This app, which won the 2015 Mobile Premier Award at Mobile World Congress, wants to help music fans connect to the artists behind their favorite songs – and help musicians make more cash
A decade ago, rock stars were masters of the universe: uber-cool, wealthy, fawned on by groupies and lionized as cultural icons.
But then broadband Internet happened, “and music essentially became free,” alt-rock musician and tech entrepreneur Haran Yaffe told Geektime.
“Today, most musicians are not even able to make a living and if they do, it’s not from their recorded music–it’s from playing live shows and selling merchandise.”
Yaffe says that the Web 2.0 was supposed to liberate musicians from the “bad guys” at record labels. Instead, he said, artists have become slaves to promoting themselves on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter – a Sisyphean task that does not yield much in the way of actual revenue.
In fact, statistics back up his assertion. In 1999, musicians earned $14.6 billion in revenues for recordings, but by 2012, the number was $5.35 billion. As cultural critic Jaron Lanier has observed, the number of middle-class musicians, those who might not be household names but could support a family on their earnings, has plummeted.
Yaffe looked at this situation and teamed up with his friend Omri Erez to found Fansino, an Android app that he hopes will give power back to musicians and help them earn more money. This week, Fansino won the 2015 Mobile Premier Awards “Best App of the Year” at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The app beat out 800 other nominees in a contest that has been described as the mobile world’s equivalent of “Best Motion Picture” at the Oscars.
How does it work?
Fansino is an app downloaded by both musicians and fans. For musicians, the app addresses the pain point of not knowing who their listeners are. Music streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and Deezer only pay musicians a fraction of a cent for each stream of a song, nor do they tell musicians who listened.
“Imagine going to see a show at a club and the bouncer at the entrance put a masks on your audience. The band is playing a show but they have no idea who is listening to them.”
This is a problem, because in today’s music ecosystem, for a musician to be successful, he has to “engage with his audience and nurture intimacy.”
Fansino, explains Yaffe, is essentially a big data or analytics company, but with a very clean and seamless user interface.
When a user downloads the app, it monitors what she is listening to on her mobile device. It does this without any sort of partnership with the music streaming companies. Then, when an artist checks into the app, they can see who is listening to their song in real time and give them a shout out.
“We believe that a like and a follow are meaningless. It means that someone dedicated a fraction of a second of their life to click a button. The fact that the big artists have 17 million fans on Facebook and 70 million followers on Twitter is meaningless. Because at the end of the day, they’re not actual fans, they spent a second. We say let’s focus on the fans that matter –the people who spend at least three minutes of their life to listen to a song.
“If the artist is lesser-known, there may only be two users listening to their song at a given time. In that case, the artist can reach out to both of them, say hi, and engage them in conversation.
“If someone like Rihanna uses the app, there may be 1,000 simultaneous listeners. It would defeat the purpose of the app for her to say hi to all of them at once, so Fansino would choose the most important fans – for instance, those with birthdays, or those located in a city where she has an upcoming concert, and suggest that she message them.”
Yes, but how does Fansino know what users are listening to?
“Fans expose themselves willingly to us by downloading our app.”
But why should fans download the app?
“Sometimes, when you listen to a piece of music, suddenly you say, ‘Wow! This song is about me. You want to tell that to the artist. The reason people go on Facebook and post stuff on artists’ pages is that they want to connect. They want to be recognized.
“Imagine a 15-year-old girl standing in her room with posters of One Direction all over her walls. And she’s singing into her hair brush. And suddenly one of the guys in the poster talks back to her and says, ‘Hey Tiffany, thank you for being our number-one fan in Chicago.’
“That’s awesome! That girl just became Miss Popularity in her school. That girl – her life just changed. And we want to help build those connections.”
If this seems like overkill, Yaffe explains that this is how Taylor Swift got so famous.
“She works hard at connecting with her fans. During Christmas she just sent gifts to her top fans that she wrapped herself. If she has time for that, she is probably doing something right.”
Besides, it is this very intense bond between artists and their audience that gives meaning to a musician’s life – and could also help them earn more money.
“That basic connection that happens between an artist and his audience, we want to bring that back to life again. This is the juice that keeps musicians going. This is why artists work.”
It definitely worked for Yaffe. He met his wife while performing a concert in New York City.
“I had a single groupie,” Yaffe jokes, “and I married her.”
After almost dying in war, passionate about living
Yaffe describes himself as “passionate about living,” but in his case it’s more than just a cliché.
In August 2006, on one of the last days of Israel’s war with Lebanon, Yaffe’s armored personnel carrier was hit by an anti-tank missile as it was making its way back to the Israeli border.
“Stay with us, Yaffe, stay with us,” his fellow soldiers cried out as they tore off his clothes to check the extent of his injuries. Yaffe was taken to Rambam hospital where he was so disfigured from burns to his face that his own parents could not identify him.
Doctors performed several emergency surgeries and were about to amputate his leg but thought better since he was missing an abdominal wall and probably wouldn’t survive anyway.
Yaffe relates that after ten days in a coma, his single “Morning in Tel Aviv,” which he had recorded before the war, was played on the radio.
The D.J. announced, “This is Haran Yaffe’s single who is currently in a coma. Wake up Haran, wake up.”
And shortly afterwards, he did.
After a long rehabilitation, Yaffe eventually moved to New York where he studied at Columbia University. Some time later, he moved to Hamburg, where he played in a band and for the past year and a half worked with his CTO Omri Erez on developing Fansino. The pair recently relocated to the Bay Area.
Make your customers rich
If Yaffe can be described as a hard-core fan of someone, it is of computer scientist and cultural critic Jaron Lanier.
“Who Owns the Future? is my favorite book,” he gushes. “He is my hero, my guiding light when it comes to technology and the rights of artists and creators.”
Jaron Lanier argues that musicians, journalists, photographers and other artists are the canaries in the coal mine of digital disruption and that what he calls “Siren Servers” or massive computers owned by large tech companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and others, are nilly-willy playing a game of musical chairs with the economy that is ultimately unsustainable.
Lanier has advised startups to “make your customers rich,” as opposed to simply making tech companies rich, and Yaffe seems to have taken this advice to heart.
His monetization model, he says, will eventually be e-commerce or subscriptions, but he refuses to have advertising on his app or sell users’ data.
“I’m a techie,” he says, “I invent stuff. But it’s always, ‘How can I benefit creators? How do I avoid ever becoming in a position where I am a Siren Server? How do I avoid a position where I become abusive to my users?”
Instead, says Yaffe, his goal is to funnel more money back to the creators.
“We aren’t going against the labels. We will work with the labels. We want to make sure artists are making more money, to make sure labels have enough money to produce more albums. At the end of the day, it’s a business which requires money. If no artist has the money to produce a new album, music will die.”
For this reason, Yaffe says he is impatient with the term ‘disruption.’
“I don’t want to disrupt the music industry. The world is disrupted too much already. The ecosystem of music and art is damaged at the moment, it’s broken. I’m here to bring a band-aid.”