Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Take a Trip Down Music-Startup Memory Lane. Don’t Trip on All the Craters.

Thanks to Jason Herskowitz for popping this into my feed this morning: A collection of digital music companies’ logos, circa 2007. It comes from Chicago-based designer Jadam Kahn. (Chrome tells me the page I found it on has malware, but Safari doesn’t seem to have any issues with it. So click at your own risk.)

music20logos

First reaction when I saw this: Look at all of those vaporized companies!

Anyone who’s considering starting, joining or funding a music startup today should be legally required to stare at this deadpool for at least a day. And then they should be required to speak to someone who used to work in digital music. Because everyone I know who has tried it — and doesn’t work for Apple, Amazon or Google — vows to never, ever return.

Second reaction: Wouldn’t any collection of startup logos from 2007 be littered with dead companies?

And, actually, a surprising number of these music guys have survived, and a couple have even prospered. Slacker, eMusic and Rhapsody, for instance, are still grinding it out. Shazam just convinced Carlos Slim to give it $40 million as it tries pivoting into TV. And Pandora stuck around long enough to go public, and investors are now rewarding it with a $3.3 billion valuation.*

So it’s entirely possible that someone who is entranced with the idea of making digital music work, for real, can stare at this list and find inspiration for putting together another music startup.

Perhaps they’ll tell themselves that things are a lot different now than they were back in 2007: There’s an entire smartphone ecosystem that didn’t exist back then, for instance. And you can no longer accuse the big music labels of reflexively trying to stamp out new entrants to the market. In some cases, they’ve even become sort of enthusiastic about the idea. (See: Spotify, sort of.)

Okay, then! Go for it. But do take one last look at this list, from Amie Street to Zune, before you jump in. The water’s deep.

*(Sirius and XM, post-merger, are doing even better, market cap-wise, with a $24 billion valuation. But I don’t really consider those guys a digital music play.)


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