Soundwave, The Music Discovery App Backed By Mark Cuban, Is Placing A Big Bet On Big Data

What happens when your app manages to attract Woz as a fan, Mark Cuban as an investor, Stephen Fry to help launch, and you’re featured by Apple and Google in its respective app stores?

A shed load of downloads, that’s what.

In the case of Dublin-based Soundwave, the music discovery app that tracks the listening habits of you, your friends and other users you follow, we’re talking over 165,000 downloads in just shy of two-and-a-half weeks. However, perhaps the more interesting story is what the startup could do with all of the listening data its amassing should that traction continue.

First, though, let’s delve into the stats some more. Along with number of downloads, the iOS and Android app, which is able to track what you’re listening to on your phone’s native music player, as well as streaming services Spotify and Rdio, has tracked 3 million song plays. That figure gives us a good indication of actual usage and is one that Soundwave will be expecting to grow significantly if its app is to make it past the download and use-once hurdle.

Meanwhile, those app downloads span 182 countries, with its biggest market so far being the U.S., followed by the U.K., Brazil, Ireland, Russia and Germany. Notably, both Apple and Google have featured the app — the iOS version 443 times across 17 App Store categories in 144 countries since launch — including Apple making Soundwave the much coveted ‘Editors Choice.’ So it shouldn’t be surprising to see some decent traction.

“We were in our office reading through TechCrunch and were chatting about how nuts it was how the SV companies had such access to super angels.”

Traction, of course, is what Soundwave requires to create the listening data that is crucial to powering not only the consumer-facing app — to help you discover new music through the listening habits of your friends and influencers you follow — but also the startup’s broader ambitions to mine that data and possibly sell it back to the music industry.

The startup initially set out to create a frictionless way of capturing what music a user is listening to without forcing them to abandon their phone’s native music player or the streaming services they already use. To that end, Soundwave CEO and co-founder Brendan O’Driscoll tells me that the startup decided early on not to build a player of its own and instead figure out a way to ‘listen’ to other music apps on iOS and Android. He added that iOS in particular required a clever workaround to enable that to happen, not least for Apple’s built-in iTunes app. What that workaround is, however, O’Driscoll isn’t saying, except that it’s one of the things that sets it apart from competing music-tracking apps and something that helped it catch Apple’s attention.

By consolidating the fragmented listening that takes place across all of the various music apps and services that a user makes use of on a mobile phone (though arguably it needs a desktop app, too), not only is Soundwave able to return better music recommendations, but it also makes its data potentially very valuable. Yes, I’m talking about another Big Data play.

mzl.jejyfnpy.320x480-75As O’Driscoll explains: “The value and size of our data has really excited the music industry. Our ability to create a ‘Bloomberg Terminal or Google Analytics for music’ has massive potential.” What he’s referring to here is that instead of creating charts based on what music has been bought (physical purchases or downloads) or what music has been streamed, Soundwave could accurately reflect what music has actually been listened to. Arguably, that’s a much better data point since charts based purely on a spike in purchases are and have always been open to manipulation, especially as volume of purchases overall has fallen.

Perhaps related to this potential, Soundwave has added some music industry experience to its list of backers. As part of an interim round that tops up the $1 million already raised last October from ACT Venture Capital, Enterprise Ireland, Mark Cuban, and Matthew le Merle, the startup has added a further $500,000 from various investors including Trevor Bowen, one of the people behind U2’s management company Principle Management.

Beyond its Big Data play, Soundwave also plans to offer an external API. “We feel that this model is particularly exciting, as we have seen everyone from labels, radio stations, bands and other social consumer apps knocking on our door since launch,” says O’Driscoll, noting that an API could provide another revenue stream for the company. For example, a radio station’s app could integrate with Soundwave’s API to show what music its DJs are listening to and to display real-time charts based on what listeners are listening to. “Soundwave in turn would be increasing its reach and would be further enhancing its B2B play,” he says.

Finally, a somewhat untold story — until now — is how the heck the company successfully pitched Dallas Mavericks’ owner and serial investor Mark Cuban from its tiny offices situated above a laundrette in Dublin.

In O’Driscoll’s own words: “We were in our office reading through TechCrunch and were chatting about how nuts it was how the SV companies had such access to super angels. As we were saying it, I saw on TechCrunch that Mark had invested in Apptopia, and thought why not, I’ll Google ‘mark cuban email address’ and see what happens. An address popped up instantly and I fired a quick 3 sentence email across. Five minutes later, I had a reply sitting in my inbox. ‘Send more info’. I did and that was that! We closed off an investment from Mark while sitting at our desks in Dublin, and Mark has been a really active investor since.”

See? That’s what can happen when you read too much TechCrunch.