March 23, 2011 at 4:19 pm

AudioVroom Changes the Social Radio Game

audiovroom social local radio for iphoneAs with just about every other area of our lives these days, music is said to be increasingly “social,” “local,” “more like a game,” and “stored in the cloud.” Who knows: If a company were to combine these memes into the right product, people might even be persuaded to pay for recorded music again.

On paper, those concepts are just buzzwords, but Social Genius’ AudioVroom iPhone app, spotted in early form at New York Music Hack Day, attempts to make them real, and succeeds to a large degree.

This “multi-user internet radio station,” set to be released in the iTunes app store within the next week or so, is a case of “game mechanics applied to music,” according to Marcos Lara, co-founder and CEO of Social Genius, who says AudioVroom is designed for “meet space” (that’s a twist on “meatspace,” for the uninitiated).

AudioVroom begins as an iPhone app, but Lara said an HTML5 version will follow, adding support for non-Apple phones, as well as a Facebook app version — all of which allow encourage users to interact with each other to discover music using well-proven social game mechanics from other genres, in which users generate credits by performing certain actions.

audiovroom home screen“In exchange for growing the base, we allow them to listen to music,” said Lara, a self-described former “white hat hacker” for big firms such as Ernst and Young and Deloitte and Touche. “And if they run out of music, we have in-app purchase [of more credits].”

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3… $… ∞?

After beta-testing the as-yet-unreleased iPhone version of AudioVroom, we’re impressed with how it packs real, next-generation features into an attractive, easy-to-understand interface. And for artists and labels, its business model aims to offer a new way to sustain themselves (and for the company itself to make money), without requiring users to put up with ads or pay for music — in the beginning, anyway.

You start with 250 points, which represents about 2.5 hours of  listening time, without no advertisements to interrupt a party, your train of thought, and so on, even in the free version. To rack up points, you make new friends within the service, ‘bump’ phones with each other in real time and space to create a collaborative playlist shared between both users, earn badges, or simply pay for more points. For example,

  • $1 for 500 points (approximately 5 hours of listening time)
  • $10 for 5500 (approximately 55 hours of listening time)

audiovroom uses the bump apiAudioVroom’s game-like architecture gives listeners an incentive to use the social features as much as possible, exposing AudioVroom to new users and reminding existing users that they have it installed.

“Growing our user base — growing your friend list — builds up your points,” explained Lara. ” If I bump with a stranger for the first time, I get more points than if I bump with a friend for the first time, and fewer points for bumping with someone I’ve bumped with before.

“There are all sorts of gradations… the more points you earn, the more music you can listen to for free,” he continued. “It’s educational. The game mechanic and badging are important. It’s us telling you how to use us. ‘You’ve done something good, here’s some reinforcement — do it again.’”

For example, Lara says, the Slow Dance badge (four bumps with the same person) includes the message, “Monogamy is cool, but this ain’t that kind of relationship — get out there and bump with some other people for the real payoff.” And the “Shake Baby Shake” badge, for ten bumps, pays off with 500 points — about five hours of listening.

Meanwhile, the unlock-able DJ Mode comes with unlimited listening and a party mode that creates a station from the preferences of everyone in a room who has the app installed.

audiovroom find djsWe can imagine AudioVroom or something like it taking off within the friend networks at a high school, college, or anywhere else there’s a ready pool of people with occasion to meet each other in the real world. And the competitive aspect, which allows users to build up points with either time or money, is straight out of today’s social media playbook.

Many Ways to Create Stations

Of course, without compelling music, these points don’t matter. In this case, you can base stations on an artist, your favorites, your friend’s stations, your listening history, or the all-inclusive “my station” channel which factors in your likes, dislikes, and the music stored on your iPhone (assuming you’ve granted that permission).

It’s clear that this is a streaming radio player designed by people who use the internet. You ‘Love’ a track to add it to your favorites, ‘Fail’ it to banish it forever, or ‘WTF?’ it to question its inclusion in a given station without affecting your preferences, to help AudioVroom hone its recommendations. (AudioVroom uses music from 7digital, various APIs from The Echo Nest, publisher of Evolver.fm, and the Bump API, as well as over 20 of its own). Meanwhile, the history page records your listening behavior and how you came across a certain station like a musical diary, so that you can always go back and re-listen to collaborative channels and re-rate songs.

audiovroom library uploadIn our testing, some songs took too long too load, especially when we skipped songs, but again, this was a pre-release version. (Pandora manages smooth playback even when a user skips, in part, by pre-buffering the beginning of the next song.)

‘Bumping’ Preferences to Meld Minds

The core of AudioVroom relies on users mixing their musical taste by meeting in real, physical locations. Yes — actually meeting each other. Strange, right?

“We allow users to ‘bump’ using the Bump API to exchange musical preferences, and we then throw those preferences into the cloud,” explained Lara. “We then reduce it down to the intersection, the overlap, and then we stream those intersection songs — that perfect blend of where you and I overlap — down to each phone.”

Following a bump, each user’s phone (or, eventually, Facebook app) starts playing the playlist. It allows users to skip and pause music independently of each other, which is nice, but that also limits users’ ability to chat in another service about what’s playing on their shared station. In DJ Mode, which was designed to encourage a real-world, multi-user music experience, that’s not a factor.

DJ Mode: Round Robin Party Playlists

For an as-yet-undetermined, one-time fee — or by keeping one’s point balance above a certain level — you can unlock DJ mode, including unlimited listening for a year and a digital-jukebox-style feature designed for parties and other gatherings.

Plug the phone that has DJ Mode enabled into the stereo (or even better, use Apple AirPlay to connect it to the speakers, if AudioVroom ends up adding that) to enable a “round robin” function that plays one song from each person’s taste profile, in succession.

All-in-all, AudioVroom includes a lot of clever ways to convince people to pay for music functionality rather than just paying for music itself, which would seem to be a smart strategy these days.

Lara pointed out that Social Genius can tweak the exchange rate of credits, allowing it to experiment with the payment and rewards model to some degree. Whether 100 credits for an hour of listening is the right number is somewhat immaterial. The real point here is that, if all this talk about our game-based, social, local, cloud-based future is accurate, AudioVroom and apps like it represent the next phase of music consumption.

Social Genius expects Apple to approve AudioVroom for the iTunes app store soon, after which we’ll update this story with a link.