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.