Earlier today I recorded some comments about Songkick — who have just announced some new features and funding — for PM, BBC Radio 4's main afternoon news programme. You can listen to the three-minute broadcast feature, including my edited comments, below.
Songkick could be described as Last.fm for gigs. There are important differences between gigs and recorded music, however. Gigs are one-off events; they aren't available on-demand 24 hours a day. You can't try them out with a 30-second sample to see if you might like them. Crucially, the timing of recommendations can be critical for popular gigs. Previously I gave the example of Bandsintown.com recommending the Led Zeppelin reunion show to me on the same day that it was due to happen — not much use when all tickets had been allocated by a complex registration process months before.
It's interesting to track Songkick's combination of MySpace, Amazon and blog-tracking metrics. But how much do we need another chart, another index of popularity? Things will get interesting when music services embrace the full complexity of attention metrics (including, say, Last.fm's count of track plays and BigChampagne's figures for files most frequently shared) and do some serious number crunching that enables them to predict future trends. In particular, when is attention going to convert into revenue, and when is it not. In my book, I compare this to weather forecasting, where heavy duty monitoring of different measures helps predict which clouds are going to bring rain and which won't:
Clouds of Arctic Monkeys P2P activity in the north of England are building up a lot of high-pressure word-of-mouth, which will quickly spread across the country, and could turn into a heavy precipitation of sales. Once these storms clear, and sweep off west across the Atlantic, we’re expecting a return to the seasonal spells of Coldplay, with occasional outbreaks of Madonna in urban areas. Scotland will continue to see a light covering of Snow Patrol.
Back with Songkick, I worry that it could be the ticket touts who will be among the first to adopt Songkick's service, exploiting its potential to identify which tickets will be most scarce and most highly prized. Hopefully Songkick has thought about how to deal with this, so that fans won't suffer.
We'll all benefit if Songkick enhances the experience of live music, and makes the market for tracking and recommending gigs more competitive. As its stands today, the feature of Songkick that's genuinely unique is the BandSense technology for bloggers and other web publishers. This will identify when any band on tour is mentioned on your site, using semantic web techniques, and then insert links to relevant tour information for these bands and keep track of ticket vendor referrals. I hope it works better than Amazon's context links.
No doubt the new round of financing will lead to more features, and possibly some better execution of the existing ones. I'm waiting for some feedback on why Songkick's iTunes plug-in isn't working on my Mac. Also I notice that the Chumbawamba gig I'm going to tomorrow evening isn't listed on Songkick's band profile. It wasn't on Last.fm's site either, but Last.fm allows me to add it myself. If Songkick is going to reach down the long tail of live music, as the radio feature suggested, then the site will have to ensure that it has the potential to capture all gigs, including smaller ones than this.
[Update, 25 April 2008: Songkick has now added a feature for fans to add details of gigs.]
(Also there's something funny that I can't explain about the Songkick rankings. As shown in the graphic above and on this page at the time of writing, Billy Bragg has lower scores than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on all the measures they cite — yet somehow he has a vastly better Songkick ranking, at 25, than either of them, at 306 and 594 respectively. I thought this might be because Billy is on tour, but in that case the Stones would surely have a higher ranking than the Beatles …)