Mad Genius Radio, which launched around Halloween this year, is Denver-based a service that allows subscribers to create their own radio stations. What separates it from a service like Pandora is that, it allows users to rate a song or an artist on a scale from 0 to 5, rather than the binary thumbs up or thumbs down common elsewhere. And all settings can be reset, and genres can be mixed and matched at will. The idea is that we are complex, and that our tastes shift and refine from week to week and day by day.
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"It was an idea born fifteen years ago when I was working in the radio industry as a merger and acquisitions guy," explains Mad Genius Radio founder Eric Neumann. "I recognized in '99 when the first few radio apps were you and available like LAUNCHcast. I just looked at those apps and went, 'Wow, terrestrial radio is going to have a real, competitive threat someday.'
"In my mind it was a matter of taking that technology and merging it with things that terrestrial radio does really well. I would make the strong argument that radio was very well programmed in the 1990s and was a very good product then. But I wouldn't make that argument today, because there are too many commercials and it's become so homogenized there's no real, local flavor anymore with a handful of exceptions."
The name of the Mad Genius Radio app refers to how each person has an inner mad genius for his or her own tastes. With Mad Genius Radio, there is dialing in of nuance in what you hear. Maybe you don't want to hear "Stairway to Heaven" so much, but you do want it to turn up every once in a while, so you could give it a one rating. If you're particularly in the mood for Kate Bush, you can hear her often with a five rating. All of the genres are curated and the library changes every week with songs you'd expect in a genre-based station but when combined with other genres and selecting the frequency of a song and/or an artist you get the kind of radio station that suits your particular mood that day.
The service is only available for a subscription cost. That's the only way to make it work, according to Neumann.
"Pandora has seventy-six million users and they have had to fight hard to generate nine hundred million dollars of revenue and with a sixty million dollar profit," explains Neumann about the decision to use a subscription model of business. "That's a seven percent margin and they're doing it better than anyone. There's no way for us to ever expect to get anywhere near fifty or sixty million listeners, which is what it would take to be profitable with the ad model. That's because no advertiser, Pandora or otherwise, can charge enough for a cost per thousand basis. For example, Pandora makes about $10 per year per listener on their ad model. But on the subscription side of their model, they make about $54 a year per listener."
By law the subscription model pays a 79% greater royalty rate to artists, meaning $2.50 per thousand songs rather than the $1.40 paid by ad-based business models for music streaming. This model, Neumann believes, does something to change the trend of artists not getting paid for their creative work.
Some earlier music apps failed by trying to shotgun consumers with unfamiliar music,s but with the curating system and diversity of mixing together genres to create a unique radio station for the listener, there is still that element of not being completely in control of what music is played with satisfying a desire to hear familiar music.
"People will listen longer if you give them good genres to mix and listen more from there," concludes Neumann. In its beta testing period, Mad Genius Radio had seven hours a week of listening time compared to the three hours with Pandora, according to metrics provided by Triton Digital.
At $5 a month and $48 a year, Mad Genius Radio's model may catch on with music listeners who have already been paying to use services such as Pandora a Spotify but with the added bonus of greater ability to modify one's listening diet.
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If you'd like to contact me, Tom Murphy, on Twitter, my handle is @simianthinker.