Soundwave: Social Music Discovery With a Twist

A few months ago I reviewed #nwplyng, a social network designed to share your favorite music and discover new music. Overall, I found the app to be well suited for its intended use, even if it’s not all that great at helping you find new users to follow. Some time before that I reviewed a predecessor in the social music discovery app space, Soundtracking, which shares a number of similarities to #nwplyng, but has a very different philosophy.

While both apps are work as described, the social network aspect may not be very appealing for everyone. Soundwave Music Discovery (referred to simply as “Soundwave” going forward) offers a different approach by providing a socially aggregated music discovery service without many common social network features. Does this twist create the ultimate social music discovery experience? Find out after the jump.

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Let’s Get It Started

While Soundwave may not be a true social network, an account is still required to gain access to the app. You’ll have the option to register with your Facebook account, or creating an account with your email address. The sign up methods are a bit limited in comparison to Soundtracking and #nwplyng, which also provide options to sign up with Twitter and Foursquare accounts.

You can also search for friends and review suggested followers after signing up.

You can also search for friends and review suggested followers after signing up.

After signing up, you’ll go through a semi-personalized introduction of the app, and then be taken through the process of inviting friends and selecting suggested users to follow, both of which are skippable. As you navigate through different views, Soundwave provides small pop-ups to summarize various features and buttons, which I found to be more useful than a full blown navigation tutorial.

Posting Plays

Most apps of this ilk utilize the concept of a user actively posting a song on their timeline, requiring the poster to perform a number of actions before achieving their goal. Soundwave, on the other hand, takes a vastly different (and very passive) approach by requiring users to do very little work. As you play music on your iPhone — or a connected service like Rdio, Spotify and 8track — Soundwave posts all of your full playbacks. All of them.

The philosophy behind Soundwave is simple: learn what people really listen to versus what they say they’re listening to. By posting each song someone fully listens to, followers are capable of getting a feel for what type of music the followee supposedly likes. This is in comparison to Soundtracking and #nwplyng, in which people control what’s posted, and thus control their music listening identity.

If you enable location services, Soundwave is capable of tacking song plays when the app is closed, which the app achieves with the use of geofencing. While not a battery drainer, the use of geofencing will make the outlined location arrow a permanent resident of your status bar — a rather large annoyance for me personally. So you’ll have to decide which is more important: plays syncing 24/7 or a location arrow free status bar. Soundwave will post the same song multiple times, just as long as it wasn’t repeated back-to-back, which is seems a tad odd and unnecessary. [This paragraph was edited after initial publication to reflect clarifications made by Soundwave’s publisher. -Ed.]

I see merit in Soundwave’s posting concept, but ultimately believe it to be flawed. Let me state that I’m in no way embarrassed by any of my listening choices (I listen to Hanson, so what of it?), as all of my Rdio playbacks are already available to view in my Facebook profile. I often search for and listen to music on Rdio that I’ve never heard before; all done in hopes of finding something I’ll like. More often than not, though, I’ll listen to a few tracks and move on to something different. Individuals that follow me on Soundwave will see that I played one or more songs by an artist, but won’t know if it was something I actually liked — unless I go into the app and give the song a positive rating (denoted by a thumbs up).

Activity

The main view — Activity — displays all of your plays, ratings, humdingers and shares, and of those you follow. Ratings refer to the action of liking or disliking a song, which can be done by tapping the thumbs up or thumbs down option on a play (i.e. song post). Humdingers are tracks denoted as a user’s current favorite song, which can be set in your profile. Shares, one of few social network-esque features, are tracks you’ve shared with other users or to Facebook. If desired, you can filter your feed by any of the these categories by tapping the filter button in the upper-right, and then toggling your desired options.

You can toggle as many filters as you'd like.

You can toggle as many filters as you’d like.

Along with the poster, song and title, each play includes a play button (located in the upper-right) that, when tapped, initiates a preview of the song. During playback of a song, a pause/play button is persistently located in the header, which is very handy if you happen to switch to a different view. Along the left side, superimposed over the album art, are banners that indicate if the song is simply a play, or if it has been rated, shared or marked as a humdinger by the poster. Only one marker (i.e. play, rated, humdinger, share) is shown at a time, with the most recent action taking precedence, which seems unnecessary considering there’s room to show multiple banners. If anything, a hierarchy should be established in which the humdinger marker gets top billing.

Humdingers are selected from your plays.

Humdingers are selected from your plays.

Tapping a play transitions into a secondary view with three tabs — History, YouTube and SoundCloud. History displays a list of other Soundwave users that have either played or rated a song, which I find to be an excellent method of discovering new users with similar tastes. YouTube provides a list of videos associated with the song, which nearly always pertains to the actual song (you’ll find some cover videos at times). SoundCloud is a great addition, allowing you to listen to a full song if it’s available on SoundCloud. If you dig a song and wish to purchase it, a Buy button is present in the header, which directs you to iTunes.

You can tap anywhere in a SoundCloud waveform to scrub playback.

You can tap anywhere in a SoundCloud waveform to scrub playback.

The Bottom Line

There’s no doubt in my mind that Soundwave will appeal to certain individuals like the great and powerful Woz, but I personally find the music discovery philosophy used in the app to be a flawed concept. That aside, I also experienced a few annoyances, such as album art not displaying in all views (even if it displayed in another) or displaying the wrong album art.

A far bigger annoyance occurred when accessing the filter options in the Activity view, which, when tapped, would not toggle; no matter how persistent my taps may be. When in this situation I found it best to switch to a different view and return to Activity, which reset the filters. In terms of Accessibility, Soundwave isn’t perfect, but it’s sure a great deal better than #nwplying and Soundtracking.

While I’m not a fan of Soundwave’s music discovery philosophy, it by no means it’s a bad app. Quite the opposite, in fact. I love the overall design and navigation scheme, which are wonderful to use (minus the filter option glitch, of course). For that reason, I highly recommend Soundwave to anyone that can get behind how the service is structured.


Summary

Share all of the songs you listen to and view songs from those you follow.

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