December 9, 2010 at 11:40 am

Soundtrckr: What Does Music Have to Do With Location?

Soundtrckr, a music app for multiple smartphones and the web, lets you build customized streaming radio stations around a single artist, listen to them on your smartphone or the web, and share those stations with your friends and followers using a nicely-designed interface.

These days, that’s not enough to stand out from the competition.

Soundtrckr (for iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and Nokia Symbian) distinguishes itself by focusing on the intersection of music and location. A simple tap of the screen brings up a list of all the stations that other users near you have created, for instance, as well as the stations of your friends.

If I had to come up with a mathematical equation to represent Soundtrckr, which I’ve been using on-and-off for nearly a year, it would be as follows:

Music * (Twitter + Foursquare) = Soundtrckr

But what does music have to do with location, anyway?

Evolver.fm spoke with Soundtrckr founder and CEO Daniele Calabrese by phone to find out more about what it means to listen to music in one location versus another (interview edited for length and clarity):

Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: How much do people want to associate songs and stations with certain places? What kind of traction have you seen with users lately, in other words?

Daniele Calabrese, Soundtrckr: Since version 2.0 went live in mid-October, we saw an explosion of growth. We are growing at over 100 percent per week, so we’re doubling the number of users every week. Now we have the force of Windows Phone 7, the website, and the iPhone app. Windows Phone 7 is actually generating the most action, then the website, then the iPhone. It’s very difficult to discover the iPhone app, so I basically have to get those users one-by-one. We’re in the top ten of Windows Phone 7 marketplace already.

Evolver.fm: So where do the songs come from? Do you have direct licensing deals with the labels?

Calabrese: No, we work with MediaNet… [And the stations are generated by] Last.fm, something that MediaNet has, and our own social and geo-component. In other words, we give you back what people play around you, and what your friends are playing.

Evolver.fm: So you must know quite a bit about who is listening to what where. Are you noticing any types of interesting behavior from users along those lines?

Calabrese: The majority of our users are in urban areas — Washington, Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are two big behaviors. One is Wi-Fi-enabled: People play these stations at home, which is fine. The other thing is that people in the vicinity of clubs tend to play the kind of music that that club plays — R&B, rock, disco, whatever it is — and that this happens more in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington than in other cities.

And that is leading me, rapidly — like, in the next few weeks — to integrate a service, SonicLiving, so that users on SoundTrackr can open the app, look for clubs, and see what’s playing there. You’ll be able to fire up a list of stations with those artists right away, RSVP, and send an invitation to friends. Once users are inside the club, they can check in on Facebook or Foursquare.

Before the end of the year, I think we will have club integration: Check out music at venues, check in at those venues, then share it all with friends.

Evolver.fm: When I was first looking at Soundtrckr, I remember thinking, ‘Do people really want to use a standalone location-music service, or is this really an extra feature for Foursquare?’ I don’t mean to put it so bluntly, but how is that integration going? How do you see that working?

Calabrese: I cannot tell you because we just started. I sent an email to the co-founder of Foursquare and said ‘Hey, we’re working on developing this with your API, because people are really asking us to hook more music and location with venues, and the best way for us to do that would be to work with you.’ (And I ended up doing it with Facebook Places as well.)

Foursquare was really excited, because there’s really no other music app or internet radio app that does this — that allows users to check into venues with the music they’re playing.

Evolver.fm: Is strikes me that one interesting thing you could do with Soundtrckr is sort of a diary of where you were, and what you were doing, with photographs and the music you were listening to also tied to those places. What’s your vision of the next generation of Soundtrckr, assuming everything goes perfectly?

Calabrese: I have two paths: One is what you are describing, which is to allow users to [keep a history] that says ‘I was there, with those people, I did that’ — basically what Facebook has already done — a more social version of Foursquare. We’re going in the same direction. The question is, are we going to build the entire infrastructure ourselves, or as Facebook involves into the location-aware social network, are we going to be integrating more and more with them? That does seem to be the case. I’m going to be following both Foursquare and Facebook, and tying in to their location features, which we can enhance with music. In other words, we stay within the music field, and then transparently allow users to check in; we don’t want to duplicate apps that already exist.

Another thing I’m looking at is photo apps like Instagram. It might not be so crazy to have an integration with those services as well, so you take a picture and add a soundtrack to that.

Evolver.fm: I would like to see more music tagged to specific places, like, ‘What does St. Marks Place in New York sound like?’

Calabrese: Yes. You could send the soundtrack of a place to your friends, or get the feeling of this place yesterday, or even now, or last week. ‘This has been the soundtrack here in the past week, with these certain people being there, with these emotions being shared,’ and so forth. It’s basically one big line of self expression that is powering UGC (user-generated content), where we add the music.

The other path has to do with the actual radio itself. I see our services — Pandora, Last.fm, and Soundtrckr — as kind of reaching… we are actually on the opposite side from traditional radio, but traditional radio is not dead yet. It’s in a transformation. The other end of this has to do with the user being able to integrate, in one app, the best of NPR, [radio station] 99.5, and so on — basically adding the curated quality to programmed radio. And I haven’t seen anything like that yet. People complain about radio that there are too many ads, and the music is always the same, but people love some of those programs.

On the other hand, our apps are missing something. We can make them cooler with location, friends, pictures, etc., but I think radio is also about an editorial voice, in the age of bombardment. In my vision, there is a blend between traditional radio on the internet and our personalized, geo-social radio stations.