Music Startup Soundsupply Helps Emerging Artists Find Fans

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Tim Mortensen is placing a serious bet that the record album is alive and well. And the CEO of hot Chicago startup Soundsupply may very well win going away.

Soundsupply is one of the emerging startups reinventing the music industry and shaping the way we discover music. Launched in 2012, Soundsupply bundles 10 digital albums into called “Drops” and sells them for $15 for 10 days on the Soundsupply website (similar to the way TeeFury sells distinctive T shirts for 24 hours at a time, thus stoking demand for a product with a limited shelf life.) The company recently received funding from Lightbank and appears to have tapped into a consumer appetite for digital albums: in 2012, digital album sales increased even as compact discs continued their downward slide, and for the first half of 2013, digital album sales continue to increase, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Soundsupply has created 10 Drops already — and according to Fast Company, artists featured on Soundsupply drops can get rewarded more handsomely than they would on streaming services like Spotify.

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And Soundsupply doesn’t cater to the kind of pop stars you’ll find topping the Billboard charts, either; rather, the company hand-picks music from the kind of emerging artists that only your hippest friend has a knack for discovering. For instance, Soundsupply recently collaborated with Cleveland’s Weapons of Mass Creation Fest to offer a Drop of albums and one ebook from artists appearing at the 2013 WMC Fest, including folk/alt country artist Tristen, indie/emo rock band Braid, and alt rockers Signals Midwest and Diamond Youth, among others.

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Drop 10, which went live on August 25, features (for 10 days only) another set of alternative artists such as indie rockers Their/They’re/There and Eli Mardock. We’re not talking Drops for Katy Perry and One Direction. And this is where Soundsupply is a force for good: a lesser-known artist like Barrow or Gates needs someone like Soundsupply to find an audience. The Katy Perrys, Jay Z’s, and Justin Timberlakes of the world do not.

Eli Mardock, Featured in Drop 10

Mortensen, who is on tour with his band Into It. Over It., took time to share with me how Soundsupply works and why the likes of Hypebot and TechCrunch have been singing the company’s praises. In the following exclusive conversation, he discusses where his love for music came from and how he lives his passion as both a musician and a CEO. And make no mistake: he is devoted to music and wants to share that devotion with you.

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“Whether I’m playing a show or curating a Drop, I want the same result of people experiencing something new and memorable,” he says. He and his team live music, whether playing it, reading blogs, or listening to it, in an eternal quest to discover and share up-and-coming talent with the world.

“Ultimately, we feel that our community of people that buy a Drop are the awesome type of music fans that every band wants,” he says. And he intends for Soundsupply to help those awesome fans find awesome bands.

Music is obviously in your blood. You’re a member of a band and CEO of a music/technology start-up. Where did your passion for music come from, and how did it develop?

I grew up in a really DIY music scene, so playing in band was just as much a social experience as it was an artistic outlet, at least in beginning. My first was (fittingly) a ska band that was way more concerned about having fun and dressing ridiculously than writing songs.  My whole social ring of band friends gradually progressed to constantly challenge each other to write more engaging and unique songs until everyone came into their own.

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Lady Gaga Gives Her Fans a Visual Hashtag with “Applause”

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With the release of her new single, “Applause,” Lady Gaga has served a visual feast to the news media. On August 12 she conspicuously wore Kabuki-inspired face paint while making the rounds in Los Angeles to promote the first single off her forthcoming album ARTPOP. Publications ranging from Buzzfeed to The Huffington Post responded predictably by plastering her image across the media landscape. But by appearing in face paint, Lady Gaga has done more than promote “Applause” and ARTPOP to the news media: she has created a brilliant visual hashtag for her fans.

Literally all over the world, Little Monsters are creating ARTPOP-inspired fan art and selfies seemingly every few minutes on sites such as Instagram and her own LittleMonsters community. And I’m not exaggerating. My LittleMonsters feed is flooded with a nonstop river of orange, blue, green, and red hues as fans show their support for Lady Gaga — and for each other — with their Gaga-style self-portraits and art. Here are just a few examples from Chile, France, and Wales:

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There is something touching about seeing fans just putting themselves out there, braving their fear of creating amateur art because they simply want to share. For example, Little Monster nicolaHMW from Paris says that his fan art is “not amazing, but im proud of it [sic]”:

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And the self-expression is not limited to her own website, as a few of these Instagram photos show:

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The ARTPOP face paint is like a totem: a visual symbol of something that inspires and moves people. But it’s also a way for Little Monsters to spot each other instantly and bond, like fans of sports teams who wear the same logos or people on Twitter following a trending topic through hashtags. Therein lies the brilliance of her latest promotion: she’s given her fans a way to celebrate her music but also to create a reflection of each other.

Lady Gaga carries the mantel for many rock artists who long ago mastered the art of iconography. In the 1970s, for instance, Kiss inspired the Kiss army with the band’s colorful costumes, make-up, and onstage theatrics, as did David Bowie. (In fact, one of those Bowie fans was Lady Gaga, and the cover of ARTPOP has been compared to the cover of Bowie’s 1980 album Scary Monsters.)

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What Lady Gaga does (as Madonna once did) is express herself visually onstage and offstage (whereas Kiss remained a mystery offstage during the band’s heyday). In doing so, she creates and sustains a whirlwind of conversation.

ARTPOP itself lands November 11. Looks like it’s going to be a colorful fall.

5 Customer Experience Lessons from Rolling Stone’s 50 Greatest Live Acts Now

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If you want to improve your customer experience, read the recently published Rolling Stone overview of the 50 greatest live acts now. The best live acts do something all brands aspire to do: create an experience that make their fans want to come back for more. It’s a simple formula for building brand love — and yet many companies struggle to master the art of the customer experience. According to the annual Temkin Experience Ratings, only 37 percent of companies received “good” or “excellent” scores for their customer experience. Here’s what 50 great live acts (rated by musicians, critics, and industry executives) can teach brands about treating their customers right:

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1. Don’t Rest on Your Laurels

Number 1 on the list of greatest live acts now is a 63-year old legend who could coast on his reputation and still make this list. Yet, Bruce Springsteen plays with the urgency  of an unknown act trying to prove himself.  He continues to give everything he has onstage (in Finland, he played for 4 hours and 16 minutes, his longest show ever). He abandons his set list to play requests from the audience, which keeps his band from falling into a  rut. He commands the stage. After all these years, he’s not simply “doing well for an older rocker” — he’s setting the standard for excellence, period. Another well-established act, Radiohead, “refuse to rest on nostalgia,” in the words of Rolling Stone, with the band members challenging themselves to bring fresh material with each tour. But Bruce Springsteen is the one artist who exemplifies all five lessons on this list.

2. Create Audience Intimacy

The artists, critics, and industry types who selected the Top 50 laud Jay Z for making “personal connection with the audience at every show.” Similarly, U2 “have this ability to create intimacy” even in large arenas, according to Continue reading