The Genesis of 8tracks


David being bicoastal
David being bicoastal

To kick off the new 8tracks blog, I thought it’d be useful to explain how I first arrived at the concept behind the business. While 8tracks was founded in October 2006 and launched in August 2008, its origin dates back to a business plan I wrote some years earlier.

In 1998, after 3 years in London, I moved back to the States to attend business school at Berkeley. I’d noted in my application that I wanted to start an internet music company, but I didn’t really know of what sort. Real Networks, Liquid Audio and N2K were companies I’d uncovered when researching whether music could be delivered on the internet, and Michael Robertson’s MP3.com would emerge shortly after I started at Berkeley. But it wasn’t until September 1999 that I found my real inspiration: Napster.

Downloading anything you could think of was pretty cool. But what happened once that was accomplished? What was next? For me, the most compelling feature of Napster 1.0 was the “hotlist” button. After downloading something interesting or a bit obscure, I could click on the “hotlist” button next to the uploader’s name to reveal the other music on his hard drive. It was, for me, the first example of *social* music discovery on the web. Admittedly, since the files weren’t sorted in any meaningful way, it was quite unorganized. But I knew there was something big there.

At the same time, I was listening to a lot of the electronic music I’d come to love in the clubs of London. It was intriguing that fans of these myriad styles often didn’t know or follow the artists actually creating the songs. Because there were so many fragmented producers of electronic music, the DJ served as listeners’ focal point. Facing a nearly infinite catalog of music now available via Napster, listeners needed a way to find new stuff they’d like, and I thought there could be a way to replicate this DJ paradigm online.

So, during the fall of 1999, I wrote a plan for a business I called “Sampled & Sorted” as part of a media management class. The name sought to describe literally the value proposition a DJ on the service would offer to listeners: sampling a bunch of music in advance, and sorting the best tracks into playlists that would be of interest to those with shared tastes. But the name also referenced certain key elements of dance music culture — the fact that a lot of electronic music is created from samples, and the oft-heard UK clubgoer’s query: “You sorted, mate?”

The plan outlined a service on which DJs would create profiles, including playlists and photos, and link to others on the service whose taste they respected. Listeners could create their own profiles and tune into DJs’ playlists. The Digital Millennial Copyright Act had been enacted about a year earlier, and its compulsory license for webcasting seemed like the right way to offer a free, legal, ad-supported, radio-like experience. In short, Sampled & Sorted would offer what would later come to be known as a social network, but focused first on streaming electronic music and eventually on all music.

Comments

comments

24 Responses to “The Genesis of 8tracks”

  1. Chad

    7 years to reach critical mass. Looks like 8tracks is getting heavy!!!! Thanks for sharing the inspiration.

    Reply
  2. Pasupuleti Kiran

    Seems like years of patience and hard work. A great app and the best way to discover the music we like. Congratulations on being so successful in your endeavour!!!

    Reply
  3. Dodze

    Interesting to hear how it all started and 8tracks is a great site It doesnt just help people find new music but gets people going through their own collections again.

    Reply
  4. halitosis

    Nice!! I’m really thankful for 8tracks. And it keeps surprising me!

    Reply
  5. Paul Amistad

    Well perfect playlists for every single mood your in! Especially when your to bummed out yourself to pick songs for your own playlist. hahah thanks for founding 8tracks! much appreciated!

    Reply
  6. Sankar B S

    Well 8tracks has come a long way from just a idea on a piece of paper , i wonder if you have plans of letting budding artists use this as a medium to showcase their first songs , perhaps a meeting place for ppl to meet , interact and forming future great bands!

    Reply
  7. Ezequiel Bertorini

    Hey! nice site! amazing music!
    Could I talk to you about a business proposal, David?
    Thank you!

    Reply
  8. Ranhiru Cooray

    Thank you very much staring 8tracks! I’d die without it at work. Good luck with everything David!

    Reply
  9. Ranhiru Cooray

    Thank you very much for starting 8tracks! I’d die without it at work. Good luck with everything David!

    Reply
  10. Carl K. McDonald

    Admittedly, since the files weren’t sorted in any meaningful way, it was quite unorganized. But I knew there was something big there.

    Reply
  11. Olivia Unseld

    How did 8 tracks start? What is the thought behind the name & website 8tracks? Why is the 8 in the logo diagonal? Is it supposed to have anything to do with infinity?

    Reply
    • David Porter

      Hi Olivia! The name is a literal description of what people do on the service: curate and consume playlists that contain at least 8 tracks. It also references the 8-track tape of the 70s.

      The logo is intended to suggest both 8 and infinity; the notion is that the platform helps people make sense of a nearly infinite selection of music now available through “packaging” of that music into playlists.

      Reply

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