Groovebug, according to its website, is the first personalized music magazine designed for the iPad. It helps users discover new music and connect with their favorite artists. The app scans the user’s library and transforms related, yet disparate content from the cloud into a fluid interactive magazine experience.
Kickshuffle spoke to Jeremiah Seraphine, CEO and co-founder of Groovebug, about reinventing the album-listening experience, the tech scene at Northwestern, and why most mobile music sites suck.
By Jerry Dawson
What was the inspiration for Groovebug?
When we first started, we were really trying to reinvent the recorded album for the 21st century. We brought it back to the original concept: that immersive experience where you learn about the artist. You have more content, whether it’s lyrics or liner notes, or album covers and photos that you can look at and read as you’re listening to the music. We wanted to bring that experience back, but with all the technology that’s available today.
It seems that albums are becoming less popular today, though. How do you see Groovebug continuing to grow as albums take less of a prominent role in the music business?
What we’ve kind of changed is that it’s not necessarily about the album, it’s also about the artist. You can take a deep dive into exploring the artist. We display artists’ albums because we feel that the album is an artistic work that the artist has taken the time to put together. Many of us at Groovebug are musicians in some way, and we have music that’s out there so we appreciate all the time and planning that goes into an album. We want to represent the art form as the artist intended it, instead of just throwing up a list of tracks.
That focus on knowing the artist makes sense in today’s celebrity culture. People want to know everything about the people to whom they’re listening. How does Groovebug help fans know the artist?
We know that users want to know their artists. Starting out, we did a lot of research–surveys and interviews–basically to try to figure out what people want with their music. We found out that people wanted to know what the artists were thinking, they wanted context to put the music to. We’re all music fans and knew this but we wanted to do research to make sure we weren’t the only ones who felt that way (laughs). What we try to do as much as possible as we roll out future features is to offer more context and to facilitate a connection between fans and artists.
Are you aware that Alex White, founder of Next Big Sound, is also a former Northwestern student? Anything about the campus that promotes innovation in music technology?
Northwestern is definitely promoting innovation. The music part may just be a coincidence. Alex and I met through the Northwestern entrepreneurial community. They started a class called NUvention Web that works like an accelerator. They accept teams or put together multidisciplinary teams — students from the business side and engineers — and they pair you with mentors who are successful entrepreneurs or investors. Your task is to build and launch a startup by the end of the class. We were taught lean startup methodology, advised the whole way through, and bounced ideas off of the mentors. Groovebug came out of that program. There is a group of entrepreneurs and investors who are Northwestern alums, and a lot of Groovebug’s early investors are connected to Northwestern in some way. My co-founder and I definitely owe them a lot. My co-founder is still in school, actually, and it’s pretty tough to do both at once, but he’ll graduate in December.
Your website says, “Fans want music products worthy of their time.” How is the Groovebug app helping to turn the fan experience into a product?
I own an independent record label, and it was very frustrating when music went digital, because it became very hard for independent artists to make money off of their music as people were pirating and stealing it. But what’s happening is that access to music is becoming commoditized. More and more people are getting subscription services, so what’s really important is to figure out a way to create experiences that are worth paying for by solving problems that people want to pay for you to solve. One of the things that we found in research is that people search all over the place, go to many different websites, and kind of hack their way into a music experience. It’s not fluid: they get the music from one place, they get news somewhere else, maybe they go to a blog or Wikipedia.
But what we wanted to do was to put it all together into one immersive experience, so you can kind of sitback on your couch and have this deep experience while you’re listening to your music. By putting that all together, we’re creating value. The more we partner with artists and labels, the more we’ll add features like artist interaction or up front music that you can listen to before it’s released or music that you can’t get anywhere else, or articles that we’ve researched so the user doesn’t have to do the work. We think that if we do all those things, then it’s something that people are willing to pay for. When we partner with a label or a group of indie artists, it’s a place where money can be generated.
We’re just getting started with this but we have two products right now that have business models: the Blue Note app and Concert Vault; we have more coming down the pipeline. For a record company that has a following [Blue Note], they can make money upfront from a subscription service, but by offering a deeper experience where fans get more than the music, they can charge a low amount to the user for a subscription relative to other services. Of course the user won’t get access to everything, but the label can actually generate quite a bit more revenue per user.
Why did you decide to head in the live concert direction?
I was doing some research to find more content, and I came across Concert Vault. They just have so much stuff — they have video, audio, memorabilia, posters — and all this stuff they’ve taken the time to research and write. So I thought it was a great set of content for what we’re building. It’s not just a tool for artists or labels, it’s for people who have the rights to content. Concert Vault has a great collection of content that fits our platform well, and we contacted them and they thought partnering was a great idea. We have more partnerships coming down the line with other labels. We have one new agreement coming up that will be released very shortly, but I can’t say anymore than that.
How did your extensive music business resume — recording as an artist, promoting, owning a record label — all contribute to your work with Groovebug?
All the learnings from those experiences definitely influence how we go about problems. Being a recording artist and working as a promoter and having an independent label, all those different sides of the music industry gave me different perspectives. One of our engineers is a recording artist who has been successful as well and he provides a lot of artist perspective for us. Additionally, working with Blue Note has given us insight into the problems that major labels face.
Putting all those things together, we realized that the concept of the business has evolved. There’s a need for a new approach to mobile. Both artists and labels have just been recreating artist websites, which doesn’t work. The user doesn’t really care. They might download an app, but they don’t use it consistently. There’s a need to think more in terms of products, and recreating artist websites doesn’t really do that. One of the things we’re offering is a way for record labels and artists to approach mobile in a different way. We’re already thinking of building our platform in terms of a product, so if we take the content that artists and record labels have and marry it into our platform, then we have a product that users care about.
Right now, Groovebug is strictly for iPad. Any plans for other devices?
We have an iPhone app that we are launching very soon. First we’re launching the Blue Note app, and then we’ll launch it for one of our other products. That’s very close to being done, and we have a working version that we’re bug testing. Expect that in the app store in May.
We also have plans for Android and a web version. We’re a small company so it takes time.
What’s the direction you imagine for Groovebug?
We’re planning to continually evolve our platform and roll out features to make it more engaging for users. We’re planning to make more content available, and we’re working on ways to bring more exclusive content like pre-releases, that’s something we really want to do. And we also want to bring out more ways to curate and discover music.