January 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm

One (Fictional) Music App to Rule Them All


Normally, we write about music apps that exist. Not this time.

I’ve been dreaming of the ultimate music app; maybe it’s because I used to do the same thing with hardware during my days as the guy who reviewed MP3 players at CNET (although they deleted the column), or maybe it’s just fun to make up awesome stuff that I can’t actually build myself, because I’m a former English major whose last programming experience was with the Vic-20.

To me, the ultimate music app would be one I could listen to all day because it would include real-world feedback about my actual life.

My location, calendar, social networks, email accounts, schedule, weather, friends, books, cats, phonecalls, alarm systems, relatives, season, and just about anything else would be reflected in a single music channel — or, more accurately, a set of them. The concepts described here would work with any artist- or otherwise-customized streaming radio station, or within on-demand music services. And it would run, of course, on any platform.

I’ve even dreamt up a name for this thing: LifeListen. It’s one of the Untapped Apps you can vote on here.

We’ve seen tinges of this idea lately, with today’s news that Slacker is adding weather reports to customized radio stations, as well as with a Music Hack Day-generated app I saw in San Francisco called RadioFreeWorld, which promised to read web pages and interject conference calls within a streaming music station. But nobody has hit the ball out of this particular park.

My dream music app, LifeListen, would include the following features, although this list is incomplete by its very nature. There’s simply no end to the types of information that could be conveyed by music, or in between songs, in a personalized radio station.

Tempo as timekeeper

Am I late for the subway, according to New York City’s public transportation system API? Speed up the tempo of my music to increase my walking pace, which could spell the difference between making the train and waiting in vain.

Virus/intruder alerts

Does one of my computers, telephones, tablets, or televisions have a virus? Is someone hacking into my world in some other detectable fashion? If so, I want to hear something like this mixed in to my music:

Oh noes


‘Volume’ can speak volumes 

Is it time for me to go to sleep? Fade out the volume. Is it time for me to wake up? Fade it up. That’s simple enough, but other audio effects would work too. For instance, if someone I know isn’t going to meet me in time somewhere, because they trust me enough to let me know their location in certain situations, my music could add a delay effect. Likewise, if something I said on social networks is “reverberating” in the blogosphere, a little reverb would be nice.

Calendar reminders

Do I have an appointment in 15 minutes according to the Google Calendar API? LifeListen’s text-to-speech engine would interject a warning, along with reading me whatever notes I have attached to the meeting. Heck, if I’m listening on a phone, it could even dial me in.

Augmented reality

Did my phone’s location sensor detect that I am within five blocks of a ramen joint with at least three stars on Yelp? LifeListen, being fully appraised of my love for steaming bowls of ramen, would mix the sound of someone noisily slurping noodles into the mix. Clearly, there’s plenty of wiggle room for other augmented reality implementations here, but you get the point.

My friends’ tunes

Does Facebook know that one of my friends just listened to a song — and does Last.fm or some other music service know that I would be likely to like that song? Lay it on me, with the option to comment via text or voice on that song on Facebook or wherever else. I’m not picky — I just want to stay connected, and I’m too busy to mess around with that sort of thing all day.

Important emails, voicemails, carrier pigeons

Did my wife, kid, parent, boss, editor, drill sergeant, spiritual overlord, or other important figure just try to communicate with me? If they’re on the hotlist, LifeListen would fade down my volume and ask if I wanted to hear the message and respond, or if I would prefer to follow up myself. Then the music would resume, as it always would. I know; some smartphones already do something like this, but I want it to be part of my actual music channel, on any platform — not just a text message on my multitasking-capable phone.

Automatic mood sensing and/or alteration

This one is a little more complicated, but it could work. Am I using words that signify complaining, happiness, fear, anger, or any other emotion in my email, Facebook, Twitter, or other methods of communication? LifeListen would intuit my mood based on the appropriate APIs (with me having granted permission, of course) and adjust the mood of the music accordingly. Bonus: the screen of whatever device I happen to be using would ask me whether I want to reinforce or counteract that mood.

Social media and news

Did a picture I posted to Facebook get over 20 likes from my friends? Is one of my articles blowing up all over Techmeme, Slashdot, Boing Boing, and so on? Is the stock market imploding? Did my favorite team just win or lose something? Did I win the freaking lottery? LifeListen would let me know by playing a song I have designated for that occasion.


I’d like this app to intersperse my music programming with regular weather updates — or just alerts when the weather is going to change significantly (like, if it’s going to rain within the next 12 hours). Maybe it could even bust out Led Zeppelin’s “Rain Song” first thing in the morning if I’m going to need my umbrella.


Am I going to be dealing with crosstown traffic? Play it in time for me to leave early.

(Image courtesy of Flickr/Caveman Chuck Coker)

  • http://www.facebook.com/arnaud.greiner Arnaud Greiner

    have a look at socialradio in android market . It reads all the crap you have on your feed…
    my dream app would just create playlist from spotify deezer soundcloud and youtube post made by groups, pages and facebook g+ and twitter friends . and i would love the content of the post to be downloaded for offline use and tagged.
    add the ability to have smartplaylist (genre, date …..)
    hola back if it is already somewhere i have not search yet

  • http://nishajl.com/ nishajl

    Nice idea – situation-aware music, kinda like a music-supervised life…I’d personally love to choose my own soundtrack for trigger points. Real-time, just by thinking the name/artist.

    If there was something I could pre-programme my own tunes into that would then react to my surroundings that’d be awesome. Like the track slows down when I’m running late and to get it back to normal tempo I have to walk faster. Or I hit a stop light and the music stops if I’m still moving.

    Different take on audio instructions. Now to find someone to build it….

  • Frederic Vavrille

    I don’t get it… music is too important to try to make the playlists usefull instead of pleasant. What is important is the mood of the playlist which can be different from the mood you are… somme people melancolic will want happy playlist, others will want sad songs.

    The best music app is the one that make it simpler the way you define the mood… and for me, only musicovery.com do it right now.