Investors Talk Disruption in Digital Music at Internet Week New York

5/17/12Follow @jpruth

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Roqbot in Oakland, CA, which makes an app that lets smartphones function as jukeboxes. She said PepsiCo invests in Roqbot and uses its app in conjunction with a customer, Wahoo’s Fish Taco. “[The app] enables you, when you go into Wahoo’s, to choose the music that’s playing,” she said. Other patrons at the venue can vote through their smartphones on the songs they’d like to hear.

The latest wave of innovation may shake up some incumbents in music, but technology can also help well-established companies adapt to audience preferences. There are opportunities for disruption, Jobanputra said, through discovery, recommendation engines, and algorithms that help listeners find tunes they want to hear. Technology that puts music directly in the hands of fans may also streamline the market for new music. “The music industry is entrenched and needs to be disintermediated, but there is a lot of value and expertise already there,” she said.

Ticketmaster, she pointed out, has a near-monopoly on ticket sales for music events, but independent company Ticketfly in San Francisco is making waves by selling tickets through its social-marketing platform. Jobanputra says that shows there’s plenty of room for new players to make strides in the music industry alongside the mainstays. ”Ticketmaster’s not going away any time soon,” she said.

Having a novel platform, however, is not enough to make a startup viable in this sector. During the panel, Jobanputra said venture capitalists demand that most companies aim to serve large markets and establish a path to revenues within about five years.

Jobanputra hopes to see several ideas emerge in digital music in the coming years. For example, she says, smartphones should be enabled to access personalized music on demand. Though some apps offer ways to discover and curate music, there are limits to the content they can access. Millions of digital songs may be available for streaming through official channels, but Jobanputra says many titles are still not made available for streaming by record labels. “We still have issues around copyrights,” she said.

The universality of music, Jobanputra said, helps make the industry somewhat recession-proof. Nevertheless, the mainstays in this market must embrace change, as artists continue to use technology to bypass record labels and reach consumers directly. The music industry, she said, “is taking baby steps.”

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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