Christina Constantinou
29th September 2020 · 21 min read

Are you interested in developing a music streaming app like Spotify or Apple Music?

Unsure of where to start?

Don’t worry - you’ve come to the right place!

But first, think about this...

Since Spotify first launched in 2008, they’ve experienced incredible amounts of success, with over 299 million regular users.

But did you know that in order to keep up with their ever-increasing user base Spotify developers have had to spend millions of dollars and hundreds of hours on improving their product?

Maybe that’s no big deal for a company that is worth billions of dollars like Spotify or Apple Music - but for a small business that’s brand new to such a competitive market?

It can be disastrous.

apple and earphones on a wooden desk
The future lies in smartphone applications.

That’s why I decided to write this blog in order to assist you in building a music streaming app that is high quality and fully scalable right from the beginning.

My decade long experience with app development has taught me a lot of valuable information that I’ve compiled here to help you on your way.

So keep reading to find each step you’ll need to take to develop an incredible music streaming app today...

Outpace Competitors

You might know the tricks of the trade - but you need a technology team beside you every step of the way.

Chapter 1
Creating A Music Streaming App - Overview

Many first-time app developers think that the best way to start is by diving head first into creating a fully fledged, feature packed app.

They are definitely taking the wrong approach!

It is so important that you start by developing a minimum viable product- an MVP.

Basically, an MVP contains only the essential features an app needs to serve its purpose.

When it comes to a music streaming app like Spotify, there are a number of features that are definitely critical to development:

Audio Streaming

A music streaming application needs to be able to offer fast, high quality audio streaming services.

Licensing

Not specifically a feature, but important nonetheless. You need to have all the necessary licensing in order to offer a wide range of music throughout your app.

Search Feature

Users should be given the ability to search for specific artists, songs or albums.

User Profiles

Allowing users to create profiles offers a more tailored experience for them, and access to important data for you.

Chapter 2
Ecosystem Of An MVP

It can be difficult to know what the best ecosystem is when trying to develop your app.

In my opinion, the most successful architecture when it comes to an MVP is one that is structurally strong, scalable and cost-effective.

Here is an example of an ecosystem of a music streaming app MVP:

graphic of a MVP ecosystem
The architecture of your new app.

I would recommend this type of ecosystem when creating a music streaming MVP as it offers multiple servers, which helps to minimise any potential data-related problems and allows for easy scalability right from the start.

Now that we’ve decided on the best architecture for our MVP, let’s have a look in greater detail at the different steps needed to build each part:

1. Server

Think about how much data an app like Spotify or Apple Music needs to process every single day.

Thousands, if not millions, of searches, streaming requests, playlist creations...that’s a lot of information, right?!

That’s why it is absolutely fundamental that your backend is built to be high quality and scalable.

This is always the number one point on my list!

Data collected from the app will need to be stored in a database management system. There are so many fantastic options here - MySQL, Oracle and MongoDB to name just a few.

One key thing I always recommend to clients that are looking to minimise future data management problems is the use of multiple servers simultaneously.

Using more than one server, in conjunction with a load balancing algorithm like IP Hash, will allow your music streaming application’s communication process to be a lot quicker and easier than if you only used one server.

The reason for this is that using multiple servers gives you the ability to separate information into different sections. Here’s an example of two sections:

Structured Data

Here is where you can store information that is easily searchable, such as song identification codes and user email addresses.

Unstructured Data

This server, on the other hand, is where information that is not easily searchable is stored. This can include images and messages.

This, in my opinion, leads to a far more stable and structurally sound foundation than simply using one server alone.

The next step here is to choose a programming language. You have a whole bunch of options here, including Python, Javascript and PHP. What you decide is up to you!

2. Licensing

As a music streaming app offers users the ability to listen to copyrighted music, it is absolutely crucial that you obtain the correct licenses before launching your app.

There are two main types of music royalty license:

Sound Recording License which is for distributors such as record labels

Musical Composition License Agreements to protect the rights of music creators

Who you will need to contact to obtain these licenses will depend on where you are based.

