Discovering music and creating music playlists can truly be a fun endeavor, especially if you use tools that allow you to go about the task in a unique way. Moodsnap is a new image-based music streaming app that allows users to choose songs based on a mere photograph. Powered by Spotify and The Echo Nest, Moodsnap has reportedly been in closed-beta since May and is now available to anyone with a Spotify Premium account and an iOS device.
“Through research, what I found to be missing from today’s music apps is the perfect balance between contextual relevance, trusted curation, and simplicity through intuitive design,” says David Blutenthal, Founder and CEO of Moodsnap. “Our mission was to develop an app that aims to deliver on all three. That’s how Moodsnap was born.”
But… how exactly can images help you create a music playlist? And how accurate will the results be? We went hands on to find out.
How it works
In order to use Moodsnap, you need to sign into the app using your Spotify Premium login details. Once you’re in, you are immediately led to a photo, or “moodsnap,” from a stream, which you can peruse by swiping up or down.
Tapping on a photo will launch the app’s music player and will start playing songs automatically, starting with a track that matches the mood or theme of the photo.
The song page has four prominent buttons:
Contribute – You may contribute songs you think suits the mood of the photograph currently shown.
Dislike – Disliking songs you’re not a fan of improves future selections, saving you time from browsing and enjoying more music.
Favorite – Save your favorites and listen to them any time you want, either through the Spotify or Moodsnap app.
Share – You can share the track through email, Twitter, or Facebook.
Also on the song page is a button leading to your profile, where your contributions and favorites can be seen at first glance. Your profile also showcases your current rank in Moodsnap’s leaderboard for tastemakers – the more you contribute, the higher your rank becomes – and the Settings button, which leads to a page that has your account details and the Help section of the app.
The controls for the app are pretty straightforward. On the Song page, if you:
- Swipe right: you can go back to the photo stream to select a different moodsnap.
- Swipe left: you will forward to the next track.
- Swipe up: you get a song that’s “more mellow”
- Swipe down: you get a song that’s “more energy”
The song selections
To test the app out, I tried all the swipe options on four of 13 available “moodsnaps,” and here are my results:
Expectation: Songs that are angsty by nature, lots of head-bang rock
- First song: I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor – Arctic Monkeys
- More energy: Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
- More mellow: Myxomatosis – Radiohead
- Next track: The National Anthem – Radiohead
Thoughts: I knew a Nirvana track was bound to appear, but the fact that it wasn’t the first song that popped up was a good sign in my book…Spotify doesn’t always want to go for the obvious. However, the fact that two Radiohead songs played successively seemed to imply that when it doesn’t know what to do, the app will play more of the same artist until you Dislike it, skip it for something more mellow or energetic, or suggest a track of your own.
Expectation: Upbeat dance music
- First song: Summertime Sadness – Lana Del Rey
- Next track: Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) – C+C Music Factory
- More energy: My Girls – Animal Collective
- More mellow: Dance Yrself Clean – LCD Soundsystem
Thoughts: The first track was so puzzling for me that for this test, I tried changing it up by hitting next track first before more mellow or energy, just to see what happens. The track that supposedly has more energy than Gonna Make You Sweat is certainly an odd choice – I wouldn’t exactly call Animal Collective energetic, especially not compared to C+C Music Factory. It’s possible that I had the wrong expectations for the kind of songs that fit the mood of the photo.
Expectation: Up-tempo tracks
- First song: Mr. Brightside Jacques Lu Cont’s Thin White Duke Mix – The Killers
- Next track: Movement – LCD Soundsystem
- More energy: Levels – Avicii
- More mellow: Battle Without Honor Or Humanity – Tomoyasu Hotei
Thoughts: Most of the suggestions for this photo were not what I expected from a workout playlist, but I am pleasantly surprised that I got a remix version rather than the more obvious, more popular studio version hit for the first song (also, I must give kudos to the variety the selection for “more mellow” provided… must add that to my Songs for Running playlist). I also noted that this is the second time an artist showed up twice during my hands on, which makes me think that the app has a preset of artists per genre/photo to start with or is “warming up” to more regular usage in the future.
