The Launch of the New & Enhanced Thefuture.fm: Founder/CEO David Stein Speaks

I am completely weak from Fashion Week pressures and some new tattoos…plus, I’m moving a little to the left of Brooklyn, toward Bushwick. Today I’m going to chat about Thefuture.fm which is "a patent-pending fingerprinting and rights tracking technology, which is the first ever turn-key solution to the legal monetization of DJ mixes, podcasts and mix tapes.” Are you still with me?

David Stein, who you used to hang out with the smart set at my smart clubs and even some smarter ones, is the founder and CEO of this internet radio platform. According to the press release, David founded Thefuture.fm "in an effort to allow festival-goers and club kids to relive the experiences created by the world’s best DJs on a daily basis, while discovering emerging music along the way. His passion to help DJs legally promote and monetize their music came when he realized the monumental challenges and setbacks of rights flow for mixed audio." You still here?

He used to book talent atthose smart clubs, and has a unique grasp on who’s-who and what’s hot. Now he’s gone digital. In April he launched an iPhone app, which is “the first to solve the industry’s long-standing copyright issue associated with mixed audio,” by accurately identifying the content of mixed audio. Thefuture.fm’s will also experience a complete overhaul of their platform, making it easy for users to revisit mega DJ performances, club events, and learn about future performances by their favorite DJ/performer. At launch, subscriptions will be free, with near-term plans for revenue streams in premium mobile and brand-supported offerings. Over 5000 DJs will participate.

I caught up with David Stein awhile back and asked him all about it.

Is this basically Pandora with really great DJs?
Thefuture.fm is basically internet radio, curated by the best DJs in the world. And we enable DJs to upload their mixed tapes to the platform and let their fans access them and listen to them via the platform on the web and via mobile on our iPhone application. It’s sort of the first-ever legal kind of entity to allow for this to happen. Really, the core of our business is that we’re a music technology business; we’re focused around this concept of how do we legally, scale-ably, and effectively monetize and extract value out of long-format music content? If you know the history of a mixed tape and the DJ industry, you know there’s never really been a solution in terms of how to compensate the individual artist and copyright holders whose music is being used and played by DJs. So we exist to solve that problem. And we create technology, IP tools, around that concept. It’s really the core of why thefuture.fm is able to be a legal internet radio that is curated by these mixed tapes.

The first, and really the basis of that business, is a technology and a concept that we created called Mix Scan. Mix Scan is a fingerprinting and rights core management tool specifically around long-format contract – mixed tapes, podcasts, live streams – that DJs make and play. Like Shazam on steroids. The way that it works is a DJ will upload a mix tape to our platform and we’ll run it through our algorithm of our software and we’ll pull as much metadata as we can so we’ll learn every artist, song, sample, song length – we know when one song ends and when one song begins. We timestamp that music file and create a unique set of metadata for the entire media file. That enables us to accurately cross reference against our analytics so we know every time within our eco system, our platform, each song gets played. Then we automate the report, these entities that exist to pay out to copyright holders. SoASCAP, BMI, etc… so that’s really the basis of how we operate a legal internet radio. We’ve been sort of operating as a free service while we build out our monetization models and we’re soon going to be launching pretty revolutionary ways where DJs can, for the first time ever, legally make money off of their mixes and podcasts. Who are some of the DJs that you’re involved with?
We represent music from 8,000 different DJs across all genres: From Bounce FX and DJ Scribble to your Mel Debarge and Cassidy, to your Dead Mau5, Tiesto, Skrillex. It’s all-encompassing. And it’s everything – rock, hip hop, dance…

So a person gets on and they have a choice, like Pandora, of different genres of music?
Yes, the platform is two-fold so you can get on the platform and get featured content that’s exclusive to the platform across all the genres. Or you can type in any DJ that you know you want to hear and we’ll give you all of their mixed tapes within their own profile. Or you can type in a song or an artist that isn’t a DJ and we’ll give you mixes that have those songs in them.

Are we going to see this in stores, trendy boutiques, hotel lobbies? Or in individual homes?
Well, the service and the platform is built for personal use, but people who aren’t supposed to be using it use it for whatever reasons they want. Eventually we hope to roll out services that are specific for business services, music-filing, those sorts of things.

Are you doing profiles on your DJs or feature DJs, stories about these guys, who they are, and why they’re important as well?
There are unique cases where we’ll cover DJs on our blog, but primarily it’s just the content. It’s mixes that you can’t really find anywhere else up on one platform. And it’s a combination of us allowing DJs to upload content themselves and then us partnering with different venues, nightclubs, and festivals and acquiring that content and then featuring it on the home page.

You used the word upload. Are you going to be able to download? If I hear something that’s pretty amazing and I want to be able to feel that DJ Thursday night, am I going to be able to download it?

There’s no downloading on the platform yet. It’s a streaming-only service and we abide by these rules that have been set in place by the copyright law that enables us to be a compliant web factor, and that means that we’re restricted to streaming only. It’s the only way that we can really quantify the function of the actual tracks within mixes.

