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Uvumi builds a community for musicians and fans - Interview + tour

Uvumi

In theory, the Web is supposed to level the playing field for new musicians; its democratic nature lets them find their own audience, without having to beg for the approval of a record label.

Of course, real life turns out to be much more complicated than the theory. It may not be a nice thing to say, but there is a lot of bad music being made. Of course that's very subjective, but by "bad" I mean music that very few people would find enjoyable. Maybe we can call it "niche music," or "the product of budding musicians trying to find their way." At any rate, a random stroll through MySpace makes the point abundantly clear; as a listener, it's not always easy to find the good stuff.

That's where Uvumi comes in; the site operates in a niche quite similar to TheSixtyOne (which was previously covered here), and tries to make it easier to find new music from indie and unsigned artists. Compared to TheSixtyOne, the site takes a decidedly different approach, both in looks, and in communication and interaction from the developers.

I first heard about Uvumi as part of the backlash against TheSixtyOne's re-design (see comments), and I recently decided to check it out. One of the first things I noticed was Uvumi's active blog (updated once a week or so), and specifically, this blog post from Marshall, the head developer for Uvumi. It is a 537-word post in which he warns users against some impending downtime, and carefully explains why it's coming and what he's doing to minimize it. This really stood out for me. It is in stark contrast to the latest post on TheSixtyOne blog, which is a 113-word post that is almost two months old, and essentially mocks the users who did not like the redesign.

[More thoughts, an interview with Marshall and screenshots on the next page]

Uvumi's design is very simple, and almost utilitarian in nature. It seems as though music really is the focus here, rather than any sort of visual bling. In other words, if the music won't keep you here, the visual flare certainly won't. On the plus side, there are virtually no banners and ads at the moment (but they might appear in the future).

The emphasis on music also continues in the way that users interact with the site; this is not a "game" with points. Users can "favorite" songs, but that doesn't have much of an impact on its ranking. There are per-genre "charts," and songs place on the charts based solely on the number of plays. The logic is that if users listen to a track, it means that they like it. It's a very solid and simple premise, IMHO.

Users can tag songs, and you can see what tags the song already has. One innovative feature is that you can see what a song was "most tagged" as. This means that if a given track can be tagged as either "alternative," or "sad," and a greater number of people chose "alternative," you'll see that at a glance (see the gallery to get a sense of what I mean).

My main issues with usability are not being able to pop the player out of the window, or get an m3u file of the current playlist. Also troublesome is the fact that the title of the current track does not appear in the window title. You can't see it even if you're within your browser, but just in another tab. You need to switch back to Uvumi to find out what you're listening to. Other than that, the whole thing is very slick and simple to operate.

I interviewed Marshall over email, and here's what he has to say:

1) How long has Uvumi been in operation? Is it a one-man site, or do you have a team running things?

Uvumi.com started private beta testing in April 2009 and was officially launched in October of 2009, and we spent the previous year designing and building the platform. While we were originally a five person team, at this point it is primarily being operated by me and Michele, and Olivier continues to work on code improvements in his free time.

2) Can you tell us about your vision for the site? What makes you keep working at it?

My vision for Uvumi dates back to the spring of 2000 when I developed a keen interest in web application development and unix-style computing. My dream was to create a website that independent artists could use to promote their work without giving up any rights or spending any money, and later that vision evolved to encompass a passion for a powerful and straightforward user interface that would give a great amount of control to both artists and fans. Olivier spent a lot of time researching ajax technology, then designed and built a custom platform that made it possible to seamlessly integrate the music player so that visitors could listen while they browse around the site, while still maintaining a strict XHTML doctype and total degradablity so that search engine spiders see the same content that javascript-enabled browsers see, without relying on Flash for any portion of the UI.

3) Are there any accomplishments made through the site which make you particularly proud or happy? Did a band get discovered in Uvumi? Did you ever get particularly positive or happy feedback from users or artists?