“That likely was because a user contributed two tracks from the same artist to that station, or different users each contributed one song,” says Blutenthal when I asked him about the back-to-back tracks “The app likely found a similar energy level between the two tracks, coupled with the app’s current assessment of your taste profile (which is fairly limited when you’re a brand new user), and decided to group them back-to-back. It shouldn’t happen often and it’s one of those things inherent to having a version 1.0 product. We’re still working out the kinks and improving our algorithms.”
Expectation: Slow, coffee-house type music
- First track: Placid Acid – Tourist
- Next track: Sweet Disposition – Temper Trap
- More mellow: I’m Getting Ready – Michael Kiwanuka
- More energy: Domino – Van Morrison
Thoughts: Out of the tracks that were suggested, I’m only familiar with one, maybe two at the most, which I think takes care of the music discovery part of the program. All tracks seem to have a “play in the background” feel to them, which is perfect if you want your reading time accompanied by non-distracting music. After all, you don’t want to spend too much time disliking songs when you’re immersed in the pages of a book or an e-reader.
Compared to other Spotify apps, it takes a lot more effort and commitment to even try Moodsnap out – it requires users to have a Spotify Premium account. Listeners who want a painless way to access music playlists may want to do so via Tunigo, another Spotify app (which we gave a pretty decent review) that provides user-generated playlists whose genres, themes, and moods are already pre-determined and identifiable by easy-to-understand titles, like “Your Favorite Coffeehouse” or “Road trip.”
On the other hand, Moodsnap allows users to dig deep within themselves and decide if a certain song evokes the same emotion a specific photo conveys, without being limited by a playlist title or description. Admittedly, having a visual representation of music is a genius concept unlike any other music discovery app out in the market. It gives a user the opportunity to format his soundtrack according to how a picture makes him feel, not necessarily by listening to what popular culture dictates to be smash hits.
“The idea to categorize music stations by images stemmed from psychological research on the power that visual imagery has on emotion and decision-making, coupled with implicit knowledge and what we saw in the music and photo app marketplaces as both lacking and trending,” explains Blutenthal. “By displaying a spectrum of life’s emotions not in words, but in photographs, Moodsnap allows users to feel what they want to hear, rather than search through exhaustive and often un-relatable text-based categories. We designed this intuitive experience for music fans who feel overwhelmed by choice in today’s digital world, providing more time to simply live in the moment.”
Aside from the basic idea of curating music through imagery, there are many other things to like about Moodsnap that aren’t necessarily present in other music apps. There doesn’t seem to be a skip limit – add to that flexibility and control over what the next song would be, what its tempo would be, and what level of energy it would have and you’ve got the makings of staple music service.
The fact that Moodsnap works within Spotify is also an added plus. The Moodsnap team was able to identify pain points among Spotify users and incorporate it into their development plans. According to Blutenthal, they knew people regularly felt overwhelmed with the need to always search for what they want to hear, aside from not having many mobile options for Spotify-integrated apps that provide trusted curation solutions. “[The first version of Moodsnap] was developed before Spotify rolled out their new ‘Browse’ feature on mobile (which contains lists of mood and activity-based playlists) so we’re interested to see how our simple, visual and collaborative experience complements this new offering,” shares Blutenthal.
Lastly, I sort of like the fact that the photos have no names attached to them, no clue as to what genres they most likely point to or what artists are to be expected to play within every moodsnap. You can totally be your trippy, moody, musically adventurous self – there are no mistakes.
Moodsnap’s aim to provide a combination of algorithm-based music with user-generated suggestions is highly commendable, and since it’s in its early stages, the way the app goes about fulfilling that goal is conceivably still sluggish and may yield more misses than hits for those who expect highly from their music apps… we can total forgive that for now. The bottom line is, Moodsnap is made of good stuff and has made itself a suitable launching pad that has many possibilities for improvement. Currently there seems to be only 13 images available for poking at people’s music memory, all of which vaguely represent a mood playlist users can curate and contribute to – if the makers of Moodsnap are thinking of what features to improve on next, I’d start there.
Moodsnap is available for all Spotify Premium subscribers and can be installed for free through the iTunes App Store. A version for Android will soon follow.