Is Earbits a Pandora for Indie Artists?

I’ve always had an issue with sticking to one music webapp to power my music delight during work. I jump from ex.fm to Pandora to We Are Hunted constantly, with my taste usually lying on We Are Hunted since they usually have music I’ve never heard of. But what exactly am I looking for in a music webapp? 

Key things I’m looking for in a music webapp:

  1. Set it and forget it music
  2. Music selection that’s smart – if I like it, give me more of it
  3. Doesn’t hog my computer’s memory
  4. Great selection of music that I can’t find in the mainstream

Put that all together, I think I found a music web app that’ll work – Earbits. It all happened when I was able to choose a station called “Hip Hop - Live Band” and I saw myself “thumbing up” every song. When you combine curating music (keeping quality high) and connecting directly with indie artists with a Pandora-like playing system – you have something special. They also provide indie artists something unique:

  1. Exposure through discovery (along with pay-to-play ala Stumbleupon)
  2. Platform to promote music and shows
  3. Social hooks to include Facebook Pages/Twitter

In the future, I’d like to discover music from the Pacific Northwest that’s “Hip Hop - Live Band” so I can check them out live. Wouldn’t that be cool?

QUESTION: What’s your favorite music webapp that you use at work?

Advertising Indie: How Earbits Helps Bands Find Fans

It’s easy for bands to distribute their music, but hard to market it. They can pay to get their songs in the right places - iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify - but it’s unclear how to get them heard by the right people. Earbits, a Los Angeles-based startup, aspires to turn their radio service into an ad platform where bands can buy airtime and gain exposure for their songs and upcoming live performances.

While the web-music sector is crowded with established services like Pandora and Spotify, Earbits stands out because it focuses solely on emerging artists and provides fans with a compelling way to discover them. The service offers genre stations, which are common, but it has many features which aren’t.

For instance, if you log into Earbits using Facebook, the service pulls your friends into a toolbar and sorts them by who’d most enjoy hearing the song currently being played. If you click on one of your friends, a window opens up, which allows you to post the song to their Facebook wall.

Most interesting, though, are the ways in which Earbits nudges their users to engage more deeply with bands. While you listen to song, you can scroll beneath the fold on the website and find information about the artist, including a bio, discography and tour dates. If you give a song a “thumbs ups”—the way you tailor a station to your likes and dislikes—the service prompts you to tweet the track or post it on your wall. If you’re listening to music on the mobile app and the band is playing a show nearby, it will alert you—and with a one click, you can share the info with a friend.

“We think of Earbits as an artist-centric radio platform,” says CEO Joey Flores. “We’re always looking for ways to connect a band with fans instead of just playing music for someone in the background.” He continues, “People are doing more on our website than just turning it on and tuning out.”

And there’s a good reason for this. On Earbits the songs themselves are commercials, which makes bands the customers, and of course, you—the listener—the product. Rather than encouraging users to click on ads and interact with brands, Flores hopes they’ll discover bands, become fans and buy their albums and concert tickets.

He desires this outcome for two reasons: For Earbits to make money (and keep doing so), it must create enough value for a cash-strapped band to justify the expense—and provide a return large enough that it demands reinvestment. If a band buys airtime to promote a show and converts a handful of listeners into concertgoers, they’ll likely recoup their costs and use Earbits again. Flores also wants this to happen because he—a lifetime music fanatic—believes that a world with more active fans (i.e. music buyers and concertgoers) could only be a better one.

“Don’t just turn on the music and not wonder who it is,” Flores laments.

But wanting something to happen doesn’t mean you can make it happen. The truth is that a majority of consumers aren’t music fanatics and have no interest in doing a majority of these things.

And, as Earbits has learned, even fanatics have limits. Flores and his team have this problem where when they sit around and brainstorm on ideas, the ones that they find interesting oftentimes “don’t get any traction” and ones that they “think are totally stupid” end up becoming really popular.

Earbits has some of the most interesting sharing tools of any music service on their site. They spent lots of time building them only to find out that “like only 3% of people” will ever use the tools.

“Most people scroll right past [the Facebook toolbar],” Flores says, “they don’t even see it.”

This is illustrative. The very innovative feature that music and technology publications will praise Earbits for developing and having on their site ended up being the one fans didn’t care to use.

Many music startups develop features in their products that they “think” fans want without actually testing them or embracing the hard truth that most fans may not want any of these things.

“We used to add a feature[to Earbits] and assume that it created more value [for users],” says Flores, referring the time period before his team read the influential book The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. Rather than making assumptions about the features users want and the value they create, they now utilize the “real metrics” that Ries advocates for—such as active users and user engagement—to determine if a feature is creating more value for their users and whether they should keep it.

