. Spotify is the only game in town. And the Stockholm-based streaming service is reaping the benefit, massively.

Since partnering with Facebook in September 2011, Spotify has piled on over 7 million users. It now represents a significant source of revenue for record labels. Warner generated £10m from streaming in the final quarter of 2011, much of it via Spotify. Daniel Ek’s company is now a mainstream juggernaut, driving 1.5 billion track streams on Facebook between September and November 2011. Together, the two tech companies are revolutionizing the way we consume music.

That shift has entered a new phase with the introduction of Facebook’s latest music tool, Listen With Friends, which is gradually being rolled out to the site’s 800m users following a soft launch in January. Just as Twitter is reckoned to have revitalized real-time TV (as opposed to on-demand) by making it more social, this has the potential to create an entirely new form of communal music experience.

Listen With Friends enables real-time group listening. If you see that a friend is listening to, say, ‘Video Games’, and you click on the link, you’re dropped in to the track, not at the start, but at the exact moment that your friend is at. Effectively your Facebook friends become DJs. It’s a powerful idea, with radical implications. I kind of love the idea of millions of these live listening parties going on at the same time.

The concept was no doubt inspired by, which was the buzz music start-up of last year. But where was limited by its narrow catalogue of songs – that’s why it hasn’t quite taken off – Facebook’s version is able to draw on Spotify’s immense library. Combining neat technology with colossal scale, Listen With Friends might just be the ultimate music discovery tool.

This keys into a broader trend in the industry. Until recently, Facebook was thought to have no interest in music. Bands still used Myspace as a shop window. Now, Facebook is a music marketer’s most effective weapon. David Emery, Head Of Marketing at Beggars Group, believes the site was a key driver in the campaign behind the label’s biggest hit ever, Adele’s ‘21’. He tells me:

Facebook is the most powerful platform at our disposal – Adele has 18 million Likes. We get far more interaction than on Twitter, or via mailing lists. It’s incredibly reactive.

It’s one thing to enable fan interaction. Does Facebook actually help sell records? Evidence suggests it does. Universal’s hugely successful ‘Nevermind 20’ campaign – to promote the Nirvana special edition CD – played out almost entirely on Facebook, chiefly via a ‘fan mosaic’ that had over 250,000 page views. The label’s digital marketing chief Ronan Mason won’t share sales data with me, but says that Facebook was “a huge influencer in the Nirvana campaign, and one of our key tools.”

Beyond marketing-land, though, it’s Listen With Friends – and more broadly the intersection of Facebook with Spotify – that promises to shape our listening habits the most. I spoke to Karla Geci, Strategic Partner For Development at Facebook, about the company’s music strategy.

What are your hopes for Listen With Friends?

Karla Geci: It’s all about learning about the tastes of your friends. That’s the whole concept of Facebook Timeline. It reflects your personality, and music is a big part of that. Artists want you to come their gigs, hear their music. All of that benefits from real-time music sharing on Facebook. Music is timeless, but there’s something about real-time activity in the ticker. It compels you to join in. It’s a new way to make music discoverable.

How will this affect the wider music industry?

You’ll start to see interesting tie-ups. If you’re listening to music with your friends, wouldn’t it be cool to purchase concert tickets together? Imagine Spotify + Songkick + NME – you can see how these richer stories will be enabled. Third parties will be a big party of it. For example, Rootmusic powers hundreds of artist profiles. David Guetta offered his latest album on his Facebook page to buy with Facebook credits. There’s a big opportunity.

All this frictionless sharing, clogging up your news feed. Isn’t it a bit much?

The news feed is a magical thing. It elevates stories based on relevance. And it’s a constant work in progress. For example, a while back we got complaints about all the games stuff that was being shared on Facebook – Farmville scores etc. We worked on that. So now, if you’re not interested in games, you don’t see so much of that. The addition of the ticker has helped, because it delivers bite-size stories in real time.

What’s behind your love of Spotify? You’ve given them a huge user boost

Spotify just happen to have this amazing momentum right now.

Unlike say Myspace or Vevo, Facebook has never worked directly with labels. You let other people do the hard work…

We are a platform company. Something you can build a successful business on top of. If Facebook wants to stay true to its values, we want to stay a small business. Building smart social channels. It doesn’t matter of you’re a game or video-on-demand, those channels work and you get the distribution you want. It’s an opportunity, it’s not competitive.

What are Facebook’s future music plans?

We’re just at the beginning. Why does a person on Facebook want to click Listen With? It’s the perceived value. ‘Wow I discovered a cool new band’. That’s value. But there’s so much more. You might end up going to a gig together in two weeks. That’s even more. So it’s impacting not just music but your personal relationships. Music is a natural fit for Facebook – it’s something we like to talk about and share.