Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Soundwave: the Irish music story of the year so far

People are wowing about the music discovery app because it’s such a damn simple idea which works really well

Soundwave: what's playing in your 'hood

Mon, Jun 24, 2013, 09:23


By now, many will have come across Soundwave, the Dublin-based start-up which has been blowing up online over the last few days. It’s probably been a whirlwind 72 hours since the launch on Friday morning for those behind the music discovery app, but that’s nothing compared to the work, time and patience involved in getting to this stage. Like all start-ups, Soundwave’s success is also as much about about staying the course, taking all the knockbacks onboard and coming out the other side with their sanity still in check.

In a nutshell, Soundwave allows you to see the tunes that your friends or those you are following are playing. The app simply tracks what you’re playing on your phone’s regular player and various streaming apps like Spotify or Rdio and pushes the info to the world. Like all the best ideas, it’s as simple as that. At a time when everyone and their aunt is on about music discovery, Soundwave simply does that – here’s what your mates are playing, the dodgy tunes as well as the hipster bait.

The success of their approach can also be seen every time you draw a circle on the map within the app. This is probably Soundwave’s sweet spot, the ability to see what people in your ‘hood or any other area are playing. One of the Soundwave’s smartest launch moves was to use all the data from their beta testing period over the last few months to populate the map, which meant that there was already examples of what people had played on the app when people started to download it on Friday. When you powered it up and drew a circle around your street, you discovered that people were already using the app (the tags showed that the dude playing Ed Sheeran a street away from OTR’s gaff had done so a month previously and has hopefully left the neighbourhood). Such data tags gave the immediate impression that there were already people around you on the Soundwave buzz, which works really well as a psychological push.

There are many lessons to take away from what Soundwave have done and the most important one for start-ups in the music tech space is that nothing happens overnight. I first came along the Soundwave lads at Music 3.0 in May 2012. Back then, they were talking about Soundwave more as a Google Analytics for the music industry rather than the consumer tool it was on launch. They talked a good talk, but it wasn’t quite as pow-wow an offering as Soundwave is in June 2013. Since then, they went away, rebooted, reworked and recalibrated the app. They knew they were onto something and they just had to work out what that was. Nothing happened overnight.

Of course, that hard work isn’t over yet and the big task now will be turning the buzz and wow into revenue. Soundwave CEO Brendan O’Driscoll has talked about a few different streams in this regard (affiliate fees from iTunes sales, flogging data to music industry companies keen to know who’s playing what where and customised versions of Soundwave for interested parties) so it will be fascinating to see how this one works out. At least, O’Driscoll has nixed the idea of advertising for now, though you can imagine how the stickability of Soundwave might appeal to many brands.

Soundwave’s emergence also puts a focus on other Dubin-based music tech offerings currently in moving and shaking vogue. You’ve probably heard of some (WholeWorldBand, 45 Sound), may not have heard of others (Riffstation, Gigstarter) and there are even more out there waiting for a close-up or for a bout of VC tyre-kicking. You can be sure that all will be hoping to emulate what Soundwave have done, but let’s hope they don’t overlook the fact that it took a lot of time, some luck (the Woz factor) and a hell of a lot of patience to get this far. Something in there too for the many musicians and music industry pros looking enviously at the music tech sector.