Beats, Daisy, Topspin. Putting The Pieces Together.
I’m overdue writing a blog post saying THANK YOU sincerely to everyone for all the kind words I’ve received regarding the article about me in this month’s WIRED magazine. Those thanks should start with Brian Raftery, Rob Capps, and everyone involved on the WIRED side for making me look like a decent human being, passionate about technology and music and in love with my family. It’s nerve-racking to read an article about yourself, especially when it unexpectedly turns out to be a life-story including family and friends. But Brian did an impressive job (IMHO) stringing my rambling this-then-that into a factual narrative. Yes, the story was a bit of a softball, ignoring most of the countless mistakes I’ve made and the many places you could lay fault or blame at my feet. But at this moment in my life, when Zoe is starting grad school and Lucinda is heading into kindergarten, it was a great feeling to hear “congrats!” from so many people. Being honest, I had tears in my eyes reading the last paragraph of Brian’s piece which quotes from this blog. As silly as it is I have tears in my eyes writing the words you’re reading now sitting at my dining table, waiting for Lucinda to rise. It’s a bit scary and surprising to think of my teen-pregnancy-done-ok story as inspiring to anyone — I generally regard myself as a jackass who likes to work and has had a bit of good fortune here and there. In summary: I don’t know that the attention is deserved but I appreciate it nonetheless. I will do my best to live up to it.
I’m writing today to humbly announce the next chapter of my professional career.
If you’ve followed along with what we’ve been up to at Topspin the last five years you’ll know we’ve been working hard to connect our software tools aimed at helping artists grow their fan base and make money to places where fans experience music. Our integrations with MTV and YouTube are evidence of this, and I voice my opinions in depth in this presentation from Americana Music Fest last year.
While my involvement in the artist-to-fan connection dates back to building the Beastie Boys web site in 1993 my work on search/stream music services dates even earlier. As a computer science undergrad I was lucky enough to receive the vision of (and $6.25/hour work-study job from) Indiana University Music Library Head Dr. David Fenske, who had a vision for how students would search the university library’s card catalog, find and stream music from file servers. It was science fiction until we built a prototype of it, with the help of IBM, Rob Francis, and others. In the twenty years since I’ve found myself involved with updates on that vision many times, from Winamp and SHOUTcast to Muse.Net and Yahoo! Music Engine to LAUNCHcast and MusicMatch. While my focus at Topspin the past five years has been building software for artists, it’s been a blast to watch from the sidelines as streaming music finally becomes a reality for the average (non-nerd) music fan, thanks in no small part to the proliferation of powerful mobile devices and faster cellular networks as well as the music industry’s decline to a place where the incumbents recognize they need to welcome new options.
But there’s still a long way to go. While I use and love many music services today (mostly MOG, Songza, and Pandora in my personal life), the music experience and interface hasn’t evolved all that much. In many ways it seems like we’ve spent the last fifteen years answering the basic question of “how do we make the music available” (the question Napster answered in 1999) and not “how do we find the music we love? the music we want to listen to right now?” I talked about my belief that the next phase of Web distribution is “curation by trusted sources” at length in a presentation at Digital Music Forum West two Octobers ago. In a 2006 presentation I accused iTunes of being a spreadsheet that plays music and I’m disappointed the industry hasn’t found a way to surround music with context in the years since (kudos to Pitchfork for building a context-intense “leak” player — what royalty rate are you paying? 😉 ).
Given this, I’m sure you can appreciate my desire to get back in the game building music services for fans. When I left Yahoo! to join Topspin in April of 2008 I was frustrated by the resistance I was meeting from the labels; I felt I was trying to help and my help wasn’t welcome. Times have changed, though, and as Rob Wells at Universal Music Group points out in a conversation we had a year ago, the future health of the industry is dependent on getting these services to scale. Furthermore, the work we’ve done at Topspin over the past five years is immensely useful here. We have direct connections to bios, photos, music, video, merchandise, tickets, etc (context!) direct from artists. Connecting this artist layer to music services fans love will be powerful and exciting.
With this as the backdrop, I’m jumping up and down excited to be able to share that I’m taking on the role of CEO of the project currently known as “Daisy”. Daisy is the subscription service being developed by the folks behind Beats By Dre: Jimmy Iovine, Dr. Dre, and Luke Wood. Daisy, who, as leaked in the New Yorker recently, has Trent Reznor as their Chief Creative Officer. Daisy, who, in July of last year purchased my favorite streaming service, MOG.
At the same time, Beats is making a strategic investment in Topspin (whose revenues grew another 50% in 2012, YAY TEAM) and we are partnering to provide a direct connection to artists inside the coming service. I’m remaining deeply involved in Topspin, taking the role of Executive Chairman and staying on as a member of Topspin’s Board of Directors. We brought in an incredible COO at Topspin six months ago, Jeremy Bellinghausen, and he’s taking the CEO position. The killer team of Bob, Parker, Brad, Jon, Paul, Nicole and so many more remain to double-down on the original mission, with the added bonus of being able to scheme on the ways a consumer service can/should/will serve the artist. [ps – Topspin is hiring! Job postings at http://TopspinMedia.com/blog]
This is an enormous opportunity for Topspin to take the approach we’ve pioneered with MTV, YouTube, and the ArtistLink API generally and set the gold standard for how artists can be integrated into consumer music services. This is the next step in the evolution of the way fans find the music they love and connect directly with the artists who make it. I am stoked and fortunate to get to be a part of it.
I’d like to extend a special thanks to Shamal Ranasinghe for believing in me as Topspin’s CEO to begin with, and to Peter Gotcher, Tim Haley, Ryan McIntyre, and Mark Solon for your patient mentorship and guidance. I’ve always said I’m the luckiest startup CEO in the world to have y’all as my board and it’s a fact.
To the Topspin team, y’all are family and you’re not getting rid of me just yet so I’m not making as much as a wave goodbye.
Thanks sincerely to Jimmy Iovine and Luke Wood for your unending belief in my being the right person for this job. We first started talking about working together on a streaming music service exactly five years ago. I appreciate your patience. The time and circumstances are right. Game fucking on.
Thx to Brian Frank for the suggestion this would be the most appropriate image for this blog post:
Unfinished business, indeed. So watchya sayin?