Interview: TuneCore Talks to Cymbal App Co-Founders

October 20, 2015

A lot of folks first heard of an app called Instagram and blew it off as a fad – after all, there’s other social channels on which you can share photos that are far more popular and widely used. It didn’t take long for public opinion to sway and for Instagram to become one of the most popular apps available today.

While it’s been described as “Instagram for music” by early adopters who also happen to be die-hard music fans, Cymbal is a relatively new app that’s finding an audience — and venture capital — quickly. Think about it: all music fans already love sharing what they’re listening to, and we’re living in a day and age where it’s acceptable to share everything and anything. Cymbal is the perfect home for music lovers who not only want to share their flavor of the moment, but also follow likeminded fans who can turn them onto new artists.

Cymbal was founded by three college students in Massachusetts – Gabriel Jacobs, Amadou Crookes and Mario Gomez-Hall – and now it’s on its way to growing to new levels, attracting new music and tech fans each day. The guys at Cymbal do an amazing job of summing it all up:

Cymbal is simple.  Make a profile and post songs you love from Soundcloud or Spotify. Then follow friends and tastemakers —blogs, artists, smart people. Follow by follow, you create a timeline: a playlist of songs, one from each of your friends, of the song that means the most to them this instant.

Read on to learn a little more about the three co-founders’ adventure so far, and where they feel Cymbal plays a role in the musical landscape of 2015 and beyond.

First off, share how you all met and began developing Cymbal to begin with. Was it a mutual love of music or programming that spawned the app?

Gabriel Jacobs: We all met at Tufts University. The app development community at Tufts is very small, so we all kind of knew each other. Amadou and I met during our sophomore year when we were assigned to be programming partners in a notoriously hard computer science class.

Since we worked really well together, we decided to take a stab at making an iPhone app junior year. That app never took off, but it gave us the experience and technical knowledge we needed to make Cymbal. Meanwhile, Mario was designing apps for Microsoft, freelance projects, and his own personal ventures. When Amadou and I approached him during the fall semester of our senior year, we immediately knew that we had the perfect team.

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How do you feel this disrupts the larger apps/social channels that allow users to share their favorite bands and artists?

GJ: The issue with sharing music to larger social networks is that most of these networks were not designed specifically for music. Take Instagram for example. Instagram is an unbelievable network for photos. However, a lot of Instagram users attempt to share music through instagram by sharing album art and using hashtag “#nowplaying.”

But in order to listen to that song, their friends have to search it out on a different music network. The same goes for Twitter and Facebook. Music was not meant to be shared on these platforms. On the other hand, Cymbal was specifically designed for the act of sharing music, and we hope that people see it as a more functional way to do just that.

Conversely, explain how major digital music platforms/streaming services come into the fold for Cymbal users.

Mario Gomez-Hall: We’re so lucky to be working on Cymbal at this point in music history. We’re building this product at a time when streaming music has just overtaken digital downloads for the first time ever and is on track to just keep going.

With Spotify, for $10 per month, you can listen to basically every song every recorded. How cool is that? At the same time, there is this incredible DIY music platform in SoundCloud that’s built for artists to quickly and easily upload their music to the internet, so all of this amazing independent music is just waiting to be discovered.

With Cymbal, we’ve combined both of these great platforms with social features that let our users define themselves through music and discover new artists every day.

How would you describe the target user of Cymbal?

Amadou Crookes: Part of what makes Cymbal so cool is that it can be used in so many different ways. A music fan can share their favorite current songs with their friends. Someone looking for new songs can just listen through their feed to find new music. An artist can distribute songs directly to their fans. A label can support emerging artists and debut tracks. A venue can post songs from upcoming shows, and since we’ve got an in-app browser and active links, can post ticket links along with them. In the same way, publications can post songs with links to articles in them.

It’s harder to think of use cases that don’t exist on Cymbal than to winnow down a list of those that do.

We know music lovers are digging Cymbal. What has been the overall response from artists?

AC: They love it! I think it’s appealed to labels first, because they see it as a new way to promote their artists. I think artists – especially independent artists – will see it as a new way to get their music directly to their fans, in the space they’re listening. In that way, it’ll be a powerful way to control how your music is distributed and promoted. Pretty cool.

Similarly, how do you see Cymbal as it relates to the world of independent music and those creating it?

GJ: It has been really fun to see the way independent and emerging artists have been using Cymbal to promote their music. For a lot of these bands, there is no publicist or PR manager getting them album reviews, featured premieres, and other media attention. For them, Cymbal is an easy way to immediately be immersed in an active music community.

One of the best upcoming artists we have on the app is a band called LVL UP. They love it! They joined Cymbal early and have really taken advantage of all the ways Cymbal can help them grow and be discovered. They have over 1.1K followers on Cymbal and their posts consistently get around 40 likes each. For a band like them, that is trying hard to book good gigs and be recognized, Cymbal is a big deal. We hope that as Cymbal gets more popular, bands like LVL UP rise with it.

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Will Cymbal simply remain a platform for discovery and sharing, or do you have ambitions to get into partnerships, either on the brand or label side?

MGH: It will always be a platform for discovery and sharing, but I think partnerships, whether they’re with brands, labels, or anyone else, can make that experience a lot better for everyone involved. We can work with labels to do exclusives, or to help brands find their target audiences, or help the two do dedicated guest DJing… the list really does go on.

I think you’ll see brands embrace Cymbal because of how powerfully music can unobtrusively convey feeling. That said, the beauty of Cymbal is its democratic nature. Every profile gets one spot in your feed, whether you’re a brand, a band, a blog, or a label.

Are there any exciting plans you get share with us for the rest of the year or in 2016?

MGH: We’re super excited to be working on a full-featured web version of Cymbal. So many startups these days are mobile-first and laugh when you suggest they make a web version, but Cymbal, and music in general, is something people listen to for an extended period of time and in one place. The music media world still primarily exists on the web, and discovery is a time-consuming thing.

If you go to any college and grab some random kid’s MacBook Pro, you’ll see Spotify’s desktop app installed — I guarantee it. Music is what we listen to while we sit at the office all day, write a class paper, and browse the internet. Being on web means we can be with you wherever you are, whatever the activity. It opens us up to amazing things like an embeddable Cymbal widget and means more people can experience social music, regardless of what computer or phone they use.

Interested in getting your music on Cymbal? Do it up! Download Cymbal for iOS here.

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