Sunday, March 24, 2013

Earache Metalizer Spotify app- how did it come about?

Question: Congrats on the Metalizer  Spotify app, it's genius, and I use it all the time, and tell all my friends as well. So my question is can you explain how did Earache come to make this app, and do you have any more apps coming soon?

From: Matt Cavendish

Answer: Thanks for the question Matt, the launch of our  Earache Metalizer Spotify app was one of the reasons this blog lay kinda dormant for 6 months- it was mostly created in-house and took a ton of our staffers time and energy to build and launch this thing, so it's very reassuring that fans are enjoying it.

On its launch on 22 Jan 2013 it quickly became a Top 10 app on the platform, and something like 200,000 unique playlists were created serving up 10 Million tracks of metal in the first 2 weeks. However, the story of the apps concept and creation began a whole year beforehand in Jan 2012- see early sketch of design up top.

The app was borne out of our frustration at the early spate of 'fixed playlist by a trusted source' type of apps on the platform, and also my annoyance that Metal was under-represented in the early app listings. Our intention from the outset was build a type of "meta-curation" where the user is empowered enough to curate their own playlist(s) - using sliders like a mixing desk at a concert/ studio. Our intention was to help navigate fans through the maze of metal's most common sub-genres, many of which remain mysterious if not even somewhat ludicrous to the general 'Rock fan'.

Initially the bulk of the grunt work was in the sub-genre classification of 10,000+ of Spotify's metal bands, each act was evaluated by the Earache team, and this took months because Spotify's external API used by outside developers doesn't provide any classification other than "Rock". This process of creating our own Database of sub-genre classifications is the backbone of the app, and why its the first of its kind on the platform. Our own knowledge-base is built-in to the app.

To our surprise so many Metal bands have a Rapper or Dance artiste with the same name, which is annoying. Key to the app was weeding out such duplicates, as Spotify simply serves up the songs by the  most popular candidates,  regardless of what type of act you're  actually searching for. Our own act Painkiller (a jazz-grind band)  appears alongside the Psy-Trance act Painkiller on Spotify for instance, its confusing for the unwary. See pic.

If you crave more technical details here's Earache's Ashley Mortimer in-depth take on the process:

"Once we'd brainstormed the concept of a spotify app with "reactive"  settings to generate on-the-fly playlists as opposed to the rather dull "curated" playlist apps we'd been examining, we had to crack the data problems of categorising all the metal music on Spotify and then generating playlists spiced up with elements of randomness to keep them fresh and fun. Since Spotify doesn't have accurate or API-accessible genre metadata we chose to build our own database and admin system to categorise Spotify's catalogue into the sub genres of metal and created intuitive systems to capture and express efficiently the Earache crew's extensive knowledge of metal bands. Each time the metalise button is pressed the app generates calls to these databases and runs scripts to select, collate and return a suggested playlist to Spotify which then makes further decisions about content availability and rights issues etc. The real challenge of the back-end part of the app was the ability to capture human knowledge interactively and utilise it creatively on a broader basis and then implement it by breaking out of  Spotify's design environment (html5 only)  to utilise interactive stuff like php, mysql, JSON etc. Actually one of the hardest parts was to introduce the randomness in such a way that it didn't look contrived, ultimately the longevity of the app rests on its ability to serve up unique playlists with genre choices that are plausible given a user's settings."
In September 2012 we hired website/app creators Retro-fuzz in Manchester  who helped design and refine the look and feel  before finally approaching Spotify with a working mock-up of the app. Retrofuzz also helpfully advised our UK label manager Dan Tobin on how to make the official pitch. By a remarkable co-incidence the graphic designer was Mark Lyons who had recorded 2 albums for Earache with his band Beecher. Small world. The first submission was not approved as Spotify wanted to see some changes to the functionality to improve the UX (User Experience) through the UI (User Interface).

We also  took the opportunity to make some tweaks of our own to improve the app in the final months - Earache staffer Richard Vale undertook this task, and also spotted a potential bug which might have prevented sharing. During this period several more  submissions were not approved, as the process of sharing user generated playlists - via twitter/Facebook etc - came under close scrutiny by Spotify and ourselves.

One of the last parts of the process - the actual Earache METALIZER logo - was created by Earache staffer Mark Leary (see pic.)

The app won approval status on  January 11th 2013 so Spotify quickly set a release date for Tuesday 22 January 2013 because apparently some other metal oriented apps were due out on that date, and to maximise the impact intended them all released at once.

As it happened the Century Media and Metal Hammer apps were delayed a couple of weeks, leaving the Earache Metalizer as the sole release that date, we were the very first Metal app on Spotify.
Thanks to all the fans who tried it out, we love hearing your feedback. Rest assured the app is a work in progress- we're keeping it up to date adding new and exciting Metal bands -only good ones mind- the minute they hit the platform. We are also tweaking the playlist generator code to keep things fresh and interesting for regular users too. 

Our  aim is simple- to encourage fans to  log onto Spotify, get the Earache METALIZER  and play more metal!! 

PS- The commenter below wonders about the economic aspect of the METALIZER app. Being free to use and Earache being known as a financially astute Indie label, whats the story, how can a free app which mostly plays other people's music make any money?  Its a valid point.

The answer is that it was a leap of faith, and we treated it as a branding exercise to promote the Earache label name on Spotify. We kinda hoped it would also increase the playlisting and streaming of our own catalog... and luckily as the sales income came in for the first two months after the app launch- were had a pleasant surprise- our Spotify income went up an incredible 25%!! Result!!
We don't have access to other metal labels incomes but I fairly sure they will have seen increased income too.