Innovator

Ian Rogers’s Digital Music Marketing Factory


Ian Rogers got into the music business in a roundabout way. While working on a PhD in computer science at Indiana University in 1993, he created a fan site devoted to the Beastie Boys, one of his favorite bands. The Beastie Boys’ manager was so impressed that he recruited Rogers to manage the rowdy hip-hop act’s digital outreach efforts. Starting salary: $8.50 an hour.

Rogers, 38, is now chief executive of Topspin Media, a Los Angeles company whose software helps musicians market and sell to fans online. It’s used by industry luminaries such as Paul McCartney, David Byrne, Eminem, and, Rogers’s old bosses, the Beastie Boys. Topspin provides bands with a suite of technologies. One helps them stream songs and videos on websites and Facebook pages. Bands can offer listeners a free song in exchange for an e-mail address—a way to build a database of potential customers. Through a Topspin dashboard, musicians connect with fans via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter. The company also creates customized e-commerce sites to help bands sell albums and merchandise. Topspin processes the orders and handles shipping.

Darren Webb, webmaster for the Icelandic post-rock ensemble Sigur Rós, says he used to pay one company to operate Sigur Rós’s digital storefront while relying on YouTube (GOOG) to deliver the band’s streaming media. Its mailing list was hosted by a third service. With Topspin, “now they are all in one system,” says Webb. Adam Farrell, vice-president for marketing at Beggars Group, which owns four record labels, says “Topspin is creating the Kinko’s (FDX) of digital music marketing.”

Topspin takes 15 percent of its customers’ retail sales and charges a $9.99-a-month licensing fee. The company won’t reveal its revenues. Many bands use its software to sell lucrative package deals—like a CD, a vinyl record, and a T-shirt—and Topspin says its average transaction price is $22. “The Internet took the compact disc and unbundled it into songs,” says Rogers. “But there also are opportunities to rebundle things in ways that didn’t exist before.”

Rogers helped launch Topspin three years ago with co-founders Shamal Ranasinghe and Peter Gotcher. By then, he was an established music industry innovator. In 1998 he started Nullsoft, the company responsible for WinAmp, a software program that manages music libraries. He sold it two years later to AOL (AOL). Then he started Mediacode, developer of Muse.Net, an early cloud music service. Yahoo! (YHOO) acquired that company in 2003, and Rogers stayed on to run the music division. He says he “loved” his time there but grew weary of dealing with record labels reluctant to experiment online. “Having worked with artists, I knew there were people who actually wanted my help,” he says. The bands “don’t just need it. They want it.”

EARLY GIG

Earned $8.50 an hour managing the Beastie Boys’ website

FIRST HIT

Sold Nullsoft, maker of an early desktop music player, to AOL

NOW PLAYING

Topspin is “the Kinko’s of digital music marketing,” says a fan

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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