November 13, 2013 at 9:04 am

What PlayStation 4 Means for Music and Sony

People are interested in the new PlayStation 4 interface, so for starters, here’s what Sony Music Unlimited looks like on the Sony PlayStation 4:

playstation 4 sony music unlimited

It’s pretty. As I watched Sony demonstrate the $400 PlayStation 4 at a Manhattan hotel on Tuesday, I was impressed by the music experience’s clean interface, the smoothness of the transitions, and other graphical elements. But the really interesting stuff is under the hood.

We’ll leave the videogaming judgments and specs talk to the gaming publications — other than that the PS4 has a digital optical output, which means audiophiles can process any music source on the DAC of their choice, (good), but that it can’t (yet?) play MP3s or CDs (bad; also, updated with link). We’re into music, so we sat down with Mike Aragon, Sony general manager of global digital video and music services, to find out what you need to know about the PlayStation 4 if you care about music, and are considering this new console.

What we learned: 

1. You can finally play your own music inside games

When I had more time for videogames, I used to mute the game’s music and run its sound effects through my television at a loud volume, and then play whatever music I wanted to on the sound system. According to Aragon, you can now do that with the PS4, using any song on Sony Music Unlimited — and you couldn’t do that with the PS3.

Most gamers Sony’s music and video division have surveyed would do something like my old trick, but with earbuds connected to a phone. The new solution is way easier, not to mention better, and it lets you alter music volume independently of the videogame’s sound effects without leaving the game. And all of the music and sound effects come out of whatever speakers you’re gaming on.

2. It’s kind of like Facebook

When you first fire up the PlayStation 4, you’re presented with a mix of stuff in one unified interface — music your friends have listened to, music your friends have liked, and music you are likely to like, all within the same mix of stuff from the rest of your Playstation 4 friend network. For example, if your friend scored a great goal in FIFA 14, they might share that to the network with the Share button, right alongside your Javelin likes.

“It’s almost analogous to your Facebook feed,” explained Aragon to Evolver.fm, as he demonstrated the PS4 What’s New welcome screen. “It’s kind of a mash-up of all the cool things online with your friends, and we think this is going to be a really integral part of discovery for both video and for music.”

The screen also contains artist stations, genre stations, mood stations, and more, using Sony’s internal recommendation system.

3. Gamers listen to more on-demand music

We figured that since gamers are more focused on, well, games, that they’d be more likely to listen to artist, genre, or mood-based stations — a phenomenon we figured would be exacerbated by hard it is to request a specific song by entering text on a videogame controller. We also knew that because Sony Music Unlimited reaches gamers on Playstation as well as non-gamers on iOS, Android, and the web, Sony would have insights into the listening behavior of gamers vs. the rest of us.

Contrary to our suspicion, Aragon said gamers actually like to choose exactly what to listen to more than non-gamers. However, we were correct in assuming that they don’t do this on their gaming consoles. The default behavior, he said, is that people create playlists on iOS, Android, or the web, and then access them on their PlayStations — a trend that will likely continue with the PS4.

Eventually, search will be easier on the platform, but in a roundabout way: Gamers will be able to search for Sony Music Unlimited tracks on the PlayStation 4 using their Android or iOS devices.

4. 30 free days of 22 million tracks comes with every PS4

As with certain Sony televisions, each PlayStation 4 comes with 30 free days of Sony Music Unlimited, with on-demand and programmed access to 22 million songs.

5. The PS4 might help Sony Music, the label, in some small way

Sony Music Unlimited has about 22 million songs, from all the major labels and most of the indies (other than the usual on-demand subscription holdouts). It needs that other music in order to provide a comprehensive service, but the fact that Sony owns a label, a music service, and a gaming console means it can do some interesting cross-promotion. So far, Sony has experimented with having Sony Music artists curate playlists for Sony Music Unlimited on the PlayStation 4. 

6. The PS4 music interface will replace current iOS/Android designs

Eventually, Sony plans to scrap its current iOS and Android app designs, and roll out something quite similar to the new PS 4 interface across those platforms, for a unified look and feel on all screens. We imagine that a great deal of Sony Music Unlimited users are coming from PlayStation, so this will give them a consistent, updated interface, with access to all of the Facebook-style social updates of the PlayStation 4.

  • Radutron

    As a gamer for a long time, especially on the past three PlayStations, music playing has had very limited use, as most PlayStation users use a console purely for games. Unless you have a great sound system, music from your TV sucks. I highly doubt many will use the Music Unlimited service at all, let alone even using the PS4 as a music player (except for the odd person who hosts parties, that doesn’t already have an iPhone/iPod). However, I’d say playing music while playing Call Of Duty (or other multiplayer games) probably fancies some people. This would be successful on a huge scale if streaming music came before mp3s.