#1. Social x Music by Bytedance

Looking at Bytedance's newest social-music app 'Resso'

Quick News

🌱 HaikuJAM just raised $3.4M in funding from Lightbox Ventures and Chamath-Pahlaphitiya-led Social Capital!


1. Music, Meetings, Memories

*skip if you don’t like preambles*

Hi! I’m writing this from Heathrow Airport in London.

I've just finished my Christmas break and I'm about to return to Mumbai.

I'm sat on my own in a pub.

The social chatter floats over the top of a Fleetwood Mac song playing on the speakers:

Thunder only happens when it's raining
Players only love you when they're playing

I remember listening to this song in my dad's car when I was a kid.

Most weekends, I sat in the passenger seat while my dad's CD changer would flip through stacks of CDs burnt with MP3s from Limewire and Kazaa.

The soundtracks varied from Sufi ghazals and Bollywood classics to old 70s/80s Western music (here’s one of my favourites).

On these drives, I would often read a book or go through class notes. My dad would always stop off at a McDonald's drive-through and buy me a McFlurry.

Why am I going into this?

Music is such an interesting phenomenon.

A combination of chords, instruments, and sometimes (but not necessarily) lyrics, can transport people into different dimensions; to past-selves; to potential-selves.

It creates an atmosphere. It can feed personal mythologies. You can project emotional states. It can take you inside of yourself, outside of yourself.

Drawing a line from today to prehistoric times, music has been one of the most effective technologies in transforming mind-states and facilitating community. Its function likely precedes humans and this probably explains its ability to bypass cognition and directly impact emotions. Read more here and here.


2. Resso by Bytedance

Since announcing this newsletter, Bytedance (TikTok creators) launched a new music app called 'Resso'. It was announced to the now customary fanfare for any moves made by the Chinese Giant:

Seeing some of the social chatter, I expected Resso to have possibly found the holy grail of product - combining social with music. It was too tempting to not explore.


3. A History of Social x Music

Without attempting an exhaustive history of music-based social networks, there have been many interesting examples (online and offline) in the last two decades:

  • MySpace:
    MySpace fused music with internet identity in the most interesting way. People could embed songs onto their profile that would auto-play when someone would land on their profile. I remember using this song as a flex for how interesting and diverse my musical taste was. The game was always to find a new and interesting banger from an upcoming artist that hadn't taken off. For artists, the way to get massive growth was to get people to embed their songs on their profile.

  • Spotify + Facebook:
    In 2011, Facebook announced it was integrating Spotify into its timeline. It was billed as a perfect fit - Facebook provided the social graph, Spotify provided the music, and voila! Whenever you listened to music on Spotify, it would appear in your timeline. The truth is, the execution left a lot to be desired. For Facebook, music was just an additional medium of driving user engagement and keeping people on the platform. On the other hand, Spotify never really leaned into music facilitating social interactions. For instance, I set up collaborative playlists with a few friends but the product experience didn’t bring it out enough.

  • Turntable.fm:
    Turntable.fm created virtual rooms where all the participants would take turns at being the DJ. The audience would then vote 'lame' or 'awesome' to each song; too many lame votes and another DJ would have to step up. While it didn't have a huge community (Wikipedia says 600,000), it sounds amazing. Fun, playful, interesting behavioural dynamics with competition to get 'awesome' votes. I think it would be interesting to see a VR variant of this.

  • Boiler Room:
    This is worth talking about in the context of meshing offline and online. Boiler Room's mission was to bring the nightclub experience into people's living rooms. Small, intimate DJ sets with would be live-streamed and recorded for people to enjoy. Boiler Room came up as a curator of interesting music in a world where there was a glut of musical choice. There's a cultural cachet attached to being on Boiler Room - both in terms of the DJs who are on it, as well as the people who listen to it and attend their (often private) events. They've branched out into music festivals, and there is a sense of 'community' at the events, but the interactions are fleeting offline experiences.

  • Tastebuds.fm to Tinder
    Launched in 2012, Tastebuds was a dating site where you met people through music. After inputting your favourite songs, the app would connect you to people nearby with similar music tastes. Although Tastebuds may not have blown up, its product thesis has been incorporated into Tinder. Now you can add music you like to your Tinder profile. This is a great way to give a prospective match an insight into your identity and the sub-culture you associate with, beyond just the photos. As an interesting aside, the homogenisation of aesthetic created by Instagram has probably made photos less communicative of someone's sub-culture and interests, while the explosion of variety and genres of music communicates a lot more.


4. The Social x Music Thesis

Music is social.

In the offline world, music brings people together. Friends listen to music together in their houses. Strangers gather at concerts and dance to music together. The journey of romantic relationships can be mapped to the most momentous songs

But there’s a disconnect to how we interact with music in the online world. In our digital lives, music is predominantly an isolated experience.

The biggest innovation in music has been shifting from an ownership-model to an access-model. But fundamentally, the way we interact with musical platforms online remains transactional and insular. You play. You listen. Machine Learning algorithms help you discover and find more things to play. And that's about it.

For technologists, there's this feeling that music could open up something more.

Taste in music reflects identity and tells a lot about someone's personality. Get two strangers who like the same music artist, the bet is that they probably have a lot more in common. At the very least, there's a strong context for two people to have a conversation: Heard other songs by this artist? What other music do you like? Etc.

