A drone’s eye view of the Live Nation Labs office.
By Eric Garland
[Update: Rexly duderino Joel Resnicow has written a better and more informative announcement. Please read his first.]
Tonight I’m feeling reflective, on the eve of the announcement that we have acquired iPhone social music star Rexly and that the Rexly team will establish our new San Francisco presence, Live Nation Labs North, or LN² as it’s already known around here. I’m feeling reflective (in addition to yeehaw, hellyeah, and damnright) because Joel and Kyle have just entrusted to the Labs something handmade, something precious and rare. I did that myself just a few months ago.
I’m also feeling reflective because with team Rexly we continue to recruit the people who inspire us. The people we try to imitate and flatter on our best days. The people on The Short List*.
After we started the Labs, but before we’d told anybody what we were up to, Ethan and I started sneaking** up north to court Rexly. We bought them some drinks, sure. But mostly we listened and talked, in that order. When we listened and talked (and drank some very fancy teas), we learned a lot about each other’s work and life experiences, and the paths by which we’d arrived at this moment. We started to sketch out the place we’d like to build next. The place we’d be excited to come into on a Monday morning, or blog about on a Sunday night. ;-)
The Live Nation Labs sketch looked a lot like Rexly’s sketch. Only Rexly’s was colder and foggier and had fancier tea service. I keed. What followed was a plan to build something big together.
Joel and Kyle, I am fortunate to know you and to have this chance now to partner with you in such a bold experiment. On the eve of our big pair-up, here are some things that I believe about Live Nation Labs. Some of these scribbles came directly from our earliest conversations with you on the shhhh. All of these beliefs have been informed and inspired by you both.
Labs is a great team of people, and great teams are even more powerful than great ideas or great leverage.
A team of true believers will beat non-believers almost every time. Non-belief is a symptom of feeling powerless and disconnected; direct personal success almost every day is required to suspend such disbelief.
Listening is good, but not enough. Respecting and actually employing input makes the difference.
Great people want to be respected and treated as the competent individuals they are. Heavily legislating the behavior of great people is both demeaning and a lost cause.
In order to treat each other respectfully, we have to trust each other. Trust is first extended but subsequently earned.
If you set great people up to fail, they will enjoy great success. At failing.
I believe you are good and your motives are, too. You want to win and make us better. You fight against things you believe are making us less than great.
The Golden Rule is self-centered and therefore faulty. Don’t do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Instead, do unto others as they want and need you to do. And don’t expect them to treat you “the same” way — they are not you. Help them to extend you the same courtesy. Parity is a trap.
To do the above, you have to understand “which guy” you’re dealing with. And never stop explaining “which guy” you are. Be both aware and self-aware.
Taking 10 seconds to ask myself, “What am I adding? How am I helping?” before typing, speaking or meeting is impossible — but it’s still worth a try. If we could always take these 10 seconds, there would never be a bad conversation in the Labs.
The most important thing teams can learn from tribes (or happy families) is that we advocate for each other and protect each other. Good family members always work to give each other the benefit of the doubt. Your children are presumed innocent. You should be, too. It’s cold out there. The world will treat our fellow Labs people with careless indifference. We should not.
That said, healthy tension can make individuals better and is often an ingredient in the recipe for greatness. Yes, tension can be truly healthy. This is hard. (See Trust, above.)
Laughter is contagious, and we must encourage it to be. Playing together during “work hours” is important and productive.
All the beliefs I’ve described here are much more expensive than providing free soda. These things take time and focus and priority. I believe we are committed to prioritizing them.
I believe that great products and services are byproducts of everything I believe above. (Whoa. That’s heavy.)
Okay, anybody who’s read this far: It’s your turn. What do you believe about people and teams? Comment below or tweet to me @bigchampagne, thanks!
*These are the people who squint and see the world as you do — as a better place. These are the people who want to get up in the morning and make it so. These are the people who add to one another, who complement each other yet sometimes clash — in the best and most productive ways.
**Well, I was sneaking. Ethan kept “checking in” everywhere like some newly paroled ex-con.
My high school sweetheart posted this on Facebook. I should probably source it better than that.
The geosocial revolution (see Foursquare and Facebook Places) promises to connect us to the places we visit and the people who frequent them, while helping us discover music in new ways, too.
Over the past year, a number of startups have released location-based music apps—each aspiring to revolutionize the way we listen to music.
Wahwah.fm, the most innovative of them, enables users to listen to music and simultaneously “broadcast” the session to a larger community. Meanwhile, other users can join the audience, and all can send messages back and forth in real-time. The app has the potential to give users a window into what music people are listening to nearby and what’s trending in places far away. This is significant, because it hints at how music culture and user habits may evolve.