We have only been online for about five months, so we haven't yet attracted a large enough audience to make dreams come true, though I certainly look forward to reaching that milestone. The most rewarding aspect of this project so far has been the extremely positive feedback we continuously receive from Uvumi members and the amount of socializing that takes place throughout the website. And last week I attended a music showcase organized by members of The Nematoads here in Austin. George, their drummer, invited local bands he discovered on Uvumi.com to play the event, and it was a great success and a lot of fun, and it definitely put a smile on my face. We have also had a few artists who have written to us with stories of successfully booking gigs with the help of Uvumi Press Kits, which is exactly what we built that feature for.

4) If I'm an artist looking for an audience, what's the best way for me to become popular on Uvumi?

From what I can tell, there are two major components that drive popularity on Uvumi.com: Community involvement and the daily popularity charts.

By far the best way to connect with new fans on Uvumi.com is to become involved in the community and to find areas of the site that your potential fans might be frequenting, and take part in discussions or comments. For example, if you are a female artist, you might stop by the Ladies First group (http://www.uvumi.com/ladiesfirst) and leave a comment with a link to one your songs, or perhaps you make electronic music so you could become active on the Electro Freaks page (http://www.uvumi.com/electrofreaks). Artist/fan interactions are one of the most compelling aspects of Uvumi.com, and the entire community has expressed how much they enjoy the casual conversations that take place in all areas of the website.

Getting your songs on the charts involves promoting your Uvumi profile by adding links to it from your other social profiles, blogs, and websites, and it can also have a bit to do with luck. For example, if you upload a new song and it happens to get heard by a popular Uvumi member who favorites it or adds it to a playlist, then everyone in that member's network will see an update the next time they log in about that new favorite song, which can prompt many more people to listen to it, and possibly add it to their favorites or to playlists. Songs that reach the top 10 on just about any daily chart tend to stay there for at least a couple of days.

5) I've noticed you don't use "points" like they used to use on TheSixtyOne. So how do songs make it to the charts?

When we designed the charts system we felt it was important to make it as accurate as possible in order to create a ranking system that is reliable and meaningful, so we kept it relatively simple. Instead of an explicit voting system, we believe that simply listening to a song is essentially a vote, so we track the number of plays each song gets, and we also track the amount of time each song was played by each listener. Charts are compiled at the end of each day, week, and month. The system is also slightly weighted by the number of times each song has been "favorited" by listeners, but that is by no means equivalent to a "vote." Songs that have the most plays by the most listeners make it to the top of the charts, and our charting algorithm is intelligent enough that the results are very accurate.

6) I've noticed some notable artists from TheSixtyOne are now with Uvumi (I Fight Dragons and Meiko, to name two I've seen on the charts). Have you felt a rise in Uvumi's popularity following TheSixtyOne's redesign?

Yes, we received a large influx of new members immediately following the T61 redesign. We love the community those new members have established at Uvumi.com, and I believe that their feedback has been of great value to us and has given us a chance to work toward building a platform that truly meets the demand of independent musicians and fans. It also has shown us that there is a large and passionate community of fans out there that needs a place to congregate, interact, and explore music without restrictions on how they can listen to it and communicate with each other and with the artists they love.

7) What's your business model? What keeps the site afloat?

We have been experimenting with paid advertising, and the community has responded positively to our ad system. Many of our members have asked us to create an interface for buying and selling music, and we intend to explore that concept as soon as possible. We're all-in on this project, having tapped out our personal savings and taken on some debt, and we are interested in speaking with potential investors who believe in our mission and want to help us take it to the next level.

8) Is there anything you need or want from the community? If you're looking for artists from particular genres, or community moderators, or people to work with you -- this is a great place to say so.

We're always looking for new artists to join our community and tell us what they think and how we can improve the website, and, from what we have observed, the community is very accepting of all music genres. The more musicians and fans that join Uvumi, the more enriching and enjoyable the entire Uvumi experience is for everyone involved.

I'd like to thank Marshall for talking to us. You can see a comprehensive tour of Uvumi in the gallery below.

Tags: indie, interview, music, musical-web, thesixtyone, uvumi, web

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