Project Carmen: Free music download app arrives at SMC

From the yesteryear of Napster to today’s torrent sites, YouTube rips, and streaming services, music lovers are always on the lookout for a free fix of their favorite artists, finding ways around paying for music downloads. According to the latest Nielsen ratings on music sales, digital downloads are the primary source for music sales, but the numbers are declining due to the rise of on-demand streaming services. With the music industry in a state of limbo, everyone, from big labels to indie artists, is searching for the best ways to see a return on their investments on artists’ product. It is with this in mind that M&M Media, a Glendale based start-up, is bringing beta testing for a new free music downloading app to SMC students.

Tentatively named Project Carmen, the app lets users earn coins, the app's virtual currency, by sitting through ads, interacting with others through the app, and even checking in at local businesses. The coins, in turn, can be used to purchase music downloads. Project Carmen has already seen beta testing in Ohio State University, UCLA, University of Alabama, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal State Long Beach.

The company gained support from at least two major record labels, allowing users access to over 15 million songs, including those unavailable on other streaming music apps (such as Taylor Swift’s album “1989” and the new Rihanna single “Towards the Sun”).

Chief of Product at M&M Media Corey Jones said the company chose to bring their pilot program to SMC because “compared to a lot of community colleges, it has a larger feel.”

Jones says the company plans on emphasizing the social aspect of the app in their testing. You can friend and follow fellow students signed up for the service, share playlists to discover new music, and soon the app will employ leaderboards and the ability to share coins with friends.

“If you have nine songs worth of coins, but a playlist with 10 songs and you want to be able to [download] all of them,” said Jones, “you can buy [enough] coins for a buck, as opposed to paying a $1.29 per song.” In addition to coin funded downloads, the app also includes free offline listening with no data costs.

For those not keen on following a new micro-economy in another app, Project Carmen allows users to opt out of ads for free, but those users will be unable to earn coins or purchase music downloads with accumulated coins. If users also don’t feel like sharing all of their listening habits with anyone on campus, the app also provides privacy settings to remain private to non-friended users.

Gary Mekikian, CEO & founder of M&M Media, said in a phone interview, “the same way you do something in one app should be the same way you do it in all other apps,” referencing Project Carmen's social network, pointing out that users will intuitively find ways to both follow and add friends. M&M Media worked with creatives from RED Interactive to refine the design of the app.

“You have to put something in the hands of the user they have to use it. Then the user will tell you how they want to change it,” said Mekikian about the app development process. “Video game companies have proven beta testing time and time again.”

With SMC’s pending approval of an Interaction Design BA program, Mekikian advised three main things in developing good user experience; understanding current user psychology and behavior, prototyping and enhancing, and seamless integration with a user’s life.

“There is a significant need for [user experience design]”, said Mekikian. “You can go to some of the best colleges and universities in the country and only a handful of them have programs in user experience design, which is crazy if you think about how people increasingly rely on mobile apps to live.”

The Project Carmen website will start allowing SMC students to enroll in the beta testing this week at .