Eric Davich ’06 is one of the founders of the music-streaming app Songza, which has around 4.8 million users in the U.S. and Canada. While a student a Bowdoin, Davich was a member of the bands Second Breakfast and Jim Weeks Philharmonic, named after his proctor. He performed vocals, guitar and keyboard. The Orient spoke to him over the phone about the development of his app since his time at Bowdoin.
Can you start with some basic facts about Songza and how you got started?
First, I’ll give a quick overview of what Songza is. Our goal is to make what you’re doing right now better. And we do that by serving up the perfect, expertly-curated playlists for what you’re doing. So, based on the time of the day, the day of the week and the device that you’re on—and based on anything else we know about you—we’ll recognize what you’re doing and personalize your experience by giving you three or four playlists that are perfectly catered to that moment. We started Songza in 2010, after we had sold our first service, called Amie Street. In March 2012, we came up with the idea for the “music concierge,” and that’s when we started to really make our mark in the music industry and the technology world.
Who makes the playlists and chooses which playlists fit in which context?
We have a network of about 50 music experts that we call on to curate playlists. These people are typically professional music writers, music journalists, ethnomusicologists, music producers, film scorers—anyone you could imagine who would be an expert on music. Say our in-house team decides, from listening to our users and communicating with them, that they really need music for drinking gourmet coffee. We’ll decide the best kinds of music for drinking gourmet coffee, and then enlist individual curators to make that playlist.
It’s been a short run from Bowdoin to where you are today. How did you get from here to there? What were you involved in at Bowdoin?
I majored in music and I played a ton of music. I was in a lot of ensembles and I spent a lot of time doing independent studies at Bowdoin. I also spent some time doing internships at record labels, as well as Billboard magazine during my summers. I also played in some bands, the jazz ensemble, the world music ensemble, off-campus bands and some jazz groups. I played a lot of different professional gigs around town and in other parts of the greater Brunswick and Portland area.
After I graduated, I moved to New York City to try to make it as a musician. I kept doing my own music, started a band with one of my classmates from Bowdoin, Dan Wilson ’06, and we were gigging around town. I was also hosting an open-mic night in New York. I was trying to make money in music any way I could. And while I was doing that I was simultaneously interning at a record company and sort of seeing how the music industry worked and how it was shrinking and not really going in a positive direction.
So I was coincidentally introduced to a group who had already begun a digital download store, Amie Street, out of college where artists could upload their own music and sell it.
All the songs started for free and increased in price the more they were purchased, so it was a very level playing field for emerging artists. It was a great place to put my music, and I thought it was a really cool model and I reached out to them with a very aggressively titled email—I believe it was, “I wanna work for you” [Davich laughs.]
Your app has found a lot of success, but there are a lot of music streaming services out there. How have you been able to compete with services like Spotify, Pandora or iTunes radio?
What’s really helped us grow in a natural and organic way is the way that we not only curate and make it easy to get you the perfect playlist, but use our unique personality and tastemaking instincts to curate music. You don’t really imagine yourself having a personal, human connection with those services, whereas with Songza, people say, “Wow, how did Songza know that was exactly what I needed right now? They know me better than my boyfriend!”
As a musician yourself, how do you respond to the fears of musicians that digital streaming is replacing a more traditional model of purchased audio?
I don’t think that it’s replacing anything. In the same way that people used to buy records, and then they started to buy tape cassettes, and then they started to buy CDs. They’re now starting to stream. Streaming is in its very early stages, and people aren’t necessarily seeing the amount of revenue that it’s going to bring to them. On the other hand, what we offer to artists coming from Songza is not that revenue from your recorded music skills, per se (although we do pay out on a per-stream basis). The big piece of revenue that we can help artists generate is ad dollars. We’ve worked with several artists thus far on campaigns in which they’re working with a brand to earn more money than they probably could off of hundreds of thousands of recorded music sales.