Location has always limited our access to distant music scenes, and while the web has upended the tyranny of geography for some listeners, it remains an everyday constraint for most. But as more music listening activities become linked to location—thanks to apps like wahwah.fm and others—it’s clear that connected devices will continue to lower such barriers.
What happens next? Here are three insights into the future of geosocial music:
1. Invisible culture emerges.
A new layer of music culture is emerging all around us, built not from brick and mortar, but lines of code. It’s located everywhere, but because it’s independent of place, it’s situated nowhere.
Welcome to invisible culture, where music culture is not tied solely to places in the physical world, such as record stores or concert venues that can be reached by foot, but linked to locations through apps on connected devices. The digital revolution made our music and players invisible and weightless, and it has now made a layer of culture that’s invisible and placeless.
When a user views this layer through a device, they’ll be able to see a map of the area and the density of listener activity and music experiences linked to it. These can range from personal radio stations and group-listening rooms to user-tagged songs and photos, and maybe even the location of low-key artist events like jam sessions and house shows. Users will be able to move between digital and physical worlds, dropping by a local Turntable.fm room—either from the comfort of home or while out and about—and even request an invitation to attend a listening party that’s being held at someone’s place later that week.
On the one hand, the physical world is going digital, making it invisible. On the other, the digital world is becoming visible, making it physical. Music culture is everywhere, but situated nowhere.
2. People are portals.
Wahwah.fm often uses radio as a metaphor to describe what it does: Users listen to music and “broadcast” the session as a “radio station” that other users can “tune in” to.
But that’s not quite right. In science fiction, a portal is a magical or technological doorway that connects two distant locations separated by space-time. If you think about it, a portal is exactly what a person becomes when they air songs through wahwah.fm, as it opens up a doorway that enables faraway users to connect to another city’s music scene and hear what people are listening to there.
This distinction is important, because the connections being made through wahwah.fm are to people and not to places. Users can be connected wherever they are, whether at home or out of town, driving in a car or sitting in a coffee house.
Prior to the web, the music culture that formed in many places consisted of communities of people drawn together around physical locations—such as record stores, clubs and radio stations—whose social activities in the aggregate created a local scene. After a decade of disruption and consolidation brought forth by the digital revolution and other market forces, the scene-making activity at many of these locations has ceased, causing their attendant communities to fracture and move elsewhere.
More and more often, the new “where” for members of these communities is online. As smartphones made the web mobile and integrated with GPS, it provided developers with the platform needed to build geosocial apps that connect listening activity to individuals and enable communities to form around them.
The person is becoming the portal—the primary hub of connectivity.
3. Scenes become global.
Since listening sessions in wahwah.fm are linked to your location, it means that user activity in New York or Los Angeles could be measured to reveal artists who are popular there. Those results could then by filtered to include only local artists, thereby creating a list of the most popular artists in that area. In this way, local scenes could be turned into a local music stations.
A wahwah.fm user who lives in New York could tap into Los Angeles and experience the sounds of the local scene, or perhaps enable a shuffle-like feature that would take him or her on a virtual tour of major scenes—like Nashville, Atlanta, or Montreal—and highlight trending songs in those areas.
While a user listens to a song on this platform, they could be shown biographical bits about the artist, fan-captured photos from their latest live shows, and facts about the area to provide context.
Of course, listening to a scene isn’t the same as being there. Roaming the streets of Los Angeles in Google Maps isn’t the same as walking them. A scene is a place regarded as having a sound, but it’s the people and artists that shape it. What a listener hears then isn’t the scene itself, but the musical essence of it.
That essence, though, gives users insight into scenes existing outside of their own. It also provides those of us without a local scene access to distant locations and the sounds attached to them.
As people become portals, scenes will become global. Trending music will spread more quickly from one area to another, further influencing the sound artists produce and the music listeners hear.
To many, this future may seem far out, but in some ways, it’s already here. The web continues to teach us that the communities that form in the digital world eventually seep into the physical one.
Take Jelli, the social radio service, for example. Last year, a few broadcast radio stations in Las Vegas fully integrated Jelli into their offerings. This enabled a station’s listeners to participate in a group chat and vote for songs in the service to be played on the air.
Over time, strangers became friends and regular users started hosting meet-up groups around town where they used the digital service in a physical space. The radio station and the music it played gave them something to talk about, and soon people discovered they had other things in common.
“They came for the music and to get their song on the air, but they stayed because of the people they met in chat and the real-world meet-ups,” says Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty. “These listeners are a great example of what a ‘local scene’ can be in the age of social media, mobile, and participatory media.”
Indeed, the new music community is just that: a community. The culture and technology evolves, but human nature remains consistent. We’re made to be together, and often, music catalyzes that impulse.
By Kyle Bylin
Every year, dozens of startups attempt the impossible: to make their product mainstream. In the music sector, this proves to be a particularly challenging task, because startups are often founded by fanatics who are unlike the casual listeners they’re targeting with their product.
