time to change the way we view music and the arts

Behind the Musicplayr: A Conversation with Thorsten Lüttger

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Recently, I had come across and written a general overview of one music startup based out of Germany that is becoming of rapidly growing interest among the world’s music lovers. It’s quite easy to get very attached very fast and be clamoring after an invite to start a profile of your own. (More on that later.)

The company and service, ladies and gentlemen, is Musicplayr: a music sharing and discovery platform that combines the best of simplicity, social interactivity and most importantly, a singular focus on music. Several sources like Hypebot, Tech Crunch, and even the Wall Street Journal have taken note of its potential. The way I’ve given the “five second description” to my friends is to say, “Think of the Musicplayr profile format as the combination of having a Facebook wall and instead of friends, you have Twitter-type “Followers.” The catch is, you don’t post just anything to your “wall.” Musicplayr’s entire premise revolves around one step linking to songs from various outlets around the internet where you find songs you like. (e.g. YouTube, SoundCloud, Vimeo, Dailymotion, etc.) Copy a URL, click “Link it” and that’s all there is to it!


If you want to know more about the platform functionality itself, feel free to browse my first write up here, which is from SoundCtrl.com, another outlet that I write for.

Not long after that piece went live, I found myself in an exchange with one of Musicplayr’s founders, Thorsten Lüttger. Expressing my liking of the service, I said it would be great if people could get to know more. He agreed and graciously offered to chat with me via Skype. We talked about everything from Musicplayr’s beginnings to some insight on Lüttger himself. The transcript of our conversation, as well as how you can get invited to Musicplayr, is after the break. (See the “Read More” link below this photo.)


Thorsten Lüttger – Co-Founder of Musicplayr (Cit. Lüttger’s Musicplayr Profile)

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Kira: Hi, good to see you.

Lüttger: Good to see you too.

Kira: I just want to say first, thank you for offering to doing this.

Lüttger: Hey, we have an interest in this as well, so I think it’s a mutual benefit, right?

Kira: Right! So, um, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself and about Musicplayr’s origins?

Lüttger: This would be my second startup. I am doing this with a co-founder (Stefan Vosskoetter) and the idea behind Musicplayr came basically because we had the problem that, I had music on my local machine, I had music on YouTube and on SoundCloud and I couldn’t…everyday I had to decide which platform, or where, I should listen to the music and I couldn’t combine them. So the idea was, “Hey, how can I combine them?” We tried this with a Tumblr blog and then we realized, there is no fitting solution out there [so] we built [Musicplayr] by ourselves. Then we showed [it] to friends and people said, “Hey, invite me!” [so then] we built a user management system because we hadn’t had that so far. It was just a very simple solution that we had put out with some developers. And then, the very first goosebump-moment was when I got an email late at night from a friend who was already using Musicplayr in a very raw version, and he had [attached] an Excel sheet with 15 or 20 email addresses of friends and said, “Could you please invite them as well? They’ve seen the product. They love it.” [Stefan and I] were like “Wow. Oh wow, what’s going on here?” So people like it and this is a really awesome feeling.” We decided from then on, “Okay, this is no longer a side project. We should put a little more effort in.” And then…yeah, this is the story of how Musicplayr was growing.
Kira: That’s great. Yeah, I personally love the whole concept behind it. Music is my entire life, so I could totally relate.

Kira: So this is how you got started and how Musicplayr snowballed and has gotten bigger but…I read the blog post that you wrote, explaining how “music is broken…” Was there a particular moment when you said, “I’m really going to do something about this?” You know, lots of people all over the world find things wrong with systems that are in place and say, “I don’t like this” but then don’t actually do something about it. What made you decide, “I’m really going to make a difference. I’m going to change the system.”

Lüttger: That’s a good question. Stefan and me, we are both music addicts. I’m completely into this electronic, very European or German, music scene. So I’ve loved music [for much of my life.] From these movements I still have vinyls at home, and I have um, 500 tapes, with cut radio sessions…using all the sets and stuff. There we said, “Okay, there is something wrong with the system. Let’s try to fix it for ourselves first…and the moment was…this was for me more a progress where we said, “Hey we will build something there,” because we’ve realized the shift for music into the digital era. You listen to good songs in the web somewhere, and you can’t even buy them right now. I have right now a favorite song, which isn’t yet released but it’s already played up and down by famous DJs and you really want to get this song. Right now I’m really happy because one of our users linked this song like two weeks before and I thought, “Great! This is the song I already dance to and I didn’t know what it was. And Shazam and SoundCloud couldn’t detect it because it’s not in their catalogs. The very important point in time was when we got this email and this feedback…We have seen this problem, it’s not a singular problem we are facing, but others are facing it as well.

Kira: I think that is a really good place to come from. It’s speaks to…that you’re very real and down to earth. Like you said in your blog, music is something that everyone can relate to. That being said, I did notice, did a little bit of my homework, that you have degrees in Business Administration….

