What is epitonic.com?
Epitonic.com was one of the first music discovery sites on the Web, launched in early 1999. I founded it with two friends and quickly recruited a great group of musicians and music fans to join our staff. We have always focused on hand selecting the best independent spirited music online and offering one free promotional download/stream. Our concept in offering one track per album has always been that it would get users interested in buying more music and albums from artists if they hear one great track. Then this premise was largely adopted across the Internet over the years as a promotional model by those releasing music. Also, limiting what artists are offered on our site helps our users find the best music in the world in a reasonable amount of time. That is particularly helpful now that millions of tracks are shared online each year; it’s too overwhelming unless you can trust an editorial voice like Epitonic.
So you can download and/or stream thousands of carefully selected MP3’s legally for free. There is a lot writing about the artists and releases. Playlists based on genre, artist, label, location, and much more are streamable and downloadable. We even record a few artists each month in the saki store, a record shop that adjoins our office. That’s great because the shows from artists are free and we get great recordings.
You recently re-launched epitonic.com – can you tell us a bit about why and what changed?
Yes, like many Internet companies from that original era, we fell upon hard financial times and the site went dormant for several years. I was offered the opportunity to buy the rights back with all of the original data…. that was in 2010. A lot of fans and friends helped me relaunch the site last year and it’s been going great. We have about 20 editors who devote their extra time to curating the site.
I relaunched Epitonic because I loved what the site accomplished initially and felt it was important to salvage. I wasn’t sure if anyone else would care, but when I announced the relaunch I received enormous support from fans, the press, and people in the music and tech industries. I’ve financed it all out of my life savings, a Kickstarter campaign, and a little bit of ad revenue… As with the original version of the site, users email me all of the time thanking for helping shape their music tastes, that is such a gratifying notion.
Your resume boasts many accomplishments – what are you most proud of?
Thank so much; I’ve been lucky to have worked on some really interesting projects with really smart hard working people. It is difficult to pick what I am most proud of. Certainly my involvement with Epitonic when music fans tell me how influential it was to them is humbling. Managing the build of Touch and Go’s digital distribution and promotion department was also really awesome, working with some of my favorite bands and labels, it was pretty mind blowing to mount campaigns for artists like Sufjan Stevens, Swell Season, Calexico, and hundreds more. Undoubtedly though I am most proud of my teaching media and music business at Columbia. Mentoring students and helping them pursue their dream jobs is impossible to beat. Many people have asked me if I would quit teaching once Epitonic is a thriving company again… no way. I love both equally and Columbia is super supportive of Epitonic, and bringing that real world experience into the classroom – it’s actually a great combination… although sometimes exhausting!
What or who are you most excited to experience at SXSW 2012?
I am most excited about bringing roughly forty students down to experience the festival from Columbia College Chicago. This will be the third year we’ve gone as a school trip and each year the students tell me it is the best few days of their lives. I am also looking forward to moderating the panel on music industry higher education again for the second year in a row. And generally just catching up with a lot of friends who are down there each year is amazing. SXSW is sometimes the only time I see many old friends.
Tell us about what you will be presenting at SXSW 2012.
We will be discussing music industry higher education at the panel I am moderating. Great teachers who are also industry professionals will be joining me similarly to last year. My students from Columbia College run a series of in class companies, a rock label, a hip hop label, an online promotions and distribution firm, and a talent agency. They are currently planning a showcase and day party to promote their artists. Epitonic will be down there in force, although we will not really be throwing any parties or anything, just down hanging out and watching music.
If you could dine with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
That is tough to choose, but I would say Barack Obama. I am a huge fan and supporter so that in itself is enough. Also, I was once invited to attend a small dinner with him before he ran for President and could not make it because I would have had to book a flight and go to a different city all within a few hours and I thought that was a little extreme… once he ran for President I kicked myself for not booking that flight!
How would you describe your perfect meal?
I’ve been pescetarian since college and now I do not really eat a lot of carbs or dessert…. So seafood is definitely a must; crab legs, scallops, and/or lobster are my favorites, or sushi. Then I love a nice selection of vegetables and perhaps a mixed green or ceasar salad. I try to keep my meals really healthy, although I am addicted to cheese, so a cheese plate would be nice as an appetizer. A nice full-bodied red wine with the meal and then espresso after would be ideal as well! I’ve also found recently that small plate meals with friends and splitting dishes with my girlfriend are really fun and a great way to experience more in a meal.
What is the most exotic or strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Hmm… probably nothing too strange since my diet is relatively conservative, although I love to experiment with new sushi rolls combining multiple and complex flavors.
What is the best or most useful piece of advice you received early on in your career?
I always wanted to work in the arts and make art since I was very young. My parents were very encouraging although they insisted I pursue a backup plan and strongly suggested I focus on business. Also learning not to be afraid of technology and to embrace it was extremely important. I wasn’t tech savvy at all until I made a point to learn it, and that literally was not until we started Epitonic, as scary as that sounds! Having relatively marketable experience and knowledge in both business and technology has helped me through some lean times and generally benefitted my career. Most of all, I’d say that positive energy, ethics and building community and friendships is the most important and most enjoyable part of a career and life in general.