3 reasons music startups are insane: Swift.fm founder Edward Aten - Technical.ly Philly

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May 22, 2013 11:30 am

3 reasons music startups are insane: Swift.fm founder Edward Aten

In summer 2009, Twitter-based music social sharing service Swift.fm was launched in San Francisco by Edward Aten and pivoted two years later to focus on unreleased music. By fall 2011 it was acquired and now the founder is working on a new music-focused startup. Aten tells us why it's "impossible and insane."
This article is a partnership between Technically Philly and 215mag.com about the intersection of music, art and technology.

He doesn’t live here, but Philly had an impact on him — and the slice of the music industry he has already touched.

In summer 2009, Twitter-based music social sharing service Swift.fm was launched in San Francisco by Edward Aten (@aten) and pivoted two years later to focus on unreleased music. By fall 2011, the startup, which was leveraged by the Roots and RJD2 among others, was quietly acquired.

Now, Aten, who grew up in the Midwest but has musical family roots here (WXPN Helen Leicht is his aunt), is working on CopThis, a service to power merchandise sales from fans at music venues. It’s part of Aten’s passion about mobile being more transformational than just squeezing down a desktop experience.

Below, Technically Philly hears from the Bay Area entrepreneur about building a business around music and the inevitable Eagles reference.

What inspired you to create Swift.fm?

Swift.fm was born out of an idea that social would change the way artists communicated with their fans. We saw early that artists were going to own their own distribution channels and that each type of media — photos, video, etc. — would have its own network. We wanted to be that for music. We sold before we had a chance to achieve our entire dream but made a lot of headway.

We’ve seen you intersect the Philadelphia music scene, what’s the connection?

A whole side of my family is from Philadelphia. My step-grandfather started the first FM rock station there. My aunt Helen Leicht, is a DJ on XPN. I grew up watching a ton of Phillies games and listening to my family curse about the Eagles.

I’ve always admired the GSD mindset of Philadelphia.

What were some of the challenges that came with creating a product focused on music?

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Oh man. Products that actually contain music content are somewhere between impossible and insane. A few thoughts:

  1. People misjudge the market: People into music drastically overestimate the role music plays in the typical person’s life.
  2. The labels will never be disrupted: The music people love moves slowly, the labels own 100 percent of it. That’s neither good nor bad, it just is what it is.
  3. Music has a culture of cash, but tech has a culture of equity. It’s a challenge to get these two worlds to meet in a way that helps you build a valuable company or compelling product.

What are your thoughts on building a product vs. building a business?

In tech, just having a product can be enough to have a business. They key is to do something people want. This is actually a lot harder than it sounds.

What’s the latest with CopThis?

We are hiring great designers and engineers! Tweet @aten.

What  is the one piece of advice you would give those looking to build startups?

Do the smallest, fastest thing possible thing you can to prove your idea isn’t crazy.

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