Imagine the Internet is a vast hotel. (It probably looks a lot like the impossible hotel in The Shining, with hallways to nowhere and windows where they shouldn’t be.) You’re a guest in this Internet Hotel for the evening; you’ve just arrived from New York on the red-eye and you’re exhausted. You need something to pep you up – perhaps some music. But you’re too tired, disoriented and indecisive to pick, so you head for the concierge. “Excuse me, you look like you know your way around. Can you please just tell me what I should listen to right now?”
Songza, the Long Island City-based streaming music startup featured at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in September, has been building a massive database of playlists across genres and for a range of occasions. The site has more than 100,000 searchable playlists, from “Aggressive Dubstep” to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” submitted by msuic experts and users. But if you’re not sure if you want to hear something funky or something fresh, Songza’s new Music Concierge feature can do that for you.
Music Concierge, which debuted today, will now be the central feature on Songza. First, give Songza some context. Are you working or studying? Still waking up? Taking the day off? Pick a genre and the site will serve up three playlists based on that, the time of day and the device you’re using. If you’re logged in, Songza also knows something about your tastes based on your listening habits and your friends’ favorite tracks and uses that intelligence to make suggestions. You can also see what’s been trending for the last three hours. Betabeat tried it this morning. “It’s Monday morning,” Songza said. We decided we were Feeling Confident and Looking Good, and picked the genre as “baller.” We are now chair dancing to Nicki Minaj’s “Starships.” It’s not what we thought we wanted to listen to, but it’s not not what we wanted to listen to. Starships were meant to flyyyyy… You’re probably right, Music Concierge.
It’s Songza’s move from “pull curation” to “push curation,” CEO Elias Roman, who prefers energetic music, music for cardio workouts and dance pop, told Betabeat by phone last week. Later this year, Songza will make a push for a voice-activated version to be integrated into car computer systems, so you can bark your music selection the way you’d yell at the GPS. “ROAD TRIP. I SAID, ROAD. TRIP. ROAD TRIP! Dammit, Songza!”
You’ll still be able to search for playlists, Mr. Roman said, but the concierge is really the main product.
Songza started out as a searchable database of streamable tunes, back in 2008 when it “rocked the college scene.” But Songza today is a very different company.
A little backstory. In 2006, a group of seniors at Brown University had a pretty good idea for a website where you could buy music priced according to demand. Long Island-based Amie Street was born. Songs on Amie Street started out free and incrementally ticked up to $.99 depending on how many times they were downloaded. Even Mike Arrington loved it. Meanwhile, nearby Songza was building the Google for music; Amie Street acquired Songza in 2009. The next year, Amie Street was bought and basically shut down by Amazon, one of Amie Street’s investors. Amie Street’s cofounders left to focus on Songza. “We said, the new thing was going to be streaming,” Mr. Roman told Betabeat.
Now, it’s now the second coming of Songza. Amie Street’s cofounders now call themselves Songza’s cofounders. (Songza’s original cofounders, Aza Raskin of Mozilla Fame and serial Chicago entrepreneur Scott Robbin, both left.) They raised an undisclosed seven-figure financing from Amazon, Deep Fork Capital and individual investors. The product relaunched in 2011. The company has nine full-time employees and 25 music experts.
Mr. Roman, who grew up in Queens, is trying to keep the company lean by working out of the affordable Long Island City. “Not yet a lot of startups out here,” he said, although there are lots of small, new companies. “It’s not quite Dumbo yet.” Before they raised funding, the company was “five guys living in a house on Hicksville, Long Island,” he said. And to think, now they’ve got their own concierge.