I mentioned an interview with Gideon was approaching, and voila. For those unacquainted, Gideon Marken is the programmer/musician that single-handedly built and maintains ArtistServer, a free music-hosting platform that empowers artists with music promotion tools including blogs, podcasts, feeds, newsletters, and other cool stuff. Time even voted it one of the five best music hosting services along with GarageBand and CD Baby. As I said before, talk about a DIY musician, this guy built an entire platform that 4000 artists now use to serve up their goods.
I got a chance to learn more about the man behind the curtain. (NOTE TO SELF: Beware of asking for pics from the interviewee, you never know what you’re gonna get… Check it out:
INTERVIEW WITH GIDEON MARKEN
GARAGESPIN: ArtistServer has been growing since 2000. What made you decide to begin building it, originally? How has it evolved, and what were the major turning points?
GIDEON: I joined Mp3.com in the early days, and was initially blow away with the excitement of sharing my music, seeing that people downloaded my songs, and received feedback from other artists. Within a few weeks, I went from not knowing anyone who produced electronic music, to being a part of a discussion board scene of 50+ electronic artists from around the world. The vibe and energy of the scene really seemed to motivate people – something I hadn’t experienced since attending Dead shows back in college (88-92). People were sharing, learning, living, and connecting, all because we loved music and our art form and met at a Website. Obviously, similar experiences are happening to others all over the Web in nearly every possible subject. The Web is truly fantastic.
It was a great time, and a solid community back then, the only problem, was that mp3.com wasn’t interested in community, nor were they really interested in independent music (they may have in the start, but it faded fast). One bad idea after another was launched across our artist pages and music. One day they’re selling advanced accounts where you’re songs are listed in bold on the charts, the next day they were selling the tops of our artist sites to the highest bidder. Then suddenly… Sephora was everywhere.
Sephora is a makeup company that dropped a load of cash into mp3.com in exchange for a boat load of banner ad spots. Seeing all these ads where the women were done up like they O.D. on heroin was just horrible. But they could get away with it – they were mp3.com! This then triggered me to start the “Anti Sephora Movement” which included artists creating a 2CD compilation where we all used text from their banners as the titles for our songs. Eventually Sephora found out and had mp3.com shut down the artist page – if anyone is looking for the CDs, they’re called “Jungle Warfare Coalition – AntiSephora Movement.”
It wasn’t much longer after that experience, that I felt it would be a good idea to build my own music hosting service, one that was exactly what the artists wanted. From there, I started posting questions asking everyone what they liked and didn’t like about Mp3.com and other sites, and I added in what I felt was missing from a Web perspective.
Originally, the site was only for electronic music and went by the name ElectronicScene.com. This was because I built the site for the scene I was in, I record and release music as “Sonic Wallpaper.” After a few years, it seemed that the site wasn’t going to sustain itself as only an electronic site, plus, people were uploading music that wasn’t electronic, so I re-launched it as ArtistServer in 2005.
GARAGESPIN: How many musicians or bands are now using the service, and what genres are represented?
GIDEON: Here are some current numbers:
Music Fans: 8,000 [G-Spin: that’s not including artists!]
Total Visitors for 12/2005: 18,125
To see what the top genres are, people can click on the “Music” button in the main menu of the site. Once the page loads, you’ll see a column down the left side of the page containing a huge list of genres – next to each is the quantity of songs in that genre. Skimming over that listing, I see a lot of Ambient, Drum-n-Bass, Downtempo, Electronica, and it looks like Hip-Hop is starting to grow. The site is mainly filled with various electronic genres, which is due to the site originally being only for electronic artists. Just recently, I’ve hear some cool Indie tunes on the site – so we’re starting to expand in other areas. If anyone is curious, just join – the initial account is free.
GARAGESPIN: How is ARTISTServer different from other music hosting services?
GIDEON: In feedback, artists have stated that ArtistServer is more professional than most sites, and that they appreciate my work and response times in taking care of things.
Personally, I feel it’s different because it’s always evolving. So many of my competitors have not progressed in ages – no new tools, no site redesign, and no new options. ArtistServer is launching updates to the site and services on a monthly basis, and offers more tools and options to it’s members and artists than most if not all the competition.
For example, while I’m not 100% sure about this, I believe ArtistServer may have been the first music host to offer a mobile site. It’s still in beta, but if you have a mobile phone with Internet access, you can browse to ArtistServer.com and check out the listings of new songs, download mp3 ringtones, or browse the artists.
There’s also the quick and personal service I’ve provided to the artists. While it may seem like it would be difficult providing support for all those site visitors and users, the fact is, I only receive a few emails a week, and take care of issues no matter the day or time. It’s important to me that the site is seen not only as progressive, but trustworthy and dependable too.
GARAGESPIN: You’re the kind of guy that’s always building something, whether it’s technology or partnerships. What’s on the horizon for the Artist server suite? Are there more cool tools, or new partners arriving in 2006?
