US startup Soundtracking is one of the few social/location music apps to have got any kind of traction on iPhone and Android. CEO Steve Jang was the first speaker at this morning’s London Web Summit, to explain more about what the startup is doing.
Soundtracking launched a year ago almost to the day, with an app that helps people identify or search for music, then share the details with other users, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare with a photo or album artwork image and a location. “It kinda looks like a musical postcard,” he said.
“It’s been a great year, we’re about to cross 2m users,” added Jang. “We’ve done almost 3bn music moments shared in total.”
How is Soundtracking different from the blizzard of other music-app startups out there? Jang said that the 12-person team is all designers and engineers with a background in social software, but also made it clear that Soundtracking isn’t for playing music itself.
“We’re not focused really on consumption. I’d crudely divide up the digital music and social music space into two categories: one is consumption [Spotify, Rdio, iTunes etc] and the other side is conversation and community. That side is largely untapped… We’re focused more on self-expression rather than innovating on consumption, which is quite expensive from a content-licensing perspective.”
Soundtracking was actually spawned from Schematic Labs, an startup incubator in San Francisco, which Jang says may be building other “social music apps” in the future, besides Soundtracking.
Jang was asked about why he got back into music after watching social playlists startup Imeem – his previous company – crash and burn.
“Our business was dependent on music licences,” he said. “When the economy fell out in 2008 – and this is a cautionary tale for people doing content deals with music labels or any entertainment IP company – when the macroeconomy fails they don’t come back to refinance your content deals for less. They come back to refinance them for more… It’s not a great environment for your team, for your customers and ultimately for your users.”
Jang said that SoundCloud is fulfilling many of the functions that Imeem used to perform, but that its founders have managed to succeed in a way that Imeem didn’t (i.e. by not striking those licensing deals).
He also praised Spotify for its work on accumulating a music catalogue and now turning that into a platform, and said the current generation of music startups has much more scope to build products using the APIs of these firms, Songkick and other music platforms.
“Today is probably the greatest time and most powerful time to create a music service using these APIs,” said Jang.
He also talked about a challenge for music startups who do need licensing deals. “When you reach a certain size of growth, the industry will come with demands for more cheques”, he said, referring approvingly to the “escape velocity” of YouTube and Last.fm, which sold up before or as they reached that point.