Joyful Entrepreneurs: 8tracks


David Porter, who co-founded 8tracks in 2008 with Remi Gabillet

As part of our summer Road Trippin’ California campaign, yesterday we launched a really cool road trip themed playlist contest with internet radio startup 8tracks. We thought you’d be interested in hearing a little bit more about 8tracks as part of our “Joyful Entrepreneurs” blog post series celebrating entrepreneurs who are passionate about their innovative business models, like Mark Dwight of Rickshaw Bagworks and our own Chip Conley. David Porter, who co-founded 8tracks with Remi Gabillet in 2008, answers our questions about what makes his concept different below. If you’re a music lover, definitely check out the playlist contest or at the very least our road trippin’ themed playlists to add a little musical joie to your day.

What is 8tracks?
DP: 8tracks is a handcrafted internet radio network.  People who know and love music (“DJs”) curate an online “mixtape” containing 8 or more tracks, typically culled from their personal music collections.  Listeners tune into a sequence of these mixes, radio-style, beginning with a mix created by someone they know or follow, or as selected based on genre or mood.

How is 8tracks different from other internet radio concepts?
DP: Pandora (the market leader) analyzes music across 400 attributes to generate a playlist that’s sonically similar to a “seed” song or artist input by the listener.  Other internet radio services typically employ one or more employees to select programming, typically organized by genre.

8tracks, in contrast, offers a platform for anyone with the requisite knowledge and passion to craft and share playlists.  Everyone has a few friends who always know great new music, and 8tracks gives these people the tools to share their selections in a simple, legal way.

Why is it legal?
DP: 8tracks operates under the compulsory license for webcasting established by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998.  This compulsory license requires that 8tracks follow a set of rules governing programming and listening, the spirit of which is to ensure that a listener’s experience is “like radio” and thus promotes the sale of music.

Each month, 8tracks pays royalties and reports the music played to SoundExchange, which uses the reports to pay the amounts owed to labels and artists.

How does the social networking function enhance the experience?
Music is inherently social, and surveys show that most people learn about new music through friends. In addition, people often associate music with various life experiences, in no small part because music – unlike most other forms of content – can be consumed while doing other things. Talking, commuting, reading, working, exercising, dining – you name it.

8tracks directly supports the social dimension of music by allowing one person to easily compile a playlist for a friend or broader audience and then share it via email, Facebook, Twitter, a blog or another social platform.  Listeners correspond with the DJ and one another on a dedicated mixpage that serves as a “musical diary” commemorating the shared experience.

What do you love about building 8tracks?
DP: I love the fact that nearly every aspect of 8tracks is a contribution by and collaboration among people who simply love music and, as a result, our platform for sharing and discovering it.

The DJs on 8tracks — roughly 2% of our customer base — are also our “vendors” in that they’re the ones who create the programming for the other 98% who come to tune in.  Moreover, the whole reason to make a mix is to share it, and each DJ who creates a mix then promotes it to friends and followers, which in turn provides exposure for 8tracks as a whole.

Our team is primarily a nights-and-weekends crew at this point.  We’ve no actual employees, and a number of people contribute their time gratis or for equity.  Further, as we offer an open API for playback, a handful of developers who love 8tracks have made (or are making) new applications for listening, including a Firefox add-on, Chrome extension and Android player.

We also do our best to respond quickly to people’s suggestions and questions through an online feedback application called UserVoice and by monitoring mentions of “8tracks” on Twitter.  This input is used to inform product development.

Why is this a great way to discover new music?
DP: It’s a great way to discover music because the platform combines, on a global scale, the 2 tried-and-true means for music discovery:  radio + word-of-mouth sharing among friends.  We can enhance these familiar concepts through the internet medium.

How widely is 8tracks being adopted?
DP: We attract 200,000-300,000 visitors per month (there’s some variability due on time of year and source of traffic).  To date, more than 30,000 DJs have created over 100,000 mixes.

What’s new or on the horizon at 8tracks?
DP: We’re about to introduce a new homepage, which will allow listeners to slice-and-dice our myriad mixes by those they “follow” on 8tracks (a la Twitter) and by any combination of tags applied by DJs to describe their mixes (typically genre or mood).

Also, since most mixes are a little over 1/2 hour, we currently select a “next mix” to play at the completion of the first based on a rudimentary match of artist. Going forward, when a DJ publishes a new mix we’re going to allow and encourage them to choose the mix that follows; in this way, a DJ serves as curator not only of the tracks in his or her mix, but also the mixes on the 8tracks network.

Finally, we’re about to submit our iPhone application to Apple, which will allow you to tune into great mixes when you’re away from home or work, on the go.

Favorite road trip music?
DP: Here’s my selections


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