The team at Songza, a music streaming service, faces this hurdle.
The company presents itself as a destination for hand-crafted playlists and effortless music discovery, but the roll-out of its latest platform signals that its ambitions are much larger. Many companies have tried to create a mainstream playlist service before, but none have attempted this feat in the way that Songza has.
When a user visits Songza, they’re now encouraged to use a feature that helps them select the perfect playlist for that time period. For example, if you open Songza on a Tuesday afternoon, it suggests you may be seeking music for “Working or Studying”. If selected, it displays a list of genres, and if you pick “Pop”, the playlists “The World of Adele” or “Soft Pop” are recommended.
This feature, branded as Music Concierge, is innovative and intuitive; it narrows the pool of playlists and eases the burden of picking one. By suggesting the right music for their day, it has the potential to increase the amount of enjoyment users derive from it, thereby enhancing their mood.
But what’s striking about the feature isn’t what it does. The remarkable thing about Music Concierge lies in the fanatic activity that drives it and the effect it may have on those who use it.
II. Maximizing Music
Behind Songza, there’s a hoard of music experts and dedicated users. These are the fanatics who swap songs in and out of the playlists for “Working or Studying,” or “Getting Lucky,” or “Unwinding After A Busy Weekend” until they achieve perfection.
They imagine themselves working or studying in the future and attempt to align music with that experience in hopes that they can increase their focus and deepen their enjoyment of the task.
After several hours and possibly debates with friends, these fanatics arrive at a list of songs that suffice and now must determine how they fare in the real world. The next time they’re working or studying, they’ll cue up the playlist, make a few adjustments, and press play. Depending on how well the songs carry them through the designated activity, they’ll either redo or finalize the playlist.
This process takes time and effort, more than a casual listener will devote. Songza removes this burden for casual users entirely and makes it easy to harvest the fruits of fanatic labor. It might just popularize the notion that different times of day call for different kinds of music if the service goes mainstream.
For decades, fanatics have had a romanticized idea about having a soundtrack to their lives. When they wake up in the morning, they dream of a playlist beginning—just like in the movies—that syncs up the perfect songs to their day and only pauses for dramatic moments between star-crossed lovers.
The introduction of the cassette opened the door to this music utopia, making it possible for fanatics everywhere to capture their favorite songs and blend them together in a thematic fashion.
But this form of playlist curation goes beyond that. Playing the right music at the right time is only one part of the equation. That’s what a DJ does. When fanatics create playlists, they attempt to imagine future experiences and orchestrate music that maximizes the level of enjoyment they expect to derive from the activity alone. Their goal is to make the activity itself better through music.
Rather than settle for a playlist that’s good enough, a fanatic explores all possible songs and chooses the best ones. This is a daunting task, but their playlists speak for themselves.
Songza has now packaged these playlists and made them accessible to casual listeners. The question is: Could a feature like Music Concierge produce negative effects? If so, what might they be?
III. Conveyer Belt
Products are conversations—and Songza mirrors what users tell it. We may not recognize the person staring back at us, but that reflection is us, and it speaks volumes about music fans today.
We’re overloaded with choice, often opting to listen to the same old songs as a way to avoid facing unlimited options. Moreover, we outsource choice—using filters like iTunes and Pandora rather than “doing the work” ourselves. We stand alongside the conveyer belt that the web provides us, assigning thumbs up or down to songs as they pass us by. If unsure, we skip the song entirely, because determining if we like it proves just as—if not more—paralyzing.
Music in the digital age isn’t always the paradise of choice we sought. As often, it’s the paradox of choice. Recognizing this, Songza set out to develop a better product, one that helps users find great playlists and requires zero effort.
According to user feedback, even the act of typing in an artist name to create a playlist—the way a user creates a station on Pandora—demanded too much thought and energy. It also revealed that the best music service—to them—is free to use with no strings attached or annoying audio ads.
Added to this, Songza had to make it extremely clear to users how its product differed from web darlings like Pandora and Spotify, who are often wrongly compared to each other.
First the company released a new platform and a mobile app with an increased focus on its curated library of playlists—and it has now placed Music Concierge at the forefront of that offering. This is significant, because it encourages users to rely on a filter rather than on themselves and to pick a playlist over choosing one.
Perhaps more troubling than this result is the possibility that this passivity will carry over into the way users interact with the playlists they’ve chosen. Songza already assumes that a user is doing something else and listening to music, which diverts their attention from the response songs stir individually to the experience a playlist creates collectively. Rather than actively engaging with the music and the artists who create it, users begin an activity and use Songza to entertain them.
Now we shouldn’t pretend—even for a moment—that this scenario somehow differs from the way that most people listen to music. The distinction to make is that most musical experiences contain songs that have the potential to shake us from the motions of everyday life and captivate us to engage with them. When we listen to the perfect playlist for an activity, in contrast, it never interrupts our workflow or demands attention.