Weeks ago, Earbits added a search bar so that users could start a station by typing in an artist that they like—akin to what Pandora and rival services offer—and Flores says user engagement “went down with this feature.”

Before reading The Lean Startup and implementing its teachings, his company wouldn’t have even been tracking that metric. “We would’ve just assumed that adding a search bar would’ve been a good thing,” he says. “Actually, for some reason, it has a negative impact.”

Describing what operating a startup for over a year without any real, important metrics and then embracing them wholeheartedly is like, Flores says the process has “been really eye-opening.”

This sort of awakening is necessary for startups. Music elicits passion in people and some of them grow inspired to create products. These people are often fanatics who see problems to solve in their own lives and feel compelled to create solutions for everyone else. But fanatics aren’t everyone else; their wants and needs are different. A chasm exists between them and casual fans, and they don’t see it.

Fanatics make assumptions about what users want and develop a product, only to learn that most people don’t have these problems and see no value in adopting their solution. As Ries argues in his book, a startup like this achieves failure by “successfully executing a plan that leads to nowhere.”

This is the startup dilemma: A fanatic founder will often perceive a problem as being more universal than it actually is and mistakes his own experience as evidence that a solution should exist. But most people have never had such experiences and can’t relate to the products they create.

A quick survey of the sector reveals that no one is doing quite what Earbits does. Services like Jango and Grooveshark let bands buy airtime and gain exposure, but they don’t nudge fans to attend their shows or share their songs. Pandora debuted a free concert series last year wherein they invited fans to attend a live performance by the rock band Dawes, based on where they live and the likelihood that they’d enjoy listening to their music. But they don’t promote shows within their platform—let alone, allow artists to buy airtime.

Deli Radio, a newly launched music startup, enables fans to create radio stations that play music by bands that’ll be playing shows nearby—the downside being that, since the service is free, bands can’t geo-target fans.

Generally speaking, music services take a hands-off approach to promoting bands. “They’re not making an effort to turn people into real consumers of those band’s products,” says Flores. “You’re always trying to send them to McDonald’s.” Like broadcast radio before it, Pandora’s customers are brands and it sells them a product—exposure to their audience. The music is the bait, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Many business models work like this.

Could Pandora make a better effort to help bands find fans? Of course. But here’s the thing: It’s not clear that casual listeners have a desire for this to happen. For them, a radio service that plays unfamiliar music and regularly alerts them about shows may be bad experience. That’s the reality. Flores is fighting a noble cause—and it’s one worth fighting for. But he’s targeting fanatics with Earbits and even they’re pushing back against his efforts.

“At the end of the day, if you want to build a company that’s good at promoting artists, you build a company that makes money from promoting artists,” says Flores, which is a fair assessment.

But first Earbits must find fans that want bands promoted to them and it’s a tough crowd.

By Kyle Bylin, Content Manager

Spotify, or Get Off the Pot…Seriously

“By the time Spotify gets here, whenever that may be, they’re going to let you listen to three 30 second samples of songs you can hear on YouTube for free and then ask you to upgrade so that you can listen on your ‘dog and bone’ (that’s British for phone).

"I am beginning to think that the 'at least one Spotify exec’ is a shill whose sole job is to plant stories about the upcoming arrival of Spotify in the US in order to keep Americans interested in a product that will be all but obsolete by the time it gets here. Their only differentiator from US companies is that they’re not available in the US.”


I use this to check out music you may not hear on the radio, sweet for finding new bands all genres…rpgtweaker

Earbits is a free online radio service with no commercials or ads. Stream music from over 350 curated stations on the web, Android or iOS devices. Discover great independent music, support bands, and share your discoveries with friends.

Earbits, We Hardly Knew You

I try not to get involved with the politics of the music industry but this week I received sad news from the Earbits, a streaming company based in the United States. Having worked with the company over the past few months, I was impressed to see how incredibly keenly they supported their artists first and, at 4½ years old, their sudden closure comes as a big disappointment.

Not long ago, grammy-nominated composer Armen Chakmakian shared details of disappointing royalties garnered through thousands of streams in September 2013. He joins a long-standing debate over the streaming-versus-download business model that sees artists lose out on revenue in exchange for their music’s instant accessibility. Of course, this puts independent artists at a notable disadvantage (commercially at least). That’s why I was delighted to find a streaming company that didn’t charge a penny to the listener and, rather than garner meagre royalties, supported its roster of independent artist through curated playlists and encouraging its listeners to engage and interact with the artist elsewhere by integrating with mailing lists, Facebook and so forth.

In a market dominated by a small number of key names, companies like Earbits may well lose out, their artists as well. For now, I’d like to send my best wishes to Joey, Randy, Sam, Yotam and any other staff at Earbits that I didn’t have the chance to come into contact with directly. May your future projects fare well.

