Elliot Jay Stocks is a designer, speaker, and author. He is the Creative Director of Adobe Typekit, the founder of typography magazine 8 Faces, one half of Viewport Industries, and an electronic musician.

Ghostly Discovery

Posted on 30 October 2009 17 comments

Article illustration for Ghostly Discovery

There’s a growing list of iPhone apps that I enjoy, but there’s one I downloaded this week that I absolutely love: the rather excellent (and free) Ghostly Discovery from Ghostly International.

For those who don’t know (or can’t be bothered to click on the link), Ghostly are an eclectic independent record label based in Ann Arbor. If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me raving about the fantastic music they put out on many an occasion. Artists like Kiln and School of Seven Bells are a huge influence on my own music, and most of you will probably be aware of Tycho, the musical alter-ego of designer Scott Hansen / ISO50 (and if you’re not, then shame on you — click that link!).

Anyway, the iPhone app… Ghostly Discovery is essentially a way of unearthing the many gems in Ghostly’s catalogue. You don’t search for songs or browse artists and albums — as per the usual song-finding paradigm — but instead discover music based on your mood and the style of the music you’re after. While setting the mood is pretty innovative (sliding a colour wheel where colours represent moods like ‘frenetic’, ‘laid back’, ‘introspective’, and ‘aggressive’), it’s the styles selector I really love; you have two sliders (think mixing desk faders): one to slide between ‘digital’ and ‘organic’, and another to slide between ‘faster’ and ‘slower’. With everything all set, you hit ‘discover’ and a playlist is generated to suit your input. Hooray — new music!

Ghostly Discovery screenshot

Once you’re into the playlist screen you’re given a few details about the track and some decent-sized album art. Clicking on the ‘menu’ button beneath the artwork then presents some extra options, like being able to buy the track directly from iTunes or read the artist’s bio. You can save tracks to your favourites and the previous / next controls shoot you to completely different artists and albums, so there’s a nice sense of random discovery maintained throughout the entire experience.

Ghostly Discovery screenshot

Finding new music can be a distracting task during the day so I’ve found myself firing up the app while cleaning my teeth or getting ready in the morning, walking around with some interesting sounds coming out of my pocket before settling down for a day’s work. And by adding tracks to my favourites, it’s a nice reminder to visit the Ghostly Store later in the day and make a purchase (I’m not really a per-track kind of guy — it’s either the whole album or nothing).

Ghostly’s catalogue covers a relatively wide range of genres to appease most eclectic tastes, but even if you’re not a fan of the music, the UI on this app should appeal. It looks good, it keeps things very simple, and hats off to them for ditching the usual way of finding music. If you want to search for something specific, this app will frustrate you, because it’s not about that: it’s about finding something you would never have known to search for.

This video demonstrates things quite nicely:

Of course, I won’t pretend to be blind to the fact that this is an exercise in intelligent marketing: from a commercial point of view, this has huge potential to drive sales for Ghostly, especially from those who might not usually go out of their way to find new music. But hey, I can live with that. Ghostly is a label with a lot of integrity and a lot of great music, and if they can make some money and turn on some new fans, then good for them. Personally I think we live in an age where discovering genuinely interesting new music can be hard when so much crap is shoved into our ears, so it’s nice to see a company trying to counteract that with a fun tool like this.

Has anyone else used the app? What do you think? Do you have any other eclectic app suggestions?

(By the way, although this post is full of praise for Ghostly and their app, I promise I wasn’t paid to write it. I’ve decided to start writing more about apps than I previously have done so far.)


  1. Trent walton

    Trent walton

    30 October 2009 @ 04:43PM #

    Slick marketing or not, I hope more record labels go the same route. Obviously, the “freemium” model works & what a great way to meet music fans where they are… staring into their iphones!

  2. jack bliss

    jack bliss

    30 October 2009 @ 05:45PM #

    Awesome stuff! Will certainly give it a look!

  3. Nick Hamze

    Nick Hamze

    30 October 2009 @ 05:48PM #

    I am always looking for more good music, thanks I will check it out

  4. Ian Tearle

    Ian Tearle

    30 October 2009 @ 05:50PM #

    Looks like a great little app, and I would sooo like to try it out, (if only I had an iPhone).

    Nice new marketing tool though. I agree with Trent ^ perhaps other record labels should do the same, or does this open a discussion for a more generic application in this way?

  5. McBonio


    30 October 2009 @ 05:53PM #

    Downloading app now! Always good to find new music :)

  6. Jonathan Barrett

    Jonathan Barrett

    30 October 2009 @ 05:59PM #

    Did you mention the web app? THAT looks handy.

  7. TheFella


    30 October 2009 @ 06:05PM #

    As a fan of this genre of music, and especially Sourhaze, I think I’ll have to check out this app!

  8. Kieran Klaassen

    Kieran Klaassen

    30 October 2009 @ 06:08PM #

    Just downloaded it! Thanks for sharing, interesting cincept!

  9. Paul Ledbrook

    Paul Ledbrook

    30 October 2009 @ 06:59PM #

    Great app, had it for a while now, tend to plug the iphone/Ghostly into the stereo to avoid having to choose music when I’m hard at work. Been a big fan of Tycho for a while (can’t wait for the new album), also enjoying some of the Lusine tunes. When I don’t know what music I feel like listening to I revert to internet radio stations, my hit of the moment is ’fail’s audio workshop v4.0’. The iphone app ‘RadioBox’ gives you access to most internet radio and the player has a pretty slick interface.

  10. Janel


    30 October 2009 @ 07:03PM #

    Very nice app. I don’t often use my iPhone for music purposes, but I can totally enjoy setting this and getting more music I want to hear rather than getting what I get at Pandora. Thank you for posting it.

  11. Aziz Light

    Aziz Light

    30 October 2009 @ 10:16PM #

    Amazing! Thank you! Now I plug my speakers to my iPhone instead of my laptop lol. I wish there was some network in the subway to that I could listen to it there, but I can never get 3G connectivity underground…

  12. Seyfeddin Bassarac

    Seyfeddin Bassarac

    30 October 2009 @ 10:52PM #

    The app’s interface is nicely designed too.

  13. Brian Crumley

    Brian Crumley

    31 October 2009 @ 12:10AM #

    I always love checking out new music, but even more than that I love seeing innovative ways of selecting and presenting the subject matter. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Andy Wickes

    Andy Wickes

    31 October 2009 @ 02:34PM #

    Thanks for sharing – sounds like an ace little app!

  15. maria


    06 November 2009 @ 03:10AM #

    Thanks, just downloaded it. Plan to listen on my bike ride home from work. If you like good music like this I’d check out thecurrent.org it’s a minnesota public radio station. I’m hooked and a member!

  16. Oscar Avellaneda

    Oscar Avellaneda

    11 November 2009 @ 06:31AM #

    Elliot i just watched your two part tutorial for building a portfolio site.
    Thank you.

    I have admired your work for a good while since i started learning css.
    You have re ignited my desire to go deeper.

    word on Ghostly Discovery. Love it.


  17. bilal


    23 December 2009 @ 04:14PM #

    Awesome stuff! I will check it out

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