Our featured tech start-up this week is 45Sound.com, a new online venture that’s aiming to revolutionise how we listen to concerts and gigs from our favourite bands and artists online.
45Sound.com has just been around for less than a year, but already the Dublin-based venture is preparing to head to South By Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas later in March, having made it to the final of the Music Accelerator section, and as part of the final eight companies competing in the finals.
It was back in 2011 that Cathal Furey first touched upon the idea for 45Sound.com. As he was regularly videoing live music shows with his company Present Tense Productions, Furey says it struck him that fan video footage from phones and cameras would be great to watch if only there was a way to improve the audio.
He then came up with the novel idea of replacing poor-quality audio that people often shoot when they are at a gig and concert, and instead replacing such fan-shot videos with the high-quality audio from the show, provided by the band or artist.
“This way, everyone can relive the show, but from multiple angles and with perfect high-quality audio all the time,” he says.
Furey, a part-time lecturer at Dublin City University (DCU), then set about rounding up a team to further develop his idea. He contacted Dan Barry and Mikel Gainza, the founders of the Audio Research Group at DCU. Liking the sound of the Furey’s proposal, the duo started to work on creating complex audio matching algorithms.
In turn, Barry and Gainza contacted John McAuley who they had formerly worked with.
McAuley, who is currently finishing a PhD in social media, says the guys all sat down last August to thrash out ideas, and that’s when the 45 Sound team came about.
“After a lot of hard work and problem-solving, we had a basic but functional prototype ready to test at the Hard Working Class Heroes music festival here in Dublin in October,” explains McAuley.
So how does the site work and just who is it aimed at? McAuley says the aim of 45 Sound is to dramatically improve the audio quality of fan-shot video footage.
“In operation, it is quite simple,” he says. “Fans upload their live footage to 45 Sound during or after a show. Then, the artist uploads their audio to 45 Sound. Our algorithms match and replace the fan’s (poor) audio with the artist’s (perfect) audio.
“The fans can then share their videos across all the different social media services while artists get to connect with their fan-base and promote their music.”
So, what kind of artists and bands have been trying out the site? McAuley says that 45 Sound has been very lucky in that it has been able to work with some of the best and emerging talent in the Irish music scene at the minute.
For instance, he says that the group And So I Watch You From Afar used 45 Sound for their tour of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus last month.
“This was a real breakthrough for us as Russian fans uploaded brilliant show footage and our audio algorithms matched perfectly every time. And So I Watch You From Afar is also travelling to SXSW and we’re looking forward to having all of their SXSW shows on 45 Sound,” says McAuley.
Meanwhile, Kila and Ham Sandwich are two other Irish bands that have had shows on the site.
McAuley says that the US indie band Dispatch will also be using 45 Sound on their first ever European tour this month
“They have over 250,000 Facebook fans and have sold out Madison Square Garden in London, so we expect this to be pretty special,” he says.
Right now 45 Sound is in soft launch, but the team are officially launching at SXSW.
Explains McAuley: “We will have 45 Sound shows running all week and hope to have our Android app finished by then. As well as that the 45 Sound iPhone app is progressing nicely!”
And he says that the team is always on the lookout for great bands and artists to make use of the service.
The start-up is currently based at Dogpatch Labs at the Dublin Docklands.
“It is a very supportive environment with a great team at the helm. There are also some brilliant companies starting out there and working in the same environment allows us to learn and support one another. Dogpatch is what the start-up thing is all about and it brings a little bit of California to Dublin’s Docklands,” says Furey.
So just how did 45 Sound manage to get selected to be one of the final eight companies to compete in the finals of SXSW?
“We felt that SXSW was the best platform to take our service global and were really thrilled to hear we had made the final of the Music Accelerator section. Over 650 companies applied to SXSW Accelerator this year so it was a great boost to be selected,” explains McAuley.
And already 45 Sound is managing to catch the attention of potential investors.
“We planned to wait until after SXSW to seek investment but have already been approached by a couple of potential investors this week. It is great to get this kind of reaction because you know you are moving in the right direction. However, I think we’ll wait until the dust settles after SXSW before we decide on our next move,” says McAuley.
As for the new venture’s targets for 2012, it’s all about growth.
“We want bands and fans at festivals and shows around the globe to try out 45 Sound and see what a cool and useful service it is. To get from Ireland into Europe and over to North America is really important and SXSW will be a great springboard to help us achieve this,” adds McAuley.
But have there been any challenges to setting up? “There have been loads of challenges,” he says. “For one, we had to learn to work together quickly and as a team. We’ve long nights or busy weekends and not seeing friends or family to name. But this is standard enough when you are trying to get a tech start-up off the ground and, in hindsight, it has been more than worthwhile.”
The quartet also completely bootstrapped the company themselves and did not seek out any support or investment.
However, McAuley says they were thrilled when they recently got approval for an innovation voucher from Enterprise Ireland, which has helped 45 Sound develop its mobile apps.
“While the 37 Signals bootstrapping approach has brought us a long way in a little over six months, we now need to scale fast and have begun to look at our investment options,” he says.
Finally, what advice do 45 Sound have for other tech self-starters out there right now?
“A strong team is important. Start-up people always say this but we have found it to be especially true. There is a degree of trust required from the outset and if people genuinely get on well, those bonds are easier to forge. If one member of the team is swamped, it is important for the others to react to that.
“This is especially true at the start, when there is no money and no excitement about your product and everyone is working at night or over the weekend. Also, we found a few good nights out together help quite a bit!” affirms McAuley.