The ad-funded music-streaming service we7 has just launched in Ireland, giving users here the option to create their own personal radio stations and to legally discover and share its 6.5m music catalogue.
Since 2007, the cloud-based music destination service has been carving out its own unique groove in the music-streaming space, bearing up against other sites such as Pandora and Grooveshark.
In the UK, 1.8m people go to the we7 site every month. On top of that, 1.3m people access it through syndication – via NME.com or through The Guardian, for instance. Plus, the fact singer-songwriter Peter Gabriel is an investor in the site has also helped we7’s status.
When I speak to Steve Purdham, chief executive and founder investor, we7, on a crisp January morning, he is radiating enthusiasm about the evolution of music streaming and how it is going to empower people in the future to use technology to suit their own musical preferences.
Tech meets music
Purdham himself brings a vast array of technology experience to the we7 boardroom table – he was the co-founder of the internet-filtering software company SurfControl in 1998, building it from the grassroots up and eventually selling the company in 2007 to Websense for about $450m. He’s also been involved with Identum, which was bought by Trend Micro. Coincidentally, the same weekend as he sold SurfControl, Purdham dived straight in to we7.
"I love building technology companies and I like to integrate music and work with people like Peter Gabriel. It was just an outstanding position."
Purdham also dabbled in a bit of DJing in his youth, but he says it was in the days before the super DJs had arrived. "It was the classic old double decks. I was never going to make any money out of it. That’s why I went towards computing!"
Of Gabriel, he says as well as being a "brilliant musician" he’s also involved with a lot of technology companies.
"He (Gabriel) has a desire and passion to use technology to help change things. Funnily enough, Peter and I both came to this as investors, but I felt I could run the company, as well."
Regarding we7’s move into Irish terrain, he says it was a natural manoeuvre, taking in localisation and the technology for managing currencies.
"Ireland is a good stepping stone to start to move into other European countries. Until recently, most people would have listened to music over the internet through pirate and non-legal sites. That’s quite a change with we7 and with the Eircom MusicHub."
Radio gets personal
With the Irish model of we7, Purdham says people can opt for personal radio mode.
"You tell us what music you like and we will give you personal music for as long as you want. So, for example, you can go in and say ‘set me up The National radio station’, so it will play The National’s music but it will also play groups similar to them, such as Arcade Fire and Interpol. There’s a reason why people listen to music from the radio because they don’t have to do anything. At one time we thought having an unlimited jukebox was the way everyone wanted it. But what we found is there are two modes really that people want.
"We also have ‘on demand’ mode, where if you specifically want to listen to an album like High Violet, then you can press a button.
"There are going to be two models in Ireland. One is the ad-funded model, where people consume great content but it’s paid for by advertisers. The second one is subscription, where you can get access to all the music you want but you don’t have to have the advertising and you pay either €5 or €10 a month."
Purdham will also be looking out for up-and-coming Irish artists to add to the site.
"We have an area on we7 called ‘What’s Hot’, where we promote music. At the moment it’s the Choice Music Prize feature and Villagers are on there. We’ll also introduce new bands – this week, we will have an exclusive to Ireland from a band called Funeral Party. The charts will be generated by people listening to music from within Ireland rather than across all of we7."
Reflecting on the paradigm shift within the music industry itself, Purdham says music streaming empowers people to get their own music.
"At one time it was about the CDs or vinyls you had on your shelf. Then it went to downloading files onto your iPod or your MP3 player. Now it’s more about, well you can listen to whatever you want whenever you want, so you don’t have to carry 6.5m songs around. You can just listen to them from your PC or your mobile phone."