Monday, June 23, 2008

Bringing Social Media to the Atlanta Music Scene


Antone Street, Atlanta


This unassuming street in midtown Atlanta houses the productions studios of some of the biggest names in the music industry, including OutKast’s Stankonia Studios, Music Mogul Group and Zac Recording. And nearby are the offices and studio of Dallas Austin.

It’s also the headquarters of Maestro (blog). Replete with a giant aluminum can collection of locally brewed Diet Coke, Maestro is a social media company that hopes to transform how we listen to and share music.


Co-founders Clarkson Logan and Greg Shrader with Aaron Rosen

Two of the co-founders CEO Clarkson Logan and COO Greg Shrader met in business school at the University of Georgia. The other co-founder, Daniel Escobar is also from the South — Colombia, South America.

Conceived three and half years ago and launched in March, Maestro is, in their words, “attempting to build a web-based social music platform where users can remotely access their entire music library from any browser, interact with their music and their friends’ music, find out information about the music they are listening to, stream their playlists to MySpace or Facebook, send playlists to their friends or anyone else they want to…and purchase MP3s of the songs you hear as they discover new music.”

From Thomas Edison to Napster, technology has long played a major role in the way music is distributed. Social media is the next step, shifting the balance of power along with it.

Perhaps that’s why (as fellow blogger James Andrews pointed out to me) Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri recently declared the DJ is dead.

Whether he is overstating his case is open to debate, but users are exerting their influence by bypassing traditional distribution channels. They are also using social media to create content and, through playlists, influence how music is packaged, promoted and sold. Conversely, artists can create customized playlists (add audio clips, songs from other artists that influenced, etc) that strengthens ties to their fans. Creativity is to be found in both the songs themselves and in the playlists that contain them.

As Aaron Rosen who heads Maestro’s business development and social media product development wrote me:

Playlists become a new form of promotional tool, yet can wield as much power as any other. Paralleling the industry as a whole is the fact that with the outbreak of digital music comes new business models, and new figures and tools within these markets. The average music fan now has the capacity to become the DJ of old.

Looking for other examples of social media’s influence? Consider:

Radiohead album’s Rainbow. Radiohead made news last year when they announced that they were going to let their fans determine what they wanted to pay for their music.

Or look at Soulja Boy who rivaled more established musicians by using YouTube to distribute Crank Dat or Colbie Caillat who achieved fame through MySpace.

Curtis James Jackson III aka 50 Cent aka Fiddy declared “What is important for the music industry to understand is that this [file sharing] really doesn`t hurt the artists!”

Making Atlanta Home

It’s not surprising that Logan and Shrader would make Atlanta home. University of Georgia is in nearby Athens, another music mecca and the home to REM and B-52s – bands I “grooved” to in my pre-Web college days.

Yet with all this musical heritage, you’d think Atlanta would be a natural place to wed Web 2.0 and music. Not yet, according to Maestro’s founders. From the investment community, web 2.0 is still a hard sell, and user adoption still lags behind San Francisco.

Clarkson often gets the “same feedback.” Investors grapple with the model and want to see “massive growth or revenue first.”

They too thought of moving to the Valley, where the technology community gets this marriage of music and technology, but as Clarkson said they want to “put a stake in the ground.” They firmly believe Atlanta’s music community is the ideal place to launch a music distribution company. And they see social media as they way to get there.

Challenging the Competition

Maestro faces the same hurdles that any startup faces – attracting capital, establishing connections and educating investors and customers about the market. But Maestro feels they have technology on their side.

Stressing they are about music first, community second, they understand how the Internet is subverting traditional distribution channels and business models.

That’s of course not news. What will be news is a new platform where artists who want to make money and consumers who want to pay less (or not at all) are both happy.

In this pursuit, Maestro faces competition from companies like imeem, ilike and Last.fm. As new technology and new business models emerge, how are companies like Maestro going to differentiate themselves?

To Clarkson, the secret sauce is combining remote access to music and social discovery as well the mobile platform they are developing. They believe their technology and backend capabilities will provide a competitive advantage. They contend they are the only company that combines remote access and social discovery.

Unlike imeem, Maestro is only focused on music. With 50 percent of all Internet users listening to music online (Arbitron), and music enjoyment being the #1 use of technology during consumer downtime (Center for Media Research), Clarkson wrote me that “Maestro’s new music platform is set to influence how music will be used in the future and how the music industry can generate revenues from their creative assets.”

Mindful of legal challenges that have beset previous efforts, Maestro is very focused on a business model that address royalty and compensation issues.

For now, their goals are to generate buzz, increase their position in the marketplace, drive traffic, and provide a better experience. Achieving these goals will go a long way towards helping strengthen Atlanta’s position as a market for both cutting edge music and music technology.

Let me get back to you.

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Posted by Dan Greenfield in 14:42:44 | Permalink | Comments (6)