|I was oblivious to 1Sound.
I knew that Rod Underhill -- an
attorney, author and member of the MP3.com founding group -- was up to
something new music-related, but I was sketchy on the details. That all changed
when Lana Crowley contacted me. Rod's partner in the venture wanted to talk to
me. He had some ideas that he wanted to bounce off of me. He wanted to know if
I was interested in lending a hand.
Why did Michael Danke want a piece of me? It could have been
a combination of things. I was one of the few indie artists to have sampled the
major label life when my band Paris By Air was briefly signed to Sony's
Columbia Records. I didn't exactly fit the mode of the starving musician. I had
an MBA. I was a writer-analyst for the Webby-award winning Motley Fool website.
Michael would later admit that he wanted me for my words. On
the MP3.com message board I had created a NO FEE SOPHIE persona, trying to
assist my fellow artists with tips and tricks for online, and offline,
promotion. I hosted virtual promo clinics. I kept my identity under wraps as
long as possible, but I welcomed the opportunity to take off my disguise under
my own terms. MP3.com took notice and had me write weekly promo tips that
appeared on the artist log-in page. MP3.com invited me to be the panel
moderator for the Getting Signed forum at its final ACE event in San Diego.
Michael appreciated my word weaving ways. He needed
editorial content for his new site and figured I would be a natural. He also
needed someone to moderate the 1Sound message board and he liked the way I was
able to remain diplomatically positive through many of the MP3.com flame wars.
I never bothered to ask if there was any money in it for me.
I wanted in. The more Michael told me of the 1Sound vision the more I realized
that it was the right way to go. The whole theme park concept where blogs,
satire and other editorial content would help draw an entirely different crowd
was appealing to me because I had long lamented how music sites had failed to
market beyond the ranks of fellow musicians.
While no uploads would be turned away, a musicologist system
in which songs would be ranked, made sense to me. Only the top rated songs
would be eligible for the charts. Whether a song would be eligible for featured
spots and plays on the streaming webcast stations would also depend on the
song's quality rating. Yes, I realized that would turn off a lot of musical
artists, especially those who would be ranked poorly, but after hearing too
many useless charts that were gamed to the point where one had to stream
through a lot of garbage to get to the good stuff, I found the 1Sound vision
fresh and promising.
Music sites were losing a ton of money by putting up with
gaming. Folks would band together and just play each other's songs to elevate
their chart position and everyone lost. The best song typically got buried. The
site got hit with huge bandwidth bills on the hosting side. The fan would tune
into the chart and never return after getting turned off by the chart track
quality and assume things would only get worse
So, no, I never asked to get paid. Michael had mentioned
that I would probably be the first to draw a paycheck down the line, but I was
offered a 3% stake in the venture and that was good enough for me.
I went to work. To save some coin, the site's programming
was outsourced to Romania. While there were bugs here and there the Romanians
did a more than capable job. The site looked slick. The graphics, created
mostly by Dee from Caustic Soda, were snappy yet conveyed business. By the
summer of 2002 early signups were being taken and I did my part in the
recruiting process. On various artist-related message boards I tried my best to
explain the 1Sound vision -- at least as much as I was told to divulge.
There was one amazing aspect to the 1Sound plan that never
came to be. Michael and Rod were working on a promotion in which site visitors
that would be streaming the station would earn chances at a huge prize payout.
That would have really opened up the site to the casual user that loved the
potential lottery aspects of sites like Pogo.com and IWon.com. Ultimately, the
insurance companies wanted too much in premiums before underwriting that kind
of policy, no matter how obscure the odds of actual winning may have been.
I was never privy to the power struggle between Michael and
Rod. Michael wanted to launch slowly, building up a set number of blog accounts
before opening up the editorial areas and signing up a set number of artists
before launching the message board. In December of 2002 Rod decided to open as
many areas as were ready -- which meant everything save for the editorial
Timing was the key as MP3.com was about to get restrictive
on the number of songs that would be featured on free accounts and many
artist-friendly features like deep-linking (where artists could play the MP3s
off the 1sound server no matter where they were) were no-no on the MP3.com
site. The MP3 uploads allowed on 1Sound for each artist page went from 2 to 3
to 4 to, finally, 6. The site never wanted to be the hub of an artist's entire
works -- only the best tracks of any particular artist.
