A Note of Innovation | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Note of Innovation

Bend upstart SoundKicker creates a Pandora alternative using only independent tunes

Take a geeky computer programmer, mix in someone who loves music but is tired of Top 40 artists, and add a little innovation—you'll end up with Bendite Jimmy Sbarra, creator of SoundKicker.com.

SoundKicker, still in its beta form, isn't too hard to define.

Its slogan—"Like Pandora, But for Independent Artists"—pretty much says it all.

Just like Pandora it's a Web-based music streaming site. It uses the familiar thumbs up-thumbs down icons. It even kind of looks like an ultra-stripped-down version of Pandora with its list of created stations and skip feature.

But look more closely and you'll see things aren't exactly what they seem.

Here's what makes SoundKicker different:

• SoundKicker offers listeners the ability to pay for, and load their account, with credits they can use to purchase songs as they hear them.

• Unlike other streaming sites, 90 percent of the money goes directly to the bands when a song is purchased.

• If you share a song on a social media site or blog using a SoundKicker link and one of your friends uses that link to buy it, you'll earn 10 percent of the purchase price through PayPal.

• Here you can still build a radio station based on bands you like, but on SoundKicker you can also build your station based on your mood, what instruments you like, even what activity you're going to be doing while you listen.

• It's entirely free for bands to join and upload their music to the database.

• Currently there are no ads forced upon you during your stream.

That's a pretty solid list of differences and one that should entice bands to get on board. We talked to Sbarra to learn more about how this Bendite started his business.

SW: How in the world did SoundKicker come about?

Sbarra: I looked at my iTunes playlist and realized I'd been listening to the same stuff for, like, 20 years. I knew there were thousands of great independent bands out there that I was never going to get to listen to unless I did something about it.

SW: Why take a chance launching SoundKicker when the world of music streaming sites is so crowded?

Sbarra: Bands need help. There are only so many major music labels out there. Our site is completely free for bands to sign up and it's kind of a long process on those other sites. And even though they can still upload to them after jumping through a bunch of hoops, they end up competing against bigger names to get listened to. SoundKicker is a place where true fans can give back and support bands. A place where you can support the underground music movement.

SW: Just how big is the SoundKicker database?

Sbarra: When we were putting this whole thing together during the summer of 2011, we were contacting bands like crazy. We searched on Google, Facebook, trying to find as many bands as possible to populate the database. Right now there are 5,000 bands and over 25,000 songs and so far not a single user has listened to them all.

SW: Launching this site sounds like a pretty big undertaking. Did you have help?

Sbarra: My buddy Brock Gleeson has been a giant motivating factor. We were talking at his wedding about SoundKicker and he was like, 'You need to do this'. He's a musician, so he helped out a lot from the music side of things 'cause I'm really just a nerdy programmer. I also had two COCC students, Mason Ross and Nick Jasiorkowski, who donated a lot of free time to help promote and make the site better.

SW: What bands have you discovered using your own site that you like?

Sbarra: The Archer's Apple. I think they're great. I really like Ally Rhodes. She's kind of a country singer, and the quality of her songs and voice is great to have on there. Actually, there's a Bend band on here too called All You All. I really like them. I clicked on their bio and was like, 'Whoa! They're from Bend!' The cool thing is we're not limiting ourselves to the United States. Sometimes I'll hear someone and I won't even know what language they're singing in but I'll be like, that's pretty good!

SW: What's next for SoundKicker?

Sbarra: Well, our mobile version sucks. Our artists would really love us to have a better mobile site. We are putting together a Kickstarter campaign that will probably launch soon. We want to get a sweet mobile app going. After that, we just want to keep everyone happy—the fans and the bands.

It's pretty cool to think that all of this is happening right here in Bend. And though time will tell if there is a big enough market for one more streaming service, Sbarro isn't in this to get rich. It's about loving music and supporting bands. Sounds like just the thing Central Oregonians and music fans everywhere are likely to help out with.

Visit at www.soundkicker.com

About The Author

Ethan Maffey

Both a writer and a fan of vinyl records since age 5, it wasn't until nearly three decades later that Oregon Native Ethan Maffey derived a plan to marry the two passions by writing about music. From blogging on MySpace in 2007 and then Blogspot, to launching his own website, 83Music, and eventually freelancing...
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