I’m really bad at cleaning out my phone. I’m very responsible when it comes to doing the dishes, or washing my sheets, or cleaning the bathroom, but I can’t be bothered to clear out my photos or delete old text message threads, so when I download an app, it better be good. Otherwise, it’s getting deleted to make way for more photos of my parents cat.
If you’re a music nerd, Musx is good enough to keep around, which is saying something. It’s not going to replace Spotify, or Apple Music, or Google Music, or Tidal, but it is the perfect accessory. If discovery based algorithms are leaving you cold, if you’re looking for a more human touch, Musx is here for you. The trick being (as it is with most apps) Musx is at its most useful when you have other friends using it. If no one in your squad is willing to make an account, you’re not going to get as much out of it as you could, however convincing them shouldn’t be too hard. Who doesn’t like music?
Enthused with their product, I called up Musx co-founder John Reardon to chat about how his product relates to other streaming giants, whether SXSW is still fun, and his personal lessons learned.
What is Musx? (I obviously know what it is, but for the lovely viewers at home)
I’m not sure how familiar with Musx you are… so I’ll just give you everything. So my co-founder Eddie and I started Musx because we got tired emailing and texting each other YouTube and Soundcloud links when we discovered an awesome new song. Pretty simple right? So we realized that there was no central place where people shared music and because of that, the best songs that our friends were discovering were spread across social media and messaging platforms that were overrun by other content. You might find a cool song on Spotify and share it to Facebook. Or your friend might find a remix on Soundcloud and tweet it. Or another friend might see a cool new music video and text you. The result is if you want to listen to the best new music your friends are finding, there’s no simple way to do it. This is a huge problem because when it comes to discovery 80% of people rely on the music their friends tell them about and we thought you should be able to hear the best new music recommendations from the people you trust everyday in one place. That’s kind of the idea.
What’s your origin story? How did all of this get started?
In terms of actually getting started, Eddie coded the first few versions of what was originally a website… It was called Local Headphones at first. I organized concerts to get the idea in front of people and try to get as much feedback as possible. After an event we’d update the site based on the feedback and then we’d throw another event to test that version… So we ended up throwing four events in D.C. The first one was five of our friends and a case of beer at Eddie’s apartment. The second one was really fun, it was a band crawl in Clarendon where we had four different bands playing a four different bars. The third was a five hundred person show at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown… and then our final one was a little bigger. It was down at the Fairgrounds and it ended up being featured in the Washington Post Top 25 Summer Music Festivals somehow. That was pretty crazy considering neither of us had experiences throwing concerts before.
Needless to say, we got a lot of feedback and at the end of it all we did stumble on something that was a huge problem affecting most if not all music fans, whether you’re an active music fan or just casual. To our surprise it was something that could help people in the music industry as well especially artists (which is something that will come into play further down the road). At that point we were able to get in front of some awesome investors who believed in the idea and got us to start working with a great development group out of D.C. called Savvy Apps and they were the ones who actually built our first mobile app.
The focus since launch has been on testing the hell out of the app, iterating and building our network, and building a strong board, not really on growth. We’ve been really fortunate in terms of… we’ve gotten some good press, we’re featured twice in the App Store and were named as a top startup by the Next Web, but to be completely honest, I think that was before we were ready. If we could have said, “Hey, can you pause this a year? We’re still testing some things.” We would have done that, but it was great regardless and I can’t complain about that.
Tell me about this board.
A big part of this past 18 months has been forming an incredible board. So, Eddie and I were just big music fans, but we don’t have the music background perse, or the understanding of the music industry. We dove into it, so we understand now, but at the time We needed to align ourselves with people who can kind of makes sure we’re building something that’s going to be helpful to the industry and to artists, not just be fan focused.
The first guy on our board is Michael MacDonald of Mick Management who has an incredible roster (Childish Gambino, Of Monsters and Men, Passion Pit, Walk the Moon, St. Lucia) and he’s a very forward thinking guy. He understands the importance of alternative revenue streams. Recorded music isn’t the end all be all anymore, so he’s really helped us get a grasp on where the industry is going and how we can contribute with that. Another is David Weinberg, he’s a former Exec for Universal Music Group, so he headed business affairs with them and started working closely with Spotify and Beats and Vevo. Brilliant brilliant guy, who is going to help us a lot with the business aspect of this. Nick Goggans co-founded Umbel, which is a big data analytics company out of Austin. So we’re going to do so awesome things with big data and be able to provide it to our artists, but he works closely with some of the biggest commercial companies in the world that run some of the biggest music festivals in the world.
