Songbeat Gets A Second Life As Excellent Music App With Uncertain Future

I liked Songbeat the minute I started using it. First released as a desktop app for Seeqpod back in January 2008, the upgraded version that was introduced nearly 12 months after that not only made searching for music extremely simple but also offered an excellent way to download tracks to your computer.

And like Seeqpod, it was also an easy way to obtain copyrighted material from the many places on the Web where that kind of stuff can be found.

Up, down, and up again

Evidently, the music industry took notice and sought to shut the service down in court. Warner Music was the first to file a lawsuit against the startup behind Songbeat and ultimately forced the fledgling company to take the service offline, but not without them promising to return with something bigger and bolder in the future.

Yesterday, the guys behind Songbeat came out with a revived version of the desktop client, which has been renamed Songbeat 360. Music lovers are going to love it.

The music industry, however, is not.

The app

Songbeat 360 is an Adobe AIR powered desktop music player with a powerful music search engine – unambiguously baptized Songbeat Search – at its core. Search for artists or songs and the app returns a list of 50 search results, along with links to the originating source. Double-click tracks and you can instantly play them from the integrated player, or right-click to download tunes to your computer. Drag music tracks to the left-hand column and create custom playlists straight from the app. Slick, fast and easy.

Wanna learn more about an artist? Simply hit the ‘Discover’ button and you’ll get all sorts of information from across the web delivered right to the desktop client interface, including similar artists so you can find more music you like by browsing their profiles and albums. Interested in knowing when the artist in question (or another) is playing at or nearby your location? Click the ‘Live’ button and you’ll get a list of gigs based on your location, which you can easily modify. Wanna let your friends know what you’re listening to? The integrated Twitter button will make that easy for you too.

The cost

Songbeat has set up an unusual way of monetizing the service. When you launch the application for the first time, you’ll see 50 credits at the right top of the client. Every time you do a search for an artist or song, a credit comes off your inventory. Scroll to the bottom of the list and you’ll get 50 more results, once again taking a credit off your account. If you run out of credits, which takes away the ability to search music using Songbeat Search, you can purchase additional credits at any time through Paypal, with a rate of €10 or roughly $15 for 1,000 credits.

Here’s the funny thing: actually streaming music or downloading music doesn’t cost you any credits at all. Nothing. Zip.

And that’s of course what will make users love it, and labels (and many music artists) hate it.

The problem

The announcement of the all new Songbeat starts like this:

“Why should I pay for music when it’s available for free everywhere anyway? This is the question everyone is asking themselves today.” says Claudio Fritz-Vietta, CEO of Songbeat Distribution Ltd.

Nothing short of provocative, and when I inquired about the specifics of deals that are in place with record labels or artists to make sure the latter get adequate compensation for their work, Fritz-Vietta made it clear that he is trying every trick in the book to prevent having to pay up for that. Which means that, unlike Spotify (which Songbeat loves to compare themselves with), there are zero arrangements with the music industry in place yet, and I doubt there ever will be.

Like Seeqpod before them, Songbeat hides behind the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by stating they are only search providers offering users access to music that is already available on the Web, and that the company never actually hosts any digital files on its own servers. Seeqpod tried to play that game, got sued all over the place anyway, ultimately filed for bankruptcy only to be (presumably) picked up by Microsoft for its core technology and team some time after.

Songbeat also says it actually wants to help artists and their labels market their music, concerts etc. better by – get this – offering them free ad space inside the client interface. The idea is that they’d advertise better quality tracks, concert tickets, etc. using ad units that are displayed whenever someone ends up on the artist’s profile.

Somehow, I don’t think that’ll stick.

This is part of their pitch:

“There are no deals with any labels in place yet, but we are open for talks and are willing to work with them and with each individual artist. We are not doing this to steal from anyone. Whatever we earn with this we are willing to share in a fair way. We want to offer a new and alternative revenue stream. Artists and labels will have to use as many revenue streams as possible to keep their businesses going – we will be one of them.

It’s about controlling what’s out there at the moment – and right now – as we can see the labels & artists have no way to control it. We want to help them control any content that’s out there may it be claimed legal or illegal.

Regarding the legal situation Songbeat 360 and Songbeat Search fully comply with the DMCA and all major copyright laws internationally. Songbeat has learned a lot in the past after being sued by Warner Music in Germany. There is a take-down notice and each source from each individual track found is shown. It would actually be a perfect tool for labels to find all copyright infringements that are online and get them taken down.”

In a perfect world, maybe. A serious shame we’re not living in one.