The future of music as told by Soundwave

The Irish company was snapped up by Spotify - but that's only the beginning of its ambitions

When news broke in January of this year that Soundwave, an Irish music discovery start-up, had been sold to music streaming giant Spotify for an undisclosed sum, co-founder Brendan O’Driscoll said that everyone was smiling by the time the deal was done.

Half a year on his team is now based in Spotify's Stockholm offices - while he splits his time between Sweden and California, he reflects on that time:

"Any process of that magnitude always has its highs and lows. We were in negotiations for two months and it definitely takes its toll emotionally. We’re just delighted to have gotten out the other side of it and to be really happy with the deal, and our investors are happy, and Spotify are happy," he told Newstalk.

He reflects that there was a big sigh of relief after the deal got over the line.

The company's app was built to allow users to see what their friends are listening to, to track listening trends, and to explore which music is popular in different areas by drawing circles around locations on maps while applying other filters.

For example, it allowed you to draw a circle around central Berlin and to apply to techno filter so see what tracks were a hit with German clubbers, or an indie rock filter around Sweden to discover new Scandinavian bands.

This kind of technology is highly sought after as competition hots up in the music streaming industry.

Apple and Tidal have now developed music apps which are very similar to Spotify on a surface level - but these companies are waging a war 'under the hood' to become the go-to service as the industry matures and more and more users sign-up for streaming apps.

O'Driscoll says that improving its music discovery functions will help to make Spotify a "stickier product" that will keep customers coming back to find new music:

"Trying to understand listening patterns has been important for not just Spotify as a streaming service - but for everybody. Before the acquisition, one of the main routes that we were exploring with Soundwave was whether the wider industry and labels and publishers or even consumer brands could take advantage of this understanding."

He describes the move to Spotify as "seamless" and adds that he feels that it offers, "all the positives of being in a bigger company but with less of the negatives."

Maturing

Soundwave was set up in 2012 by Brendan O’Driscoll, Aidan Sliney and Craig Watson - it established offices in Rathmines, south Dublin, and gained the backing of one of the early NDRC Accelerator programmes.

O'Driscoll remembers that there was excitement in the air as he and his colleagues started their journey during the tail-end of Ireland's recession. 

He thinks that the country has the infrastructure to continue to produce successful start-ups:

"There’s always more [that can be done] - but I think the level of support at the moment is good. We have guys like Enterprise Ireland who have great structural supports and mentorship programmes and funding programmes and export initiatives."

He remarked on how "a really good stage has been set now for people to build their own companies," in Ireland. The entrepreneur believes that as Dublin's start-up scene matures, more and more companies will stay here:

"We’re at the earlier stage in the life-cycle and we’re at a stage now where we are churning out a lot of early stage start-ups. Over time, as we create more and more companies, more and more will stick and become more successful and more will stay. It will just bolster the whole eco-system."

By 2014 the company was named as a finalist in EY's Entrepreneur of the Year's Emerging Category - and it attracted the backing of high-profile investor Mark Cuban and support from Apple's Eddy Cue, who oversees the iTunes Store and Apple Music.

The Future

Soundwave got ahead by spotting the music industry's shift towards streaming, and the important role that breaking down user behaviour would play in this industry - but where does Brendan think that music is going next?

"I think we’re seeing fascinating developments in the last year or so. We are going to see more of a shift away from desktop and even away from mobile to hardware," he replied.

"Speakers in the home and in the car are going to be really interesting areas for music. I think how we interact with that hardware and those speakers is going to be via voice."

He adds that intelligent music software will continue to play a major role and that it will "build context awareness around various different moments in your like, whether it’s jogging with your phone, of driving in your car or chilling out at home."

When asked what the main objective for him and his team is right now, he says that it is the same that it was on day one, discovering "how to find the right music for the right person at the right time."