Lüttger: -laughs-

Kira: …were you concerned at all about venturing into a business that is going to be music-centric and not really having a background in music business per se, from an academic standpoint?

Lüttger: This was not a concern because the thing is, we have three customer segments we are focusing on. One are the consumers, the second are tastemakers –music bloggers or radio editors– and the third one is artists, labels and producers. It’s a big segment, the last one.

Kira: -laughs- Yeah.

Lüttger: You notice since you’ve been in this business for very long. Our background is that we’re able to build a web company and to build products and the consumer point, the consumer view, this is something we can really…this is our view; because, as I said, I still have tapes, vinyls and all that stuff, so I really suffer the same problems where music is broken, as every other consumer. There comes in some of the business stuff as well. The music business is… a friend of mine said, “[The music business] is a battlefield with a lot of bodies already on it, so take care that you’re not getting shot down.” This is one thing that we really take care of. We had a legal assessment in the very early days of Musicplayr where we really learned what is a ‘white area,’ what is a ‘black area’ and what is a ‘gray area,’ and we don’t even want to touch the gray area. We want to build [Musicplayr] as sustainable. This is one thing which is already built into the system, maybe you’ve realized it already… We are only handling links for you right?

Kira: Yep.

Lüttger: We are not caching the content for you from different or various web sources out there. If you upload your own song, only you can listen to it and only after you’ve logged in. That means this is completely different to some companies like Grooveshark, who are in persistent struggle with the Big Four, and for a reason: because the things they are doing are…

Kira: Complicated?

Lüttger: Yeah, it’s super complicated. I don’t understand why they are doing this. Of course, with an illegal product, you will always have growth because users will find you [and] stick to it. Once you shut down, they just switch to someone else. That’s the name of the game I think. But we said, we have to do some sacrifices so that the content owners stay in control. That means, if [a] song is going down on YouTube or on SoundCloud or elsewhere, in that very moment you can’t access it on Musicplayr. It means we only handle the links for the users and the content owner stays in control. If they take it down because YouTube account got a legal takedown notice from some lawyers or some music labels and they take it down, it’s not available on our platform anymore. This is something to build a sustainable model. In the music business, we think you have to satisfy the three groups. You have the consumers on one end; you have to offer a product, which is legal and appears legal. We have a lot of users in Germany who are already concerned, asking, “Is your service legal?” and they can see it or read about it. This is one thing where the user is happy and then you have the tastemakers and artists/labels. I think you can only build a sustainable business if you build a product where everyone is happy with it.

Kira: Actually, that was one of the things I thought. “What happens when the video or the song you like, it gets taken down?” But, I mean, that’s the price of something as complex and personal as music. Somebody writes a song, they want to know that it’s their song and it’s not going to go running rampant, getting stolen…and I think [Musicplayr] is sustainable. I think as long as consumers understand that you’re just trying to be fair you can last.

Kira: I guess my next question is…I know that when I did my original write up, you [and Stefan] seemed like you are looking to get a huge base in the U.S. and that’s why you want to reach out to artists and to get more users here. One of the things I love about Musicplayr, as I’ve used it thus far, is that there are a lot of users from Germany and from Spain and lots of [other countries.] I love discovering artists I’ve never heard of and hearing international material. I’m just wondering…considering the fact that, you know, America tends to export a lot more artists than they import and they tend to, I guess you’d say, listen largely to themselves…

Lüttger: -laughs-

Kira: …do you think that if in the future, you are to get a larger American audience, that might possibly overshadow or diminish kind of cultural diversity you’ve got going on with artists and genres?

Lüttger: I don’t think that this is a risk. Um, think of Musicplayr as an ocean, right? You’re in control of which islands you want to address or you want to keep in your frame of reference. We have people on the platform where, it’s not my music taste, but this is the thing: we have a very strong user base in death metal and hardcore metal. [Users] have their community there and they are happy with it but there are only a few connection points to the others. So, it’s completely up to you, how you build your network. Usually it works because you find a song because you are stumbling around the platform, or you’re linking a song and then you see, “oh, it was linked by someone else before,” and you check that person’s profile, give him or her a try and follow this person. So, one area of the world is flooding the others, will not happen unless the others want to have it this way. Then I say, “Oh the Americans, they have such good taste in country music or whatever, that’s what I’m really digging into,” so I follow guys from there. So, I don’t see this problem because [the tastes] are microcosms, which everyone can build up for themselves.

Kira: That’s a really good analogy. I hadn’t even thought of that because, to me it seems so massive that I just kind of assumed if the American audience base comes in it’s just going to overrun it but you’re right: If you want to listen to something, you can listen to it. If you don’t, you don’t.

