Ever ahead of the music industry curve, Ghostly International today released its first (100% free) iPhone application, Ghostly Discovery, a slick listening app that uses mood-based tagging to generate playlists from the Ghostly International and Spectral Sound (its dancefloor-oriented arm) catalogues. Designed in conjunction with o2 creative solutions, Discovery represents a unique departure from the "if you like this, you'll like this" approach to streaming music.
The steps to creating a playlist based on one's mood is pretty straightforward. After getting familiar with the seven mood colors in Ghostly Discovery, users can select a hue that meets their emotional state (yellow is energetic, for example), then toggle the digital/organic and faster/slower sliders. The app then generates a track listing based on these parameters. While tracks are streaming, users can tap the menu under the cover art to get an artist bio, favorite a track, or purchase it directly from the iTunes store. Once a user has registered his email with Ghostly Discovery, he can visit his collection of favorite tracks online and share these as a unique playlist with friends (this feature is super beta at the moment, as there is no way to delete or re-order one's favorites).
Curious to see how effective the song tagging was, I ran Discovery through a battery of mood tests. Introspective / digital / slow gave me a melancholic track by Solvent which met the parameters perfectly well, though was wholly inappropriate for the summer weather at hand. So I reset the indicators to energetic / organic and slightly fast. This gave me a Four Tet remix of Matthew Dear's Deserter. It seemed to be a pretty upbeat, sunny day selection, befitting my current mood. Eager to hear what an aggressive / organic / slow song sounded like, I reset the indicators once more and got a rather dark and menacing track by Twine. Lastly, I wanted to see what Discovery would dish out if I maintained complete neutrality. The first number, a Deru Remix from Lusine's Podgelism, was a meandering, chill tune—neutral, in fact.
Naturally, since Discovery just launched, there are a few improvements to be expected. One major complaint is that the playlists are always ordered in the same sequence. If you continue to set the indicators to frenetic / digital / fast, the playlist will open with the same track and proceed in the same order. While the application interface is both polished and subtle, some of the fields are difficult, if not impossible, to read in daylight. Finally, I would love to see a second generation that takes advantage of the iPhone accelerometer and flips the app orientation to a vertical layout.
Still, if there's one final word on Discovery, it's the chance to hear something new. I've been listening to Ghostly artists for about a decade now and thanks to this new app, I've just discovered 10:32, Australian Tim Koch's new project with Ghostly. What's my music mood now? Energetic.
Check out a brief Skype interview with Sam Valenti IV, founder of Ghostly International, along with a demo video of Ghostly Discovery, after the jump.
Cool Hunting: Why Discovery?
Sam Valenti IV: People are always asking me how to "find good music." Because of my profession, it's presumed that I know everything about indie and/or electronic music, but i don't. So I'd send them to blogs, Pitchfork, rcrd lbl, all good sites. But these sites still assume a good deal of knowledge. The least I could do is offer a solution that didn't ask a lot of the user and actually complimented their mood. So the mood-based tagging idea was born. This made it into a conversation with our friends at o2 in Detroit.
We were talking about doing a media project together, where people could use this tagging system to find music at kiosks (this was last year). o2 took this idea and shrunk it down to the app size, which felt really great, and it made sense as a way to let people find new music and either stream it passively (at work, at home) or to learn more, download, or "favorite" the music to create playlists of their own which they can download or share. It's like having a record store clerk in your pocket! (But all the music on the shelves is Ghostly).
There are more ideas on where to take this thing, but for now these are the vital stats of the app.
So you decided to start with the Ghostly catalog, which makes perfect sense, but are there plans to expand Discovery to include artists from other labels?
Yes. We wanted to of course start with our artists, get some feedback, learn what users want and be able to offer a free service to start. But we'd like to build a community with this app, starting with the artists we work with.
How on earth did you guys tag every song in the Ghostly catalogue?
We have a very hardworking and talented team in-house. : -)
To be sure... But what kind of metrics were used to measure the emotional content of the songs? The digital vs. organic and faster vs. slower is rather straightforward, but how did you guys come up with a rating system?
Well speed is scientific—bpm. Analog vs. digital is subjective. We did some tests where multiple people tag songs and we found fairly consistent results. Same with mood. There's a relative subjectivity to it, but the point is that it is subjective. It's our "opinion" of what the songs are. We didn't want a computer tagging these to start with, though as it scales, it might increase.
What does Discovery represent for you?
I see this app as a prescient tribute to the record store of tomorrow. One idea, amongst many good ones out there, to light the footpath for how music will be sold.