By Brad Lopez
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Inkoo Kang
By Dave Herrerra
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To test-drive its concept, the team e-mailed reports to ten band managers who detailed their acts' weekly activity on such sites as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, slick PDF documents they'd spent hours compiling and refining. They heard nothing in response. When White called the managers to find out why, they all explained that their schedules were too hectic to bother with opening attachments on their BlackBerries. So the next week, they sent out plain-text e-mail reports — and within hours, all ten managers had responded, raving about the data and asking the company to keep it coming.
But while industry insiders seemed on board, their big idea still needed some big money. So for the last few weeks of TechStars, White practiced his pitch speech eighty, ninety, a hundred times, preparing for what he calls "the biggest eight minutes of my life."
Those eight minutes came on August 6, 2009. In front of 200 of the most important venture capitalists and angel investors around, White introduced the new, improved and slightly renamed (they dropped the "the") Next Big Sound.
"While the record business is dead, the music business is very much alive," White told them, and his company was there to track it. That summer, Michael Jackson had passed away — and within a week, the media was reporting that his album sales and terrestrial radio spins had jumped 1,000 percent. But what everyone missed, White said, was the online surge only Next Big Sound had been able to track: a jump that was closer to 10,000 percent.
And that was just the beginning. "Our goal: Anytime a decision is made by anyone in the music industry, we want them to consult data from Next Big Sound first," White declared. Then he smiled, adding, "The bottom line is, we listen, we work efficiently, and we are cheap to keep alive."
Within minutes of his pitch, White and his partners were approached by one of the biggest investors in the room. While the team had been aiming for $300,000 in funding, that figure soon doubled, then tripled. The trio's entrepreneurship professor got in on the action, as did the venerable Foundry Group. When it was all over, Next Big Sound had roughly a million dollars in financing.
For three guys who'd spent the better part of a year living on couches, sometimes scrounging free coffee from McDonald's, the sum was incomprehensible. The day they signed the financing documents, they went out to a steakhouse and spent more on food than they'd spent all summer on dinners of ramen noodles.
Then they had to use Hoffman's parents' credit card to pay, since none of them had a personal credit card that wasn't maxed out.
On a late-summer afternoon, Boulder-based band manager Brian Heisler stops by Next Big Sound's office to check out the company's newest offerings.
Like White and a surprising number of others in the Boulder scene, Heisler has dabbled in both the tech and music industries. (Two of the Foundry Group's four managing directors are lifelong musicians.) As a former startup employee, Heisler met the Next Big Sound guys through TechStars, and he uses their services to monitor the online presence of the three bands he now manages full-time.
To gauge how people reacted to a free album that Euforquestra released on line, for instance, he's used the company's free weekly e-mail reports detailing the band's changes in fans, plays, views and comments on sites like Facebook, MySpace, Last.fm, Twitter and eleven other social-music sites that Next Big Sound scours to track the real-time web chatter for just under half a million musicians. And on nextbigsound.com, Heisler's compared Euforquestra's online stats, its social-media highs and lows, against those of similar bands to determine which would be a good fit for multi-act shows.
Heisler isn't the only industry insider who's found the services useful. "It's cold data. It's not fluff, it's not hype, it's not anyone telling you how your band is doing," says Kyle Wofford, head of the local indie label United Interests. "You can see for yourself how many plays it's getting, what sort of traction it has on a national scale." Thanks to Next Big Sound, Wofford discovered that for one of his bands, a mention on NPR, of all places, produced more buzz than a reference in a national daily — so the next time he has a hot tip to leak, he knows which reporter to call. And after learning through Next Big Sound that artists similar to his clients had a huge presence on Last.fm, Wofford beefed up his musicians' profile on the streaming-music site and saw an immediate surge in plays.
"I view this as a half-step ahead of sales," says Wofford. "You see an upswing in traffic, and then, if we do our work right to cultivate it, it will translate into sales."
White believes Next Big Sound is about to generate a whole lot more music sales. To demonstrate, he puts Heisler in front of his computer and fires up Next Big Sound's just-launched Premier platform, a service that costs $10 to $65 per artist per month, depending on the amount of add-ons. Along with producing graphs that capture the buzz around a given band, Premier tracks how these numbers relate to such events as blog mentions, live performances and chart appearances, taking the guesswork — and legwork — out of the equation. Using this, Heisler can find out what, exactly, caused the spike in his band Mountain Standard Time's MySpace page on June 30.