man holding his hands to ears listening to music
Louis Quail/Getty Images

The MIDEM-borne application takes "algorithm-ing" to a whole new level.

Google and Facebook have pioneered the art of the web-based content algorithm, but what about for audio? LISNR, a Cincinnati-based mobile tech firm, is hoping to become that solution.

A new app that debuts today on iOS and Android uses an "ultrasonic smart tone" to generate content recommendations based on audio activity picked up by any nearby speaker -- be it a phone, a TV, a car stereo, a sporting event, music venue, supermarket or movie theater. So if you're listening to a Drake song on the radio, LISNR may serve you an article from content partner Complex about the Toronto rapper or one of his affiliated acts, as well an ad from the company's early brand partners like Mondelez, AT&T and Budweiser. Pepsi is the first official brand partner at launch, having helped select LISNR as one of 10 finalists earlier this year at the MIDEMlabs startup competition in Cannes, France. 

"Think of it as the Flipboard for music -- a service that rewards you for listening with content," says LISNR's founder and CEO Rodney Williams. Having been developed in beta form for the last year-and-a-half, LISNR has already attracted over 100,000 users and 6 million total platform downloads, Wiliams reports. "Basically, it can take a bunch of different data points or activity you're doing and it automates specific pieces of content that might make sense for that particular moment," he says, noting that LISNR has seen an average 50% click-through rate on content. "The goal is to get that 50% engagement to 75%.

The LISNR launch comes on the heels of a recently closed round of $3.5 million in Series A funding. One investor includes Roc Nation, Jay Z's multi-hyphenate music and sports management company that tapped LISNR to power new apps for artist client Shakira as well as its Budweiser-branded festival Made In America. The company also occasionally hosts Williams and several other LISNR employees in its New York offices during visits from Cincinnati.

Related

As mobile apps become more and more geo-specific and behaviorally targeted, LISNR collects an exceptionally high amount of personal data. "We wanted to collect data points not just based on the song title and time of day you might be listening to something, but also looking at whether you're moving or not and the type of content you'd have more potential in interacting with," Williams says. "Is that different if you're sitting down versus if you were walking home or working out?"

But, lest things seem too Big Brother-nebulous, Williams says opt-in options will be baked in to improve the user experience. "We're taking all these data points and creating what we call a relevancy score in terms of the articles served," he says. "We'll do a series of updates where you can ‘like' and ‘thumbs-down' and favorite things to make it smart."

As for LISNR's seemingly off-the-grid HQ in Cincinnati? That's the result of Williams' years spent in his late twenties in the digital marketing department at Procter & Gamble, whose nearby startup-accelerator Cintrifuse helped incubate LISNR in 2013. "We got an office space after South By Southwest in 2013, and we're actually about to move out of it," Williams says. "There's five to seven startups that are doing pretty well in Cinci right now."