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Test Drive: Trebel Music sees downloads as the new hotness

Trebel Music screenshotIf the adage is that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, then a free music service that’s legally on the level is even rarer. That’s the promise of Trebel Music, a mobile download service that’s focused on high schoolers and college students.

My first impression is amusement, watching song downloads be positioned as the hip new thing for savvy listeners after recent years of a major shift to streaming. “Streaming and music video services are huge drains on phone battery and cellular data, because they rely on power-hungry and expensive data plans to stream music. By contrast, Trebel uses 90% less battery power and data because it plays music from the phone’s memory,” the press release reads. How novel! From the phone’s memory!

Once I actually started digging around in the app, though, the amount of gamification was a surprise. Successfully getting friends to use Trebel or checking in at physical locations or spending money in the app will earn you a stash of coins. You also earn coins at a slow rate just from spending time with the program open. This in-app currency is how Trebel offers ‘free’ downloads. Or, if you don’t want to use that system, it has an external link to iTunes to buy the track the old-school way.

It seems like a fussier, more complicated take on whatever the built-in music download system would be from your phone’s manufacturer, like iTunes or Google Play. Those are a cleaner experience with better library management and use across devices. Perhaps I’m far enough removed from the target age group to find the coins system fun (although I have sunk a scary enough amount of real money into casual mobile games that this seems unlikely). Or maybe I’m accustomed enough to the premium experience that the ad clutter and the app design not tailored to my phone was a big turnoff (how does a new app not look right on an iPhone 6?).

But here’s the key to a useful review: understanding the intended audience. Trebel’s creation was apparently guided not just by CEO Gary Mekikian, but also with the help of his two teenage daughters. Today’s young listeners are building their tastes and music collections at a time when streaming is a top approach to music, when their favorite artists are vocal about disliking those systems, and when they are tied to their phones. Maybe download services will see a rebound on the back of renewed interest from the post-millennials? Stranger things have happened.

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Anna Washenko

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