Unlike years past, 2012 lacked debuts by big music services that require tens of millions of dollars of venture capital. Rdio, Vevo and Guvera made the list in 2010. Turntable was on last year's list. In fact, this year's list doesn't have a single service on the list that requires licenses record labels to operate.
Instead, the best and most interesting music startups were the ones that serve artists, sell tickets and aid music discovery. Some, like Mobile Roadie and We Are Hunted, have been around for years and recently gained impressive momentum. Others, like StageIt and PledgeMusic, are transforming how artists interact with their fans.
Here are Billboard's best startups of 2012.
The Hollywood startup, founded by serial entrepreneur Chris Kantrowitz, is cloud storage and transfer designed just for musicians. Lossless decompression, auto-backups, de-duplication - Gobbler has features only a recording engineer, or someone acting as his own audio engineer, would love. Kantrowitz, who spent years on the road with major artists from Lenny Kravitz to Katy Perry as their digital visuals designer, isolated what's most important to musicians who collaborate remotely with other artists and made it easy and lightning fast. - Alex Pham
Launched in 2009, the do-it-yourself mobile-app creator kept on innovating by introducing launching mobile websites for entry-level customers and iPad apps for customers who want a premium experience. The mobile websites, optimized for any browser, are part of the free service tier. Mobile apps cost $99 per month and iPad apps cost $299 per month. Extra tool packages, such as an advanced designed features or advanced analytics, cost extra. The company now powers apps from everybody from Jonas Brothers to the San Diego Zoo.
Ben Folds, Stars, Old 97's and Saves the Day are among the artists who have flocked to crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic to raise money to fund records, albums or tours. Artists often use the service to take preorders for a finished album rather than source funds to start a project, but maybe that's part of its popularity. PledgeMusic now has offices in both London and New York and has been able to expand its reach through partnerships with such artist services companies as Topspin Media, INgrooves Fontana, Artist Growth, Nimbit and Sonicbids.
This site, which dissects and debates rap lyrics, grew mostly under the radar, quietly fueled by more than 100,000 hard-core rap geeks who contributed lyrics to hundreds of thousands of songs, as well as more than a million annotations explaining the various nuances of those lyrics. For now, the site is unlicensed, meaning it relies on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to be able to publish the lyrics and annotations. It's working with music publishers to find a mutually beneficial business model, according to co-founder Ilan Zechory. Andreessen Horowitz is optimistic about the site's future; in October, the venture firm invested $15 million in the New York startup.
ScoreBig set the ticketing world on its ear when it launched its dynamic pricing service in 2011, sending everyone else to scramble to come up with a similar offering. ScoreBig uses a name-your-own-price feature in order to move tickets that might not otherwise be sold - a significant problem for many live events. Users enter a price they'd be willing to pay, but the Hollywood company uses an algorithm to decide whether it should accept the offer to sell the ticket, taking into account velocity of ticket sales, geographic pricing differences, event type and number of days before the event. That secret sauce allows ScoreBig to not only move tickets, but optimize the market price while letting promoters avoid having to use that vile "D word" - discounting.
Internet radio gets social with the Soundrop app for Spotify. Users can enter one of dozens of genre and artist-specific rooms to listen to songs, influence the playlist and chat with others. Soundrop also allows people to create their own rooms and play music with friends. Tabs for suggested and trending rooms aid discovery. The Oslo, Norway-based company raised $3 million in June and recently debuted an improved design with new features. It is a midemlab finalist in the "Music discovery, Recommendation and Creation" category.
Ever see those ads that promise to let people "make thousands a day working from home"? This Los Angeles startup actually does that for artists. The only trick is that they need to have at least some following - enough fans who would pay $10 or $20 to access a live, interactive video session with the musician, and maybe even leave a tip. We're not the only ones to think highly of StageIt. Sean Parker, Jimmy Buffett and other investors do too, to the tune of $3.1 million raised.
Local deals and live music come together with Thrillcall, a San Francisco-based startup that works with venues and promoters to offer music fans in select cities access to last-minute and exclusive tickets and ticket packages. Thrillcall is a mobile-first company. Leaving work and looking for something to do while on the go? Thrillcall wants to help. Its iPhone app is meant to give people mobile access to up-to-the-minute listings on concert info and access to local "flash" sales in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. More cities are on the way.
Nestled in Santa Monica, Calif., is TuneWiki, the maker of the most popular app on Spotify in 2012. The company's eponymous application, which is also available on iOS and Android devices, synchronizes lyrics with songs as they are being played. Its database has crowdsourced lyrics for millions tracks in more than 40 languages. There are many lyric apps, but TuneWiki pioneered some of the most social features around lyrics, including Casey Kasem-style dedications that appear on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere and, its newest feature, LyricArt, which lets users design a lyric postcard with photos. Within the last 9 months, TuneWiki users shared more than 2 million licensed lyrics, said the company's chief executive Larry Goldberg.
We Are Hunted:
Launched in 2009, We Are Hunted developed a proprietary technology that scans the Internet to identify new and trending music and creates charts and playlists. Nobody knows what goes on inside the black box, but out come charts -- emerging tracks, mainstream music, top remixes -- and playlists that capture the zeitgeist of the online world. Although the We Are Hunted website and mobile app have always been top-notch, the service really hit another level when it debuted its excellent Spotify app. Originally based in Australia, the company is now located in San Francisco.
William Gruger also contributed to his article.