We Are Hunted, the music discovery service, takes the iconic notion of the music chart and reinvents it for the digital generation. Rather than tracking music sales (a la the Billboard Hot 100), We Are Hunted combs through blogs, social media, message boards, and P2P networks to chart the top 99 tracks by emerging artists at the moment in a visually-driven, easy-to-use, scrollable interface that you can actually play.
Last time we talked, Hunted’s web app had just undergone a major revamp. Shortly after that, it helped launch Spotify’s app platform by releasing its own Spotify app alongside other third-party developers. We caught up with We Are Hunted co-founder and general manager Richard Slatter to find out how the Spotify app is going; what they have been working since then; and what we can expect to see from these innovators in the coming months. The following in-person interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Aarti Kelapure, Evolver.fm: At the end of last year, Hunted released a Spotify app, which received fantastic reviews. Can you tell us a little about the app and how it’s been going?
Richard Slatter, Co-Founder/GM, We Are Hunted: The Spotify app was one of that first batch of, I think, a dozen publisher apps. I think it would be fair to say we were probably the first developer that Spotify really worked with when they first invited a publisher to build an app. So we have a pretty close relationship with them, and we’ve done quite a lot of work on the platform now.
We’ve started building apps for other publishers. For example, the Sony Legacy Spotify app is one that we’ve built. Spotify recently announced that the next batch of apps will be brand apps, and a bunch of five or so initial partners were announced; we’re working with at least one of those. There’s a bunch of other brands who’ve approached us, or who Spotify has introduced us to, that we’d like to help create apps within Spotify as well.
I guess why we’re interested in it is that Spotify is just a great service; people love it. Obviously it’s a competitive space — the idea of digital music subscription services — but Spotify for some reason does a great job of capturing users. They haven’t been in the States that long and already they’re doing a great job, and lots of people are using it, both free and premium. We believe that the audience will continue to grow there, and therefore it’s a place we want to be. We feel like the technical grounding [Spotify has] is something we relate to, so we feel like we can work with them. They’ve got their act together, and they know what they’re doing.
[The Spotify version of the app] doesn’t have everything that is available inside Hunted, and [that] is probably something we won’t do. It just doesn’t make sense for an app. Apps should be singular in what they attempt to accomplish. They should be simple. Not everyone agrees with that, but that’s the way we think they work. No matter where the app is — an iPhone app, an iPad app — they should be simple experiences that people can dive into and enjoy immediately, and not necessarily spend hours in there.
There’ll be some new stuff we do inside the Spotify app as well, and we’re placing our bets there, to a degree, because we think the audience is going to continue to grow. But we want to be inside other services probably as well.
Evolver.fm: On your web app, you stress the importance of listeners buying music from artists they discover on We Are Hunted, and you make it simple for them to do so by including links to iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and 7Digital. Are you concerned about users listening to music through your Spotify app instead of buying music?
Slatter: On WeAreHunted.com, the artist is capturing an email address or something like that once you get the free download; that’s the mechanics of how that works. Obviously, you can’t transpose that exactly inside Spotify, but artists are getting paid when they’re getting played inside Spotify, so we’re helping artists generate more revenue. We think they’re loving that, so we’re going to continue to invest in it. As far as artists go, we’re now replicating the “featured artist” spot that’s on WeAreHunted.com inside of our Spotify app as well, so we’re giving that artist twice as much exposure.
I guess the one downside of the Spotify app is that a lot of the emerging artists we find are just not yet in the Spotify catalog, so there’s a lag there. If you’re really an enthusiastic emerging-artist listener, then the best place for you is still going to be wearehunted.com because there’s just more content there than there is in Spotify.
Evolver.fm: Last time we talked with Hunted, your web app had just undergone a massive overhaul, which included an impressive redesign and the addition of new features. What have you been working on since then?
Slatter: We’re continuing to focus on [the Spotify app] because we think that part of our service, that extension of the service outside of our dotcom, is really important.
We’ve started to introduce artist promo slots — those slots on the chart where we expose a particular artist and a particular track more than the others. Those artists themselves, or their managers, have approached us, or we found them interesting and we’ve approached them, and given more exposure to them for a period of two, three, five days. We put quite a lot of work into that, and the analytics in the background of that. Users themselves weren’t really seeing any of that work, but hopefully artists and managers will have.
We’re starting to experiment with the idea of brands — the right kind of brands, getting involved in those artist promo spots to support the spot, to support that artist. We’ve done some experiments. Having analytics behind that — if a brand is involved, if an act is an involved, if an artist is involved — is really important.
The social networking integration has had some work. The ability to find your Facebook friends who are already on Hunted was an idea we wanted to go with when we released that redesign last year, but it didn’t make it in, so that’s been introduced.
The idea of instant playlisting based on providing a seed artist, which was developed [in the Spotify app] first, has been rolled back into the site. Those are the main new features on Hunted.
Evolver.fm: How many users does We Are Hunted have?
Slatter: That depends on how you define “user.” If we just talk about traffic, the dotcom gets about a million unique hits a month; sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. That’s about what it is. We definitely saw a big increase after we did the redesign, and I think it’s a lesson to anybody out there who’s trying to deliver services to users online: The best way to grow your audience is just to improve your product. People will come back if there’s something new, and they’ll tell their friends, and you’ll continue to get these little impetuses of growth, little growth spurts, as you introduce new features and just improve the service. We saw that last September dramatically — a big increase in traffic. So we’ve now got up to that million mark.
The Spotify app is probably now delivering that again, and it’s probably growing at the moment faster. Maybe that’s predictable in line with Spotify’s growth; that’s why we continue to put quite a bit of effort into that.
We’re going to put more effort into the idea of distributing the Hunted chart, or a piece of the Hunted experience, into other platforms where people are listening to music. So Spotify is one example. There’s actually a Hunted online service plugin that’s part of Winamp, which is maybe not necessarily a media player that everybody’s using, but it’s still pretty popular and has been around for a long time. It’s just another example of how we distribute the service out there. And we’ve got ideas and it’s going to be part of what we do for the rest of this year — pushing the Hunted experience out where listeners are, rather than always expecting them to come back to our site, even though they’re welcome to come. As far as traffic goes, that’s kind of where we’re at now. And we need to increase that.
Evolver.fm: What’s next for We Are Hunted? Anything we should look out for?
Slatter: Well, I think a big trend — you could look out for it anywhere, and you might see it on Hunted as well — is this idea of brands becoming more engaged in music. [They are doing that now and it's] a trajectory we’ve seen in the last 2-5 years, probably longer. It’s just becoming more emphasized, I think. And you see it inside Spotify, as they now have an apps platform. Publishers were first, brands are next. We are playing around with ideas like that as well.
I guess everybody in music is trying to invent new monetization models. At the two ends of the spectrum, you’ve got subscription services, and then advertising sale services, to put it bluntly, which is really about brands connecting with audiences. I think we’re going to see more of that.
Hunted wants to participate in that, and that’s why we’re playing around with brands sponsoring those [artist] slots. We’re not interested in displaying advertising in a traditional sense on the site, because we don’t want to ruin the experience for our users in the way artists and users connect with one another on Hunted. But we do think there is a space for the right type of brands who have something of interest for our audience to play a part, so you should keep an eye out for that.