DIY: Online - DIY Week on BTR

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS Courtney Garcia

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Whoever said, “If you want something done right, do it yourself” would be chuckling feverishly with the way the world has been conspiring. The acronym, DIY, has become synonymous with seemingly everything due to the advantageous expansion of the web.  Nearly every business has adopted the global network into its daily operations, and additionally, with the increase of self-promotional platforms, individuals have been endowed with a greater ability to pursue independent initiatives. One trade particularly altered by the age of DIY has been the music industry, where artists have all but sworn off record labels in favor of handling business themselves.

Take, for instance, Official.fm—the “do it yourself music club.” After enlisting its services, an artist can obtain a url for their music, upload songs, create players, tag work virally, and track international web data. Or SoundOut.com, a marketing forum driven by consumer insight, where an artist can measure and evaluate his work in the marketplace. After uploading tracks in a matter of hours, the artist receives a comprehensive report including fan reviews, target demographics, and objective feedback on viability. According to the site, the service can even assist in licensing placements–but that’s just the start of it.

Music development sites, like The Echo Nest, allow artists and entrepreneurs to utilize various applications, created by innovators with data mined by the company, to curtail elements of their career.

“We have the ability to read, listen and understand music, as well as to analyze it,” explains Elissa Barrett, Director of Communications for The Echo Nest. “We’re not the next Pandora, but we provide tools for a person with a really awesome idea to build the next Pandora.”

The Echo Nest was founded by two guys from MIT, who pulled together research based on cultural and analytical understandings of music to construct algorithms, which help build online mechanisms for just about any function conceivable. For runners, they’ve created Jog.fm, an application to play the perfect song for every mile of your route. For music lovers with finicky tastes, they’ve developed Bipolar Radio, and for DJs, Beatport Plugin, to assist in creating setlists. While the company does not invent the ideas per se, they partner with those who conceptualize to create it.

“We’ve been working with developers more than artists because they already have an understanding of how it works,” comments Barrett, who addresses the necessity of involving musicians more into the process. “We really want to bring musicians into the field with developers, as they have a better sense of their own needs…Connecting the two is very important.”

How The Echo Nest functions is not as complicated as one might assume. Basically, someone with an idea signs onto the platform and requests a developer key. The Echo Nest provides API (application programming interface or “rules”) and an app is created. If it goes commercial, a licensing agreement is put into place. To date, the company has partnered with entertainment stalwarts like MTV, Def Jam and Warner Music Group, as well as independent creators.

Adds Barrett, “The only limit is people’s imagination.”

Rapid developments in new technology have given rise to what some are calling the “DIY Generation,” a conglomerate of young people so adept at doing everything their own way, they do. Embracing the movement, web engineers have cleverly produced countless tools and innovations to stimulate revenue. Every business nowadays has a Website, many have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and some have trademarked applications for their products. There are listservs with customer emails where promotions are distributed; there are celebrities paid to mention brands in their tweets; there are groups for people who like the same products and services, and marketing strategies to entice them onto others. You can see where your online friends are eating, shopping and engaging their minds, and perhaps, you are intrigued to follow suit. Thus, pulled by the effervescent zeitgeist, we have all become marketing entities.

StumbleUpon, a network that filters user interests, has made significant advances in creating manageable ways to obtain information. Initially developed by two computer science grads searching for photography online, the platform (sold and later bought back from eBay) has expanded into an entity manipulating all types of content, from videos to music to news briefs. With the extreme influx of information, StumbleUpon attempts to make sense of it.

“The universal pain-point now is an overload of information…There’s been as much information created in the past few years, as there has been in all of history until that point,” comments Marc Leibowitz, VP of Business Development and Marketing for StumbleUpon, referencing statements made by Eric Schmidt of Google. “We think we’ve come up with a good solution to wade through it.”

StumbleUpon serves almost like a newsfeed. When a user signs up, they select interests from a range of topics, and the site compiles links to other sites, videos, media, etc. based on what like-minded users have suggested. Stumblers can also follow others and track what strikes their fancy.

“Musicians use the site as leverage to get their info to people,” says Leibowitz. “A lot of times an artist will sign on as a user so they can curate info about themselves…In this way, they are adding to the body of info people encounter about them when stumbling…For fans following them, artists can use the forum as a showcase of content they’re interested in, like a window into their world, which also contributes to promotion.”

Alternately, there’s the “paid discovery” option, where an artist can remit a fee to secure content on stumblers’ pages.

“We only insert content onto users’ pages whom we anticipate will like it,” stresses Leibowitz. “It’s an effective mechanism to gain an audience for brands and musicians.”

StumbleUpon—which Leibowitz considers “recess for the mind”—has over 15 million users at present, and is growing exponentially. The company aims to have hundreds of millions of users in the near future, and developers are working to expand across all platforms including mobile devices, tablets and Internet television. Their recent partnership with LinkedIn is an effort to fuse the network into alternative contexts, offering professional content to LinkedIn’s established audience.

“We don’t want to just be a great time-waster—though we are—we want to be a powerful way to get stuff done,” says Leibowitz.

With extensive social networks and online tools in place, marketing continues to fall into the hands of individuals, and corporations have taken notice. During a panel discussion this year at SXSW, moderator Kathy Baughman of ComBlu suggested that overall “Five to 15% of {corporate} budgets are going to social media, while eMarketer is expecting about 60% growth.” Additionally, Julie Hamp, Senior Vice President of Communications for PepsiCo, estimates the company spends 30% more on social media than in the past.

“Music discovery and recommendations are really hot right now,” observes Barrett, noting one of The Echo Nest’s most popular app’s to date has been Discovr, wherein users enter an artist they like and are supplied with a network of similar musicians they might appreciate.

Leibowitz would likely agree. “People follow those they believe are experts at the subjects they’re curating…With enough experts engaged, we’re building a powerful community to cut through all the noise. People share items they discover that others cannot even find when using a search engine…We’ve found a way to connect them with the content they love.”

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