Elias Roman is CEO and Co-Founder of Songza Media, Inc. Prior to graduating Magna Cum Laude from Brown University, Elias co-founded AmieStreet.com and was named as among Business Week’s ‘Top 25 Entrepreneurs in America Under 25.’ Amazon.com invested in AmieStreet, Inc. in 2007 and acquired the AmieStreet.com brand and customer base in 2010. Since then, Elias and his co-founders have been developing Songza.com, a free streaming music service that has expert-made playlists for every occasion and makes it outrageously easy to find the right one, at the right time.
Recent Songza Accolades
We favorite a lot of tweets that mention Songza. People don’t have their tweets favorited that often, so seeing that its been favorited – by Songza – can be really awesome. One of my favorite tweets is OMFG Songza favorited my tweet OMFG – it’s like man, if I could make a banner that good I’d sell it.
Engaging in Indirect Dialogue
We try to engaging in dialogue that, while not directly about Songza, is nonetheless relevant. So a lot of people, a lot of celebrities especially, will tweet things like: ‘What should I listen to, what should I put on my playlist,’ and we jump into those conversations all the time and give them the easiest way to have what their looking for – and a lot of times we’ll get a celebrity playlist out of that.
Hashtags, Trending Topics and Usual Suspects
We follow hashtags, trending topics, usual suspects who sort of orbit around music. One example would be Thrillest. The social media manager for Thrillest uses Songza, and one day we heard him talking about Songza and then sepearately talking about playlists, and we were like 1+1, let’s do it. So now we have a Thrillest Summer Driving playlist, which was a lot of fun for us.
There’s a world of value in social media that most companies don’t exploit. Back in 2006, we started with the mission that our customer service would be amazing. It would be so good that our customer service copy could be approved for marketing copy. Any transaction we had with a customer could be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and we’d be thrilled to have it there. And we brought that to Twitter, and in Twitter, the tone, the engagement, has been the same response, but the response time is what had to change. So we got a lot of love for having a 2 hour response time in 2007, but that would be completely and totally meaningless on Twitter.
My partner Eric typically manages it. When there’s high volume we’ll both be logged in and we’ll both be responding to people at the same time. Or I’ll do it through my personal account when there is overflow.
But one of the most interesting things about it is – I think a lot of companies view Twitter as a cost-center, i.e., how much does it cost for us not to look stupid on Twitter. We view it as how many retweets is our customer service correspondance going to get today. Because there’s such a low bar for customer service on Twitter, that A) if you respond; and B) if you respond in a nice and helpful way, you’re almost guaranteed to get a retweet. And that’s now 300 new people who find out about you through a trusted source who had a good interaction with you. And I think viewing it that way has made us take that challenge really seriously.
Can you talk a little bit about the ease of distribution-market saturation dichotomy in today’s digital music landscape?
Mashable recently listed Songza in its Top 10 iOS Apps of 2011. In her write-up, Mashable Editor Christina Warren said: “I frequently wish I could fuse my Spotify and Songza accounts into one super account.” Do you see Songza doing anything to increase user control/interactivity?`
I read your interview [with Tim Westergren] of Pandora and he spoke about how 80% of the music listening market is radio. Thats 80% of listening time that is completely and totally non-interactive. Songza is a much more interactive experience than that, because you have much more granulartity about moods and situations and lifestyles and what your friends are listening to.
And then I think you have 9% who are maybe like Christina Warren, who most of the time – she’s a busy woman, using it non-interactively – but sometimes will be like, ‘That’s a great M83 song, I’m going to add that to my apartment party playlist.’ And so for those times she’d like to be able to have that fusion there. And that’s a valuable 9%.
And then you’ve got 1% who are always going to be programming for themselves, or they have friends who are programming and have very little need for the non-interactive use case. That’s not our market. We don’t care about that 1%. That 1% is using really interactive, lean-forward, gamified services, and they have a happy home there.
The idea for us is hyper-simplicity. For example, take the idea of adding more suggestions at the concierge stage. The idea of adding one more moving part to that home page is unacceptable. What I think we’ll need to do is get so smart where, unless a user is browsing for curiosity purposes, he’ll never need more suggestions because we’ll get it right the first time. What you can do, and what we’ve definitely had people do, is toggle. So if it’s Monday morning and you hate the fact that it’s Monday morning, you can go see what we would recommend for Friday late night. And then it’s like, ‘Oh, Getting High, that’s fun, it’s distracting, I can pretend I’m not at work right now’ – so that we absolutely have. But if we didn’t nail it in the 6 initial suggested activities, we did something wrong that’s not going to be fixed by adding more buttons.
The philosophy behind Songza is all about the fact that curation is the most important trend we see in music moving forward. And curation matters because the internet is huge. And it’s so big that it hasn’t come to terms with its own enormity yet. And so for us, as particularly busy people – and we all are – how do we navigate that? Otherwise everything becomes nothing, because you can’t find anything.
We have a couple of different content provisioning partners. So if you’re using CDBaby or TuneCore, you’ll likely end up on Songza as well. We have a huge catalogue.
What’s also fun though is we have the ability to ingest things. For example, say we want a song from a Motown label that went out of business in Detroit decades ago and everyone involved with it is dead. If we get their content at a vinyl swap meet, we can still play it. And then we report to Sound Exchange on what it is and part of their job is to figure out who should be paid for it. We operate under a really, really broad and permissive license.
Every time we have an interesting opportunity to demo to a group of relevant people, we’re there. So, you know, four days ago until 10 p.m. we were at a New York demo event. We’ve been to maybe 6 on both coasts in the last month alone. So we’ll throw on our Songza t-shirts, we’ll roll deep and we’ll demo our faces off. I was demoing to someone at one of these events, and he was like ‘Gosh you guys take music from an expert perspective really seriously, I think my wife might be interested, can you hold on one sec.’ He brought his wife over and she was an ethnomusicologist, and was a perfect fit to join our team. I didn’t know it was a recruiting event but it was a recruiting event. So it’s being present and being passionate. I really do think showing up is 80-90% of the game there.