But companies like Amazon and iTunes would love for you to link to them. Is that something you do?
Yes, so because we know what songs are in the mixes, there’s a pretty great discovery component to it. You’re able to learn and discover new music from your favorite DJ and you can see what songs you’re listening to. 

Now all these DJs, including me, have management. If I’m listening to Mel Debarge, which you mentioned before as one of yours, does it refer you to his management? If someone’s saying “Wow, I’m listening to this at my home but I want him to play at my Christmas party, this guy is unbelievable,” is there added value like that?
Yes, there’s absolutely added value in that regard. We’re not looking to be a middleman and block interaction. You can put, as a DJ, any contact information you like. But on the back end, we get requests from different brands, different platforms, different websites, blogs, Eater, Curb, TechCrunch, to name a few, that we work with really closely in booking DJs that are on our platform – the right DJ for their event. And all we do is facilitate an introduction. It’s part of that added value we bring to the DJs that we work with what’s on our platform.Is there a comment, for instance, of your clients? Can they rate a mix and say this one’s great, this one’s 94%, this one’s 70%?
There’s no percentage, but there is a “like” mechanism. We’re very against, “Oh, we don’t like this mix.” If you like it you click the “like” or “favorite” button. There’s mixes with hundreds of thousands of favorites on them.

How many people do you think it’s gonna reach? Give me some numbers and goals.
So we’ve been operating and have gained a pretty substantial user base solely on the love of the DJ and their bands. We were primarily working within this context of the DJ and the brand and the different magazines and entities that have visibility on our profile as our evangelists. They promote themselves to their fans via our platform and then we show love back by promoting them via our own page.

Theoretically, if someone likes Mel Debarge as an example again, they come in and listen to what Mel Debarge has posted on your site, and while they’re there, they’re exposed to other DJs.

How do you put these DJs in categories, so that Mel is near, let’s say, Cassidy or far away from Steve Lewis so that the person coming in can see things that are similar?
It’s categorized by genre but specific to the individual mix, not the DJ.

There’s a great difference between DJ Tiesto and, let’s say, Frankie Knuckles.
100 percent.

So how does a person find exactly what they’re interested in, without having to randomly explore?
At the highest level, the mixes are tagged by specific genres that are pretty broad in scope. All the sub-genres of house music, EDM, sub-genres of hip-hop, sub-genres of rock. On a more granular level, if you’re looking to hear specific songs or specific sounds within a genre – a search for rock ‘n’ roll, for example – you could type in Prince or “Bohemian Rhapsody” and you would get mixes that have those types of songs in them.

Opening for the Fabulous Mel DeBarge Tonight at the Empire Hotel Rooftop

This is going to be short and sweet – well, maybe splendid. Fashion Week is making me weak and it’s just starting. I shoulda, woulda, if I coulda attended the Ami James Pop-Up Tattoo Shop thing at the Empire Hotel yesterday but I was otherwise distracted. Besides, I will be at the Empire Rooftop tomorrow night DJing, and being north of 23rd street two times in a week is… problematic for a BBurger like myself. I’m opening for the fabulous Mel DeBarge. Mel and I have a long history of being in the same room and other things more times than I care to discuss. He is a great DJ and I am honored to be mentioned in the same breath and invitation with him. Kirill is taking pictures and he somehow always manages to shoot me on my good side -not an easy accomplishment. I’m on from 9pm to 11pm, although the invite says doors open at 10pm. Either that’s an error or someone has heard me DJ before or they want me to provide rhythm for the wait-rons as they set up. I’m excited about this and Fashion Week in general.

Nur Khan, who never ceases to amaze me, is living up to his hype with two Fashion Week explosions. I’m not going to say much about it because I figure about a million more people than can actually attend will want to. He’s got The Kills one night and Guns N’ Roses another. If you want to go, you figure it out; I’m not going to help you except to let you know it’s on and it’s real. Fashion Week realness with Nur Khan.

Good Night Mr. Lewis: DJ Cassidy + O’Neal McKnight

As the recession deepens, will creativity rise? It seems that during times of duress, the music becomes more interesting. For many years as I’ve popped around from club to club, I’ve heard basically the same set played by playas pretending to be DJs. It wasn’t unusual to hear the hit du jour three or four times during the course of an evening. The model-and-bottle crowd isn’t hip, and as this group becomes less relevant to the bottom line, a necessary change will be the order of the night. The brokers and bankers — usually as musically progressive as their tailoring — will no longer dictate the playlist, and the model crowd — as bright as a five-watt bulb in a snowstorm — won’t notice the change as long as they have an anthem to pump their fists in the air to once in a while. DJ Cassidy isn’t afraid to mix it up, and the music he’s producing sticks in my head all day. A lot of important people are paying attention to our young stud, and his birthday parties have been attracting the who’s who of cool. See part 1 of my interview with Cassidy, and after the jump, check out the latest hit song, “Champagne Red Lights,” from Cassidy’s up-and-coming artist O’Neal McKnight.