I didn't hear from Michael for awhile, eventually both Rod
and Michael confirmed that they had parted ways. I was a simpleton in a simple
role. Despite all of my experience in analyzing Internet companies (I had been
doing just that for Fool.com since 1995) I chose the passive route. I never
questioned 1Sound's financial state. I never questioned the changing faces.
Lana put me in contact with Michael and Rod yet -- poof -- I never saw her in
1Sound duty again. Zeeza was going to create some hip editorial work including
zodiacs and add a little femme fatale sex appeal to counter the content that
Rod and I would eventually be scribing but after designing my avatar for the
boards and some emails exchanged over the first few months of the site, she too
seemed to have vanished. Dee, who took some time off for health concerns in her
family, never came back. And, yes, Michael was now gone too.
Michael went on to take his blog-driven vision to
blogdrive.com. He was, heck -- is, brilliant. While everyone may remember how
1Sound was able to sign up more than 1500 artists the site also managed to
register more than 6000 bloggers. Here were folks scribbling about their daily
lives -- bringing an entirely new demographic of teenage angst and more to the
1Sound front door where artists had always wondered why their music was never
exposed to the ideal audience. How did Michael get so many blog-minded writers
to show up? He was a text-ad visionary, recognizing that paying pennies for
targeted ads on sites like Google and Yahoo! made perfect business sense.
While I tried to keep my nose to the grindstone I missed
everyone who had played a part in the site's formative days. What's worse is
that Rod and Michael's split was not amicable. Michael felt he was forced out.
Rod felt that things were going too slow. Yet that created the biggest
roadblock of all -- the 1Sound domain was originally registered by Michael. Rod
and 1Sound's financial silent partner Bryan controlled the server hosting
accounts yet Michael had the domain. It would seem that if either party wanted
to dismantle the site it would have been easy. Michael could have the domain
point elsewhere. Rod had the keys to the content.
While each one claimed legal ownership it wasn't a pretty
situation. I was cut of the diplomatic mold where no bridge was ever burned and
I was asked to keep producing for a divided company that may have been one
nasty argument away from evaporation. Rod argued that Michael was locked out of
the ability to redirect the domain. Either way, it was a wrinkle in what had
been such an amazing start.
Thanks to everyone's work early on, 1Sound became a hub of
traffic. Our daily Alexa rating was peaking at better than 20,000 which was
amazing considering how so many music sites that had been around for years were
ranked significantly lower. Along with the site's stance on filtering for
quality, companies like Microsoft were in the early stages of content
distribution talks. Yet after Rod and Michael split the company's finances
began to weigh heavy.
As far as overhead, 1Sound was lean because no one save for
James (the site's excellent techie-minded programmer) was drawing a paycheck
during the final months of 1Sound. There were two hosting companies charging
$300 and $600 a month respectively, and James was on for $1,500 a month. That
was $2,500 in fixed overhead and the site had yet to get ambitious in terms of
An investor was needed. Bryan found a willing ear in a
publicly-traded Vancouver company by the name of Consolidated Gulfside
Resources. CEO Jack Wasserman had a vision of piecing a few music sites
together and he was drawn to 1Sound's content and traffic.
I found out about this only after a letter of intent was
made public over the summer in 2003. Up to that point the site was starting to
come undone. James was still around but after not being paid due to the site's
sluggish finances, he was understandably not working on the site. After a few
months of negotiations between Wasserman and Bryan, Rod stepped into the
picture and James was paid. He also commissioned James to do some amazing
programming work that featured localized charts. Yes, the old MP3.com had
localized charts but these were a thing of beauty with local classifieds, area
information and more. It was great stuff.
Wasserman had brought on a pair of techies to help gauge the
logistics behind his desired changes to the site as well as implement some
necessary bug-fixing. When Wasserman had a change of heart and decided not to
pursue the buyout of 1Sound, one of the techies approached Rod about not being
paid by Wasserman.