GIDEON: There’s a whole year’s worth of development outlined on my list, but here’s a few items I can briefly share with you:
Photo Sharing/Gallery – a complete photo and photo gallery management system. This would be something similar to what you see at Flickr, except I won’t have the nifty Flash tools they’ve built.
Groups – Groups will allow people to basically make a ‘mini-site’ on ArtistServer which collects together the people and content that belong to the members of the group. This could be used by a recording label to organize all their artists into one site and store. Another use could be a local scene in some city where friends hang out at some club; they could create a group for that club and just their friends.
ArtistServer API – Like all good modern Web services, ArtistServer will have a fairly extensive API providing access to the data and the content on the site. This will open the doors for people to experience the art and music stored on ArtistServer in new ways – something I refer to as ‘re-contextualizaton’, or the ‘fractalization’ of media.
In terms of partners, I don’t have anything lined up, but I’m starting to look and am open to partnering on a few levels. For example, ArtistServer has become a ‘media network’ and it’s users represent a very attractive and targeted population that a lot of media/technology companies tend to focus on. Not only that, but the site’s reach is expanding each month as we gain more members and unique visitors. Add this up, and you’ll see an opportunity for a company like Creative Labs to come on as a sponsor and partner, giving them a wide range of marketing opportunities. By opportunities, I don’t mean spam; there’s all kinds of ‘buzz’ oriented things ArtistServer could do with the right partner, things that benefit the partner, the community, and help the site sustain and survive. I find it mind boggling how much companies pay for a TV or magazine ad, and how little return comes from it all. There’s no long tail in TV ads, and the tail for magazines isn’t much longer – but with the Web, there’s a much greater marketing opportunity. I’m working on a proposal for this very idea to present to a few select companies that I feel would work well with ArtistServer’s dedication to the artist.
GARAGESPIN: You’ve become a 1-man music host servicing thousands of artists for free, providing services and tools similar to those provided by GarageBand and SoundClick. How have you found both the time and the resources to construct such a rockin platform?
GIDEON: I could answer this in a few ways, but without diving too deep, I’m working with a traditional formula based on determination, motivation, investment and support from my family and the community around the site.
The expanded version, is that I work as a contract programmer working out of my home, which means I’m always here in the office/studio. This allows me to juggle my work load with ArtistServer’s needs. Unfortunately, this also means I work between 60-70hrs/week.
In terms of resources, I’ve had to save up for things like new hard drives and additional servers, or I’ve had to purchase things on credit. All of the site’s services are all free right now, so my only revenue is from Google ads, which covers maybe 35% of my monthly expenses. I don’t draw a salary either, which is one of the larger factors in helping get this started – yet it’s also one of the larger issues which makes the site difficult to manage at times.
One of my goals is to grow this into a company I can work ‘for’. I see both ArtistServer and the system it runs on as foundations for the next stage of user generated content, and really, the only thing that is holding me back from delivering that next stage is time and resources. Plus, I’d love to be able to go back to a more normal work schedule. I normally work until 3AM three nights per week.
GARAGESPIN: I happen to know you’re not only a tech guru, but also a musician and composer. What kind of music do you produce, and is there anything we can check out?
GIDEON: Yes, I started on a 4-track, producing odd 3-chord tunes on my guitar many years ago, and quickly fell in love with recording. These days, I’ve been producing songs that blend electronic music with rock or alternative rock, but I also have several ambient and breakbeat songs online. You can find most of my music here: http://www.ArtistServer.com/SonicWallpaper I suggest either “The Brewdog Strut” or “Stomping Ground” – both contain breakbeats, guitars and fun.
GARAGESPIN: In your opinion, how do you see independent and unsigned musician communities/industries evolving? What advice to do you have for aspiring bands starting out?
GIDEON: Mobile integration will become an important factor in the evolution, it will allow the communities to extend and keep in touch more. There’s so many cool things that can be done when you integrate things like the Web, mobile access, Bluetooth, Flash, music, photos and video.
I also see the whole suggestion system concept moving in, where your listening habits, reviews, etc. will be processed and a listing of artists and songs you may like will become available to you.
RSS will continue to become integrated into the industry, finding its way into all sorts of solutions and empowering everyone along the way.
As for advice for bands and artists, I’ve found it all works like everything else in life. If you want a certain experience or environment, you need to support and create it. If you want to get feedback, you give feedback. If you want a lot of people to check you out, you have to invest time into those people so they know they aren’t wasting their time. All of this boils down to the old saying, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” It doesn’t work every tim
e, but it’s always a good one to try first.
GARAGESPIN: Gideon, thanks for your time. I’m psyched to upload some music to ArtistServer soon.
GIDEON: Thank you for your time and interest in ArtistServer. I’ll be sure to let you know about any major announcements coming up, and yes, please do – sign up and upload your songs, or if you aren’t ready, join anyways and start learning and participating in the growing community.
[Gideon, no offence, but…what the heck are you doing??? :)]