Anthm, a new iPhone app released this past weekend, combines a number of winning elements from the digital music space into one sleek package. It offers the social playlist aspect that resonated so well with turntable.fm users, as well as the breadth of library and easy access of Rdio‘s digital subscription music service. It debuted on the iPhone, the go-to portable music device of likely more than 50 million users worldwide.
Anthm is the bootstrapped product of a four-founder team which includes Ben Myers, Paul Beaudry and Tyler Johnston, all of whom have extensive experience in the design world, as well as technical founder and iPhone developer Paul Thorsteinson. The iPhone app works by letting users create a location-based playlist, almost like a social jukebox, which nearby app users can contribute to and interact with. Playlists will appear automatically on other nearby devices running the app. The host of the party signs in with their Rdio account, and other users simply make song requests by searching for tracks in Rdio’s extensive library.
In an interview with Anthm co-founders Beaudry and Myers, Beaudry said that the team initially had the idea in September of 2010, but that things “didn’t really start rolling” until they connected with fellow co-founder and developer Thorsteinson “about a year ago.” In the early days, the team toyed with the idea of using users’ local libraries as a source for the music content of Anthm; Beaudry said that the problems associated with that included a lack of depth of selection, as well as the tendency users have to keep disorganized music libraries. It’s also worth pointing out that Apple offers a similar service for locally stored iTunes libraries through its official Remote app and iTunes DJ.
“When we found out that Rdio was offering [its API], it was a no-brainer that we should be tying into that instead,” Beaudry said. “Every meeting we see something new we can do with it. We can see enough potential that version 1o is in our brains.”
For now, though, the team is clearly focused on creating a user experience that people will love. Anthm’s 1.0 is definitely a good start. There’s almost no setup required for users to get started making requests and joining parties, and only party hosts are required to have an active Rdio subscription; anyone else can make requests and vote on requests made by other users.
There are a couple significant limitations at the moment, namely Rdio as the only supported music service. Also currently only iPhone users can get in on the party. Beaudry said that starting on any other platform “was never really a question,” but the company definitely has plans to expand to the web first, where they’ll be able to appeal to users independently of platform, as well as Android devices eventually.
Beaudry and Myers discussed plans to also expand the range of content sources available to Anthm users. “Obviously Spotify’s taking off so much in all of these different countries,” Myers said. “Go into a spot, you have a Spotify account, an Rdio account, or even Moog or Rhapsody or what have you, and you could just start a party using songs on any of those streaming services. [Hosts] can choose whichever one they want, they don’t have to be tied down to a specific streaming service.”
The present iteration of Anthm is aimed at consumers, and Beaudry says it’ll remain free for everyday users. The company plans to monetize the product eventually by making it available to businesses or for events through paid partnerships, and also says an ad-supported model is on the table for versions down the road, but stresses that Anthm will make sure any ads that appear don’t disrupt the user experience.
In terms of working with businesses, Anthm has some competition. Roqbot, launched last year, aims a similar user-sourced DJ service specifically at businesses, and already has both iPhone and Android apps available. The difference is that Anthm is starting with users, so they’ll already be familiar with the service and how it works from using the free app at home with friends. On the other hand, Rdio is licensed for non-commercial use only according to its terms of services, so it could be tricky negotiating arrangements with paying customers.
Anthm is a consumer product first and foremost, though, and one that hits the right notes. It’s also on the cutting edge of the next big thing in digital music: services that add a usability or feature layer to streaming services. “The days of dealing with MP3 libraries are numbered,” Beaudry said. “These streaming services are leaps and bounds ahead of what iTunes is even offering.”