Earlier this month, online streaming music service Spotify made waves by announcing the launch of its Spotify Apps program, which allows software developers to create free applications that leverage its 10 million user-strong platform’s key features. (Full transparency: Rolling Stone is offering its own app to aid in music review and discovery.) It's just one in a growing range of software and hardware solutions that support custom software toolkits (called APIs), which let programmers piggyback on existing products and services.
However, the real story here may lie in consumer electronics and external content creators. From Sonos’ wireless speaker systems to Jabra’s Bluetooth headsets, an ever-expanding range of devices is adding support for third-party software creation and apps which add new features by way of downloadable updates. Likewise, more and more music services – including Soundcloud, Grooveshark and Songkick – are offering plug-and-play software development kits for creating applications that reengineer existing solutions. Whether seeking a database of song data, cloud streaming capabilities or a menu of streaming online radio stations, off-the-shelf device solutions continue to grow for application makers. Armed with these ready-made, high-tech resources, coders are free to mix, match and rework functionalities in new ways.
Just as Facebook lets companies like Zynga and Turntable.FM repurpose its social network as a giant gaming system or virtual concert hall, sonically-inclined software makers are being granted the freedom to re-imagine modern music platforms. It's a huge development in the industry: while not all options are open to reprogramming (or "open source"), music distribution is reaching new levels of personalized service.
Critics have voiced concerns over these reprogramming efforts, especially those that fall in the hands of amateurs. Likewise, they’ve bemoaned predictable expansions, e.g. the just re-launched Spotify Radio, which seems to solve problems others have already successfully tackled. Support for external content creators is now basically required in today’s top streaming and downloadable music apps.
Going forward, well-funded and professionally produced services such as Spotify and Last.fm should continue to provide premium, off-the-shelf software solutions, most of which will remain attainable to casual music listeners. However, the true potential of these services could lie in visionary software creators' reprogramming. In providing a high-tech backbone for a new generation of cutting-edge music software apps, the next sonic revolution is already happening right beneath listeners’ noses. The real rock stars of the music app scene may come from programmers, after all.