I’m tinkering with a new free app, and I’m totally hooked. I’m looking at my iPhone every five seconds to see if there’s a number next to the app icon, evidence I have the all-important new “notification.” I’m opening the app every five minutes to see if my feed has updated. I’m telling all my friends to get the app so it’ll be more fun for me. I’m doing all this to the extreme annoyance of my wife, who thinks I’m dangerously addicted to my smartphone.
I happen to be talking in this case about a new, locally developed social media/music application known as musx (pronounced myoo-ziks). But to be honest, this is a good description of my behavior with most social media apps. Good old @shea_gibbs on Twitter? I’ve “rebranded” myself twice and the posting history is so erratic you’d think I have a debilitating case of knuckle gout. Pinterest? I can’t even remember my username and password. Pinterest is still a thing, right?
So yeah, the future of musx for me is about as clear as the Cloud, but I’m certainly enjoying it right now. Developed by co-founders John Reardon and UVA law student Eddie Sniezek, both originally from the D.C. area, and supported from the industry side by Chris Keup, a producer/songwriter whose White Star Sound Studio is just outside Charlottesville, the app is a clever mash-up of a streaming music player and a social media-based music-sharing destination. It draws on YouTube content to allow users to find songs they want to share with their musx friends and provides a space for comments below the video-enabled player.
“Music is inherently social, but people share music in a different place from where they listen to it,” Reardon said. “That disconnect is why we left our jobs to pursue the app.”
Take all your friend’s Facebook updates about what they’re listening to on Spotify, for example. At worst, they can be annoying, maybe even pedantic—a bunch of people whose opinions on music you could take or leave showing you how cool they are by broadcasting what they’re listening to while they do data entry from nine to five.
Reardon isn’t willing to go that far (read: he’s not as big a jerk as I am), but he agrees it’s the lack of context provided by those posts that keep them from being effective. First, sites like Facebook don’t offer a fully functional music player alongside your friends’ recommendations. On musx, you can take a rec, click on it, and drop it into your queue or a playlist. Then you can listen to it at your leisure, “like” it, re-share it, comment on it, or pass it along through some other media outlet.
Second, musx is designed specifically for music sharing. Everyone you follow on the app should be someone whose opinion on music you’re interested in. It offers an easy way to weed out your little sister’s catalog of Katy Perry hits.
“Once you empower the person to elect to share something, you provide that context,” Reardon said. “On Facebook…it is totally diluted and means nothing to us. Why listen to one song as opposed to the 15 others someone just posted about?”
But, musx isn’t perfect, either. It was launched on February 13 for iPhones (with Android and web versions to follow), and glitches are still being worked out. Minor layout and button-clicking problems aside, the first big ding on the music player, for me, was that it lacked continuous play functionality when I put my phone to sleep or used another application. Reardon assured me this was intended to be a feature of the app and would be corrected. Still waiting, at least at press time.
Another hurdle? The success of the app is highly dependent on the number of people using it. It also helps if those people happen to like cool music. When I first created an account, Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” held the top spot in the popular songs category for a good 12 hours. Great song, but the last time The Blue Album was getting consistent airtime on my player was 20 years ago. Reardon said this chink in the digital armor might have been in part due to the app being picked up by several overseas publications and downloaded in more than 80 countries.
“There are people that are the tastemakers, but there are also people who are just using the app to listen to music,” he said. “That’s good to see.”
Reardon and the other musx principals have been tweaking the algorithm used to create the “popular” feed, and he’s confident “Surf Wax America” won’t be the next track to hold the top spot.
While musx relies exclusively on YouTube content for now, Reardon said the team is close to finalizing an update that will allow SoundCloud searches as well. He said users will be able to find just about anything they want once that’s complete, but what of all this streaming of free music? Who’s making a buck here, and who’s getting left out? Reardon said the app won’t rely on paid upgrades anytime soon, and he insists advertising will always be strictly music focused and stay out of the user’s way. Making sure there’s a seat at the soundboard for industry-types is Keup’s job.
“As a songwriter and producer, streaming services are a terrifying frontier,” he said. “But I feel we are coming at this from a well-meaning place. We are going to enable everyone, from the content creators to the venues, to conduct their business more efficiently.”
If they’re successful, they’ll be in the minority. Reardon readily admits apps have a high failure rate, and music apps perform even worse. Regardless, it stands to be a pretty fun ride. I wonder if I’ll be there to see it all.
Download the musx app here and tell us about it in the comments section below.