Best of 2010: The Most Interesting and Innovative Music Start-ups

Paul McCartney

The end of the year is approaching rapidly, and a lot has happened in the music industry over the past twelve months! There have been many incredible albums released this year, some of which surprised the public and even became nominated for Grammy awards.

You see all of these “best of/worst of” lists pop up around this time every year, but personally I’m bored of the formula. This year, I’d like to compile a list of the most unique, interesting, and innovative music technology companies, regardless of whether they managed to generate any revenues for the year.

So without further ado, I present to you what I believe are the most unique music technology companies of 2010 (in no particular order):

Pledgemusic (Fan-funding)

logo-pledgemusic

Pledgemusic has been around for less than two years, but has made significant strides in the fan-funding space. In my opinion, Benji Rogers and his gang have created one of the best platforms out there for musicians to use to help raise money for their recording projects.

Lately, Pledgemusic has been receiving a lot of press in the music industry blogosphere, and a couple of incredible interviews have surfaced with CEO Benji Rogers. Many fan-funding companies (like Sellaband) have had trouble getting off the ground and becoming a useful tool for artists to leverage. With a 77% project success rate, Pledgemusic seems to be having no trouble staying afloat.

There are several things that make Pledgemusic different than all the other fan-funding platforms out there. First of all, the company is run by smart people who are passionate about music:

Between the team at Pledge HQ, we have written and released 11 records, played a frightening number of shows, managed bands, signed hundreds of acts who sold millions of records, marketed and developed big bands who had big hits and little bands who should have had big hits. – Pledgemusic FAQ Page

Also, Pledgemusic allows and encourages artists to set aside some of their raised funds as a donation to a charitable organization that they care about. They are firm believers that music is as much about giving as it is about making, taking, listening, and sharing.

Another great thing about Pledgemusic is that their revenue model is simple and straightforward – they charge artists a flat 15% administration fee for every successful pledge made once the pledge target is reached. They absorb all the credit card processing fees and overheads, and there are no hidden nightmare fees to find out about later.

Fans don’t have to worry on their end, either. If the pledge target amount isn’t reached, then fans aren’t charged a dime. Also, you can cancel your pledge at any time before the pledge target is reached, so if you change your mine halfway through and suddenly don’t want to support a project, you can easily get a refund.

Recently, Pledgemusic decided to “sign” their first band, allowing them to keep all of their rights, and instead giving them help and advice in other areas like marketing and promotion. To my knowledge, they are the first fan-funding company to step out of its shell and pursue additional aspects of the music business.

Live Music Machine (Online Booking)

Live Music Machine

Full disclosure: I have been helping Live Music Machine a bit with their online presence.

Live Music Machine is another company that has a relatively short lifespan, but it has had a difficult getting off the ground in 2010. The reason I included this company on the list is because there is currently no other company doing exactly what Live Music Machine is trying to do for artists. They are the only company in the music business right now with a platform that helps artists book gigs directly with their fans.

The entire booking process happens within an embeddable booking widget that they have developed to try and make the booking process easier and more efficient. With this widget, bands can display their upcoming tour dates and dates of availability, provide their fans with driving directions powered by Google Maps, and accept bids from fans interested in booking them for a gig.

When a gig is booked successfully, each party (band and fan/venue promoter/etc) is charged a flat $10 fee, and that’s it. Bands keep 100% of what they make during the performance.

After a successful gig, an “after party” page specific to the event that just happened is created, where fans can talk about the show and share pictures and videos with each other. I have yet to come across another company that does anything similar, and I’m interested to see if things pick up for them in 2011.

The Echo Nest (Music Intelligence)

the echo nest

Founded by MIT graduates Tristan Jehan and Brian Whitman, The Echo Nest is a music intelligence company that has designed API platforms for developers to create search, personalization, and interactive music applications. The company is a four-time National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant winner, and is powered by what they like to call a “musical brain.”

Based on 12 years of R&D at MIT, Columbia and Berkeley, the Echo Nest’s music intelligence platform combines large-scale data mining, natural language processing, acoustic analysis, and machine learning to automatically listen to music, read about music, learn about music trends, and provide in-depth analyses in these areas.

Several big music companies are leveraging The Echo Nest’s platform to provide better musical experiences for their users. For example, MOG is currently using the “artist similarity” functionality to help build interesting playlists from a variety of artists, and SXSW’s “Artist Discovery Guide” uses The Echo Nest’s API to get detailed artist data such as familiarity, popularity, artist bios, links, images, tags, and audio.

If interested, you can check out more interesting companies currently using The Echo Nest’s incredibly innovative technology.

Tubeify (YouTube+Last.fm+Billboard)

Tubeify Screenshot

Tubeify is a brand new company that has been described by some as “a historic mashup of Last.fm, Billboard, and YouTube.” This cool web app started as the research project of Tomas Isdal, a University of Washington PhD student.

