Matthias Galica spends a lot of time riding the bus. The Silicon Beach entrepreneur commutes to Venice from his apartment in downtown Los Angeles, and he noticed something about his fellow passengers: They listen to music. Like, a lot.
L.A.’s bus-riding public is young, ethnic, urban, and loves consuming media, but few have fancy touchscreen tablets or laptops at home. “The bus is a sea of headphones,” says Galica, “and they’re all connected to mobile phones.” Most of these devices are on month-to-month plans where affordability means Android trumps iOS, and free music from the radio and sites like YouTube dominates.
Galica is a self-described music “maven”—a long-time user of music blog curation platform Hype Machine who scours music blogs like Pitchfork in search of the freshest new independent tracks. Although he understands that most people don’t want to put in the time he does to discover new music, he says, “I don’t believe the mainstream public loves awesome music any less.”
Three months ago, Galica felt the walls closing in around his mobile website creation startup ShareSquare. The company was floundering and the money was drying up. But his team had deep expertise in responsive design and mobile accessibility and he started to wonder if they might be able to use their talents to make great new music accessible to the masses.
So ShareSquare’s team quietly came back from the dead, resurrecting as Beastmode.fm, a music discovery experience that aggregates and streams the hottest new tracks within seconds of their appearance on top music blogs. The free service turns the arduous new music discovery process into a one-click “lean back” experience. Its cleverly designed HTML5 site fully leverages responsive design—or, in English: It works beautifully on every device.
Although Beastmode works on any mobile browser, the company kept its mobile-addicted target users in mind last week when it launched its first native app on Android instead of iOS. The New York Times calls the market of young, urban minorities “some of the heaviest users of the Internet on cellphones.” They are what the financial sector calls “unbanked,” but Galica affectionately refers to them as the “uncrunked.”
Mobile accessibility is important, but so is the price tag (free!), which Beastmode can do with the flexibility afforded by APIs from YouTube, Soundcloud, and Shuffler.fm. (Those paying close attention will notice that Beastmode’s site looks strikingly like Shuffler’s.) Keeping the service free is important to Galica, who doesn’t like what he calls “predatory pre-installed apps” that drive up users’ mobile bills.
Free music might make users happy, but what do independent artists think? I asked my latest girl crush, indie DJ duo The Jane Doze, and they seemed to dig the additive source of new eyeballs. “As mash-up artists, we’ve relied heavily on the promotion from blogs to share our music with fans across the world,” they explained. “For us, Beastmode.fm provides an incredible opportunity to spread our music even further.” (Speaking of which, if you like electronic dance music, download The Jane Doze’s latest set Haus of Doze immediately. You’re welcome.)
People love free music that is mobile-friendly, but Beastmode’s biggest gift to users may be the inability to make requests. Just like in the good old days of analog radio, listeners have to listen to whatever is on the channel. Beastmode’s tagline, “Random music makes you happy” is a clear indication that the company is betting on the latest macro-trend in technology: Discovery is the new search.
Web 1.0 music leaders like iTunes flourished because we could search for and download specific songs we loved, but the vast proliferation of digital music has induced the paradox of choice, making discovery more important than search. The rise of apps like Pandora, Songza, and iHeartRadio place an emphasis on curated streaming rather than targeted search. Spotify got a lot of early attention for its on-demand access to specific tracks, but in July, Spotify hopped aboard the discovery train and added radio functionality for free across all of its mobile apps.
Beastmode’s beta is open to the public, but the team has been heads down, keeping its masterpiece largely private. The company’s only press coverage came as a result of a serendipitous IRL run-in with PandoDaily’s Michael Carney, whose headline—“BEASTMODE.FM nailed music discovery”—reportedly made Galica’s month.
PandoDaily’s hyperbolic headline aside, it’s not clear that Beastmode is ready to disrupt the music industry just yet. The small team still has a long way to go to attract millions of users and figure out a path to profitability, but Beastmode is definitely gunning to make a difference.
The company’s snarky “About” page declares that the music industry is alive and well but what it really needs is “fewer scoundrels pimping out old use cases.” So Galica is banking on a fresh idea: bringing the happiness of good music to all his fellow bus riders, with their mobile phones in hand and earbuds ready to rock.