In the United States, you will need to apply to either The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), or Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI).

In the United Kingdom, you can contact PPL PRS to apply for TheMusicLicense which will cover both types of music royalty license.

If you are elsewhere in Europe, you should apply to the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers (SESAC).

I really do not advise on skipping this step, as the consequences of playing music without the use of a proper license can be catastrophic.

In fact, a fine for illegal music playing can be up to $150,000 per song.

So it’s essential that you get all the correct licenses you need right away.

3. Audio Streaming

Music streaming apps will, of course, need to allow users to stream audio.

Otherwise they wouldn’t be music streaming apps!

A simple way to offer this service is to use a cloud-based server that can store all your music files and can allow users to stream music quickly seamlessly via the internet.

Some good options for cloud-based servers are Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

It is also possible to use an SDK or API that allows you to stream music from pre-existing catalogues offered by streaming services such as Spotify or SoundCloud.

However, while this may seem like it can save you time and effort, there are a number of restrictions and extra costs involved in using these pre-existing music catalogues. So I would recommend creating your own library to save you a lot of hassle in the long run.

4. Search Feature

A search feature is crucial to any music streaming application application.

Customers will be using your app in order to find and listen to music they like, and so they will need the ability to search for what they are looking for in a way that is quick and easy.

If you do not include a search feature, or the one you have functions poorly or is difficult to use, you’ll risk users becoming frustrated and leaving your app altogether.

And you definitely don’t want that.

As there are a number of different types of search features that you could potentially implement, I’ve narrowed them down to ones that are, in my opinion, most important for a music streaming app:

Simple Search

This is the most basic of all search functions. Here, a user simply types what they are looking for into a search bar and relevant results are displayed.

Filtered Search

This search is slightly more advanced and it allows users to customize their search to fit their specific needs - e.g. genre, release date or whether they are looking for playlists, artists or albums.

I believe that these two search functions are optimal for a music streaming app MVP as they provide fast and simple ways for users to find the music they are searching for, without making the process too complicated or confusing.

There are different ways to implement search functionality depending on the platform on which you are releasing.

If you are building an app for Android, you will need to first include a SearchView widget, and then program a searchable configuration which will determine how that widget will behave.

Alternatively, for iOS, when you are using a UIKit framework you will need to execute UISearchBar in order to develop the field in which the search query text can be entered. You will then be required to use a delegate that conforms to UISearchBarDelegate protocol, which will allow search actions to be carried out.

5. User Registration/Profile

Giving users the ability to create profiles in your music streaming application is beneficial to them and you.

You can implement sign in via social media such as Facebook or Twitter, or you can give users the option to sign up via email or mobile phone number.

Once a profile is created and the user starts streaming music, you will be able to have access to a lot of useful information regarding the user’s music tastes and streaming habits.

One thing that, in my opinion, gives Spotify the edge over its competitors is the brilliant song and playlist recommendations it offers.

Spotify uses three different types of recommendation models in its service:

1. Crossing and comparing listening histories of users to offer recommendations to users with similar tastes

2. Natural language processing by incorporating the Echo Nest API. This analyzes the text that is used to describe an artist, song or album and uses this information to search for similar terms associated with different artists.

3. The use of a ‘convolution neural network’, which is a form of deep learning. Here, the network learns from past circumstances simply using only the raw data input.

In order to implement a similar type of recommendation service, you will need to use a combination of APIs and machine learning functions.

To sum up, here is the tech stack you will need to develop a music streaming app:

1. Choose database management system/s e.g. MongoDB

2. Select programming language e.g. Python

3. Obtain proper licenses from the relevant authority

4. Offer audio streaming through a cloud based server e.g. Amazon S3

5. Develop a framework for a search feature

6. Allow user profiles and use machine learning algorithms to offer personalized recommendations

graphic of creating an app
As simplified version of your new app.

