Shuffler.fm, a music aggregation and curation site that got a ton of buzz over the summer, launched its iPad app today. The app is being touted by the company as a "Flipboard for music," but we think that comparison has its limitations, and that's okay.
Music blogs have become a huge component of how people discover and hear new music, especially in smaller scenes that may be overlooked by more mainstream channels. Shuffler.fm taps into this phenomenon by aggregating audio from countless music blogs and then using the Last.fm API to divvy them up by genre. What results is a new way to explore and discover music, and the experience feels like it was ready-made for the tablet form factor.
Making an Old School Approach Work: Music Curated By Humans
The phrase "Flipboard for music" should probably be taken with a grain of salt. While Shuffler.fm's iPad UI and the way it loads content are somewhat reminiscent of the popular social reading app, the similarities end there.
Most notably, Shuffler.fm is not a personalized music discovery app, fueled by your preferences and listening history. In fact, it doesn't even have a recommendation engine. Instead, the service adopts the very pre-Web notion of content being curated by editors and tastemakers, the crowd be damned. As counter-intuitive as that may sound for a buzz-worthy new digital content discovery app, the model actually works quite well in this case.
Whereas services like Pandora and Last.fm have long offered streams of music based on things like one's personal listening history and complex, algorithm-driven recommendation engines, Shuffler.fm takes its cues from the tastes of established music bloggers. The only way to personalize the content within the app is by saving a track as a favorite, which effectively builds out a playlist.
Shoegaze? Chillwave? An Endless Selection of Genres
Instead, users can browse music by genre, the list of which is actually quite extensive and granular. Broad categories like Rock, Indie and Electronic are there, but the app is populated with more specific ones like Shoegaze, Post-Punk, Chillwave, Psychobilly and Melodic Hardcore. The list goes on. And on. In fact, as you swipe to the right, the app slides through a seemingly endless array of music genres to choose from. You can also stream music from a given country or time period.
When a track loads in Shuffler.fm what it's actually doing is loading a recent post from any number of music blogs, reformatting the title and summary Flipboard-style, and then extracting the audio from the page, whether it's from a YouTube video, SoundCloud embed or BandCamp track. Even in cases when the audio is displayed using Flash, the app grabs the original audio and streams it regardless.
The result is a kind of genre-based, blog-fueled radio station. At the bottom of the app lies standard audio controls. Tapping the skip button loads a new blog post and a new song. You can share each one on Facebook or Twitter, email it or just copy the link.
If you want to find out more about a song or artist, simply swipe down to view the original blog post. As it turns out, this is also a great way to discover and start following individual music blogs themselves.
In testing the app out, I found a number of new artists that I hadn't heard before. I then did a search for them in Spotify and grabbed entire albums to listen to later. Smaller, unsigned artists may not be so easy to find via a streaming service like Spotify and Rdio, but if you really like them, you can often purchase tracks directly from the artist, via Bandcamp or another service.
By aggregating music from blogs, Shuffler.fm effectively lets lesser-known, more obscure artists bubble to the surface and exposes people to a world of new music. This includes everything from experimental rock bands from Germany in the 1970s to brand new, DIY artists who are self-distributed their homemade music.