That has kind of gotten us to a point where we’re ready to start expanding. First off our team, bring development in house, hiring out people to help us grow, and then switch our focus to growth. The plan is to hire new developers in house, release a new version of the app on iOS, but also Android and Web as well.
How has it felt, to go from throwing parties in your co-founders apartment to this moment where you are working with all of these vetted music professionals to steer the app into something (I assume) you want to be bigger than Spotify?
So, to quickly clarify, we’re not actually competing with the Spotify’s and Tidal’s of the world. Musx complements the major platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, Soundcloud. We’re not trying to change where people go to for music. When you know what song or album or playlist you want to listen to, use whatever you normally use, but when you’ve discovered an awesome new song and want to share it or when you don’t know what you want to listen to and want to see what your friends are discovering, you go to Musx. By focusing on sharing music, we’re valuable to all music fans regardless of which streaming platform we use. That’s our goal. It’s more to complement existing services than to say we’re better than them.
Do you think consumers have room for multiple streaming apps?
I do, and this is no longer speculation. Starting out, that was the question, but a big part of this whole first period of getting this first product in the market has been testing that. Is this something that people want? The fact is 80% of people discover most of their music from their friends and 80% of millennials share new music because it gives them a sense of fulfillment, and music is now really a part of how people define their identity, and when you hear that awesome new song, there is still no “Ah! I need to share this, where am I going to do it.” When you snap a picture, you know you’re going to post it on Instagram. Music is inherently social, and it’s always been, and the social aspect of music has lagged behind in the streaming era. It’s a niche app that complements other services, so that’s why I do think it will fit along another streaming app. It has a very specific value.
Are there anyone artist or song you’ve discovered through that app that made you think, “Ah, yes, this is why I created this?”
To be honest, that happens every day. Which is awesome. So when you think about what happens, people help each other discover new music. Here are some crazy stats that put it in perspective, there are at least 20,000 new songs released each week on average, which means a new song every 30 seconds. So you cannot possibly keep up with new music on your own. What’s happening on Musx is that everyone is bringing their favorite new songs to one place, that you wouldn’t necessarily hear unless that person had listened to it somewhere else and then brought it to you. That is why we get excited almost every time we open the app because a. I can help someone else discover an awesome new song or b. I’m discovering stuff without trying. People are the filter, not some algorithm that’s saying here’s 20 songs I think you might like. It’s the people that you know saying, here’s the best song I’ve found today.
There’s a lot of stuff going on in the app, are there any features that you think are particularly useful / interesting / generally cool?
“#weekend10” -We post the best 10 songs that people shared on Musx each week on Thursdays at 5:12pm (512 is Austin’s area code). It ends up being an awesome weekend playlist of sorts, the twist is that the 10 songs are posted by users and determined by users. Anyone has the chance to make the top 10 posts.
You’re at SXSW right now. Is it still…. fun?
I can understand why some people say SXSW has become too commercialized. But, we love it because there is still nothing else like it, where live music takes over an entire city and there’s no distance between fans and artists. Quick example, last year between sets at Hype Hotel, I was waiting for a drink and a random dude in front of me passed me a beer because he and his buddies had ordered an extra. Ended up hanging out and find out they were the top band in Scotland, had just finished playing a huge show, and were out enjoying SXSW like regular music fans and celebrating their first major US tour.
What was the biggest lesson you learned through this entire process?
Two of the most helpful lessons I’ve learned are actually from my co-founder, Eddie. 1) Be open to all advice, but have a critical mind when deciding whether to act on it or not. You’re going to get a lot of advice, and even if it is from someone who has started a successful company, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you. 2) Keep focused on your core value and don’t try to be a solution to everything. It’s easy to want to add a bunch of new features, especially when you get lots of feedback, but too many options is a bad thing. Make sure you have a clear value proposition and are delivering on that before thinking about adding anything else. These both might seem obvious, but they are easy to deviate from if you aren’t careful.