In this piece, Jon Maples explains how the principles and process behind the unique radio streaming app Gimme Radio have given rise to a successful listening platform, home to a vibrant social community.
Slack was on fire. Our emergency channel, the one everyone in the company pings when something goes bad, had message after message. The Gimme Radio app worked, and people were still on the service. But there was no sound. I quickly logged into our radio automation dashboard and it was a sea of red. Failure, failure, failure. It’s the thing a music service dreads worst. Dead air.
After a few minutes of digging we figured out the solution, but before fixing, I quickly logged into the Gimme Live chat that our fans use to talk to one another while listening and typed in a message to let them know what was going on. The response was amazing. “Good to know,” a longtime listener started, “but half the fun we have is chatting with each other.” The conversation that had started over metal, continued, even without any Sabbath or Cannibal Corpse pumping through the speakers. Over the next 20 minutes, fans were sharing favorite YouTube and Spotify playlists with each other to pass the time as we got the stream back up.
And that’s what I find most interesting about Gimme Radio. We’ve created a community that is so passionate, so connected, so engaged that they’ll keep going even when the music stops. Sure fans come for the music, but they stay for the relationships they’ve built with other fans from all over the world.
The Fan Plan
From the beginning of Gimme Radio, we wanted to do something different. David Rosenberg, Tyler Lenane and I all had been part of several companies in digital music, and we all felt like the experience was missing something. All music services deliver the same value proposition: access to millions of songs on demand right to your phone. While that’s a great utility, they fail to serve the true fan. We wanted to change that. We soon met Andy Gilliland, a brilliant design thinker who shared our beliefs and got right to work.
Rather than trying to get everyone in the world to use the service in the same way, we instead focused on the ardent music fan. The person who lives and dies with their favorite artists. You know the type: that person who can tell you every riff on Sticky Fingers, knows every session that went into recording Bitches Brew, can identify every sample on Illmatic, and still has tapes they traded from the Dead shows they attended. This was our customer.
We thought about what that person really wanted. Discovery is a term that gets a lot of lip service in digital music, but we believed that true music fans had a different idea about discovery than the endless stream of music picked by a computer that Pandora and Spotify serve. Fans don’t just put music on the background. It’s in the foreground of their lives. While that Pandora station might be pleasing, our theory was music fans are left wanting. They want to know more about the music and the person who is picking the music. And the human is important for the fan because when it comes down to it, the fan is looking for a way to meaningfully connect about the music they love.
And maybe most importantly, we wanted to build a community of like-minded fans. So we focused on genres of music that are overlooked on the radio or streaming services, regardless of their overall popularity. This way, we wouldn’t speak to everyone, but directly to the fans of specific music and the culture surrounding it. Metal, a genre with over 100 million worldwide fans, but might as well be an afterthought on Spotify and Pandora, was a perfect place to start.
The Connection Machine
So it’s easy, right? We just needed to invent a way for a human to let people know about music and share why the songs and albums are important to them. Or we could just use the time-tested product known as RADIO! Nearly 100 years after its widespread adoption, radio is still a great way to discover music. According to Nielsen, more US customers use radio to discover music than any other media form, despite the struggles the industry has encountered.
Instead of finding radio jocks, we signed up artists, musicians, producers, tastemakers and fans with music tastes that matched our sensibilities, to serve as our DJs. And we let them play whatever they wanted.
While the music is always the start for the music fan, our theory was that music fans wanted to connect with other fans, with DJs and, most importantly, with the artists they love. Our thought in starting a community was to make the feature set simple as possible. So we build a single very elegant but immediate feature that would thread into the music experience: the Gimme Live chat that accompanied our radio shows.
To seed the conversation and avoid the ghost town that always occurs when you start a new social site, we wrote thousands of factoids about the bands that would appear in the chat while that artist was on the station. Consider them conversation starters for the music fan.
Fans Own It
After months of building and testing, we launched Gimme Radio, a dedicated metal station in June of 2017, and with the help of labels, management companies, and metal publications, the word got out that we were doing something interesting. We premiered shows from the biggest names in metal, including Randy Blythe of Lamb Of God, Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth, and Dave Mustaine, founder of the legendary group, Megadeth.
The Gimme Live feed, which had started slow, became more alive every day. People around the world started showing up, chatting and becoming friends with other metalheads, DJs and artist — all who were participating in Gimme Live. People became fans of shows and started buying tee-shirts we sold for shows. And our listeners started to own the service. For example: fans got our idea of factoids and started to call the machine that spits them out the ‘Gimme Bot.’ Seeing that it is metal, our fans started to give the Bot a slightly menacing personality. One late night, we logged in as the Bot and started posting real-time responses in the Bot’s personality. Fans freaked when they realized that the Bot had reached sentient capabilities.
Bridging The Digital Divide
Soon our fans started to cross the digital divide and have real relationships. Every day you can see people from around the globe greeting each other and sharing their experiences about music, and well beyond music. There have been goofy conversations about memes, as one might expect, interesting discussions about books and movies, and deep conversations about mental health. And fans started to have Gimme Radio meetups across the country. Fans made plans to meet at festivals like Decibel’s Metal and Beer Festival and people traveling would make a point to connect with Gimme listeners in the cities they visited.
Avoiding The Trap Door
Our early stage success shows we are on the path toward building a vibrant community. However, we aren’t taking these results for granted. Let’s face it: online community is hard to get right and it’s easy to see early results slip away. One just needs to think of Turntable.FM, Rdio, Last.fm, or MySpace as services who captured the flicker of success, only to see it snuffed out just as quickly.
So we listen intently to what our users want — from their feedback to their actions — to determine the next steps in building more meaningful engagement. And we take a single step at a time to focus on what works before we roll out new features.
Francis Ford Coppola famously said that when he had a difficult decision to make on a film, he would go back to the single theme that encapsulated what the movie was about. We believe Gimme Radio’s theme is about connections. Fans want to connect with their favorite music, like-minded fans, tastemakers, DJs and most of all, the artists they love.
Gimme Radio is currently raising its next round through the SeedInvest platform. To learn more about the company and participate in the round,click here.
Jon Maples is the Chief Product Officer and co-founder of Gimme Radio and is a former VP of product for Rhapsody (Napster) and 8tracks.