Boston: The Hidden Hub of Music and Technology

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Headquarters: Newton, MA
Year Launched: 2006
CEO: Martin Kay

Finetune is a free, personalizable streaming Internet music service that combines a large catalog of music (more than 2 million songs, from both major and independent labels) with a recommendation technology that can assemble playlists based on a few initial suggestions from the user. Finetune keeps the service free by requiring that playlists consist of at least 45 songs, played in random order; labels charge much lower royalties under these conditions than if Finetune allowed users to play songs on demand.

Founder and CEO Martin Kay was part of the original Napster, which, as everyone knows, shut down under legal attack by the mainstream music industry. Kay says he’s still surprised by the industry’s resistance to the Internet as a medium. “Never have I seen anybody spend so much money trying to prevent people from consuming their product,” he jokes. With Finetune, he’s trying to “thread the needle,” Kay says. “Most Internet radio is too passive. But Rhapsody and the other subscription services are too expensive. We said, let’s find some middle ground where we can keep the experience essentially free and advertising-supported, but give users some level of control over the programming.”

Finetune streams music at MP3 quality; in the future, says Kay, Finetune may introduce a subscription service that sends music at CD quality. “What we’re seeing in our user base is not that people would like to avoid advertising, but that they’d like to hear higher-bit-rate streams on their home stereo systems,” he says. … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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