Sports enthusiasts have fantasy leagues, box-office buffs have the Hollywood Stock Exchange. Now social game startup TastermakerX, co-founded by two former A&R reps, has its sights set on being a virtual stock market for the guy who totally knew Gotye was going to blow up six months before the rest of America.
Debuting Thursday across Apple iOS products (iPhone, iPad and iTouch) and a public web site (a private beta version was introduced in March at South by Southwest), TastemakerX is the brainchild of Marc Ruxin and Sandro Pugliese, both former music execs-turned-tech entrepreneurs. Ruxin was a former EMI A&R scout who went on to run startups like Eveo and iVast and most recently served as chief innovation officer at ad agencies McCann Erickson and Universal McCann; Pugliese began his career in A&R at EMI, Elektra and Virgin before becoming a partner at interactive agency RedStapler and co-founder digital music company SooLoos. Having been effectively out of the music industry since the mid-90s, Ruxin had long been gestating the idea for a company that could democratize the process of music discovery, but was waiting for the right time.
"In the old days, the only way you could be a tastemaker in music was to be a radio person or an A&R rep or a label honcho. Now with the social web anyone can be a tastemaker," he says. "If you look at fantasy sports, there's 50 million people around the world playing everything from cricket to football and they're not watching sports, they're watching data. People talk about data gamification, so shouldn't culture be gamified? Music is a bigger point than any other sport."
TastemakerX allows music buffs to invest in their favorite artists using virtual currency (25,000 "notes," in the game's parlance) as a way of staking claim of their own cultural foresight. Users can tweet, Facebook or eventually add photos to their investments to further socialize their activity -- so, if you saw Frank Ocean play Coachella in April, you could point to your early investment in the singer after his stock inflates when his debut album Channel Orange is released in July. Since beta users skew heavily towards indie rock, the user-driven pricing has little relation to chart performance -- which would explain why Carly Rae Jepsen was trading at an average share price of $1.65 the day "Call Me Maybe" topped the Billboard Hot 100, while dream-poppers Beach House traded at a heftier $8.49 without a charting single.
Lending some credence to the project is an impressive lineup of tastemaking investors on board -- Baseline Ventures' Steve Anderson (an early investor in Instagram and Draw Something), True Ventures' Jon Callaghan (an early investor in Soundtracking and Bandcamp), Federated Media's John Battelle, William Morris Endeavor's music head Marc Geiger, Topspin's Ian Rogers, AEG's Andrew Klein and Todd Goldstein, former Microsoft exec Mich Matthews and MediaLink's Michael Kassan, among others. Full disclosure: Guggenheim Partners' Todd Boehly, an investor in Billboard's parent company Prometheus Global Media, is also an investor. The company raised $1.8 million in Series A funding earlier this year.
True Ventures' Callaghan sees TastemakerX filling a void that other music and streaming services have yet to fully cover. "The problem is still discovery and preference matching," he says. "You may love the latest Cults song or Gotye single, and from Spotify you can blast it horizontally out to those large horizontal platforms, but that doesn't allow me to figure out what else you like. This allows for the same kind of sentiment and allocation that all of us have in our daily lives."
Ruxin expects to announce additional ways in which players can earn more "notes" to invest in artists in the coming weeks, and hopes to have sponsors and event partners on board this fall to help offer free currency and giveaways to reward active players. API integrations with Songkick and other music services are in the works, too. "We have 100,000 of these artist pages, and the goal is that these will become great user experiences where bands can promote their stuff," Ruxin says.