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How Do You Music, Part Four: Tumblr/ex.fm (Music Discovery and the Web)

Posted on 8 March 2011

Alright, now we’re into the service that started it all: Tumblr. More specifically, Tumblr and it’s music apps, primarily ex.fm.

Full How Do You Music? Series:
Introduction
The Hype Machine
CBC Radio 3
Soundcloud
Last.fm

[note: originally this was going to be my last post, but I’ve decided to add Last.fm to the series, for reasons I’ll explain]

Music Microblogging

I’m not going to go too much into what Tumblr is, because that’s a different conversation altogether. The fact is, it’s a lot of things to a lot of people. The simplified version is it’s a microblogging service. For our purposes, what sets Tumblr apart from a traditional blog is the ability to blog mp3s without the need to write a title, etc that are needed in a traditional blog. That’s on the content creation end.

On the consumption/discovery side of things is Tumblr’s dashboard. This is, again, like Facebook or Twitter. You follow other Tumblr users, and their posts, newest to oldest, appear when you log in.

Now, as I said, Tumblr is a lot of things to a lot of people. And one of those things is a quick and easy way to share music. I do it everyday. And, if you start following other people who post music, it can be a great addition to your discovery patterns.

[note: one might reasonably ask why you would use Tumblr to subscribe to music blogs when you could do it on the Hype Machine. And this is true for bigger blogs, but not all blogs are on the Hype Machine. Especially if you have friends or bloggers whose music you like but who aren’t professional/regular music bloggers]

Ex.fm for continuous play

Tumblr CAN be great for music discovery, but the Tumblr dashboard is not the ideal platform for music listening. If you start a track, it doesn’t automatically skip to the next one. If you go to a new page, the music stops. And since the music is interspersed with writing, video, and pictures, it can be easy to miss or be distracted by something else. More on those issues can be found in the discussion centred around this post.

Fortunately (if you’re a Google Chrome user), a clever app has been developed called ex.fm. What it does is scans the content of whatever web page you’re on and finds embedded mp3s. It puts those mp3s in your library, allows you to queue songs, and best of all gives you continuous listening, even if you close the window the music was originally found. And on Tumblr, it automatically finds the most recent songs posted in your dashboard. Let’s see that in action:

1. ex.fm tells me there’s song on the page

2. I click on the bookmarklet to see what they are

As you can see, I can “play all”, “queue all” (for later listening), or play/queue individual tracks. I can also share them on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr or “note” them– the ex.fm equivilent of “hearting”/”loving”.

ex.fm dashboard

You can also go to your ex.fm homepage, which will let you know what songs your Tumblr friends have been posting, and give you access to a library of pages you’ve visited, whose interface should be familiar to anyone who’s used iTunes:

Going Beyond:

Of course, ex.fm wasn’t built just for Tumblr and Tumblr wasn’t built just for ex.fm, though they work so well together it sometimes feels that way. As far as ex.fm goes, it’s meant to be compatible with any page that has mp3s on it, which are featured on the site of the day. When you go to the homepage, you are also greeted with an activity stream that shows you what your contacts are posting via ex.fm on Twitter and Facebook, as well as Tumblr. Oh, and you can follow other users and their “noted” songs, too: ex.fm/username. You can listen to a user’s noted songs in a continuous stream on any modern browser. I sometimes “note” songs on my Chrome browser as a “listen later” queue for when I’m at work, where Chrome is not yet approved for use (Firefox is, fortunately).

Tumblr, too, has other methods for listening to music in a continuous stream, which is especially fortunate if you happen to be using a browser other than Chrome. Many music bloggers have incorporated a music player called Streampad into their sites so you’re able to listen to every audio post continuously. Others have even made standalone web pages that act more like autoplay web players. I first saw this done by fredwilson, and I’ve copied it for my own music blog.

If a Tumblr that you’d like to listen to DOESN’T use Streampad, try. TRNTBL.me.  It let’s you put the username of any Tumblr in at the end of http://trntble.me to give you a continuous playlist– and it can be randomized, too. The homepage also gives you a list of recommended blogs they like. Shuffler.fm works with a lot of Tumblrs (and other music blogs, too).

Democratizing Music Blogging

The thing I like about Tumblr for music discovery is that it’s a happy medium between following full-on music critics and hardcore bloggers, and simply following the more passive “hearts” put out there by someone listening to music. It takes very little effort to “heart” something, and so that means that someone hearting things might not actively be trying to share something, just noting them for their own purposes. When they post to Tumblr, they are putting a little bit of extra effort in, saying “I want YOU to hear THIS.” But Tumblr is simple enough that the barrier to entry is lower than it is for traditional blogging, meaning you get more diversity of voices. However, Tumblr isn’t ideal for music listening, which is where other services, particularly ex.fm come in. Hopefully, this motivates someone else to start up their own music (or partial music) blog, or at the very least gets them to check out some of the very good ones out there.

Further Reading:

me:  ex.fm May Have Just Found the Holy Grail of Music Blogging

joelaz: Trends in Tumblr Audio Engagement (and my response)

yvynl: Best Music Tumblr Blogs

Fred Wilson: FredWilson.fm

Filed under: how to, music

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