While the early history of the Internet is littered with the corpses of music start-ups, not all digital music companies have failed. Take, for example, Gracenote. Founded in 1998, the Berkeley based company was sold to Sony in 2008 for $260 million and is one of the real pioneers of the evolving digital economy. Gracenote has built its business out of maintaining and licensing a massive (currently 100 million tracks) database of information about music. And today, Gracenote – with its 350 employees in Europe, the US and Asia – is expanding into licensing digital data for video and television content.
Last week, at SFMusicTech, I sat down with Ty Roberts, Gracenote’s co-founder and current CTO, to learn more about his company’s past and future. The experienced data mogul was particularly wise on our uses and abuses of data, warning that a failure to respect user’s data (Path, Facebook, Google, Twitter et al) is not only immoral but also bad business practice. And Roberts also offered some sagacious advice to music executives, arguing that traditional, file based information no longer has much value and that there was a need to radically change the way in which music is both packaged and sold to consumers.
My conversation with Roberts is part of an extended series of interviews about the current state of the online music industry that I conducted last week at SFMusicTech. Other interviews include the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, BitTorrent inventor Bram Cohen and Stageit CEO Evan Lowenstein.