SXSW On My Mind: 14 Music Discovery Startups For 2014

I was recently asked by a colleague what startups I’m watching in the music discovery space.  With SXSW right around the corners this is as good a time as any to reflect on some of the companies I’ve encountered in 2013 and are top-of-mind in 2014.…

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Andrew Lang - Earbits

Earbits is a free online radio service with no commercials or ads. Stream music from over 350 curated stations on the web, Android or iOS devices. Discover great independent music, support bands, and share your discoveries with friends.

You can now listen to my music on Earbits free online radio. They have a lot of really great, interesting artists available for streaming, go check them out.

Earbits: Changing the way you discover music

Earbits: Changing the way you discover music

Earbits (@Earbits) is changing the way independent artists get noticed. Earbits is an online radio station that brings thousands of independent artists from all sorts of different genres into one place. And guess what, it’s ad free. Not only is this a great feature but the way it stays ad free is even better. Users earn Groovies by sharing the music that they love from the radio via social media…

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Online Music

In June of 1999, the music industry made a complete 180. Sean Parker, among others, released Napster - and it immediately went viral. Even with the Internet at such a young age, and the basics of technology we use everyday were just starting up, people were eager to completely change their way of digital media delivery. The RIAA wasn’t very happy about it, and Napster was shut down in 2001.

Over the years, other P2P software has popped up - Kazaa, eDonkey, Limewire (Which I hear is being sued for $75 TRILLION - seriously guys?) and have continuously fallen. The biggest thing to catch wind lately has been torrenting, which is of course still not legal (Not that it stops anyone - just establishing a basis here).

How can we get free music.. without running the risk of being sued for thousands of dollars, or jail time? There are tons of options out there, you just need to browse around a bit!

With that said, there are two main groups that I would place separate these services into - those that give you a mix of music to listen to and continuously stream, and those that allow you to listen to a specific song that your ears are itching for.

Mix Stations:

Two names come to mind in particular

  • Pandora
  • Earbits (My new favorite)

Pandora - I don’t need to explain too much here, everyone and their mother knows what Pandora is, what they do, and how they work. Punch in an artist/genre/song and Pandora will give you a mix of songs it thinks you’ll like. I’ve been an avid Pandora user for a while now, and capped my bandwidth limit multiple times (Meaning I listened for song long, they said “Hey, give us money if you want to listen more” - the jerks) Pandora was great for a while, but lately I feel like I’m listening to the same 10 songs in a loop - there’s no variety! I used to listen to Pandora to find new artists, but that’s not so much the case anymore (And I highly doubt it’s that I have such an extensive knowledge of musicians that I know them all) Coupled with the lack of change, and that 5 minutes there’s an ad (Which completely breaks my concentration when I’m working), I’ve lost interest in Pandora.

Earbits! - My new favorite. They’re a startup in San Fran and are gaining a lot of momentum; hell, I’ve already converted a few people myself! Earbits feels like what Pandora used to be - but with no ads! Zilch! Nada! Seriously? Yes. I’ve been listening to Earbits for easily 3-9 hours a day for the past week probably and haven’t heard a single ad (No, I’m not muting it when they come on, they just don’t exist - promise!). Earbits’s music is a lot of startup musicians that you’ll have never heard up (Yay - that’s exactly what I want, new music!) and these musicians want their music played since it gives them more recognition! Keep up the great work guys!

Online Collections:

These services essentially allow you to search for a song, and just click play! It’s kind of like searching YouTube to listen to a song, but without having to watch the video.

The two biggest names I’ve come across are:

  • Spotify
  • Rdio

I’ll be honest, I haven’t played with either of these guys for awhile now (I don’t like choosing my own music, that’s why I abuse the mix services). But for the most part, they do the same thing.

Spotify is a Swedish company, and has just recently started to gain a foothold in the States. Fun fact: Sean Parker - yeah, the “Napster guy” (Or as some of you may know him as, Justin Timberlake in the Social Network) - has invested into Spotify, planning to “finish what he started” with Napster.

Rdio, again - I haven’t played around too much with either of these guys, but same basic concept - pick a song, click play!

Both of these guys have ads (Or at least last time I used them, they did) but hey, it beats shelling out the cash for buying music.

I forgot to mention the third option; Although obviously on a completely level from these other two services - still counts as online music, and that’s the more recently blossoming “Cloud Music”. 

There are two big competitors here, can you guess who? None other than the infamous Google and Apple.

I’ve written enough - again, basics for these guys though: Upload music you already have to the cloud (Which for you non-tech guys, basically means Google/Apple’s servers) and you can now access it from other computer/phones/tablets/etc that you have synced up with your Google/Apple account!

Damn, I love technology.