Talking With Facebook's Music Master

There has been a significant amount of buzz surrounding Numair Faraz’s Facebook application, Audio. I questioned whether Audio would keep running back in May. Three weeks later, the Wall Street Journal referenced Numair when discussing Facebook’s enthusiastic team of outside developers who are not on Facebook’s payroll. Numair truly has a dynamic personality. He dropped out of college at 16 (not a bad age to drop out) and is now attempting to challenge the music industry head on. Numair’s Audio application is still growing at a rate of 1 to 2 percent a day which isn’t bad when you have close to 1 million users using your application (and for any website this is still phenomenal growth). I had the opportunity to speak with Numair and ask him a few questions about his extremely popular application.

First of all let me say congratulations on the success with the Audio application. I noticed a mention in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago. Did you drop out of college to create this Facebook application?

No, I dropped out of college when I was, like, 16. I was living in La Jolla, and girls and surfing seemed to be a better use of my time than boring engineering stuff. In retrospect, I was correct!

Sounds like a good choice! Your Audio application still seems to have pretty steady growth. Did you expect such a large adoption?

Not at all. I wrote Audio for myself, as a test application. I wanted to play an MP3 on my web server as an audio file on my Facebook profile page, so I wrote it up. I added features to let other people use the app and add their own links to files, but seriously now — it’s 2007, who has links to MP3s on web servers? I didn’t think it would become very popular, because of this major shortfall… But I guess I underestimated the Facebook population’s love of music. I should note that I don’t really judge the app by the number of users it has, but rather by the value it provides to those using it. Even if only 4 people used it, but they loved it, I would be happy — I’m not part of this very unhealthy thing going on with a lot of the app developers right now where they are entirely obsessed with growing their user numbers. So immature and pointless!

A quick glance at the recent uploads shows the application handling 3 to 4 song uploads a minute but there doesn’t seem to be any downtime. How did you prepare for scalability?

Well, I think a lot of that is due to the fact that Audio is an utterly efficient application. It does a couple things and does them (hopefully!) well. Because of this simplicity, it was easy for me to transition from a single server to a few more when the time arose.

Wow, so you are handling all the scalability, not using Amazon S3?

Ask me again in about 2 weeks, as I’m making some changes…

If you take a look at the songs being uploaded via the Audio application, the majority of the songs are copyrighted. How is it that your application is not in violation of music copyright laws?

Well, we have very stringent copyright takedown policies that follow the terms of the DMCA. I can’t say much about this issue at the moment other than that we are in discussions with all of the major record labels, and several of the independents.

You mentioned that you have an artist management feature that you are preparing to launch. When do you plan on launching the new features pertaining to bands, and what features will you be adding?

Well, artists and record label executives keep badgering me to get those features done, and I really want to get them done, but beautiful girls and warm sunny beaches are one hell of a distraction. I really want to get that stuff done in the next week or two, as it will completely change the dynamic of the application.

Are you developing everything yourself or do you have a team?

I am mostly working by myself. I’m looking at bringing in some features developed by others, but we’ll see what happens. I find that it’s easiest when I do things myself, as I can ensure that simplicity is maintained – which, honestly, is the most important concern for both myself and my users. I get emails every day thanking me for not cluttering up the application with useless stuff.

How many acquisition & partnership offers have you received? Which of the offers are worth noting?

Haha, I don’t really know, since I ignore them. I’m glad the hype over Facebook Platform is dying down, so I don’t have to read more “we’re either going to acquire you or copy your app, you decide!” emails from Silicon Valley bizdev jerks…

So you have absolutely no interest in investors or partners?

The only partners I am interested in are the content creators and facilitators – artists, record labels, artist management – people like that. I don’t care about people in the Valley, or in the technology industry. The fact that technology companies have been dictating terms of interaction with end users to content creators for the past 10 years is utterly absurd. I think that the artists and the fans need a closer connection, and that venture capitalists and technology guys ruin the opportunity to build such a thing. I really can’t say much about what’s going on, but the record labels have been utterly understanding of what I’m going through, and we are really trying to figure something out – the technology guys, on the other hand, have all tried to basically screw me over, lied to me to get information on my strategy, etc. I totally understand why the labels hate working with them!

Sounds like you are really trying to create a voice for the independent musicians. Best of luck with that! Is there anything else you would like me to mention for this post?

I have to correct you — not just independent musicians, but popular ones too. I actually think the music industry is suffering from a lack of blockbuster talent and releases that are getting people excited about the industry — and that Britney types actually result in “trickle-down” sales for everyone else. Rolling Stone magazine had a great article last month in which there were two tables — one with the top 10 albums of 2000, and one with the top 10 albums of 2006. Every single artist on the 2000 Top 10 list is still popular in mainstream media; I only knew who 2 of the Top 10 artists of 2006 were! I’m hoping that I can help figure out a solution for this exposure problem.

Increasing the exposure of new artists will truly be a challenging task. Best of luck trying to make the change. Working closely with people in the music industry will be critical and it sounds like you are already doing that. I look forward to seeing how things work out! Anything else I should mention?

The first phase of Facebook application development was all about the profile page, and putting things on there. It was sort of gimmicky and got annoying very quickly. We’re entering a second phase, where it’s all about applications with their own functionality. I hope others out there recognize this, and start making cool stuff that isn’t simply attempting to “grow virally” and advertise itself on the profile — because that era is over, done, gone.