Insider Interview: Soundwave Founder, Brendan O’Driscoll

By Kira Grunenberg

Find the full review of Soundwave here.

Soundwave is a brand new music discovery and sharing app, developed by a team of creative people based in Dublin, Ireland. The app’s active use has been a long time in coming, as the company began its work in February 2012.

Recently having attended the South by Southwest Festival in Austin this past March, and having shown their hard work in action, Soundwave is now signing up users for its newest beta version and working furiously to make the app better everyday. Brendan O’Driscoll, Founder of Soundwave, chatted with me about the app inspiration, its global potential and even gave a peek into the next “wave” to come:

SoundCtrl: First of all, congratulations on the beta launch. It’s been really neat watching you and the rest of the Soundwave team evolve, even in the short time I’ve been following along prior to SXSW. Music blogger Damien Joyce deserves a nod here, as he was responsible for introducing us to one another!

While this might be one of the most obvious starting questions, I think it presents a worthwhile level of intrigue: Why is Soundwave here today? Where did this concept come from? Considering that in recent times, music discovery apps have seemed to multiply faster than users can download them, the desire to push through with something you are convinced has its own character must mean your source of inspiration is something really striking…

Brendan: We always thought that finding new music was a chore and were constantly looking for simple new ways to find new music. Apps, websites and clever recommendation engines weren’t keeping our attention either so we spent most of the time asking each other and our friends about what new songs we had recently found.

Then one day when I was working in Sweden, I was coming home from work and saw a tall, blonde Swedish girl almost walk into a tree because she was so engrossed in the song she was listening to. I immediately wondered if there was a way for me to find out what the song was- and I looked around for apps that could give me this info- but there were none.

That week, I Skyped with my cousin Aidan and discussed the idea further. After some initial validation of the idea from musicians and friends, we applied to the NDRC LaunchPad Programme in last spring with the Soundwave idea and a hunch that we were on to something quite unique in the crowded space of music discovery.

There are apps that help you identify a song playing in a club (Shazam), record your own song (SoundCloud), listen to a song on the radio (Pandora), and music subscription services (Spotify and Rdio) where you can listen to a full song. But, if you are looking to find new music based off of what your friends listen to, your current location, or even discover what the most popular hip/hop songs in Brooklyn are right now, there was no efficient method in the space. 

Soundwave’s objective is to make it easy and fun to find new music in a way that provides highly relevant content to you. Its your app that shows what your friends, family and favorites (musicians, athletes ,celebs) listen to which gives you inspiration when your finding new music!

SoundCtrl: Continuing with this theme about your inspiration: The “Music Map” feature has to be my favorite aspect of Soundwave’s interface, as well one of the strongest factors to set the app apart. Are you, or the rest of the team, heavy travelers and is that what brought this feature into being?

Brendan: Yes, travel did influence the ‘Music Map’ feature. When I lived abroad in Sweden I was exposed to entirely different tastes in music, and I shared my song discoveries with friends in Ireland via Facebook and Twitter. And likewise, they kept me in the loop with music trends in Dublin. Now, with the Soundwave app, I can simply draw a circle over Texas, Amsterdam, or Sweden and see what songs are actually playing in real-time. With Soundwave, I can instantly learn what is trending in that location. No other app out there combines social, location and music discovery in such a hyper-local and relevant way- it’s the new SoLoMo- it’s SoLoMu!!

SoundCtrl: Might you share with us some thoughts on your trip to SXSW? How was the reception to Soundwave as a new service and concept?

Brendan: SXSW is the dream for a music start-up- it is the place where you literally run into the key movers and shakers in the tech/music scene- from Robert Scoble to the founders of Foursquare and SoundCloud. We are based outside of the US, so we were looking to make some headway in the US- and SXSW provided us with the perfect forum to show off the app and build a number of strategic partnerships.

SXSW was also great for trialing a marketing stunt- we asked a local dance crew to preform on 6th street with no audible music- just with headphones on. Curious spectators could only find out what songs they were dancing to by checking out our #SXDancingGuy Twitter feed or by signing up for the app beta.

After SXSW, we rented an RV and drove across the US to Las Vegas and San Francisco for some very productive follow-up meetings. All in all, our trip to the US was quite the adventure! As you can see from the pin drops attached, it was also a great way to test the location aspect of the app. On our next trip over, we want to curate the top plays for Route 66 – how cool would that be!

SoundCtrl: As I alluded to in my full review of the app, do you think Soundwave has the potential to help reduce some of the homogeneity of music in the western world, knowing that playlists of anyone, in any part of the globe, are only a sound circle drawing away?

Brendan: Soundwave gives you the ability to ‘explore the latest music trends in New York while on the bus in London’. Music began as a community based and tribal event. Even today, each community has it’s own unique vibe and music taste. With Soundwave, you can tap into that from anywhere in the world.

SoundCtrl: Regarding some of the technical factors involved in using Soundwave: I noticed that when the app cannot retrieve a song’s metadata in order to play it back, users get routed to an internal version of YouTube to cue up an available version of that same track for listening. However, it seems international content barriers are blocking the way when it comes to hearing some of these songs in other countries. Does Soundwave plan on mitigating this issue with future releases or is this more of a deep rooted legal battle with global PROs and access limitations, with which you are not wanting to tamper?

Brendan: We did not set out to become a music player like Spotify or Rdio; Soundwave works side by side with these existing music providers as an aggregated music discovery feed. The problem we found with content providers is not that they don’t have enough content. They have too much. Spotify has a library of over 20 million songs and users often freeze when faced with this amount of choice. As a result, we wanted to position ourselves as a content discovery platform and not a content provider. As you mentioned, this means we can steer clear of any licensing issues Regarding YouTube content availability – that’s all on YouTube’s side. We’re working on a smarter results system now that only returns “available content” and also chatting daily with the team at YouTube. Regarding your questions above about “Most Liked and “Most Disliked” charts, those charts in the ‘Explore’ section of the app are compiled globally –every user of Soundwave is included in this data. The ‘Explore’ section is where we plan to put interesting content we want to feature for our users –new bands to join the app, top ten charts of popular music festivals etc. But at the moment it is where the global charts live. We plan to have more specific charts searchable by genre, groups and location down the line. Right now you can see an individual user’s Top Charts, and in the next build you will be able to see location charts when you draw a sound circle on the map.

SoundCtrl: Can you tell us any new capabilities or specific features you are hoping to develop in future versions of Soundwave?

Brendan: Our development team is hard at work ensuring that we will be able to pull song listens from all music players. We currently collect song listens from Google Play, Rdio and all native smartphone music players, but we plan to expand this offering in future releases.

We are also working on a groups feature- you can organize your friends into groups- ie ‘Indie Music Fans’ and specifically recommend songs to a particular subset of followers. 

We also see a strong use case developing for large events and music festivals. Next year we hope that Coachella attendees can draw a Soundwave circle over Indio and see the most liked, disliked and played songs by genre in real-time. We have big plans for the future, so stay tuned!!

Currently, we are in beta collecting feedback from a growing Irish community of users. We are optimizing on both platforms, both Android and iOS and currently work on tablets too- so readers- sign up for the beta right now at www.getsoundwave.com.

Kira is an old school music nerd with a love for all things creative; always searching for music’s common ground. She graduated with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from New York University. Drop her a tweet @shadowmelody1

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