Soundwave raises €1 million in seed funding from Mark Cuban and ACT Venture Capital, hits 560,000 plays five days after launch

By Erin Griffith , written on June 26, 2013

From The News Desk

So this is what it takes to launch a repetitive app in a crowded market and actually get some traction: Team up with celebrities like Mark Cuban and Stephen Fry. Then buddy up to the App Store people and get featured as an "Editor's Choice" and "New and Noteworthy" app in a number of geographies. Round up some decent press coverage. And boom, you have a hit.

That's what Soundwave, a music discovery app out of Ireland, has done. Within its first five days of launching, Soundwave has been downloaded in 180 countries. Users have streamed 560,000 songs.

The app also raised a seed round of funding worth €1 million from Mark Cuban, ACT Venture Capital, Matthew Le Merle and Enterprise Ireland.

These sorts of stories always perplex me. I watch cool apps launch every day to very little buzz. Six months later, they quietly pivot or shutter their doors. Music especially is a category littered with dead bodies, because the demands of music consumers do not remotely line up with the economics of the music industry in current form. And the music industry is somewhere between difficult and downright impossible to work with. Even well-funded good ideas that are executed perfectly struggle. It is not even clear that the two leaders in innovation, Spotify and Pandora, will get out of this alive.

And yet, and yet. Music is the white rabbit founders continue to chase. I've argued that most of these startups are FNACs, or features, not companies. They might be cool and they might solve an incremental problem, but they are not exactly innovative and they definitely aren't businesses.

And then one breaks through the noise and I'm surprised. Soundwave is one. Once I actually used the app, I saw why. The signup process is delightful and the recommendations are pretty solid. It's the perfect way to answer, "What should I listen to?," when you're staring down a blank Spotify search bar or tired of Pandora serving you the same damn songs over and over.

Soundwave's founders tout its ability to pull song recommendations (often from songs shared to Facebook via Spotify or Rdio) as well as one's iTunes library. To listen to new music, Soundwave pulls from YouTube or iTunes previews to avoid the dreaded streaming royalty fee trap.

I would argue that this falls into my FNAC argument from before. All we want is music; everything else around it is just trim. More features is not the better, in fact I'm sure the dominant players in music listening, discovery and streaming have already thought of this idea and decided against building it. There are so many startups that claim to solve the "discovery problem" with feeds from your friends, or playlists from other users, or playlists from experts, or live radio from users, or algorithmically generated music. It all blends together; it is very difficult to stand out. See: Piki, Musicfellas, EQuala, ShareMyPlayists, MPme, Soundrop, Muzooka, Juked, TastemakerX, etc.

Apparently, though, thousands of happy Soundwave users disagree with me, having voraciously adopted, shared and actually used the app in the last five days. Now the real challenge begins: keeping up its strong early traction.

One way to do that is with a strong Android launch, which is coming soon. The founding team hustled to build relationships with Google to get the same kind of app store love their app got from Apple. The company has been working with Google and YouTube to build their Android version within all the specifications and best practices outlined by Google. "Every feature is built the way Google wants things built," CTO Aidan Sliney says. Turns out, Google rewards that kind of obedience.

If Soundwave can keep its momentum going, it might have a bonafide, long-lasting hit on its hands. If not, it won't be the first, or last, music startup to fizzle out.