Discovr, developed by Jammbox, is an iPad app designed to help listeners find new music by creating an interactive map that connects artists based on similarity of sound. Discovr’s database is impressively deep as it is broad. (I even ran across an artist known as Fad Gadget!) The app should appeal to music fanatics as well as anyone looking to spruce up her playlists.
To begin, simply type in the name of a band or artist. Discovr then suggests about six more bands that share that artist’s musical qualities. Discovr’s interactive map is definitely its most unusual aspect, but each map bubble also contains a wealth of information about its subject. Double tapping on an artist’s bubble brings up a string of YouTube clips that march across the top of the screen, while underneath the fan-to-be can read biographical information, listen to song snippets, access blog entries and reviews, as well as links iTunes, Amazon, Last.fm, and MySpace. Finally, the listener can share her discoveries through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or add the band to the favorites section of the app, which appears at the bottom of the screen.
I made a Discovr map using Radiohead to test the app’s ability to bridge the gap between commercially successful and critically acclaimed music. Discovr gave me these bands: Arcade Fire, Coldplay, Manic Street Preachers, Muse, the Smashing Pumpkins, Thom Yorke.
An entire treatise could be written on just what the Smashing Pumpkins are doing in that grouping, but that’s just one of Discovr’s quirks. I guarantee you will not agree with the app’s suggestions completely. The most egregious example I found was the app’s linking of the Velvet Underground to Bob Dylan. Discovr also favors sound similarity over biographical information, except when it doesn’t. It perplexed me that New Order did not connect directly to Joy Division, Avey Tare didn’t connect to Animal Collective, Damion Albarn didn’t connect to Blur, and Stephen Malkmus didn’t connect to Pavement, yet E.L.O. connected to the Traveling Wilburys.
The pictures below show how my map looked after during three different stages of use.
The first picture shows my Radiohead map after just a few additions. The second shows how it grew rapidly through it’s Arcade Fire link to emphasize my interest in Punk, New Wave, and early ’90s rock. (Radiohead is somewhere near the bottom center). There is a small island of bubbles in the upper right where Led Zeppelin is connected by a really long thread to the White Stripes. Something amazing happened in the last picture. I opened the bubble for the Pixies. The long arms of the Pixies reached into the mass of bands in the center, and I watched as the entire musical map began to close in on itself. This was not unlike what happened in my brain when I first heard Come On Pilgrim over twenty years ago. For a music nerd like me this was fascinating stuff.
I did eventually stop playing with the map and open up the artist bubbles to see what information lay inside. Generally, I liked what I found. All of the YouTube videos ran seamlessly. Song streaming, however, is not Discovr’s strength. The songs stream as samples, so if you want to hear a full-length version it is necessary to rely on the YouTube Links overhead. More obscure artists may not have songs at all. All of the information on the band page should provide a curious listener with more than enough data to decide if she likes a band or not.
I will admit that Discovr didn’t introduce me to any new bands, at least not yet. I also couldn’t find a band that Discovr didn’t have. But I do believe that a more casual user might find the app very useful. Have any readers found great new music using the app? Was anyone put off by its quirks? Discovr is available in the App Store for $0.99.
What I liked: Discovr entertained me. Discovr’s interface is so addictive. It is a Trouser Press Record Guide for the twenty-first century. It is hard to describe the joyful feeling I got seeing a bubble pop up for a band I liked, but had forgotten about.
What I didn’t like: Discovr was not free from small technical glitches. Occasionally songs failed to load for streaming or an artist bubble would come up more than once.
To buy or not to buy: As a music lover it is hard not to quibble with some of Discovr’s details, but all of those complaints are minor compared to the fun I had using the app. Thanks to its broad database, Discovr has something for everybody.
- App Name: Discovr
- Version Reviewed: 1.4
- Category: Music
- Developer: Jamm Boxx
- Price: $0.99