Steve Jang: The Difference Between Last.fm And Imeem Was “Escape Velocity”

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Oh the perils of music startups! When CBS acquired European music scrobbler Last.fm in 2007 for $280 million we called it a failure, and closely tracked it versus the machinations of non-acquired competitor imeem. When imeem sold to Myspace a year later for the discount price of $1 million, the press switched gears and proclaimed the former successful. Or rather, successful as you can get as a music startup.

You can’t win!

Early imeem employee and SoundTracking cofounder Steve Jang took the stage today to talk about getting back in the music startup game, on the one year anniversary of the launch of his new mobile app SoundTracking.

In the past year, SoundTracking, which uses content APIs so it doesn’t need to do licensing, has almost hit two million users with over 10 million “music moments” tracked, reaching nearly three billion impressions on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. “It’s a different type of user expression behavior than something you’d see on other social mobile apps,” Jang said, explaining the app’s reach by referring to the sharing relationship on SoundTracking being that of artists and DJs distributing to their followers.

When asked why he would get back in the music game after the dissolution of imeem, Jang looked wistful, “If you love a certain type of product …” He holds that though things used to be tough for music startups, developers are better off today because of the breadth and variety of music APIs, “It’s like being a kid in a candy store.”

Jang held that the primary difference between imeem and Last.fm was an earlier start, thus Last.fm was able to achieve “escape velocity”  — Basically if you don’t get to a certain distribution quickly as a music app or service, you won’t have the momentum necessary to make the business model of content deals work.

“They did a great job of SEO, very clean and they sold,” he said, “The unfortunate reality in music startups is that ‘escape velocity’ is absolutely necessary or else you can’t fund your next stage of growth.”