Social Media

Instagram code reveals upcoming music feature

Instagram is preparing to let you add music to your Stories, judging by code found inside its Android app. “music stickers” could let you search for and add a song to your posts, thanks to licensing deals with the major record labels recently struck by Facebook. Instagram is also testing a way to automatically detect a song you’re listening to and display the artist and song title as just a visual label.

Listenable music stickers would make Instagram Stories much more interesting to watch. Amateur video footage suddenly looks like DIY MTV when you add the right score. The feature could also steal thunder from teen lip syncing app sensation Musically, and stumbling rival Snapchat that planned but scrapped a big foray into music. And alongside Instagram Stories’ new platform for sharing posts directly from third-party apps, including Spotify and SoundCloud, these stickers could make Instagram a powerful driver of music discovery.

TechCrunch was first tipped off to the hidden music icons and code from reader Ishan Agarwal. Instagram declined to comment. But Instagram later confirmed three other big features first reported by TechCrunch and spotted by Agarwal that it initially refused to discuss: Focus mode for shooting portraits, QR-scannable Nametags for following people and video calling, which got an official debut at F8.

[Update: Jane Manchun Wong tells TechCrunch she was briefly able to test the feature, as seen in the screenshot above. The prototype design looks a bit janky, and Instagram crashed when she tried to post anything using the music stickers. Beyond the music sticker search interface seen on the right, Wong tells us Instagram automatically detected a song she was currently playing on her phone and created a sticker for it (not using audio recognition like Shazam).]

Facebook and Instagram’s video editing features have been in a sad state for a long time. I wrote about the big opportunity back in 2013, and in 2016 called on both Facebook and Instagram to add more editing features, including soundtracks. Finally in late 2017, Facebook started testing Sound Collection, which lets you add to your videos sound effects and a very limited range of not-popular artists’ songs. But since then, Facebook has secured licensing deals with Sony, Warner, Universal and European labels.

For years, people thought Facebook’s ongoing negotiations with record labels would power some Spotify competitor. But streaming is a crowded market with strong solutions already. The bigger problem for Facebook was that if users added soundtracks themselves using editing software, or a song playing in the background got caught in the recording, those videos could be removed due to copyright complaints from the labels. Facebook’s intention was the opposite — to make it easier to add popular music to your posts so they’d be more fun to consume.

Instagram’s music stickers could be the culmination of all those deals.

How Instagram music stickers work

The code shows that Instagram’s app has an unreleased “Search Music” feature built-in beside its location and friend-mention sticker search options inside Instagram Stories. These “music overlay stickers” can be searched using tabs for “Genres,” “Moods,” and “Trending.” Instagram could certainly change the feature before it’s launched, or scrap it all together. But the clear value of music stickers and the fact that Instagram owned up to the Focus, Nametags and Video Calling features all within three months of us reporting their appearance in the code lends weight to an upcoming launch.

It’s not entirely clear, but it seems that once you’ve picked a song and added it as a music sticker to your Story, a clip of that song will play while people watch. It’s possible that the initial version of the stickers will only display the artist and title of the song similar to Facebook’s activity status updates, rather than actually adding it as a listenable soundtrack.

These stickers will almost surely be addable to videos, but maybe Instagram will let you include them on photos too. It would be great if viewers could tap through the sticker to hear the song or check it out on their preferred streaming service. That could make Instagram the new Myspace, where you fall in love with new music through you friends; there are no indicators in the code about that.

Perhaps Instagram will be working with a particular partner on the feature, like it did with Giphy for its GIF stickers. Spotify, with its free tier and long-running integrations with Facebook dating back to the 2011 Open Graph ticker, would make an obvious choice. But Facebook might play it more neutral, powering the feature another way, or working with a range of providers, potentially including Apple, YouTube, SoundCloud and Amazon.

Several apps like Sounds and Soundtracking have tried to be the “Instagram for music.” But none have gained mass traction because it’s hard to tell if you like a song quickly enough to pause your scrolling, staring at album art isn’t fun, users don’t want a whole separate app for this and Facebook and Instagram’s algorithms can bury cross-posts of this content. But Stories — with original visuals that are easily skippable, natively created and consumed in your default social app — could succeed.

Getting more users wearing headphones or turning the sound on while using Instagram could be a boon to the app’s business, as advertisers all want to be heard, as well as seen. The stickers could also get young Instagrammers singing along to their favorite songs the way 60 million Musically users do. In that sense, music could spice up the lives of people who otherwise might not appear glamorous through Stories.

Music stickers could let Instagram beat Snapchat to the punch. Leaked emails from the 2014 Sony hack showed Snap CEO Evan Spiegel was intent on launching a music video streaming feature or even creating Snapchat’s own record label. But complications around revenue-sharing negotiations and the potential to distract the team and product from Snapchat’s core use case derailed the project. Instead, Snap has worked with record labels on Discover channels and augmented reality lenses to promote new songs. But Snapchat still has no sound board or soundtrack features, leaving some content silent or drowned in random noise.

With the right soaring strings, the everyday becomes epic. With the perfect hip-hop beat, a standard scene gains swagger. And with the hottest new dance hook, anywhere can be a party. Instagram has spent the past few years building all conceivable forms of visual flair to embellish your photos and videos. But it’s audio that could be the next dimension of Stories.

For more on the future of Stories, read our feature pieces:


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