IQ News: Cool Tool – Sound Advice

Based on sound preferences, MuBu serves up the tunes you’ll like.
From baby boomers trying to stay on top of music trends to Gen Yers who set them, MuBu, a sound-based music recommendation service, hopes to have something for every music lover on the Net.
The San Francisco-based company, which launched its site in June, joins a growing number of dot-coms offering music recommendation services, including Gigabeat.com. What sets MuBu apart is that unlike its competitors, MuBu delivers sound clips from a database of tunes analyzed and categorized by a team of experienced music professionals, according to Eric Scheirer, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.
“MuBu has humans rating music. Other companies, such as Gigabeat and Mongomusic.com, depend on automation to do it,” says Scheirer. Also, some of these companies, including Gigabeat, require users to enter the names of the songs or artists they seek. MuBu, however, relies solely on–as Rodgers & Hammerstein put it–the sound of music, eliminating the need for users to know the name of artists or songs.
Users visit the MuBu site and rate five or six tunes selected from MuBu’s 54 categories, which include Stoned, Country, Tattoos and Pool Cues, Jazz, Rock for Grrlz and Soul Food. MuBu then immediately recommends songs to users based on their preferences. They can also sign up to get e-mails with four-second sound clips of recent releases they’re likely to enjoy.
“Respecting the needs of the consumer is what we’re all about,” says John Adams, MuBu’s founder and CEO, in a recent interview at the company’s downtown San Francisco office. For instance, he says, users can decide how many sound clips will be sent to them and how often.
Adams launches a demonstration of the process, leaving the choices up to me. I choose the pop/rock category and eight buttons flash up on the screen. When my cursor scrolls across one of the buttons, a song begins to play.
“That’s enabled by our licensed Beatnik technology,” says Adams, referring to the audio plug-in from the San Mateo, Calif.-based company. The song, a bouncy Bangles-type ditty, catches my fancy and I rate it as the type of song I prefer. After rating the other songs, I click on the Buddha image (MuBu is short for Music Buddha) and a selection of seven recommended songs pop up, represented by the covers of the albums in which they appear. “Click on the album cover and you’ll get a four-second clip,” says Adams.
I click on the first one and–bingo! It’s a hit. The tune is by Matchbox 20; as it happens, I have their first recording and have enjoyed their music for years. “At this point, you have several options. You can listen to a 30-second sample of a song from this album. You can also buy the recording on our site in a pop-up window,” Adams says.
Commissions from these sales, as well as targeted advertising, comprise MuBu’s revenue model.
“For example, Nike could run demographically focused ads of, say, high-tops, in the rap section. Or REI could sell snowboarding jackets in the Chill Out section,” Adams says. Capitalizing on this easily identifiable demographic, MuBu also plans to include advertising in its e-mail recommendations.
Gill Benbassat, a former disc jockey for San Francisco’s KMEL and now director of music at MuBu, says, “Radio stations know exactly what demographic they appeal to. We hope to do the same thing, only it’s like having 50 or 60 radio stations in one place.”
Benbassat is not the only well-known music name associated with MuBu. Kent and Keith Zimmerman, the brothers who for many years co-owned music industry publication The Gavin Report, co-founded the company in 1999 along with Adams. Gold records and autographed photographs addressed to the brothers line the walls of the company’s office.
Additionally, Thomas Dolby Robertson, Beatnik founder and music innovator (best known for his ’80s techno-pop), is on MuBu’s board of directors. According to Adams, the demand for music, especially over the Net, is increasing. He says that more than 16 million digital music downloads take place daily, and New York-based Jupiter Communications (recently acquired by Media Metrix, also of New York) predicts that online music sales will reach $2.6 billion by 2003.
“We want to tap into this market and meet individual consumers’ needs by helping them find music they like, even if they can’t specify which artist or song title they’re seeking,” Adams says.
Forrester’s Scheirer says, “We expect high growth in this area in the next few years. As more music goes online, the Web becomes a more exciting place but also a more confusing place. There’s lots of music you want, but it’s difficult to find it. MuBu helps you do that, and that’s why they are likely to succeed.” n