December 9, 2011 at 10:37 am

Interview: CEO of Spotify’s Real-Time Group Listening App, Soundrop

spotify app soundrop

Just over a week ago, Spotify turned into a platform atop which music apps can run — or, more accurately, within which they run, given that all of them run within the main Spotify application itself (for now, just in the preview version), unlike previous Spotify app initiatives like its foray into powering Apple iOS apps.

One of the first Spotify launch partner apps to catch our eye was Soundrop, which ports something like the Turntable.fm group listening experience within Spotify. With the Soundrop app installed, you can turn any Spotify playlists into a group listening party and invite your friends to suggest songs.

Everyone votes on which songs should play next. And of course you can chat within the app, itself within Spotify.

This addition of real-time group listening to the popular Spotify desktop application offers a new way to hang out with your friends as you listen to music, although until the new Spotify rolls out to everyone, those friends will need the special preview version of Spotify linked above. That’s why, so far, Soundrop doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of play, as judging by the number of people in the public rooms.

But listening together with music with people is a powerful concept and plenty of people use Spotify, so we expect the Oslo, Norway-based Soundrop to get popular — or at least a lot more popular — after all 10-million-plus Spotify users get the new version at some point this month (by the way, we hear there’s been a slight delay since we wrote this story).

With that in mind, we put some questions to Soundrop (not to be confused with the other Soundrop) CEO and co-founder Inge Andre Sandvik, who explained how people are using the service, how he had the idea before he saw Turntable.fm, and that users can soon expect a mobile version of Soundrop too.

(This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

Inge Andre Sandvik

Inge Andre Sandvik

Eliot Van Buskirk, Evolver.fm: How did the Soundrop idea come about?

Inge Andre Sandvik, Soundrop: In 2009 I was talking to a friend, Gustav Söderström, who had just joined Spotify. I was fascinated by how Spotify could bring music to any Internet-connected device and we started to conceptualize how social music and sharing could be brought to a new level.

Gustav joined Spotify and was about to take on the responsibility to extend Spotify to mobile devices. I was fascinated after our talk about how Spotify could bring music to any Internet-connected device, but it was after that meeting that I started to conceptualize what would become Soundrop.

Early in 2011, things started to change. I met Ali Sabil and Johann Prieur, who just won the Oslo Startup Weekend with a mobile jukebox concept built on top of Spotify. We were then joined by a former colleague of Ali and Johann, Ole Andre Vadla Ravnaas. The four of us became Soundrop’s founding team.

When we were ready to start showing what we were planning to introduce, it was then natural for me to tell Gustav and Spotify what we were doing, and what our plans were. It turned out to be a very good match with what they were planning to do with opening up Spotify for developers and make it a platform [more here]. We then started focusing our effort on launching Soundrop as part of Spotify’s app strategy and since then have gotten a lot of help from Spotify to make sure that Soundrop has been well-integrated with the new Spotify client.

Evolver.fm: What advantages does this crowdsourced style of choosing the next song have over something like Turntable.fm, where a few DJs pick songs and people vote on them later?

Sandvik: Music was social from the very start. People had to be where the musicians were and they experienced the music together with their friends and strangers. But social music is currently about sharing history. We think it’s much more powerful to share what’s happening now, and more importantly invite people to decide what is going to happen next.

Evolver.fm: What sort of trends or group dynamics have you noticed so far – anything interesting about how people are using this?

Sandvik: People want to use Soundrop two ways. It can be a social radio for listening and voting on tracks with strangers [or] a social jukebox to meet, chat and enjoy music with friends.

We set up several social channels that people can tune into. We see many of the same people there day after day, and some have been there more or less since the start, from early morning to late evening. Its quite amazing, but they seem to enjoy the company.

I should point out that we have yet to launch our mobile service, so Soundrop lives only inside the Spotify client [more on that]. This affects how people use Soundrop.

Evolver.fm: Did Soundrop exist before Spotify’s app platform?

Sandvik: The product vision was defined before companies like Turntable.fm were in the market [read more about Turntable.fm's launch]. We decided early to keep in a stealth mode since we have been working on the app inside Spotify. We were of course very tempted to go out public to announce what we were planning to launch when we saw new players entering the field, but we decided instead to keep quiet and focus on building the best experience.

Evolver.fm: What do you expect to happen when Spotify apps roll out to all of its users later this month?

Sandvik: Following Twitter and other social media, and the response from Spotify itself, we have great expectation for the forthcoming release. We have thus far focused on improving the service and acting on the great feedback our fans have provided, so we’re excited to unveil all the changes.  We will also introduce the mobile service, which will bring yet another new way to experience music with your friends.

Evolver.fm: And sorry to be tedious, but what’s the business plan?

Sandvik: We see Soundrop as a unique and very powerful artist and label marketing platform. We’ve focused on building an engaging service that lets people share in creating a socially-intelligent playlist.

We have developed tools that allow labels to target new music to people that we know would be interested in that particular music. You
can view the play queue and our chat as an ideal channel for an ”AdMusic” sort of service.

We are also going to experiment with new business models around digital goods, and begin targeting the 400-plus digital music companies worldwide that want to bring social music to the next level.

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Photo via PicasaWeb