There's a new music app and it's aimed at high school and college students called Trebel. Get it? Instead of treble as a music term it's Trebel like "rebel."
It's sort of a hybrid way to consume music falling somewhere between between Spotify and purchasing through iTunes, but it's free! Yes, free! According to an interview in Dakota Student, Gary Mekikian, CEO and Founder of M&M Media (the company behind Trebel) explains: “This is not a streaming app, and it does not compete with Spotify Premium or Spotify Free. It is actually the perfect compliment to Spotify Free.”
Unlike streaming services, you download the song to your device so you don't use up your data. The free version is ad supported and the more ads you view the more currency you earn. I presume the currency will allow you to bypass the ads when you acquire enough.
I downloaded the app and gave it a go. They ask for the usual data (Email, gender, age etc,) as well as school. You could either choose non-student or school, so I chose my old alma mater. They didn't ask for proof I was still a student, so I wonder how exactly that works. Perhaps they work something out with each high school or college, maybe it's connected to the school servers. At the moment though, I'm not sure what would stop me from going to the university I registered under and either help myself for free or at the cheaper monthly rate.
For brands and ad agencies or media companies, The Trebel website also mentions Guaranteed Views which sounds like a bright and shiny object for brands everywhere. But what does guaranteed mean? Is it ga guaranteed view if a bot is looking at your ad? Or is it real eyes? We have definitive proof that most digital media clicks are by bots. So if digital paid media is a fraud , what exactly is the guarantee?
I tried the app to see how it worked. I purposefully chose two songs. A more rare, indie song and a popular one. The rare one wasn't available. When they don't have one of the songs you want, they "search," for it and of course the search they serve up is a feed from Youtube. Is it the artists youtube page? No idea. And why not Vevo since that pays higher royalty rates? Again, no idea. Trebel's ads are also on Google's ad network, so many there's a partnership there, just like the $20 dollar Lyft code I got for signing up before they are partners, too.
After the rare, obscure track, I chose a more popular track from Taylor Swift. This song they had. But holy shit did I have to sit through a ton of ads before it downloaded. There are static banner ads that appear after every fourth track in your search and then a bunch more spots that appear while your ad is being prepared. Between static ads, and the five actual :15 or :30's, it took seven ads before I got one song downloaded. Note that these ads are skippable after five seconds because as you probably know by now, it only takes two seconds for an ad to register as having been "viewed," so no one cares if you sit through it. But still. That's incredibly disruptive.
I will say the app itself looks cool once you finally get to play your song. But the overall user experience, from search to getting to that point of play is tedious. I just can't imagine anyone wanting to sit through that many ads for one song when they can pay 99 cents or a buck thirty for it on iTunes or Amazon, or just rip it for free, or listen to it on Youtube or Spotify or Pandora. And by the way, these ads range from big brands like Toyota to those "one weird trick," kind of ads that emerge from the sleazy underbelly of the net.
The one thing that caught my attention and gave me some hope on the website was Trebel's promise that artists are compensated. Again from Dakota Student "This is in stark contrast with many of the other less reputable music downloading apps. “Our competition is the mp3 download sites, YouTube rip sites and torrent sites,” Mekikian said. “And artists suffer because they don’t get compensated for the music that gets taken from these sites.”
In other words, you can go to Trebel to get your music instead of a torrent site (or itunes, or amazon for that matter) and the artists will get paid somehow. I say "somehow" because as with most things produced in Silicon Valley, the message is low on information and high on the majestic sell. On the section entitled Patented Innovation In Artist Support, Trebel had this to say:
Music is food for the soul. It's life sustaining, like air, and life enhancing, like love.
Artists who create this magic deserve respect and fair compensation.
Our patented innovation allows friends, family, and sponsors to pay for all of your music or part of your music.
When you use Trebel, you provide fair compensation for all artists, not just the mega-stars.
Highfalutin copy aside, it neglects to mention how the artists are compensated, or at what rates, so as usual we're left to guess. Was there a deal made with the artist directly or their labels or both? Is there an opt-out or -windowing' approach? Does that compensation also include the lyrics they are posting? it should, as artists get compensated for those lyrics, too. It's a much smaller percentage than a regular royalty rate for their music but if you were ever in a piano store and saw Elton John's greatest hits on piano with lyrics, he gets paid for that.)
Basically all we know is we can download a song through Trebel after you sit through a lot of ads. Coming soon, there will be a monthly pass for ad-free music which costs $4.99 for students and 9.99 for non-students which again, how do they know who is who?
Nebulously noble intentions aside, if my experience with the app is any indication, students will be driven to Spotify or torrent sites just to avoid the inundation of ads. The number of students willing to sit though five spots and multiple banner ads just for one free song is small. I do know I was randomly given credits or tokens or whatever and that they most likely will allow me to skip ads if I acquire enough in the future, but it's sort of a moot point. Apps are like ads. You have one chance to engage the consumer. If it doesn't grab us from the get-go, we won't be back.
By the way, we reached out to the Trebel people to get some answers to our questions, but as of press time, they haven't responded. If they do, we'll update this story accordingly.