Thesixtyone; a self-proclaimed music adventure, is a site dedicated to helping you discover music in a whole new way. According to co-founder James Miao “thesixtyone was born out of our (myself and my co-founder, Sam Hsiung) frustration with music sites. Mainstream music sites had hairy licensing restrictions that translated to poor user experiences. Independent content networks felt amateurish and uninspired – there was no motivation…to explore.” The site allows you to discover indie musicians you might not have otherwise heard and get rewarded for doing so. Listen to individual tracks or entire albums, leave comments and give hearts to ones you like. As the song plays, thesixtyone automatically runs a slideshow of photos, fun facts and even tweets by the artist. Once you’ve given a heart to a song, as it moves up the charts and becomes more popular on the site, you earn a better reputation as a music expert.
You have a limited number of hearts to start with – but the more you listen, the more you get. You can also increase your ranking and hearts by completing quests – like listening to songs in 4 different “mood” categories, completing your “daily quest” or by inviting at least 5 Facebook friends to join. Unlock achievements to earn reputation points and badges.
Create playlists to share with your followers and listen to the site’s suggestions that accumulate the longer you explore. You can also buy music directly from the artists, who earn up to $7 per album. Some artists featured on site have gone on to sign with record labels and have been featured on MTV, HBO and a plethora of other opportunities. Notable alumni include Meiko, I Fight Dragons, Owl City and Fitz and the Tantrums.
Thesixtyone is a deep labyrinth of sights and sounds where you could potentially spend eternity just experiencing the content. Like photos and video, music lends itself well to broad sorting/ranking gamified experiences. If the music alone isn’t enough to keep you interested, the integration of quests, a reputation system and status creates a different level of engagement with and dedication to artists. You want their songs to do well and become popular because your rep is on the line!
This site is a lot of fun and has already introduced me to some new artists I might not have otherwise encountered. While it’s a great concept and a really enjoyable experience, there were a few issues I initially took with the site. It’s not an exaggeration to call it a labyrinth. Once you go in, it’s impossible to find your way back to start. The design of the site is smooth and elegant – it does keep you moving around, but you’re not able to easily orient yourself or even find help if you need it. And if you’re getting songs to top charts, where are the charts? Looking at the popular songs category only starts playing them at random. There’s no literal chart to see at a glance which songs are the most popular or a leaderboard to show which users got them there. It begs the question: what’s the point of a reputation if no one sees it?
This incarnation of the site is still relatively new (the original was launched in 2008 and has changed a lot since being relaunched last January) and many of its components are still in beta. A front page leaderboard used to be there and has since been removed. I asked James Miao why they choose to rework the site in this way. “The leaderboard was great early on, but ultimately sent the wrong message that thesixtyone emphasized competition,” he said. “Enjoying music should be the primary activity, and aspects like points/levels/achievements should be byproducts of that activity, not the other way around. The front page change was a gut decision: having a highly browsable list of songs/artists didn’t make much sense if the average user couldn’t recognize names.” The decision may have been the right one, as James describes user engagement as “abnormally high”. He added that the average registered user spends almost 2 hrs per day on the site while the average, non-registered visitor is 30 minutes. Thesixtyone is an example of a gamified system where the focus is the journey, not the destination. And when the scenic route is so enjoyable, why would anyone be in a rush for it to end?