Twitter has a strong hunch that its platform can be used to engage with music and musicians in new ways, but the newly-public company seems unsure about what form that engagement should take. On the heels of the now-defunct #Music service and a jettisoned bid to acquire Soundcloud, the question arises: why is Twitter so determined to expand its focus to include music?

“The [Soundcloud acquisition] numbers didn’t add up.” – An anonymous source close to Twitter, as told to the Wall Street Journal

One could argue that, at its base level, Twitter is a platform for discovery, sharing, and communication. That being said, music fans have been helping each other discover, share, and discuss their favorite tunes since well before the days of the internet. The level of participation and engagement possible for a music fan has always been especially deep, so it’s not particularly shocking that Twitter is on record as stating that music is the #1 most-talked about topic on the site.

Of course, Twitter’s decision to become a publicly traded company as of November 2013 means that there now exists substantial pressure to leverage and monetize the opportunities which play to the company’s strengths.

Twitter #Music was the company’s first and most ambitious attempt at harnessing the site’s substantial music-related content, planting a flag squarely in the same arena as Spotify, Rdio, iTunes Radio, and Beats Music. The now-abandoned standalone app was ostensibly a way to translate Twitter’s music buzz into a tangible discovery tool. Besides the resources required to build such a service, Twitter also spent an undisclosed amount of money to acquire and subsequently shut down the similarly aligned Australian music startup We Are Hunted.

Despite its slick user interface, #Music suffered from a fatal identity crisis. Since the music didn’t actually live as part of a licensed, proprietary database within the app, #Music was essentially a recommendation algorithm wrapped up in a shiny package. While there’s an argument to be made for the usefulness of such a service, there’s also a big push lately toward real live human curation. Lost in the shuffle, then, is the subtle truth that human taste and the more esoteric aspects of artistic consumption will perhaps never be truly “solvable” in the form of an algorithm. At the very least, such algorithms are currently insufficiently compelling to drive the kind of user engagement that would have kept #Music alive.

Twitter quickly shook off the failure of #Music, however, and doggedly began kicking the tires on the prospect of acquiring Berlin-based audio streaming company Soundcloud. Valued at approximately $700 million, Soundcloud is frequently referred to as the “YouTube of music” and has been tweeted about over 42 million times – a figure that no doubt raised some eyebrows at Twitter. Regardless, $700 million would be a huge bite out of the $2 billion raised by the IPO, which begs important questions concerning Twitter’s likelihood of ever actually seeing a worthwhile return on investment from this particular acquisition.

After a frenzied few days of speculation that Twitter was close to purchasing Soundcloud, word came down that the deal was killed because, as an anonymous source told the Wall Street Journal, “The numbers didn’t add up.” Make no mistake, though – this won’t be the last time Twitter looks to expand its identity to include music. The company’s recent actions suggest that they are convinced of the merits associated with entering into that realm… but why?

The answer is likely quite simple, a reaction to two important facts: one, that music is the #1 most-discussed topic on Twitter; and two, that Twitter’s user growth has become sluggish bordering on stagnant. If Twitter can harness the platform’s substantial buzz around music in a way that offers utility and value to its users, the possibility exists to tap into a huge pool of new audiences and jump-start user registration. Remember, Twitter is still a fairly young company trying to carve out a solid identity. It was only two short years ago that they acquired Vine, a video clip sharing interface, for $30 million – effectively turning Twitter into both a social media and visual media platform. It’s possible that Twitter’s vision encompasses one day having some skin in the game concerning the manner in which all forms of media are presented on the site.

It remains to be seen what the future of Twitter’s music strategy holds, but rest assured that the company’s tuneful tunnel vision will hold plenty of surprises in the months and years to come. This week, Billboard debuted a couple of brand-new charts which rank artists based off of their buzz-worthiness and trending power on – you guessed it – Twitter. By establishing itself as a reputable indicator or metric of artists’ popularity, perhaps the third time’s the charm for Twitter’s inexorable quest to master its musical obsession.



About Tim Herscovitch

Tim Herscovitch is a writer, content curator, musician, and professor. He lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.