Interview with Earbits CEO Joey Flores

by | Jul 22, 2011 | Interviews and Features, Music Licensing, a new online radio site, formed a collaboration with the San Francisco Chronicle this Wednesday to provide a curated, location-specific music discovery destination. CEO Joey Flores described in an interview how the idea for Earbits came about and how the site can benefit independent musicians.

What is Earbits?
Earbits is an online radio platform designed to be more of a marketing tool for the music industry. Instead of ads, we’re working to turn airtime for artists into sales of their new releases and merchandise. As an example: Later this week we’re launching a partnership with Relapse Records, promoting a new album by one of their artists. Users will be entered into a sweepstakes by joining the band’s mailing list, which will probably include tickets to shows and a meet-and-greet with the band. Anyone who hears one of their songs will be presented with the sweepstakes opportunity. This is a campaign that we would run as opposed to an advertising campaign for a regular sponsor. Right now, we’re working with about 170 labels, we have 2000 bands on board, we have over half a dozen Grammy winners, and we have festival headliners and platinum artists. We’re trying to create a marketing platform that really helps artists and labels get music out there to listeners and consumers with the eye on the music industry as our core clientele.

How did the idea for Earbits come about?
My background is in performance-based marketing and localized ad network marketing — paid search, media buying and things like that. When it was time to market our album and our shows, we spent about $20,000 trying all kinds of things from Sonicbids to all of these other services. We were taking out ads on television and were doing everything we could to try and promote our album and our shows. It was really ineffective. So my buddy says, “Well, how can we translate what you do during the day — ad networks, performance-based marketing — to the music industry. The problem is that people have to hear it. The reason why performance marketing doesn’t work on the Internet — why Facebook ads don’t really work — is because a visual ad can’t convey the quality of music unless you already know that band. You’re not going to click on it, and half of the time you do, you find the bands are not that great. Our concept is to create a curated place where consumers will actually want to go to discover music and find out who’s playing near them.

How do you differ from other online radio services like Jango?
For starters, their core model is advertising-based. They play mostly mainstream music and they have a lot of ads. We believe that by focusing 100% on the particular platform or product, we can do a better job of it. For example, there are more ads on a page when music’s playing on Jango than there is for merchandising for yourself. For our site, it’s all about the artist, it’s all about their album and where they’re playing next, and there’s nothing on the page to take away from that experience.

How does the listening experience differ from sites like Pandora?
We’re basically working directly with the rights holders, so we have our own licenses. If you hear a song your friend will like, you can share a link to that song on Facebook and they can come back to Earbits to listen to that song in its entirety. There are a lot of things you can do with the music that Pandora is not allowed to do by relying on the compulsory licenses. As a consumer, you’re in control. You can skip as much as you want. When you “thumbs up” songs, you can save them in your bookmarks. While you’re in the middle of a song, you can scroll down and listen to samples of other songs by that band. So there’s more in terms of a musical experience. Obviously, the downside is we only work with close to 200 labels so we don’t have as much of a catalog that Pandora has — you won’t hear as much mainstream music — but it is all prescreened, high-quality stuff.

You allow independent musicians to submit music for your site as well?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you have to be approved. We believe that for this to be successful, there has to be some sort of quality control. It’s more like, “Is this a good recording? Is the musicianship of a professional quality?” But we do work with a lot of unsigned bands. Right now, it’s about 60% of bands from labels and 40% of bands that come to us unsigned.

What are the benefits of using Earbits for an independent musician?
I think the big benefit is that, say on Facebook, you can put up a page, but there’s not much you can do to drive exposure to yourself on those pages other than putting in a lot of hours networking on Facebook and asking people to refer friends to you. It’s not that novel to give a band a nice profile page, but what we’re doing is creating a place where consumers will listen to hundreds of bands in a month, making that audience available to bands without them having to do a lot of work. My experience with Facebook has been that you’re paying 30 cents for a click and the person doesn’t even know what you sound like yet. On Earbits, you’re paying 2 cents for someone to listen to you and they have the ability to act on that by going to your Facebook Page and things like that. It’s taking that step out of the middle of making someone guess what you sound like. We’re creating an environment that’s so compelling for users that they’re going to want to spend their time there. And we’re making that available for sale.

What is the collaboration with
We’re always looking for ways to drive more people to our experience. When I was in San Francisco a few months earlier this year, I wanted to check out some shows. I don’t really know the area, I don’t know the clubs and I don’t know the bands. So I’m reading band names and cutting and pasting them into MySpace… It was just a challenging process. The next morning, I emailed the San Francisco Chronicle and said, “Listen. Why don’t we build you guys your own radio platform and we’ll only play music coming live to the Bay Area or bands that are from the Bay Area, and people can go there from your entertainment section to see who’s going to be playing live in a much easier fashion.” And these guys took a meeting within two days, and in the first meeting they said, “This sounds awesome. Let’s do it.” It’s pretty crazy for a newspaper website and I’m really excited about it.

Do you expect to do this with other publications in other cities as well?
Yeah. I mean, we’re going to get a sense of how well this goes and whether it’s something consumers respond to. I think it’s pretty exciting for people who live in the Bay Area. If it goes well? Absolutely.