The last twelve months have witnessed both the star-studded release of Tidal and Apple’s iForay into music streaming. But, forgive me Zuck and Timmy C, even with the cash and celebrities behind both of your releases, our favorite new music streaming experience of the past year comes courtesy of the crew of music junkies behind Cymbal.
Despite the efforts of the industry’s heavy hitters (Spotify, Apple, SoundCloud, Pandora, YouTube, etc.), there have been no major recent breakthroughs in making music streaming a true collaborative, social experience. The solution is to create an experience where music fans can broadcast their tastes and simultaneously interact with friends, influencers and celebrities who are doing the same. This sonic feedback loop allows fans to cultivate a personalized, public-facing image of their own musical interests while also allowing those interests to evolve through exposure to the cool new (or cool old) music floating around their musical networks.
Cymbal nails the social aspect by serving a constantly-updating – yet digestible – feed of tracks and cover art hand-picked and posted by your friends with a healthy mix of your own favorite music. The result is a playlist full of sound and stunning visuals yet devoid of clutter. The obvious labeling of the app as the “Instagram for music” doesn’t do Cymbal justice. The feed manages to be personal and social while still keeping the experience strictly about the art and our connections to other fans through overlapping musical tastes. Whereas Instagram is a way of sharing (highly-selective) life updates through photos, Cymbal is a tool for sharing the music that is the soundtrack of our lives. In this way, social interaction becomes the way to discover music rather than being the goal of the experience itself.
Your Cymbal feed is, therefore, a living, breathing collaborative playlist where you get to pick the participants.
While the app is music-focused to its core, the most immediately striking aspect of the experience is its aesthetic. Scrolling through Cymbal kicks off a weaving, kaleidoscopic trip through vibrant album artwork. This trip spans across artists, genres, and eras to remind us that beautiful, creative cover art is alive and kickin’ even in a time when MP3 and streaming have booted the canvas of a vinyl record out of the mainstream.
While some cover art immediately invokes particular styles or sounds (you’ll never mistake Outkast’s Aquemini artwork for that of Dylan’s Nashville Skyline) I’m often struck by how musicians use their visual identity to blur cross-genre borders and fight against being pigeonholed. The Cymbal feed reminds us that music streaming is not the death knell for music’s visual component and that enjoying music and getting to know our favorite musicians is a multisensory experience. The album covers also allow every user to curate their personal profiles with a collage of artwork that – although borrowed – shines a light on their personality.
The task of fending off the industry incumbents is a tough one and Cymbal is not the first to build a collaborative community of hand-picked music -- Treble team favorite This Is My Jam immediately comes to mind (shout out, @Han). But – so far – Cymbal seems to be up to the challenge of getting ahead by setting itself apart. Data, algorithms, and automation paint the current landscape of “personalized” musical curation; however, Cymbal embraces the human element to create a social musical curation experience that is unpredictable, entertaining and collaborative to its core. Come join me and the rest of the Treble team on Cymbal – and be warned, I unleash a steady stream of southern hip hop, funk and Bob Dylan.