A lot of my friends use YouTube as both a video source and a quick way to listen to music for free on demand. Tubeify aims to turn YouTube into a better music player by combining the information and technology provided by the Last.fm, Billboard, and YouTube APIs. Tubeify’s searching is handled by the Last.fm API, and unlike on YouTube, the current track plays continuously while you search for more songs.

Users can also create “lazy” playlists from their search results and share links to them over their social networks, which is something that hasn’t been integrated very well in other online streaming services. What makes Tubeify stand out from the pack is the ability for users to browse the Billboard charts to see if, where, and when the song they are listening to has made a chart appearance.

Tubeify is currently invite-only, but you snag an invite code by going here.

Jelli (User-Controlled Radio)

Jelli

Jelli is a company that helps make old-school radio fun and interactive. Using the “Jelli Tuner,” you can see what songs are playing across each of the Jelli stations, and tune in to the station of your choice. Once you click “Listen,” that’s when the fun begins. You can label songs as “Rocks” or “Sucks”, and vote for particular songs to help shape what music gets played on each Jelli station. You can also do things like award tracks hearts and rockets, or toss it a bomb to send it tumbling down the charts.

Jelli integrates directly with terrestrial radio station’s broadcast and digital infrastructure, enabling real-time engagement when the show is on the air. Jelli is highly extensible, with full API support and flexible catalog, clock, scheduling, imaging, and relay parameters. Some radio stations already “spreading some Jelli” on their programming are KITS-FM (San Francisco, CA), KXTE-FM (Las Vegas, NV), WPST-FM (Philadephia, PA), WBOS-FM (Boston, MA), and WKRL-FM (Syracuse, NY).

Songkick (Concert Tracking & Discovery)

Songkick logo

Songkick is one of my new favorite websites to frequent. With Songkick, you can track all of your favorite bands to find out where and when they’ll be playing next, so you never have to miss another concert again. They take all the hassle out of finding out when your favorite bands are coming to town.

Songkick works by indexing 128 different ticket vendors, venue websites, and local newspapers to create the most comprehensive database of upcoming concerts happening around the world. It’s Songkick’s mission to be able to list every show happening anywhere, right down to the small bands playing at your local dive bars.

In addition, they provide an API that developers can use to display comprehensive information about live music. Yahoo! Search, YouTube, and The Hype Machine are a couple examples of companies currently utilizing the Songkick API.

Viinyl (One-Song Websites)

Viinyl screenshot

This company sprung up out of thin air over the past couple of days, and definitely falls under the category of “interesting.” Viinyl is a website that lets artists create a one page website to showcase a single song. The music industry is driven by singles these days, and not many people have the time, attention span, or desire to download and listen to full albums anymore.

Viinyl makes it super-easy for an artist to create an entire website experience around one song, which is great for singles and other tracks you want to promote and showcase individually. Each site can include lyrics, artwork, videos, notes, various download options, promotional tools, analytics, and more.

Right now, Viinyl is in the beta phase of development, and are giving out invites via the signup form on their website.

Rdio (Music Streaming & Discovery)

Rdio Logo

Rdio (pronounced “arr-dee-oh”) is a social music service where you can stream music online from computer and/or mobile device, and discover music through friends and tastemakers in the community. Its free to try (without a credit card), and premium service plans start from $4.99/month. Rdio is a direct competitor to other music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and MOG.

Rdio takes the work out of the deciding what to play next, and connects the music in your Web browser with your mobile phone. You can play as many songs you want, anytime, anywhere. Recently, Jesse Cannon, the founder of music industry blog Musformation posted an article that talks about how Rdio has turn his music listening habits upside down, and decreased the amount of music he downloads illegally by a whopping 40%.

Shuffler.fm (Music Blog Radio)

Shuffler.fm

Shuffler.fm aggregates music by genre from all over the web. On their home page, you will find a list of channels (genres) to pick from. When you select a channel you get immediately sent off to the newest blog post within that genre, and the music in the blog post plays automatically. The listening experience is a seamless and continuous stream of new songs directly from music blogs. I tried it out a few weeks ago, and I really enjoyed the music that was selected. However, I wish it were possible to also select a channel by location, in addition to genre, because I like to know where the music is coming from sometimes. Not sure if that’s possible, but it would definitely add value to the user experience.

Also, it just dawned on me that Shuffler.fm can be a fun and easy way for artists to find new blogs that might be interested in featuring their music. I’m definitely going to give Shuffler.fm a whirl again, and see how long it takes me to fill a spreadsheet with 50 new blogger contacts… :)

And that wraps up the most interesting music companies of 2010. Each of these companies provide something that is valuable, compelling, cool, and different from the rest of the zillion music companies out there in the world today.

A bunch of my blogger friends are compiling similar “end of year” lists, which I will be writing about over the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled for more of LISZTOMANIA 2010!

[Image credit: Click here]