While the big digital music players struggle to figure out how to please both artists and users, one tiny Miami-based startup thinks the approach is less of a balancing act than companies like Spotify have made it out to be. While playing on a smaller field than Spotify, the iOS app TuneBash thinks its model can serve both camps at the same time.
The company is yet another on-demand streaming music service, but chief executive Joseph Ricard – a former venture capitalist who has self-funded the project – claims there is a twist that will serve up and coming artists: data analytics.
Ricard intends for the service to help new artists strategize their touring and single release efforts better by giving them a trove of data that will help inform their decisions. For starters, an artist will have basic demographic info on listeners like age or gender. He hopes geo-tagging will help artists tailor their operations to different regions. “If an artist wants that information, he can log in and see, in Miami, this song with a Spanish beat works, but in New York, maybe this rock song works better,” says Ricard.
He also hopes having that geographic information will be helpful for artists hitting the road. If a band receives a certain number of favorites from fans in one city, and it only takes 250 to fill a small venue, and there is a 25 percent conversion rate, then they can decide if they want to hit that city on their next tour.
For now, Ricard wants to keep this analytic information free to artists, but doesn’t rule out charging for advanced metrics if the service gains traction. In terms of the big monetization question, Ricard says the goal is pushing fans to buy tracks and concert tickets, though those deals seem meager for now. As an iTunes affiliate, the company gets 10 percent of every download that comes through TuneBash. The company also gets a cut of ticket sales through certain venues, like the Revolution in Fort Lauderdale. The company currently has a deal with touring services like SeatGeek.
Tapping the ticket sales circuit would seem lucrative if the company could get enough of a foothold to be in enough venues throughout the nation, but earning that ubiquity is a tough challenge. It’s especially critical for the revenue stream considering the analytics element so heavily focuses on covering a breadth of different cities.
The service definitely seems useful, and Ricard admits it’s utility is best suited for newbie artists, not the “Kanye Wests of the world.” But even with powerful investors and millions of dollars, running a streaming business is ridiculously hard. Spotify’s Daniel Ek has lamented on PandoMonthly about the long list of talented entrepreneurs who have failed.
TuneBash takes a shortcut approach, but I’m not sure it’s sustainable over the long haul. While Spotify tortures itself to get licenses from the record companies, TuneBash largely avoids them. The service is actually a Web crawler that scours the Web from a number of different sources hosting streamable music, and doesn’t host any files itself. Ricard says this frees the company of any liability, regardless of any of the tactics the individual Web sources may use, legal or not. “If we had to go out and see what was legal and illegal, we’d be doing more work than the CIA,” says Ricard.
TuneBash’s operation is similar to the one the original Napster used, claiming in its legal defense during the landmark lawsuit from the RIAA that Napster was merely a song directory. However, Ricard insists that because files are only streamed and not downloaded and there is no peer-to-peer element, his company’s service is in the clear. The company has been working with a lawyer who helped BearShare, a free music download service.
Still, if nothing else, it seems a bit clumsy to tie the company to Web hosts that have inconsistent offerings, especially when fans have a plethora of other options that are more dependable. Ricard counters that the free, on-demand streaming on mobile will attract users who don’t want to pay Spotify’s $10 per month premium fee. And he argues it won’t eat up a data plan like Grooveshark’s Web service – especially for those who don’t want to jailbreak an iPhone. Ricard also says certain social features will win over customers, like hashtagged playlists, similar to what Instagram does for photo albums. “#Running” will give a user a jogging playlist on the fly, he says.
Ricard concedes that he can get about 80 percent of TuneBash’s music from crawling the Web, and then will try to license the other 20 percent. But the licensing challenge is a real one, even if it’s just for one-fifth of the catalog.
The prospect of valuable data for a new artist is genuinely intriguing. But it only works if the company gets enough users for the sample set to become meaningful. And that user acquisition is extremely difficult, especially with a rickety catalog and fierce competitors who are miles ahead. But if TuneBash can gain a big enough community, it could provide struggling artists with sorely needed help in getting online users to support them offline. And that’s a cause worth pursuing.