Music Ally’s 40 music startups and services to watch from 2012


2012 has been a pretty good year for innovative and/or disruptive new digital music startups, services and apps. Here are 40 that caught our eye over the year, from A to V.

Ad Hoc
An umbrella music blog that rose from the ashes of Pitchfork’s Altered Zones website, raising $37k on Kickstarter and promising to “value quality thought” as it looked for a new spin on MP3 blogs.

A genuinely big deal for music-making apps on Apple’s iOS devices, connecting them together like “virtual cables” so people can squirt sounds between different apps to work on.

The former P2P villain returned this year as a scan-and-match cloud music service with radio-style mixes. Most intriguingly, though, it proceeded to get bought by cloud giant Dropbox.

Picking up community platform Ning’s ball and running with it, Backplane wants to run socially-infused sites for stars, starting in 2012 with one of the biggest: Lady Gaga.

Boxopus put the wind up rightsholders this year with its combination of BitTorrent downloads and Dropbox cloud storage, although the latter swiftly pulled its API access over infringement fears.

Launching in May, this Chinese karaoke app signed up millions of users quickly, and thoroughly below the radar of the Western music industry. It was the work of Beijing-based startup Zuitao.

Chirpify launched to help artists sell direct to fans on Twitter: music, merchandise, whatever. Helping Amanda Palmer sell a $20 t-shirt every 30 seconds one night showed its potential.

Chromatik was one of a clutch of iPad apps looking to disrupt the sheet-music market in 2012. It helps musicians upload, record, annotate and share music – and was even used by American Idol’s house band.

The latest startup with Peter Gabriel’s backing is CueSongs, a clever sync-licensing platform focused on online and digital media projects, complete with a full set of publishing deals.

This was co-founder Seth Goldstein’s new thing: a portal focused on electronic dance music (EDM) with a brash mixture of editorial, video, DJ mixes and a novelty messaging app.
Originally launched by indie label Ghostly to run its own subscription service, 2012 saw used by Domino and Skrillex’s OWSLA label as a way to connect with keen superfans.

Children’s apps are going to be big news in 2013, and Gabuduck looks well-positioned to capitalise with a musical twist: it licenses songs for kids to remix in its playful iOS apps.

Another Kickstarter fundee (to the tune of $353k) this is a fully digital guitar with a slot for an iPhone running a companion app that teaches people to play in an inventive way.

Like Chirpify, Gumroad wants to help artists sell stuff to their social network followings. Armed with $7m of VC funding, it handled hosting, payment and delivery for creatives.
This iPhone app helps people build and share playlists, the innovation being that it taps into either Spotify or Rdio’s catalogue to construct them. One of the first apps built using both services’ APIs.

One of the stars of January’s Midemlab startups contest, this iPad app wanted to reinvent traditional radio, suggesting stations based on a user’s habits and personal music collection.

The company formerly known as bagged a significant deal in July to preload the UK’s entire Top 40 singles chart on Samsung smartphones, then update it every week.

MyMusic came on like a gamified music search engine, rewarding users with points for browsing videos, gig listings and other content, and providing additional recommendations in return.

(New) Myspace
With Justin Timberlake as a co-owner and a slinky new design, Myspace won over a number of sceptics when it returned in invite-only beta in November. Its full launch comes early in 2013.

The idea of paying for an artist’s tweets sounds barmy, but Pheed was a separate social network with individual subscriptions for livestream events as well as text and pics.

This was the other spin-off from in 2012: a “hand-picked radio” app built on friends’ individual song recommendations. Like This Is My Jam but mobile, in other words.

With a founding team drawn from Gracenote and Songbeat, Pipe was a Facebook-fuelled filesharing startup with music in its DNA. That said, making it easy to send up-to 1GB files to friends spooked some rightsholders.

Incubated by Hollywood studio DreamWorks, this was a neat social video app, with licensed music providing soundtracks, and a post-launch deal with EDM star Kaskade to upload backstage footage.

Pulselocker was a very-innovative streaming music service for DJs, launching with 1m tracks available to cache locally on Macs for use when playing sets. It cost between $9.99 and $69.99 a month.

Personal radio service Senzari rolled out globally, aiming to prove Pandora wrong and work within European licensing structures. Spanish deals with MTV and social network Tuenti showed its local ambitions.

Songkick Detour
This skunkworks project from Songkick has the makings of something bigger: a way for fans to band together and crowdfund gigs in their town by the bands they love. Watch for it in 2013.

Social music game SongPop launched in July, and had been played by 30m people by the end of September, with Carrie Underwood, Alanis Morissette and Enrique Iglesias all testing its promo potential.

Former music search-engine Songza pivoted this year to a music discovery app based on mood and context, signing up millions of users in the process, and capitalising on Facebook’s Open Graph.

Sonic Notify
This startup had clever technology – the ability to deliver media to smartphones and tablets through sound – $4.25m of VC funding and a deal with guinea-pig Interscope to test its music marketing potential.

SoPost was another social commerce (SoCo?) startup working with music artists in 2012, associating social handles with real-world addresses to send products from Noel Gallagher and PIAS, initially.
Soundrop essentially built on Spotify’s platform as both a mobile app and Spotify app, enlisting several big artists to host rooms, then rolling out an API for labels to build apps, starting with David Guetta.

SpotOn Radio
Another way to listen to Spotify music in a non-Spotify app – this time it was Pandora being disrupted, with a beautifully-designed personal radio iPhone app made in Sweden.
And another innovative startup standing on the shoulders of Spotify – this rocket-charged the discovery and social features of the streaming service, and likely influenced Spotify’s recent revamp.

This is the latest service trying to turn music discovery into a game – in this case, a fantasy stock exchange where you buy songs then see their value go up (or down) according to their popularity.

The Promo Bay
Controversial? Perhaps, but more than 10k artists and creators signed up to try to get their work promoted on The Pirate Bay’s legal giveaways section, which has now spun off as a separate site.

Nothing to do with Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s old band: this was one of Sean Parker’s stealthy startups working with celebrities to manage their social networking activity – sometimes sidelining labels or studios in the process.

This Is My Jam
The antidote to the idea of ‘frictionless’ music sharing, This Is My Jam asked people to recommend one song they loved at a time, making the social sharing process much more meaningful.
Tomahawk has grand ambitions: creating a translation layer across all streaming services. was a good way in: a way to share links to songs that would work in a variety of services, not just one.
One of many services helping artists offer content to fans in return for email addresses and Likes, but this one attracted the likes of Lil Wayne, Drake, Pitbull and Diddy shortly after its launch.

Video app Vyclone takes footage shot by different people in one location and stitches them together into multi-angle clips. Ed Sheeran was the first major artist to benefit from its marketing potential.

Stuart Dredge

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