Heading into the extended Thanksgiving weekend of 2003, the
hosting logs showed that the Wasserman-hired techie logged in and, effectively,
shut down most of the site. It was brutal timing. MP3.com had announced that it
was about to shut down until CNET would re-establish itself in early 2004 and
that left 250,000 artists scrambling for a new place to host their music.
In November, realizing that Wasserman was set to move on,
Rod turned to me for ideas on making 1Sound a viable, sustainable venture. I
had been passive all this time. I regret it now. But at the time I just felt it
wasn't my place to question the direction or even wonder about the financial
well being of the site. I realized that the site was going to die, Rod was
getting disillusioned and I had been quiet for too long.
I proposed a three-pronged attack.
1. Reconcile with Michael Danke. If 1Sound was to continue
it would need to patch up that rift. Rod didn't think that would be possible.
He had suggested eventually migrating the site over to Bryan's Sureplay.com
domain. I also offered up Unsigned.net out of my collection of domain names.
Yet this would have taken us, almost literally, back to square one in the sense
of having to re-establish ourselves with a brand new name. Too many artists and
too much press had been generated by 1Sound.com to squander.
2. Grow revenue. Again, thanks to the Motley Fool I had box
seats to witness the boom and bust of the dot-com bubble. I may not have known
how to repair the severed bond between Michael and Rod but I did know that the
site was doing precious little to grow revenue. Given Rod's traffic projections
we could have made a good chunk of change by something as simple as
implementing Google text ads on our pages. We needed to team up with an
affiliate program like Mixonic so we could offer CDs to fill the void that MP3.com
would be leaving behind, and profit from the fact that it would be completely
outsourced and incremental revenue-wise. We needed to launch the editorial
areas that had been under wraps for too long. By putting out more written
content we would be able to attract the non-musician crowd and lower our
average cost per page served while attracting a target audience that would have
been less immune and more likely to follow through on following our sponsored
3. Cut expenses. I knew that we were overpaying at least one
of our hosting companies. We had to shop around for a better deal. I certainly
didn't want to ask James to accept a lower paycheck though maybe there was a
way to substitute some equity in the company in the near-term.
As the site was brought back online, Rod had agreed to the
outline of the plan. After consulting with Bryan I was assigned the title of
President and I would be entitled to a larger chunk of the company. All I asked
was for Rod and Bryan to finance the company through January to give my plan
two months to see if it was bearing fruit. Rod agreed.
Then it happened. The logs showed that the same programmer
went back in and wiped out the site's database. The first hack was a quick fix.
The second was potentially fatal. There was an amazing outpouring of support as
sites like IC-Musicmedia and ArtistLaunch offered to help get 1Sound back on
track. That's the one image that I will always remember. Instead of laughing at
a rival site's problem and drooling over the potential of one less site to
share artists with, the indie-minded sites wanted to help.
It was early December and Rod explained that he wanted to
see if Wasserman would take care of his programmer so he could come fix what
was dismantled. After a few days, Wasserman wrote us all back. The programmer
had denied any wrongdoing. I recognized the stalemate. I knew this was about to
The last post on the message board -- just about the only
part of the site that was functioning properly in the end -- was on January 1,
2004. It was a toast to the site coming back strong in 2004. Shortly after
that, even the message board found error messages.
Will 1Sound come back? I sure hope so. However, every day
that the site remains offline is one day wasted. It's one day removed from the
high traffic ratings and the promising portal meetings. This is not a pretty
story yet I can't pinpoint a villain beyond the hacker that ultimately
destroyed the site. I walk away with respect for everyone and the parts they
played in growing 1Sound's presence and nurturing its vision.
The OMD (online music distribution) model is not dead.
1Sound had so much promise. It just never had a chance. I learned a lot --
maybe enough to eventually prove that the model works.
You can create a site based on free music -- for both the
musician and the potential fan -- and still cover expenses. I miss 1Sound.
Badly. I also refuse to concede that the defeat is permanent. Ultimately I
guess I am a hungry musician after all.
-- Rick Munarriz