Starting this month, I will be doing regular feature interviews with local start-ups, internet entrepreneurs, executives of blue-chip companies and interesting web personalities to add to the mix of topics I’m covering for this blog. For this month, I’d like to check back on Odysseylive and talked to President & Managing Director, R. Jay Fonacier, and what he thinks of the digital music scene in the Philippines.
Yuga: What’s new with Odysseylive since your last revamp?
- Completely revamped home page that gives a â€œsnapshotâ€ of everything happening on the site â€“ anytime a user/artist posts a (public) blog, event, photo, comment, playlist or song, the community sees it and it engenders more discovery.
- Customizable, intuitive music playlist maker/player that you can post in all social networks and market your music through.
- Customizable user pages maximized for personal expression, wherein you can choose your headers/backgrounds and mark your favorite bands, videos and photos plus a graffiti wall. A good example is www.odysseylive.net/geoff
- Customizable artist pages that users can upload and tag photos of their favorite bands to (like a fan or tribute site), complete with music player and gig sked. A good example is www.odysseylive.net/urbandub
- Mobile download page, chatroom and music video page.
- Cellphone-to-website upload feature (piloted at last weekend’s eheads concert)
- Better tools for an artist to identify and communicate with his fans (email blasting, updates on fan’s dashboards, â€œpeople who last played your musicâ€) and be discovered (â€œthis artist sounds likeâ€)
- General bug-fixing, design-layout improvements and user-experience tweaking.
Yuga: With the transformation of Odysseylive, it seems the direction is becoming a local social networking website for music enthusiasts. What’s your business model behind this approach?
Jay: Right now it’s a combination of advertising/sponsorship and download (mainly cellular) revenue, but the plan is to offer full tracks, CDs for sale, additional merchandise (shirts, tickets et al) and be more savvy in serving up ads with content. Strategically, though, it’s very important for Odyssey to be in this space as it keeps us on the edge of how music is developing (and extends our brand to the younger, non-CD buying set), so I donâ€™t mind too much if the business model hasnâ€™t completely formed yet.
Yuga: How big is your music catalog and active membership? Do you have a target number by the end of the year?
Jay: More than 5,000 members on-site, a few thousand more thru our â€œembassiesâ€ (friendster, multiply, facebook), and many more visitors everyday (we donâ€™t really push people to sign up as members, as such there are a lot of â€œanonymousâ€ comments and non-member traffic on the site). Traffic is growing at about 30% per month. More than 6,000 songs, but we have a library of 8,000 songs more waiting in the wings (when we release the Mp3-for-sale functions).
Yuga: Do you think paid music downloads is a viable business in the Philippines despite the fact that Filipinos are notorious as music pirates?
Jay: Iâ€™m hoping for the best but expecting the worst, which is why weâ€™ve shaped the site (thru so many features) for maximum stickiness (more than 12 mins per average session) and interaction (more than 14 clicks per visit) to hopefully make sponsorship/ads more viable. The shopping infrastructure that weâ€™re building is also quite robust, so hopefully itâ€™ll become a good place to not just buy MP3s and digital content but also CDs and DVDs and other stuff currently in our stores (phones, small electronics, posters, etc).
Yuga: Since you allow users/members to have unlimited song uploads, how do you deal with copyrighted music and do you often get DMCA takedowns?
Jay: The emphasis is really for an artist to be able to upload his own music, be discovered by music lovers, and get his music out to people (you can only upload If youâ€™re an artist). The more popular songs on the site are kosher because of our relationships with the labels.
Yuga: What platform are you using for Odysseylive? What kind of rig it’s running on right now?
Jay: We’re currently using LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql 5 and PHP 5). We have dedicated expandable servers based in the states. They run on a dual core 3040 xeon processor, 4096 mb of DDR memory and 2500 gb of bandwidth.
Yuga: iTunes is not yet available in the Philippines. If ever Apple opens up to the local market, do you see them as a competitor or an ally (in terms of helping promote digitally distributed music).
Jay: Probably more the former, though we would love to be their main supplier of (Philippine end-user-based) content given that international copyright clearance and streaming rights is a really messy area.
Yuga: Digital music downloads is already big in the US with Apple on the top of 3. When do you see the Philippines get to that destination? Typically, how huge is “a huge following” in the Philippine music scene?
Jay: Again, Iâ€™m torn â€“ on the one hand you have decent sales for telco downloads, which suggests that young people are still willing to pay for music, but on the other hand you see all these free download sites like Mp3codes (donâ€™t print that name na lang ha ha!) that make it seem like the Philippines will never get there.
Iâ€™m not sure if platinum is now 20k units of CD’s sold (this had to be halved because of piracy), but 20k units of CDs sold nowadays is great. 10k is enough to get our attention. No basis for Mp3s yet.
Yuga: Any future plans and improvements on the way?
Jay: Anything that maximizes interaction between music and music lovers will be considered. Logical next steps would be to have forums/discussion boards, integrating downloads better in artist pages, pushing the â€œfan/tributeâ€ concept further, giving even more tools for artists to interact with their fans, and continuing to make it more intuitive and user-friendly.
Odysseylive is among a few Filipino start-ups that’s aiming for digital music market which Apple’s Steve Jobs showed as being lucrative. It remains to be seen how huge this market is in the Philippines. For now, trends point to OFWs buying tons of classic Filipino movies in DVDs and music CDs of their favorite Pinoy artist. The digital download market may also be leaning in that direction with over 8 million Filipinos abroad. Telcos are also making big bucks from music downloads (as ringtones, etc.) over the phone so that debunks the notion that Filipinos don’t pay for their music. You just need it to be compelling and easy for them to access and pay for it.