Thursday, May 8, 2008
Interview with Kihong Bae, MusicShake
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
We recently ran into Kihong Bae, who is general manager of MusicShake (www.musicshake.com), a startup focused on allowing users--with no music training--to create their own music online. The firm--which started in South Korea--recently opened up its U.S. operations here in Los Angeles. We spoke with Kihong about the company, what it offers, and why it decided to locate here.
Describe what MusicShake is, and how it came about?
Kihong Bae: We are originally from South Korea, where we have been around for three years. We just opened up our U.S. operations in Los Angeles about three months ago. What we do, is we provide a very simple, and intuitive online tool that lets the general user--music dummies like myself--create their own music, in a very easy and simple way. The way we do it, is we provide a huge library of pre-defined music patterns. Currently, we have 350,000 different patterns, categorized by different genres, instruments, and even by vocals. For example, the vocals are categorized by whether they are female, male, are humming only, or are hard vocals, soft vocals, rap, etc. The good thing about our service, is that our modules are made by our own, in-house musicians, so we own all of the copyrights. In other words, you don't have any copyright issues with using our music. You can create your music using a simple matrix, and you choose different modules by clicking on them to active or deactivate them. In about five minutes, you can come up with very creative and professional sounding, quality music.
The way we do that is through an algorithm running in the background--which we call the Mubot -- standing for Music Robot -- which is an automatic harmonizer. When you play separate instruments--for example, a guitar and piano--separately, it might sound good. But, if you play them together, it might not sound together as good as when they were played separately. That's why in a band, they keep changing the positions of different instruments, and adjust volumes of those instruments. Our music robot and algorithm automatically adjusts everything, so whatever you do on Musicshake it always sounds good. One good quote from our users is--you actually have to try hard to make something on Musicshake that doesn't sound good.
After you make the music, what do you do with that? You can share it with your friends, put it in as background music for your online videos and slideshows, export them into a ring tone, put it on a social network, such as putting it on your Facebook as your profile music. We are trying to build something that is an easy to use, user generated music tool, and at the same time, create a global community around user generated music.
You mentioned you're allowed to put your creations into online video?
Kihong Bae: That goes to the business model. Everything you do online is all free. You can make as much music as you like, and you're free to post it, share it online for free--but once you decide to download your music as an MP3 file--where it's physically on a PC--that's when we charge people. You can buy your own music, but you can also buy another person's user generated music if you like. If you do that, we give a percentage of that revenue to the original creator. In that way, it's an incentive to make better quality music.
The paid service has already launched in Korea, but we are not launching that until June in the U.S.
Speaking of Korea, it seems like there's a phenomenon of Korean games, software, and technology being constantly imported into the U.S. Why is it that Korean technology seems to be on the forefront of this market?
Kihong Bae: I guess it's because of the high Internet broadband penetration rate. We have had the number one penetration rate in the world, though recently I think we might have slipped to number 4 in the world recently. Almost everyone gets 100 Mbps Internet at home these days. That fast Internet connection means that getting access to whatever content you want, in high quality from home or the office, is taken for granted in Korea.
The initial idea we had in the beginning, was to allow general people to be able to experience the ecstatic feeling that only a few singers or artists feel when they perform in front of other people. We were thinking to ourselves--couldn't there be an easier way for people, who don't know anything about music, to create their own pieces, but in a very easy and intuitive way? That's also when the whole Internet and online phenomenon started to boom. The reason this has worked out fairly well in Korea, is all of our founders were all Korean, and have a unique blend of experience both in information technology and also the music industry. My other founder used to be an ex-musician and professional sound recording engineer, and also founded one of the earliest Internet streaming services in Korea. that unique set of talents, combined with the high hunger for technology taking place in Korea, plus the Internet/broadband penetration, facilitated the beginning of this in Korea. It's not surprising--the whole social networking phenomenon, in Facebook and MySpace--originally came from a service called Cyworld in Korea. Cyworld came up with the whole idea of making other people your friends, sharing, and being able to leverage connections and degrees of connections.
Why did you decide to base your US headquarters in Los Angeles?
Kihong Bae: There are two reasons. One, is obviously we want to become a destination site. We want people to come to our site as a destination, instead of just using it as a tool to make music. The whole thing has got to do with media and entertainment, and it was actually very natural to look into Los Angeles as the hub and center of media and entertainment. Some people have asked us--why not New York, where media and entertainment is also big? What is unique about Los Angeles, is it has media and entertainment, plus the Information Technology revolution we've seen taking place in the last couple of years. Before that, it was Silicon Valley, where most IT came out of, but we are seeing more people starting companies in the Los Angeles area--especially in media and entertainment related areas. That was our main decision factor.
The other decision factor, is our major investor is the Korean online gaming firm Nexon. Their U.S. operations are als in LA. I thought it was natural to leverage the strategic relationship, and to be headquartered in Los Angeles. We're actually in the same building as Nexon. Those are the two main reasons, but another minor reason is that there is plenty of talent here--not only engineering talent, but a good blend of media and entertainment, and music, plus Internet and technology background.
So is the service now live in the U.S.?
Kihong Bae: We're still in open beta. Our U.S. services have been up since last September, although we don't have too much traffic yet. We have about 13,000 registered users in the U.S. so far, with average unique visitors of 15,000.
What are you working on in your beta?
Kihong Bae: What we are trying to focus on right now is on the application--we are trying to build out more music modules--we have 350,000 modules--and we are releasing new modules every quarter. This summer, we are going to be releasing tens of thousands of new modules for Latin music. After that, we also have plans for Irish music, and other expanding genres to capture a wide age demographic. At the same time, the business is not only about music, but also about building a community around music. We're building more sophisticated social networking features.
In June, we will be launching the paid services. We're also launching our own blog, Shakeblog, which is going to be focused on user generated music. On the blog, you'll be able to have your own profile, and your own albums, and your own playlists. I think it's a good move because the social networks are all becoming the same -- they all have a picture, allow you to have friends, and a page where people can come in and comment on it. It's about time someone put a creative twist on social networking. We are also going after Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks where most of the users hang out, and are building out Facebook, MySpace, Imeem, and other widgets for those social networks.
Thanks for talking with us!