Sony: 'If people are searching for music, we messed up'

"Sony: 'If people are searching for music, we messed up
Sony searching for the answer to streaming

When Rhapsody announced that it was buying up Napster in 2011, there was a feeling that online music had come full circle.

Rhapsody was the first-ever music streaming service to offer a monthly fee way back in 2001; Napster was the model that in 1999 showed the world that music could be shared and distributed through the web, albeit with a complete disregard for copyright.

In a strange way the two teaming up 10 years down the line to compete with the likes of Spotify was a move that made them seem like they were late to the party. A party they had essentially started.

One person who links the music services of old to the new elite is Anu Kirk. He was one of the primary architects of Rhapsody and now is Director of Music Services at Sony, looking after its streaming contender Music Unlimited.

Kirk has been in the streaming business for 14 years and has unsurprisingly seen a lot change over time. He does admit, though, that some things have unfortunately stayed the same.

"In the early days of online music, it was built by music nerds for music nerds. We were really excited about creating this celestial jukebox. That you could have all this music was astounding and we took a particular approach," says Kirk.

"But, for better or for worse, most of the music services that exist today have copied the original Rhapsody paradigm, including the mistakes that we made. There were a lot of things that made sense in 2000 that just don't make sense in 2013."

Streaming struggle

Kirk believes that thinking users know what they want to listen to is a problem that many of today's music services are still struggling with.

"We have found that even people who are knowledgeable about music have the same complaint that people with not as much knowledge have: they can't figure out what to listen to.

"Improving this is not about dumbing down the service but it is about anticipating needs. My objective is to create the kind of service that when you show up you are like: 'how is it reading my mind?'."

music unlimited

Part of this mind reading is moving users away from search. Kirk believes that the search bar shouldn't be at the centre of Music Unlimited or any other service and if it is then something has gone wrong.

"Listeners have been trained to search for music - it is the most obvious way to look for songs. But I would argue in my position as an industry thinker, it means that we messed up.

"It is one thing if you are a brand new user because we don't know anything about you. But if you have used it for a short while then we should be finding the music for you.

"I see that we have this haystack of millions of songs and so far the listener has to spend their valuable time looking for music. Users should still be able to browse but the key part of the experience is presenting them with something at the start.

"If I am doing my job then most of the time, most people will be like: 'yup, got it'."

Numbers game

For Kirk search leads on to another problem that plagues the streaming industry - that of braggadocio. With most music sites housing millions of songs - Music Unlimited has 22 million - it has become something of a numbers game.

"When you say something like 22 million songs, there is a lot of historical inertia. In the old days services didn't have that many songs so they tried hard to get to a certain threshold.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.