Songza’s Music Strategy Poised to Disrupt Pandora, Spotify, iTunes

3/5/12Follow @jpruth

The team at Songza in Long Island City is chasing a trend in the music world: They’re moving away from downloads and towards streaming content. And the Songza folks are hoping their platform, which curates song lists for users, can stifle the likes of larger Internet music player Pandora. To leverage its curation strategy, company unveiled this morning a new feature called music concierge, which takes into account the time of day, the user’s type of listening device, the day of the week, past preferences, and other factors to pick songs for streaming. “We started to see a big shift in [music] consumption,” says CEO Elias Roman. “The kids didn’t care about owning their music. As long as they could access it, streaming was just fine.”

Elias and his fellow co-founders acquired Songza some four years ago while developing another online music startup called Amie Street. Roman says his company thus far has raised somewhere between $1 million and $5 million from backers that include Deep Fork Capital. After acquiring Songza, Roman’s team revamped the platform, which initially it pulled music lists from YouTube. They worked on Songza in anticipation of changes to the market that Roman believes may dampen sales of music downloads. “At some point this download game isn’t going to make sense anymore,” he says. “We wanted to be ready for that trend.”

After selling Amie Street in 2010 to Amazon, Roman and his team focused on Songza’s curation platform, which he sees disrupting online music services. This already crowded field is populated by Internet radio channels including Live365 and Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio network in addition to Spotify and Pandora. What makes Songza, which is free to use, different is the way it curates music, Roman says. While other online music sources focus on amassing gargantuan libraries of titles, he says Songza makes it easier to find new music in its library with playlists created to fit specific situations and times.

While Pandora lets users pick genres and artists of their liking and offers suggestions from music analysts, and Spotify shares song choices across the social sphere, Songza drills down even further. Whether it is for a backyard barbeque or a cardio workout, Roman says Songza generates song lists tailored for specific

settings and context. The platform suggests music geared for Monday mornings at the work desk, as well as Friday nights kicking back in a lounge chair.

Roman says his platform taps music experts such as part-time musicians, writers for publications such as Spin and Rolling Stone, and the tastes of other users to offer music suggestions. Songza’s strategy is to make song selections both personal and relevant to the situation. Roman is also has his eyes on integrating the platform with devices in living rooms such as Roku SoundBridge and Sonos music players.

To grow Songza’s population, Roman says the company has partnered with Radio One to integrate the platform into the BlackPlanet Radio site. Songza is seeking similar collaborations with other Web portals, he says. Songza is approaching 500,000 registered users.

Roman has some experience building up an online music startup. He and his co-founders started Amie Street in 2006 while they were seniors at Brown University. Amie Street was born from discussions about the price of music downloads. “We started thinking about features that would make music on the internet worth paying for,” Roman says. “Ninety-nine cents per song didn’t make sense to us.” The Amie Street team believed the online community should have sway over the worth of the music and their online store let the users raise or decrease the price of song tracks.

Meanwhile Songza was co-founded in 2007 by Aza Raskin, a former designer at Mozilla who went on to co-found Massive Health. After Amie Street acquired the platform and Amazon acquired Amie Street, Roman’s team continued on with Songza. Amazon subsequently shut down Amie Street in favor of its own online music store.

Songza is available on iOS and Android mobile devices as well as Kindle Fire tablets. With more smartphones and mobile devices offering high-speed wireless access, Roman says consumers are tapping into streaming content more readily. Even with mobile media devices capable of downloading hundreds of songs, Roman sees the future of the market in streaming content. “We realized we were offering the wrong kind of service,” he says. “We were offering downloads when people just wanted music.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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