Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, co-founder of lifestyle magazine Lagom, founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, and an electronic musician.

Ghostly Discovery

Posted on 30 October 2009 Comments

Article illustration for Ghostly Discovery

There’s a growing list of iPhone apps that I enjoy, but there’s one I downloaded this week that I absolutely love: the rather excellent (and free) Ghostly Discovery from Ghostly International.

For those who don’t know (or can’t be bothered to click on the link), Ghostly are an eclectic independent record label based in Ann Arbor. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me raving about the fantastic music they put out on many an occasion. Artists like Kiln and School of Seven Bells are a huge influence on my own music, and most of you will probably be aware of Tycho, the musical alter-ego of designer Scott Hansen / ISO50 (and if you’re not, then shame on you — click that link!).

Anyway, the iPhone app… Ghostly Discovery is essentially a way of unearthing the many gems in Ghostly’s catalogue. You don’t search for songs or browse artists and albums — as per the usual song-finding paradigm — but instead discover music based on your mood and the style of the music you’re after. While setting the mood is pretty innovative (sliding a colour wheel where colours represent moods like ‘frenetic’, ‘laid back’, ‘introspective’, and ‘aggressive’), it’s the styles selector I really love; you have two sliders (think mixing desk faders): one to slide between ‘digital’ and ‘organic’, and another to slide between ‘faster’ and ‘slower’. With everything all set, you hit ‘discover’ and a playlist is generated to suit your input. Hooray — new music!

Ghostly Discovery screenshot

Once you’re into the playlist screen you’re given a few details about the track and some decent-sized album art. Clicking on the ‘menu’ button beneath the artwork then presents some extra options, like being able to buy the track directly from iTunes or read the artist’s bio. You can save tracks to your favourites and the previous / next controls shoot you to completely different artists and albums, so there’s a nice sense of random discovery maintained throughout the entire experience.

Ghostly Discovery screenshot

Finding new music can be a distracting task during the day so I’ve found myself firing up the app while cleaning my teeth or getting ready in the morning, walking around with some interesting sounds coming out of my pocket before settling down for a day’s work. And by adding tracks to my favourites, it’s a nice reminder to visit the Ghostly Store later in the day and make a purchase (I’m not really a per-track kind of guy — it’s either the whole album or nothing).

Ghostly’s catalogue covers a relatively wide range of genres to appease most eclectic tastes, but even if you’re not a fan of the music, the UI on this app should appeal. It looks good, it keeps things very simple, and hats off to them for ditching the usual way of finding music. If you want to search for something specific, this app will frustrate you, because it’s not about that: it’s about finding something you would never have known to search for.

This video demonstrates things quite nicely:

Of course, I won’t pretend to be blind to the fact that this is an exercise in intelligent marketing: from a commercial point of view, this has huge potential to drive sales for Ghostly, especially from those who might not usually go out of their way to find new music. But hey, I can live with that. Ghostly is a label with a lot of integrity and a lot of great music, and if they can make some money and turn on some new fans, then good for them. Personally I think we live in an age where discovering genuinely interesting new music can be hard when so much crap is shoved into our ears, so it’s nice to see a company trying to counteract that with a fun tool like this.

Has anyone else used the app? What do you think? Do you have any other eclectic app suggestions?

(By the way, although this post is full of praise for Ghostly and their app, I promise I wasn’t paid to write it. I’ve decided to start writing more about apps than I previously have done so far.)

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