Lüttger: And the other thing is, we don’t have this handshake. We don’t have a handshake principle as Facebook has. We only have this Twitter principle. You follow someone, and if for some reason, a bunch of Americans follow my “awful” music taste, then they can do so. but [I can] think, “Hey guys, you can follow me, but I don’t have to follow you because I don’t like your music taste.” You’re free from those influences, as long as you don’t want to have those influences.

Kira: Um, just a bit of a fun question now. If you could get Musicplayr to team up with any one other company, whether it be to boost music power or for a sponsorship…who would you like Musicplayr to work with?

Lüttger: That’s a good, fun question because I have two companies in mind but it’s more about their style. A person I think is doing a really wonderful job concerning product design is Zack Klein from Vimeo…and the other one is a smaller, design community…This is Dribbble. I really like their style and the whole website, how it’s done…I’m always focused on product, so this means I’m reading a lot of those UX (user experience) blogs and stuff. So with those guys, I would love to connect. Business-wise, I haven’t really thought about it so far. There would probably be a lot of opportunities out there in the world. Right now though, there are things in the product that aren’t fully 100% but I think within the next six to eight weeks this will be done. In the next two months we will have the iPhone app and then we are complete. Then the focus is on growth. There will probably be heaps of opportunities we can partner with. Right now the focus is on product.

Kira: Definitely. Once you guys go mobile, I see [Musicplayr] exploding. Mobile is huge right now.

Lüttger: -laughs- Yeah, we have a very simple mission. To build the most beautiful music app the world has seen. So, very low-key.

Kira: Hey, it’s a great aspiration. Get right to the point you know, be the best!

Kira: What would you say, is your favorite song of the moment, that you think everyone has to hear?

Lüttger: That’s interesting because I got this question yesterday. It’s Monkey Safari‘s “Lenu Gugu.” This is exactly the song, which I mentioned before, because it is not yet available. It’s not released on download portals. I love this song. It is of course on my [Musicplayr] profile. This is a song I have heard at a couple of music festivals. You know SXSW?

Kira: Absolutely.

Lüttger: Of course you do! In Barcelona, Spain, there is every year a big festival called Sónar. It’s the same thing and everyone was playing this song up and down and no one knew what it was, and then, this was linked, we found it and I was really happy. So this is now my most favorite song.

Kira: You know what? Maybe this will be the song to get people to say, “Hey, I have to check out his profile, I gotta sign up!”

Lüttger: We can hope!

Kira: My last question, and this is somewhat for me, because I’m curious… How would you describe the music scenes between Cologne and Berlin –since I’ve seen a lot of the German users that you have say that they’re either from Berlin or Cologne and that’s where you’re from.

Lüttger: Berlin is all the rage in a lot of matters, and one area for sure is electronic music. I think Germany and England…we’ve been very strong with electronic music. There are a couple of wonderful DJs from the States as well. Like Derrick May, Derrick Carter, or other older guys…From the UK…Carl Cox…but I think Berlin is the rage right now for a couple of reasons. Like, there is no curfew, you can buy alcohol wherever you want, you’re free to do what you want to do…it’s a really good point of growing the space. So a lot of artists and DJs, whenever they have played once in their lifetime in Berlin, the next time they are on the flyer they put Berlin in brackets because they have played there. To get back to your question, I think Berlin is the leader in electronic music; that’s what I guess –at least in Germany, maybe even Europe or worldwide. Cologne is a wonderful city. In electronic music it’s very important, in the minimal area –like minimal techno, minimal house…It’s just different. I think all the other [German] cities like Hamburg or Munich, the big cities in Germany…they cannot compete and they should not compete.

Kira: Oh really? Why do you say that?

Lüttger: That’s how it is. Because of the variety of parties. In Munich, Hamburg and Cologne you find one great party. This is easy to do. But, the difference to Berlin is, Berlin has heaps of great opportunities each single night. This is the difference. There is a big expat scene, a big web scene in Berlin…it’s our capital right, so that’s where it aggregates.

Kira: I suppose for me, it seems a little backwards ’cause I’m thinking, such a big, cosmopolitan city…like I think of New York City and I think of Manhattan . That’s a big city and you go in there on any week(end) night and there’s a billion parties going on. So, to think that you have a large city where there’s one main party and that’s really all you can find…it seems a little…it’s definitely different to me.

Lüttger: Easier. It makes the position easier. If you’re in Cologne or Hamburg, you have this one single party and you meet all your friends there because everyone is going there. It’s cool.

Kira: -laughs- Yeah, I’ll have to get there sometime. In the meantime, I’m going to check out the [Monkey Safari] song right now.

Lüttger: Yeah, let me know if you like it. You can comment on it and I will see how you think about it.

Kira: Well, thanks a lot. It was great talking to you! I’ll be in touch!

Lüttger: Thanks very much Kira. Bye!

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If you want to start using Musicplayr for yourself, just head over to Musicplayr.com and get to curating your own special playlists of all your favorite songs! You can follow me at shadowmelody1.musicplayr.com

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