mFlow: Twitter with a passion for tunes

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Today I managed to bag an invite to mFlow, a new beta music service. To my surprise, it’s brilliant. Not quite fully formed, but very close.

And I’m no dewy eyed novice. I’ve see quite a few beta music services in my time, and only occasionally have they really made sense to me. I loved Pandora because it helped me discover new music, but it was ahead of its time and was eventually forced to withdraw from the UK.

I enjoy Spotify, but I find myself using less and less because I want to listen to great music without the pain of having to meticulously choose one track after another. I need recommendations. Last.fm is great, but strangely impersonal.

And of course all these services have been cowering in the shadow of the mighty iTunes, scrabbling for a few pennies while Apple makes cash both from hardware and the world’s biggest music superstore.

mFlow, though, is something different: Twitter meets iTunes. A social network built around a passion for music. A recommendation engine that relies on your friends. And – that rarest of things in digital music – a business model that seems to make sense.

It works like this: your friends recommend a song; you get to listen to it for free. If you like it, you can buy it for 79p. Otherwise, you keep listening – and the next time that song crops up you’ll (frustratingly) only get to hear 30 seconds.

But the beauty is that if you buy the song, the person who recommended it takes a 16p cut. You build up credit to… well, to buy music of course. Think of it as pyramid selling but with a groovy beat.

There are some problems with the service; as with all social networks, it’s reliant on your friends being there. But even though it’s invite-only right now, it’s already filling up. A more profound problem is the fact that the playlist seems to play the wrong way round – it works backwards into previous recommendations, which means you’ll hit a point where you only hear 30sec clips, until you manually jump up to the top of you recommendation list to get to the new fruit.

mflow – pyramid selling with a groovy beat

And because you’ll inevitably get songs that trend like Twitter retweets, I’d like to see a more liberal attitude to full previews – three full plays, for example. But hell, you know what the music industry is like these days. Despite figures recently showing that, for the first time, paid-for digital downloads are growing at a faster pace than CD sales are falling.

mFlow, though, doesn’t just celebrate the process of learning about new music – It celebrates the process of buying it, too. It tells you who’s bought what. I think this is incredibly important – true music fans buy music with real money because they want to support an artist – but also because they want to buy into what that artist stands for. You’re buying a slice of the cool mystique of rock and rool.

But that joy of discovering and buying music is exactly what’s been missing from digital music services. Until now. I really wish mFlow the best of luck.