By Tom Dillon of Evolver.fm.
Cumulus.fm, a web app for the “music tastemakers and trendspotters” of the world, currently available by invite only, promises to change the way hardcore music fans go about not just finding music, but how they keep track of it after that.
It’s not a discovery tool. Neither is it for collecting, strictly speaking. Instead, Cumulus.fm (direct link) is right in between — the place where you might keep the list of music you need to check out before you buy it or add it to your cloud thing, which sure beats a text file or a pad of paper. (See also: Later.fm and these 8 options.)
For Cumulus.fm (get it? like the cloud?) founder Allen Louison, the endless array of Excel spreadsheets he used to track music during his years of booking shows caused him to realize there’s no service for metadata geeks and online music collectors to keep everything that gets sent their way straight, so he set off to solve that problem.
The result, Cumulus.fm, acts much like that same notepad that many serious music fans use to track the music they need to check out later, except it plays music. You can (virtually) jot down all the important information that comes along with a particular song (location on the internet, artist, album, and so on) when you find something you like on Rdio, YouTube, SoundCloud, Pandora, or anywhere else. In some cases, Cumulus.fm can pull the song information from the song automatically, or you can add that stuff yourself, in the case of recommendations from friends or elsewhere, including direct links to MP3s on the web. Cumulus.fm also leaves room for your comments about a particular track (i.e. “Nate said to check this one out for sure”).
Adding a song manually is usually as easy as searching Cumulus.fm for the artist. You’ll be greeted by results from Rdio, The HypeMachine, YouTube and more, thanks to Cumulus’s Tomahawk-like functionality (it might even use Tomahawk’s resolvers, which are on github; we’re working on figuring that out now). The most popular of those will automatically load to be played at the bottom of the screen, where videos appear, if the song is from YouTube.
Cumulus.fm suggests downloading a Chrome extension that lets you add stuff to Cumulus as you browse the web just like you normally would. In that case, a large “+ Add” button shows up near any music on the web that the app can add.
This is all well and good, because we all need better ways to track all the music coming at us these days.
Cumulus.fm also shines as a playlist, so you can work your way through all the stuff you’ve been meaning to check out (to access this, go to The Lab > Seamless Playback). In case the file has moved or been deleted (as many MP3 blogs do after a few days of hosting something), Cumulus can find it elsewhere automatically, so it’ll likely play anyway.
Louison tells Evolver.fm, “Metadata can be leveraged to find music across the internet. While traditional music services are restricted to searching and returning music that exist in their own licensed back-catalog, Cumulus.fm‘s back-catalog is the internet. This means that you no longer need to find an actual stream, widget, or MP3 and save it on Cumulus.fm – just save the artist name and song title, and Cumulus.fm will find a viable source for playback.”
One thing you can’t do is follow music blogs directly. However, a ”Feeds” tab gets you BeatPort’s most popular tracks, HypeMachine’s Fresh Blogger Posts, and Pitchfork Best New Tracks at any given time. When you hear something you want to check out, you can add it to Cumulus.fm.
“For blogs specifically, we want to get the execution right and preserve the editorial content that accompanies the media during the discovery experience which is why it is largely an ‘experimental’ feature right now, until we get it right,” said Louison.
One problem that has dogged the music scene for years is that if you collect your music in one place, you can’t move it to another — say, from Spotify to Rdio, or from Pandora to Last.fm, if you move to Europe. Cumulus.fm is working on fixing that.
“We started with Rdio because their API made it extremely easy to implement a collect & sync proof-of-concept,” said Louison. “The long-term goal is to continuously lower the barrier on how to get music into your cumulus.fm collection at the metadata-level so that the user always has a comprehensive representation of their music collection that eventually can be transferred to any music service for playback.”
As of the day this article was written, another new tab appeared on Cumulus.fm called “The Lab,” which includes test features.
Cumulus.fm is a novel service that fits between many other music services, straddling the gaps between being a virtual notepad, casual discovery service, and, most importantly, a sort of “staging area” for your real music collection — a place to try on music to see if it fits.
Louison sums it up nicely: “We bring the metadata for the user; the music services bring the media.”