Editor’s note, May 8, 2008 - A website name and location in this story were updated after publication; the correct URL is http://www.ind-music.com.
REDMOND, Wash. — May 5, 2008 — Last November Zune launched “Zune Social,” a music community Web site where music fans can discover new music, browse each others’ playlists, and comment on their discoveries and tastes.
In just its first five months, more than two million users have joined the community. With enough members to populate a major city, the community is almost as diverse as the world of music itself, from hardcore audiophiles and passionate music fans to people who are just crazy about the Zune player.
Brian Seitz, a Group Marketing Manager for Zune, says it’s a core goal of his team to create an experience where the diversity and knowledge of all those music fans is tapped to inspire Zune listeners to explore new music. With that in mind, the Zune team worked to incorporate extensive customer feedback into a refresh of the online music community and Zune software, which is being launched this week.
“Zune owners are pretty passionate, and they had a lot of great ideas for making the community more valuable to music fans,” he says. “And I definitely fall into that category myself — the main reason we’re all here is we love the music.”
The spring update includes enhanced features that build on the sense of community and musical exploration Zune delivers. The downloadable Zune application is now integrated with the Zune community site so members can send messages to friends, look at their music collections, shop for new content, and drag-and-drop Zune Cards to their players, all without opening a Web browser. Also, the online Zune Marketplace is offering TV episodes for download for the first time.
Zune Card Makes Musical Exploration Portable
New community-based features are an integral part of the latest Zune update, such as the ability to display Zune Cards and to see the songs and albums friends are playing. May 5, 2008
One way to make these connections is with the free Zune Card, a sort of electronic Zune playlist, which automatically reflects the songs played on a Zune player or Zune PC software. With the spring update, the Zune Card now becomes more portable.
“For Zune Pass subscribers, dragging and dropping a friend’s Zune Card onto your Zune means that all of the music that friend has been listening to is automatically synced to your Zune, so you can listen to the full tracks when you’re out and about,” Seitz says.
With that, he says, the Zune Card makes the experience of being exposed to new music easy and automatic. Non Zune Pass subscribers still see all album art and track information, and either way, the end result is that listeners get new music they didn’t have to search for themselves, music they might not even know. Every time people sync their Zune players with their computers, their Zune Card is refreshed with the top tracks their friends have been listening to. Zune Cards can also easily be pasted into personal blogs or popular social networking sites such as Windows Live Spaces, MySpace and Facebook where Zune is listed as one of the applications.
“The cool thing about the Zune Card is that all you have to do is listen to music through the Zune service, and your Zune Card automatically lets others in the community see what you’ve been listening to,” he says. “Without doing anything other than listening to music you like, you’re basically programming a personal radio station for your friends. All of your friend’s cards are like other channels on the dial.”
Marques Lyons of Anaheim, California, started using Zune when he won one in a local raffle. A marketing professional for an online retailer by day, Marques studied music in college and plays the trombone professionally, which led to his Zune identity, “Tromboneforhire.”
According to Lyons, exploring music via other people’s Zune Cards creates a game of musical connect-the-dots that invariably leads to a new musical discovery.
“I look at other people’s cards a lot because it’s very diverse and a lot of fun,” he says. “I can start pretty much from any person’s page or any artist, end up finding not only the original artist I was going for, but maybe three or four others in the process.”
Seitz says the music community builds on a theme identified in a survey conducted by Kelton Research, in which 82 percent of respondents indicated they prefer music recommendations from people they know and trust.
According to many who use the Zune service, it’s that thoughtful approach built around community and discovery that keeps them hooked on the Zune.
“I love the ability to share and show off the music you are listening to,” says Andrea Avellan, known in the Zune community as “Ichigo Sage.” “It’s one thing to say I’m listening to this artist, but with Zune you can show and share it easily.”
Zune Pass Puts Millions of Tracks at Your Fingertips
Avellan also appreciates the monthly subscription Zune Pass, which supplements traditional pay-as-you-go downloads by giving music fans access to millions of tracks on demand, whether to explore a new genre, or fuel their next party.
“If music is your thing, you need a Zune Pass,” says Avellan. “You download things you would never think of downloading if you had to pay for each track, so you can really find a lot of music.”
Patrick Hefner, of Spartanburg, S.C., whose Zune tag is “INDMusic,” has used the Zune Pass not only to discover new music, but to reconnect with bands he’s followed in the past.
“One of those bands for me is the Presidents of the USA,” he says. “I saw them in concert, loved their first album, but lost interest for awhile. Through the Zune Pass I was reintroduced to some of their new stuff and remembered how great their music is.”
According to Seitz, the Zune Pass is one part of a multi-faceted approach to creating a great all around experience — Zune is the only entertainment experience that spans a player, a music and video store, music community, and subscription plus DRM-free MP3s.
“We’re the only ones out there providing this rich, full experience around music and media,” he says.
Music Community Thriving at Zune Social
Zune Cards, such as the sample card shown here for “MOSSYROCK,” allow Zune Social members to share their most recently played songs and albums with other friends. Community members can send messages to friends, look at their music collections, shop for new content and drag and drop Zune Cards. May 5, 2008
While most members of the Zune community are content to browse, comment, and get recommendations, some are taking an active role and creating grass roots value on their own.
Hefner peruses the Zune forums as “INDMusic,” sharing music and posting helpful FAQs with tips and tricks for beginners to get the most out of their Zunes.
It’s a natural outlet for Hefner, who in 2005 founded ind-music.com, as a way for unheralded artists to get their music on the Web. His site now boasts more than 200 artists from all over the world. Hefner is also a musician who has played guitar and various other instruments for 20 years. His mother has a degree in music education, and his grandfather played in a bluegrass band on a weekly radio show.
“I’ve used other music services, but the culture behind Zune is the reason I stay,” he says. “There’s a different vibe than I’ve found anywhere else. It’s great to connect with other people, and the player is really great.”
While Hefner helps educate beginners and bring them into the community, Lyons uses his “Tromboneforhire” profile page to poll his friends and ask them for recommendations about music they want to see in a playlist. He then pulls the submissions together and posts the lists for others to check out.
“When I created my Zune Social page, I wanted anybody who comes to my page to feel like they’ve stumbled onto something,” he says. “I figured people could come in, check out music, hang around, chat, but from there it snowballed into other ideas.”
His most famous idea is the “Social Soundtrack,” where Lyons asks his Zune friends to submit songs around a central theme. The last one was called “Anger Management.”
“I said if you guys had songs that get your blood pumping, which songs would they be?” Lyons says. “A lot of guys responded with more than 50 songs, so people were generally impressed with the list.”
Like Hefner, Lyons and Avellan say the reason they’re so connected to Zune is the sense of community one gets from the services.
“People write on my Zune profile saying ‘I’ve never heard of this band,’ people you wouldn’t normally talk to, and you connect over music,” says Avellan. “You don’t really get that with anything else.”
According to Lyons, those connections overcome a real social barrier that’s been presented with the proliferation of personal entertainment devices over the years, bringing back something that may have been lost since the days when friends would gather around the hi-fi to spin vinyl.
“The way people listen to music now is largely sitting by themselves with headphones on,” he says. “Here’s a chance to see what they’re listening to, listen to what they’re listening to, and then talk with them about it. The communication about different genres, styles and artists is the part of Zune I really appreciate.”