Now that we know how to create a high-quality MVP, we can have a look at some more advanced features that can be included in a music streaming app…

Chapter 3
Creating an Advanced Music Streaming App

Here are a few more features we can consider when building a music streaming app:

1. Paid Subscription

Although Spotify is free to use initially, it offers a paid subscription that includes quality of life upgrades and some exclusive features. Other music streaming apps, such as Apple Pay and Tidal, do not offer a free-to-use service and are completely subscription based.

If you would like to offer a paid subscription service to customers, then a payment gateway is a feature you will need to implement.

Many app developers are eager to create their very own payment gateway. It seems like a great idea, right?

...Wrong!

Building a payment system from scratch is a lot more complicated than it may seem, and you’ll find yourself wasting valuable time and money on this completely unnecessary feat.

There are so many brilliant pre-existing payment gateways out there for you to choose from!

Many app developers are eager to create their very own payment gateway. It seems like a great idea, right?

A payment gateway transports users to the service’s own page, which will then accept payments for you and offer you access to encrypted payment data, giving you valuable customer information and the peace of mind to know the payment has been made in full.

Some popular options include PayPal, Braintree and Stripe.

One more great reason why choosing a pre-existing payment gateway is ideal is that almost all of these services are already PCI-DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) compliant - making your life a whole lot simpler!

woman looking at smartphone whilst walking down a street
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2. Push Notifications

Push notifications are a great way to engage with customers and increase how much time they spend interacting with your app.

For music streaming apps like Spotify, notifications can be used for a wide variety of reasons. They can be used to alert users to new music releases from artists they like, to recommend playlists or to let them know if their friends are online and what they are listening to (if they are signed in via social media.)

So much more useful than most people think!

The best part? Implementing push notifications is super easy.

Simply use Google Firebase for Android and Apple Push for iOS - done!.

You should hopefully now know everything you need to know about developing a music streaming app like Spotify.

But every app developer knows that things can sometimes go wrong - no matter how much time and effort you put into building your product.

That’s why I’ve decided to use my app development experience and knowledge to aid you in overcoming some of the most common problems that can arise.

So let’s have a look at some issues and how we can begin to solve them…

Chapter 4
Developing a Music Streaming App - How to Tackle Your Biggest Challenges

Problems usually pop up in a couple of key areas:

1. App Performance

How frustrating is it when you go to use an app you’ve been excited to try out, only to find it takes ages for anything to load?

It can cause potential customers to give up on your app right away and can cause serious damage to your business’s reputation.

And that’s the last thing you would want, right?

I’ve found that the most common reasons for a slow app is data overload - there is too much information for the app to process.

That’s why I always recommend compressing data as it builds up. This data consists mainly of images, text and graphics.

These are the two main options available to you when compressing data:

Lossless Compression

Here, developers are able to restore files to their original size flawlessly from the data that has been compressed, meaning there is no need for any data loss.

Lossy Compression

This is where file size reconstruction is only made through estimations of the original data that is often inexact. But any data loss is usually minute and barely noticeable.

You’ll find that Lossless compression is used mostly for text and image compression, whereas Lossy compression is most commonly reserved for video and graphics.

By utilizing both these types of compression, you will experience massive improvements to app speed as there will be an overall reduction in bytes.

2. Server Speed

Many app developers find that a slow server speed can result in major problems with app performance.

Any app is constantly dealing with tonnes of data - especially a music streaming app hosting millions of songs and thousands of customers!

If you take my advice from before and redirect traffic by implementing two or more separate servers alongside the use of a load balancer, you should find a drastic improvement in server speed.

However, I also suggest adding a reverse proxy server.

Basically, some of the (many) tasks servers usually complete alone are transferred to reverse proxy servers. Because these reverse proxy servers are directly connected to the internet, they are positioned right at the front of a mobile application’s ecosystem, meaning they have the ability to communicate quickly and easily with both the frontend and the backend.

As a result of this, you’ll find your server/s now have a lot more free space available, which can help server speeds to increase dramatically overall.

Conclusion

Hopefully now you will have a complete understanding of how music streaming apps like Spotify and Apple Music are created, what features to include and what steps you’ll need to take to implement them.

Still looking to create your perfect music streaming app?

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