Merge.fm fuses music, fan experience in new web application
According to Adam Steele, there are three things most important to musicians in a local band: getting their music heard, playing a good show, and writing a great song.
“In the bands I’ve belonged to in the past, the songwriting process was something the fans couldn’t experience with us, unlike the other two,” said Steele, a musician and University of Illinois graduate student in aerospace engineering. “None of our fans could experience the rush we had when writing material.”
Steele wanted to change this, and after taking a technology entrepreneurship class in Fall 2008, he had his chance. Along with classmate Will Leinweber, a graduate student in bioengineering, and friend August Knecht, a senior in computer engineering, Steele founded Merge.fm, a Web application that connects the creative songwriting experience of a local band directly to their fans, while providing the band an avenue to make additional money.
“Merge.fm is motivated by the fact that there are ways for musicians to sell music, for instance on iTunes, and there are ways for musicians to make revenue from live shows, but there’s no way to do the same with the songwriting and creative process. In fact, there’s no way to share this process with the fans period,” Steele said. “The goal of Merge.fm is to make a scalable way to not only share the creative process but also enable bands to be compensated for sharing their unique creative experience.”
Merge.fm launched on June 16 to the public. The application showcases the songwriting process of several prominent local bands, including Elsinore and Withershins.
“We're just about to add our first bits of media,” said Ryan Groff, lead vocalist and guitarist for Elsinore. “I'm excited to see what this can and will do for both their company and our band because the potential is gigantic!”
Fans are allowed one free in-process song preview per band to introduce them to the music. If they like what they hear, they can subscribe to the band to participate actively in the entire songwriting and creative process. Currently, a subscription is $4.99/month, but Steele plans to either let the bands choose their own price or base a subscription on a band’s popularity in the future.
“We already have several subscribers and things are working very well so far,” Steele said. “We’re working closely with the bands to fix any kinks and bring the most awesome music experience to the fans.”
Since its conception, three more employees joined Merge.fm. More recently, they began collaborating with Sean Meyn, a Coordinated Science Lab researcher and professor of electrical and computer engineering.
“(Meyn) has given us some good contacts from his network that may be really useful to us,” Steele said. “That has been our starting point with him, and we hope it will grow from there.”
From a technology standpoint, Steele said Merge.fm is different from other music sharing sites because not only is it the first site allowing musicians to share the creative process with fans, but it also will have (patent pending) audio version control.
“This means that more than one person can edit a project on the site, similar to Wikipedia,” Steele explained. “Right now, if you’re sharing music on other sites, you need a project manager to decide what happens. With Merge.fm, fans will be able to take an artist’s song and make their own versions as they watch the artist make their music.”
Merge.fm won the Technology Entrepreneur Center’s Cozad New Venture competition last year. The competition was designed to encourage students, researchers and community members to create new sustainable businesses in the Champaign-Urbana area, according to the TEC website. This win motivated the company to work even harder to accomplish their goals.
“Every time I’m not doing something related to school, I work on this. I’m motivated to do something that matters,” Steele said. “We’re trying to make a significant impact on the music industry. We hope to create a new channel for revenue and allow fans and musicians to share the creative experience for the first time.”