IV. Mainstream Fanatic
Generally, the first people a new music service attracts are fanatics. They instantly saw the value in joining Turntable.fm, the group listening service, and likely went on to become DJs. So too, they’re the people who discover Songza and feel compelled to submit playlists for consideration.
The web platform and mobile app that Songza developed, though, required too much investment to cross the chasm and captivate a casual listener. To streamline the product and broaden its appeal, Songza introduced Music Concierge.
Turntable eluded the mainstream market and declined in use because it failed to translate the fanatic activities that drove its product into one that solved a problem that casual listeners have.
The wider narrative of Songza, however, goes much deeper. As the service gains traction, it will likely further the transition of music to merely the audio backdrop to our daily activities. It won’t be assumed that we do something else and listen to music, it’ll be accepted that we’re always doing something else.
By Kyle Bylin
By Ethan Kaplan, Product
There are two ways of looking at how businesses work together.
A common one in large companies is akin to a dance. Two big (or one big, one small) companies meet on the dancefloor, do a short dance, bow and be done with it. The only thing paid attention to is the dance, not how they got there, nor what they do afterward—and a press release about this dance is required.
This has many problems. It isn’t a holistic relationship, and orienting a relationship toward a press release is simply putting the idealized end state (“we’re rich!” or “we’re first to market!”) ahead of any long-term gains. It also results in deal fatigue, because the courtship is often more elaborate than the result. These are cynical, press release-oriented relationships and they ultimately prove to be toxic.
To me, the best business development has always been an API key exchange and filling out a credit card form on a website. I get what I want, they get what they want, and we are loosely joined but mutually dependent (them on my money, me on their technology).
However, an API key relationship can only take you so far, and in some cases you find the holes that need filling in your ecosystem only by falling into them.
Sometimes the products that fit those holes are not SaSS and PaSS. Sometimes they haven’t even been created yet. Sometimes they are products with their own ecosystem and no clear way of monetary integration, even if the tech integration is clear.
In these cases, you need a way to extend your business development strategy beyond swinging a corporate purchasing card and API keys around.
The Live Nation Labs Fund was formed to give us this platform.
We are not building an isolated product with Live Nation online. Rather, we are building an ecosystem of products to meet and solve the big problems for our customers. Given that, we know that at the edges is where our innovation must lie, in order to maintain our ability to be nimble. And at the edges is where not only the best products are made, but where they end up residing.
Right now, it’s an amazing time in terms of product development. Different movements can take credit for it, but what it really amounts to is technology has given the ability to make many low-cost, high-reward moves to meet the needs of real people in immediately tangible ways. Everything from cloud computing to ubiquitous computing and pervasive connectivity can take credit for this.
Live Nation Labs Fund (LN Labs Fund for short) lets us participate in this product ecosystem on a level playing field, both as a partner and player, as well as an innovator.
When we set out to create this fund, I added a page to the playbook to outline how we should dictate the use of it. One of the things that I hold tight to at LN Labs is that “everything is a product.” Meaning, even if no one aside from the internal team uses something, treating it as a product puts it into a structure that makes all aspects of its creation, deployment and operation a learnable and maintainble process.
As a product, you have to have a metrics set that you can learn from, as well as user stories and personas that dictate how you reach those metrics.
For LN Labs Fund, this was the creation of a rubric that we put pitches through as a way of maintaining our own products focus on the customer above all:
Is this additive to the user experience?
Are we taking into account implementation and deimplementation? Does the cost/effort involved in those exceed the possible “best case” scenario of normal run-rate?
Is this filling a hole that is created by necessity, resource constraints, product focus or a marketing need?
Does this relationship effect our ability to be nimble?
Is this partner aligned with our objectives? Are we mutually benefiting from this relationship in tangible ways?
Does our relationship with this partner have any negative effect on our ability to maintain the core values of our team? Are they a good actor in the space?
If this is an exclusive relationship, what is the downside risk?
Is this a temporary solution or a long-term engagement?
LN Labs Fund is looking to work with partners in all aspects of our product: from infrastructure to media. Things that make our users’ lives better, and help us solve big problems:
Connecting you to your favorite music and events on the world’s biggest stage.
Yesterday, we got our delivery of Steelcase node chairs. They’re designed for classroom sitting, but Zappos inspired us to get some for our office. Turns out they work great for impromptu meetings and quick chats. Now we don’t need to steal chairs from conference rooms and other peoples’ desks to have meetings any more!
They look great, are super convenient, and improve our productivity. But they also have two more features that we love:
So, (hopefully not surprisingly) we took the two of them to their respective logical conclusions:
The enclosed video is the result. Please enjoy.
The office, by Andy Kim
Today, a shark invaded Live Nation Labs.
Busy building things….