May 18, 2007 at 3:36 pm | Posted in The Source | Leave a comment

By Kyva Holman


As a recording artist, it’s extremely difficult for me to wrap my mind around the shake-up the music industry has undergone over the last few years and what it will eventually mean to me.  Sweeping and evidently permanent shifts in production, distribution and marketing have left so many of us stroking our brows, half-disbelieving what our eyes and ears are telling us.  With CD sales plummeting, digital sales soaring and bands needing to self promote and maintain constant contact with their fans, we are looking at a very different type of ballgame these days.  


I spend a lot of time thinking about music – every imaginable aspect of it.  Apparently, so does Scott Kleper.  Riding the train in the morning, he, like me, observed many of his fellow commuters listening to iPods, each in their own little world.  He started wondering how connected these people truly felt to the songs they were listening to.  As an enthusiastic fan himself, he’d organized and re-organized his own album collection, but found himself becoming bored.  To him, there had to be a way to make the experience more fulfilling, more direct, more personal. 


He hit upon an idea: the kind of perfectly radical idea which could only emerge in a time of such upheaval and change.  Why not provide another channel of communication between the artists and the people who support them?  Of course, innovations in internet technology have allowed websites like Myspace to increase interaction between musicians and fans.  But what about a service that actually let the user record a personalized commentary on their favorite songs and albums? 


And just like that, SpotDJ was born.  Founded in 2006 and based in San Francisco, SpotDJ brings content and community to the music listening experience through iTunes and on the Web.  The consumer is literally given the ability to become their own DJ, recording informative and entertaining spots about the acts they enjoy.  Scott Kleper, now the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of the company, says: “I wanted to build a way for people to have a guided, engaging experience of a radio DJ while listening to their digital music.  Music is expressive and collaborative and SpotDJ adds what was missing for me: a sense of context, more engaging content, and the feeling I was having a shared experience”.  


I visited the corporate offices of SpotDJ and spoke with Kevin Barenblat, co-founder and CEO.  As someone who is just a bit behind on the absolute latest and greatest media technology, I wanted to know exactly what this product is and how it’s utilized.  He explained to me: “SpotDJ is a free service that lets people create their own experience around music to share with others.  The plug-in for iTunes automatically adds audio clips from the band, your friends and other DJs to the listening experience, or you can go to the site,, to hear the spots directly.  You can record your own audio (by) clicking the ‘Record’ button in the iTunes plug-in, or at the site by clicking on the ‘Create’ tab, which brings up a recorder. ”   


I was duly impressed as I listened to some of the spots for myself.  Ben Fong-Torres, well known writer, DJ and radio columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, is a frequent contributor of content to SpotDJ.  His audio segments reference the careers and work of such acts as Al Green, the Beatles, The Doors, James Brown, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, James Taylor, Elvis Presley, Heart, Sheryl Crow, Steve Miller and many others.  These spots reveal fascinating new insights into the songs that changed our lives – offered up by the artists themselves – as well as titillating and sometimes scandalizing recording industry lore.  I found myself identifying strongly with Fong-Torres when he said: “When I was a kid, I used to pretend I was on the radio, talking about songs.  Now, with SpotDJ (, anyone can broadcast to others and make listening to digital music more fun and interesting”.     


But it’s not only about long established mega-artists with millions of units moved across the globe.  All levels are represented, from indie to major label, as well as all genres.  Kevin Barenblat explains: “It’s a user driven product, so everyone’s preferences are covered.  We have everything from Trackademics and Money Mark to The Donnas, Street to Nowhere, Clinic, Dandy Warhols, Joey McIntyre, Taylor Hicks, Son Volt, The Kooks, Reliant K and so on.  We have tens of thousands of users.”  


As I struggle with my personal feelings about the changes taking place in the industry, I’m always looking for the silver lining – what are some of the things happening which have the potential to really be a benefit to the artists?  SpotDJ is one of those things; it’s one of those revolutionary ideas you look back at and realize it was bound to come about eventually.   Ted Cohen, former vice president of digital distribution at EMI Music and founding partner of TAG Strategic, said, “Musicians will find SpotDJ an effective way to reach fans while they listen to music”.  This is one instance where technological advancement presents a clear advantage for the artist.  As Kevin put it, “What’s cool about SpotDJ is how it lets you add your personality and creativity to your favorite music and then share that customized experience with others.”


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