New music has more of an electronic beat; it’s popping up more and more and seems to be gaining a foothold right now. Some of it sounds like music I was listening to back in 1985. Is this where music’s going? I think all genres, from hip hop to R&B — even rock if you look at groups like The Killers or The Bravery — have started to take on a more electronic texture in the past few years. In hip hop, the Timbalands and the Neptunes started to make music reminiscent of new wave and electronic music of the early-to-mid 1980s, so we’re hearing our favorite R&B and hip hop stars singing and rapping over tracks that remind us of the Cure and Depeche Mode. I think that opened up those listeners to music that would normally be categorized as electronic or house. I think hip hop producers opened up people’s minds to that, in addition to a general overlapping of trends in 80s inspiration. The two things combined have made music very electronic sounding, which I love. I’m an 80s fan, and I listen to classic R&B of the 70s and 80s, and the main difference between the two decades, in my opinion, is that in the 80s it became electronic. But I think the electronic music of the 80s is a huge influence on all the music that we play today, so you are 100 percent right; that is very much the trend in music right now.

How did you get started with production? I formed a production team called Cass & Dubs about five years ago with my partner Dub-L. He was a producer in the indie hip hop scene, and I was in college just starting out. I collaborated with Dubs on a few things and really felt a bond, so we found a room in a studio on the west side and spent every minute that I wasn’t at a gig in there making beats. We did a remix here and there, one for Jessica Simpson, Jennifer Lopez, T-Pain; we were doing a lot of remixes because a lot of labels already knew me, and they were coming to me to turn a lot of songs that were not club songs into club songs.

So now you’re producing an artist named O’Neal McKnight? Yes, O’Neal McKnight was a stylist for several years; Puffy was one of his main clients, and since 2000 I’ve DJed 90 percent of the parties that Puff has thrown, so I met O’Neal through Puffy. Andre Harrell, the legendary producer, and O’Neal are cousins, so he got introduced into the hip hop industry and found his niche in styling. So Dubs and I were finding a lot of success in remixes, but we were also shopping our tracks because we really had a new sound. I can’t explain it, and I don’t like to — because if you can explain it, then it wouldn’t be a new sound. But we were thinking that we wanted to find an artist who was open, free-spirited, and willing to put a voice to this sound, and one night as I’m going through these tracks on my computer, O’Neal overhears a track, and he starts to hum along. So I say, keep singing, keep singing, and he starts going, “Just check your coat and let the music get inside you …” So I’m like that’s hot, keep singing, and two hours later, “Check Your Coat” was written. We spent the next month or two recording a couple more songs, and it became apparent that O’Neal had an innate talent that he had never realized.

And then you worked together from there? I started to play “Check Your Coat” at a few parties, and it got a great reaction. It doesn’t mean people jumped for joy, it means people continued dancing; that’s a great reaction, if you play a song that people have never heard and they stay. All my DJ friends started playing it, and before you know it, it becomes the hottest unsigned song in the clubs. I gave it to DJs who played it on the radio; DJ Enuff started to play it on Hot 97, DJ Clue started to play it on Power 105, and before you know it, this song is everywhere, and people have no idea who sings it, so the labels start calling me. Steve Rifkin signed us last December to Universal Motown, and we’re putting out the second single as we speak, which is called “Champagne Red Lights.” The album will come out at the top of the year, and that was really the first Cass&Dubs project. There are going to be many more to come, but we’re the type who like to drive the first one home before we go on.

How does it feel to be recognized and respected by your peers? It’s one thing to walk into a club and hear your song being played by someone you gave it to … that’s one level of excitement. But it’s another thing to hear your song being played by a DJ who you’ve never met before. As a DJ, you hear every artist saying, “I heard my song for the first time on the radio, or in a club!” But to be a DJ and hear someone else playing your song, as cliché as it sounds, it’s the most thrilling thing ever. The same goes for the first time I heard it on the radio; you grow up listening to Hot 97 your whole life, you hear Enuff and Flex scratching records, and suddenly to be hearing all these guys going, “Yo this is that hot new shit you need! It’s that new O’Neal McKnight produced by Cass&Dubs, shout out to DJ Cassidy!” This is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life.

Tell me how you helped other DJs like Mel DeBarge. Mel DeBarge worked as barback at Marquee, and I did the opening of Marquee and every Friday after that for two years. He has a very electric aura, and I remember him coming up to me and saying, “Yo Cass, I’m a DJ, I just got turntables, you’ve gotta help me go record shopping!” And this was before Serato, so I was on all the record pools, and I gave him a bunch of records. I can’t remember the first time I heard him spin, but when I did I knew he was real and knew he could be big and would be big. So I introduced him to my manager Damon, and the rest is history.