Lab Dispatches

Dispatch from the Lab: November 2015 – Music Startups

Hello! and welcome to the Columbia Startup Lab.  I’m Hayley Katz, Program Manager for Columbia Entrepreneurship. Among my many roles here I’ve got to say running the Lab is the most fun. This month I invite you to take a look at three music startups who are working in or are directly related to the Lab.  These music founders keep things humming along at the Lab.

Groupmuse, the AirBnB of classical music

Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin ’12CC, remembers the day he first fell in love with classical music. He was in a basement practice room of his best friend, a cellist.  The piece was Beethoven’s Große Fugue, op. 133. He was 19 years old and his is life was forever changed. Within six months, he’d decided to devote his life to expanding the fan base for this venerable but flagging art form.  In fact, while at Columbia, he started a chamber music series, built around Music Hum.

Young people aren’t famous for loving classical music. When was the last time you saw an audience of millennials treating an orchestra and its conductor like rock stars? Yet industry surveys count many millennials who identify chamber music as a form of music they like. So why are the classical arts struggling to build younger audiences?

Like many of the traditional arts business models, classical music suffers from two main problems: first, brilliant and incredibly hard-working artists struggle to make a living wage. Secondly, young audiences are bypassing the classics in favor of more easily-accessible music. They aren’t rejecting classical music; they just aren’t finding it easy to try.

To expand listenership Bodkin launched Groupmuse, a social network that directly connects classical musicians who may be between gigs with local private home owner so their community can generate its own concert house parties.  Bodkin calls these “Groupmuses”.

November 4, 2015 — CBS Evening News Features Groupmuse

To provide the talent, Sam sources local musicians who are between more traditional gigs. There are two types Groupmuse: one is candlelit, the other a bit more raucous.

In small and intimate settings, like say your living room, a Groupmuse quartet fills your home with friends, family and chamber music. This video shows how a performance of Poulen’s Oboe Sonata transformed an Upper West Side apartment into truly intimate setting. For the young ears in the room, this setting really got them hooked. “After all”, says Bodkin, “chamber music was written to be performed and appreciated up close.”

Despite the success of these Groupmuses, Bodkin boasts over 70 Groupmuses per month nationally, the best setting for music appreciation – especially for young audiences – isn’t always serene. So Bodkin also turns the notion of stuffy and polite orchestra performances on its head and has the audience on their feet. Check out this room full of students raving to a full-orchestral performance of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

What are you waiting for? Let’s get this party stared. Pick up the appetizers, a little beer and wine, call a few friends and organize a groupmuse today. Drop Sam a line at to ask him how.

Drew Silverstein Scores Big With Amper Music

Fresh from Vanderbilt with Music Composition degree in hand, Amper Music founder Drew Silverstein, ‘16BUS, was thrilled to begin working with Grammy-winning film composer Christopher Lennertz. Now he was going to score movies in Hollywood. And not long into his time with Lennertz, Drew was already making significant contributions. His first big assignment: writing additional music on a Marvel One-Shot film called Item 47”.

“Although we had listened to the music and had seen the completed project many times,” said Silverstein, “There has always been something very special about sitting in a darkened theater alongside an audience that is seeing — and hearing — the movie for the first time.” To get a flavor of what Drew’s work sounds like, you can listen to two pieces here wrote here and here.

From his vantage point two types of projects seemed to emerge: the artistic pieces and projects that were more utilitarian. Drew noticed that if a producer wanted to make an artistic statement, she’ll likely spend the money to hire a composer. For projects in which the music was not a core artistic collaboration, however, producers were spending time finding music that already existed.

“I saw editors and producers spending inordinate amounts of time culling through databases of cataloged music,” Drew recalled, “and then dealing with licensing hurdles, variable quality, and limited product flexibility.” So he founded Amper Music.

Currently in beta, Amper is an artificial intelligence music technology that instantly creates unique, royalty-free music tailored to a video professional’s specific music needs. 

At this point it’s reasonable to ask how an aspiring composer becomes an entrepreneur and how a Music Composition degree attunes with an M.B.A. So we put the question to Drew. 

“I see a lot of parallels between what it takes to succeed in both music and business. When I’m practicing piano, I focus on the details – a specific set of measures, for example – until I’ve accomplished what I set out to learn today. I can then place this progress in the context of the entire piece and see the small steps build into meaningful progress. It’s much the same way with a startup.

“In business I also focus on the details and break my long-term objectives into component parts. Focusing on the little things and understanding their place within the big picture tends to pay off more often than not.”

Although Amper is not yet releasing product publicly, they’ve scored early rounds of venture funding to fuel their efforts.

To see the end of this movie, or to become an Amper beta user, sign up for their mailing list today.  

Millennial Fans, Bands and Brands

Fresh from a Music Management degree, Cuttime founder Ryan Ziemba ‘13BUS, began to wonder how Coke, Cover Girl, and the Milk Advisory Board decided that a Taylor Swift, celebrity endorsement was the most effective and efficient marketing spend. Conversely, just to be fair to Taylor, how could she be sure that the brands she represented wouldn’t alienate her fans?

Enter Cuttime, Inc., founded in 2014 by Ryan and Jason Lekberg a veteran performing artist and Columbia Ph.D candidate in statistics. The team hopes to make their mark on marketing by providing audience analytics and partnership recommendations for connecting bands and brands.

“Our customers are PR agencies, traditional marketing agencies, digital advertising networks and experiential marketers like Momentum Worldwide,” said Ziemba. “Putting Taylor together with Cover Girl makes perfect intuitive sense, right? But before Cuttime there really is no quantitative analysis in that decision process. Science has tended to take a backseat to gut instinct, which increases the risk that band-brand collaborations will be ineffective.”

Cuttime, has responded with an unbiased analytical approach focusing on the mutual affinity between band and brand consumers that enables both sides to avoid the trap of speculation.

It is no revelation that the world of marketing and advertising has reinvented itself every decade for the last century; it changes as rapidly as modern culture becomes passé. But now marketers seem to be using mood and sentiment to sell product. Ryan gave an interesting case in point.

Converse, the sneaker company, has created what it calls “Rubber Tracks”. It’s a network of community-based recording studios where emerging musicians of all genres can apply for free studio time. Then, if selected, artists record and Converse distributes the music, all at no cost while allowing the artist to maintain the rights to their own music.

Ok, so how does Converse make money by recording music and giving it away free? Please don’t say “they make it up on volume.”

“Converse is hoping to generate both word of mouth and positive sentiment,” explained Ryan. “When you talk about the millennial market you have to be tactful and aware that millennials don’t respond well to traditional advertising tactics. They respond to brands associating with bands but it has to be authentic. If you place your bets on the right artists, a brand can reach their audiences and influence behaviors more effectively for a fraction of the money and that’s a significant cost savings for brands.”


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