Until now, my problem with social music services has been this: Following friends doesn't really turn up much music I actually want to hear. We didn't become friends because we share musical tastes, and too few of them are using the services I'm trying out.
Twitter's new music service solves this problem. It helps that it's free. With it, I'm able to sneak a peek into the musical interests of the artists I like. For example, I discovered that Gotye likes the Divine Fits, a Los Angeles-based band I'd never heard of until now, because he follows them on Twitter.
With a tap on the colorful photo representing the band, I can listen to a 30-second preview of the new song of theirs that is being tweeted about the most. For the Divine Fits, that's "Like Ice Cream." It was catchy enough for me to want to hear more.
After listening to a preview, I can tap a button to buy the track on iTunes or listen to the full song through a $10-a-month subscription from Spotify or Rdio. I can also find other songs from the artists through those outside services.
As a discovery tool, Twitter's #music service provides a convenient, visually pleasing way to filter through the deluge of music that's out there.
Sure, I could have replicated this feature by digging through Gotye's Twitter profile and individually going into the profiles of people he's following to determine if they're artists. Then I could search elsewhere for their songs or music videos. But that's more work than I'm ready to put into this.
The #music service highlights the artists for you and features the song preview right there.
The service also has a tab for emerging artists that it somehow digs out from tweets. I'm not sure how they're selected, but random poking around this page is how I found the broody music of Skylar Grey.
Finding new music can be tough. It's easy to get hit over the head by the chart-toppers, who are everywhere. There's also a "popular" tab in #music for a rundown of which artists are trending on Twitter.
It's way more difficult to find music you like if you never knew a band existed. This provides a way.
For now, #music is available as an iPhone app and on the Web at music.twitter.com. Twitter says an Android version is coming, but it didn't say when.
Beyond its usefulness for music discovery, the Twitter #music app is fun to play with. It is far more engaging than Twitter's regular app, and swiping around makes the squares representing artists bounce around. Tapping to play a song clip generates a spinning icon with album cover art that harks back to the heyday of vinyl records.
True, this is a marketing tool and I was skeptical to start. And #music is not perfect for listening. Artists have only one song apiece on their profiles, so if you want to hear more you've got to go elsewhere.
And even if you buy a song from iTunes after discovering it here, tapping the play button on the artist's square again will still play the 30-second preview. I discovered this after buying Skylar Grey's "Final Warning" for 69 cents. To hear the full version, I had to go back to the iPhone's music player.
It also didn't track the #NowPlaying tag very well, despite putting it in all my tweets from the service. There was a considerable lag in showing these tweets from people I follow compared with my normal Twitter feed.
For full-song plays within the service, you have to sign up for a premium subscription to Spotify or Rdio, each of which costs $10 a month.
This made using #music much better, although I discovered more artists by listening to just 30 seconds, making a quick decision and moving on - kind of like speed dating for music.