These days, it seems SoundCloud is the player to beat in the music platform space. It’s been called (among other things) the “Flickr for audio” or the “YouTube for audio.” Evidence of this lies in the fact that the company raised $50 million in January at a $200 million pre-money valuation — they must be doing something right.
Instead of competing with SoundCloud, Official.fm is taking things in a slightly different direction. Today Official.fm launched a new music sharing and promotion platform that aims to become the only music platform that professionals will need.
“Our objective is very different from SoundCloud’s,” says Jeremie Abihssira, co-founder and CEO of Official.fm. “We believe that promoting your music should be free. There is no use in making artists pay when they do not generate any revenue yet.”
“Official.fm is music promotion made simple and smart. We are going to grow this market and make it free,” he continues. It aspires to be the central part of music promotion on the web, but how does it work?
First, you create an account which allows you to take part in different projects that appear as different accounts on the public website. You can manage your own band account with other band members for example, as well as your solo project and your small label account. After giving administration rights to your band mates, you don’t have to share login information anymore. It actually reminds me a lot of Asana’s way of managing companies and groups.
From there you can upload your tracks, make playlists, and share them. When it comes to sharing, one click lets you upload your tracks to both YouTube and SoundCloud so that your followers on these services can listen to your new work. Finally, you can share your tracks on Facebook or your website with a slick widget player. While all that sharing is going on, artists have access to statistics like play counts and a geographical breakdown of where users are playing their music.
Sending your songs in a newsletter or on Twitter is a snap too, as Official.fm users can distribute public, restricted or private URLs to spread their songs around. Users can also customize the artwork (see below), links and description to make it look beautiful. It looks a lot like About.me with big beautiful artwork and some minimal info around useful content though in Official.fm’s case, songs are the content on the page.
Everything is in HTML5 for the back-end pages and the public pages. “All the artists that are going to use [Official.fm] will have the guarantee that they will be able to use it on a mobile phone, on an iPad and on whatever you want,” Abihssira says. “HTML5 is becoming even more interesting to allow to listen to music on every device. It’s the least we can do for the artists.”
I’ve tried the new version for a few minutes and found that everything was smooth and feels like a desktop app, with a sleek greyish design reminiscent of Spotify. You can drag and drop songs to upload them from your computer like in Gmail, drag and drop songs into playlists, edit tracks with ease and add buy links. It is, in short, a pleasure to use and feels very polished.
The product is beautiful, but I had a few questions as well about their plan to monetize their service and answers were vague when it came to revenue streams. Yesterday, users were able to sign up for a Pro account and upload up to 250 tracks. The premium offering disappears today — now every user can participate in up to 10 different projects/bands and uploads up to 100 songs per project, which effectively allows for 1,000 tracks perpetually-free tracks per user.
“For those that have bigger needs, we let them contact us,” Abihssira says. A SoundCloud model that gets more expensive with bigger plans is out of the picture. He promised me that they had a clear plan that they will implement in the upcoming months but he wouldn’t talk about it just yet.
All Abihssira could say is that “very big artists won’t generate revenue through us, but small and medium artists will.” That would explain some of the early users they have announced — they include well-known indie acts such as Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, Killer Mike, AWOLNATION and Soul Clap. Some independent record labels such as Ghostly Records are on board as well. They hope that fans will share these songs on the web as a way to promote the service.
They are refocusing on artists and labels exclusively and as such, there is no way to search for artists and songs directly on the website. You have to go through Facebook, Twitter and artist websites to find songs on the service for now but they plan to reintroduce this feature in two months. Similarly, mobile apps are not a priority, but maybe they’ll change their mind after reintroducing that search functionality.
Another feature that is completely absent is the ability to follow artists. “This is mainly a personal decision, because the best interactions happen on Twitter and Facebook. I think it would be ridiculous to add another layer. These days, you already follow artists on Twitter and Facebook,” Abihssira says.
Official.fm has raised $8M from private investors. When it comes to future fundraising, all options are on the table, including raising some VC money. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland, New York and San Francisco.