The internet has done the following things exceptionally well:

  • Individuals have got more access to more diverse sources of content

  • Individuals can easily contact people they have some real-world connection with (family, school friends, people you meet at a party)

  • It's become easier to have a romantic relationship with someone you'd otherwise have no real-world connection with

The bit that the internet hasn't done too well is - help create friendships outside of a romantic context. There are pockets where this happens, but most spaces invite toxicity and creepiness.

The holy grail of music and social is a product that uses music as a context for any two strangers to meaningfully connect.


5. Resso Funnel

Let’s go through the Resso journey:

  1. Tune In Together: This is how the app describes itself. The words that a company uses to describe itself are underrated in its importance for two reasons. Firstly, it's the frame for whether someone sees this product fitting into their life (and therefore, whether they decide to install it or not). Secondly, for a user who does realise value from the community, the words that the company uses often feed into the words that people use when describing the app to their friends. This something we've continously found at HaikuJAM.

  2. Onboarding: Besides the sign-up stuff, the first thing the app asks you is to choose at least 5 music artists you're interested in. Nothing unexpected here. Getting this initial input will help steer recommendations of artists you're interested in.

  3. Home Feed: You're then taken to a TikTok-esque feed of full-screen video content. The difference here is that the videos are basically 'lyric videos' being created automatically, sitting on top of a video, photo or looping gif.

  4. Interactions around a song: With each song being played, you can do standard music / social things of loving a track, adding it to a playlist, commenting on it. The new interaction points are around 'creating a vibe' and 'sharing a song'.

    • Creating a vibe = you can upload your own photo, video or gif to sit on the background of a song. For each song, you can swipe through the vibes that other people have created.

    • Sharing = the sharing is very interesting. You can share each song with a customised background, with specific lyrics from the song that you choose, as either as a photo or video onto Whatsapp, Instagram Stories, etc.

  5. Discover: As with the normal Spotify app, you can also find songs by genre and by pre-defined playlists.


6. Thoughts on Resso

The social hype doesn’t align with reality.

Where is the togetherness? Where is the ‘social’?

Resso is a music-streaming app first, and barely a social app last.

The elements of social it possesses currently:

  • When streaming a song, you can scroll through other vibes people have provided the song

  • For each song, there is a comment button that goes to another screen where you can view what people say

  • You can view the profiles of people and then see the songs they've liked, playlists they've created

So, it's possibly a little bit more social than Spotify, with some social elements of Soundcloud (but less well-executed), with the eye-candy of TikTok (i.e. with the lyric videos).

7. How I would make Resso

The scope of music x social is so vast in its potential.

If I was thinking about Resso from scratch, here is the way I would bake social into its platform:

Visual Design

  • There's one bit of feedback that Gaurav Vohra sent HaikuJAM on a pitch-deck that sticks with me: Show faces, people's eyes naturally get drawn towards other faces.

  • Similarly, with the Resso app, the easiest way to give users a sense that there is a world of people here is to show faces.

  • Instead of showing the number of loves a track has received, bring out the people who have loved it.

  • Bring out the comments on the full-screen view of the track.

System-Driven Connections

  • Based on the music you're listening to and the songs you love, could the system be facilitating connections between the community?

  • Let's suppose every day/week, two users are matched with each other and the context for the match is explained:

    • "Neer meet Diana, Diana meet Neer! You both have spent more than an hour listening to Toro Y Moi this week.”

    • This opens the gateway for deeper, more meaningful connections to emerge from a system-set context.

Social-Driven Recommendations

  • A music app that is grounded in social and that is facilitating social connections would begin to recommend songs based on what your connections are listening to, loving and commenting on.

  • This model would be interesting for a few reasons:

    • Each song recommendation becomes a shared experience, even if asynchronous. It gives a context to reach out, it creates togetherness, it invites deeper interaction.

    • The product creates an infinite-status game where people have the ability to become taste-makers, even if just about receiving individual compliments rather than amassing followers. This is kind of like taking the game dynamics of Turntable.fm into a lighter, asynchronous context.

Music-as-Chat

  • One of the concerns with social apps (especially when opening up connections between strangers) is that they invite creepiness, harassment and bullying.

  • There are a few interesting ways of minimising this. For instance, when two strangers follow each-other, the only way they can interact is by sending one music recommendation a day.

  • Imagine flirting by sharing pre-existing songs. Full-disclosure - I've done this before...semi-successfully.


7. Conclusion

There is a couple of interesting lessons to learn from this.

First, just because a company has struck gold in ‘consumer product’ before, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can strike gold again.

There is a reason why Facebook has tried so many different apps in consumer and not driven any of them through to success, and instead turned to acquisitions of companies that have cracked product in messaging + photo sharing i.e. Instagram, WhatsApp.

To Resso’s credit, the automated lyric videos add an element of playfulness and visual candy to the music-streaming experience.

But beyond that, it’s a relatively shallow attempt at social + music.

And this brings me to my second lesson.

Tech commentary tends to be lazy.

The Product-Hunt culture encourages a storm of commentary around a new product, invites shallow takes, and rewards people who break the news first.

But what it doesn’t do is dive deeply into the product and look at whether the communication of it aligns with its execution.

The uncomfortable truth is that Product is really about ruthlessly iterating to minimise the gap between mission and execution.


Phew, if you made it here:

  • Sorry, this is so long - I’m hoping that writing every weekend will force me to be more concise.

  • Is the preamble to the product interesting or unnecessary? Would love to hear your thoughts.

  • If you have any recommendations of early-stage products to focus on for the upcoming weeks, let me know!