It’s no surprise that metal has a respect problem. While the format still sells a solid amount of physical product, we’re running out of places to buy it. And on streaming services, there’s plenty of well-curated metal, but hip-hop and Top 40 get a lot more bandwidth, so to speak. Enter Gimme Radio. For the last six months, the free, all metal streaming service has been building audiences and DJs, with an app that’s available on iOS and Android and a record store where listeners can pick up the music they listen to. They’re not the only ones streaming metal online, but they are the only one with DJs that include Dave Mustaine, Randy Blythe, and Johan Hegg among others. We spoke with CEO and co-founder Tyler Lenane about why he started Gimme Radio, DJ curation, and his goals for the future of the service.
Tell me a little bit about how Gimme Radio started.
Gimme Radio grew out of my experience working in digital music for the past 10 years. I started out at 2006 at Rhapsody, was at MOG, Beats Music, and finally at Apple Music. Myself and two of the other founders, a guy named David Rosenberg who is our COO and John Maples who is our head of product, we all worked in those various companies for years, and really wanted to do something different in the space. We had all sort of seen that most of the services have a tendency to focus on the same artists, the same albums, promoting the same stuff by and large look and feel very similar, and all had the same features and functions. We just felt that there was a lot missing from that experience, especially, for fans of music that sat outside of what I’ll call the mainstream. One of those being metal. Metal doesn’t get a whole lot of attention on those services. There are certain people at those places that do a good job and definitely try to push the genre forward. It’s just the way that those services are set up, they can’t devote a lot of airtime to the genre. So, we wanted to set out something that was a platform for the fans of metal, that wasn’t subscription based, that didn’t require a $10 a month charge, that didn’t have annoying shitty in-audio ads, or display advertising all over the site, or click through bait, or any of that kind of stuff. We wanted a really nice, great experience, and build a home for these fans that they could hear music that really is not being played anywhere else. Whether that’s the obscure side B, Scorpions track or a brand new black metal coming out of Finland that has yet to be played anywhere else in the US, but some of our DJs are tied in and are playing that stuff, we wanted that stuff to be heard.
How do you go about curating the people that you would have actually DJing? Is it just done out of their love of the genre? How do you go about attracting the likes of Randy Blythe and Dave Mustaine?
The real reason we are able to attract these DJs, whether it’s Dave Mustaine or Randy Blythe, a writer from Decibel, or a guy who plays bass in a pretty underground but influential death metal band, the reason a lot of these guy want to do it is to support our vision. That, is, of course, to support the genre. Nobody else is really doing that to the extent that we hope to do. For some of the guys who play in bands and especially some of the smaller bands, its a chance to be in front of the fans. If you’re not on tour or you don’t have an album out that year, there’s not a lot of opportunity to interact with your fans other than maybe Twitter or Facebook. But that’s not really that personable in the way that Gimme Radio, allows you to share with your fans the type of music that you are into at that time. Also, you can get on GimmeLive, which is our live chat function, and actually talk with your fans. You mention Dave Mustaine, every week he is in the feed for 2 hours talking with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of his fans all over the world. Earlier this week we did a special where we highlighted five different records that we were really into over the past few months and one of them was Spirit Adrift and Nate from Spirit Adrift gets into the feed. We had no idea that he was going to show up, and he starts talking to these fans about how they recorded the record, what guitar pedals they used, what the artist who did the album artwork was trying to accomplish, like all this really inside information. These people were going crazy over it and it was really awesome to watch. I think that connection is why these DJs are really excited to be a part of Gimme Radio.
Are you finding that since you launched the Android app in November, you noticed a lot more people tuning in?
Yes definitely, most people are listening to music on their phone and certainly it’s a way to listen Gimme Radio in your car. So we knew that it was going to help with getting more people in. But more importantly, for the fans of the service it makes it easier for them to listen wherever they are. It’s not just when they are tied to their desk at work or at home, they literally have it in their pocket at all times and that’s what really helps with the engagement.
How do you go about curating the DJs? Aare there people coming to you asking to do shows at this point?
At this point we are completely underwater, I’ll say that maybe that’s not the best thing to say about a new company, but we get people coming every day wanting a show and they are all phenomenal. We just can’t keep up with the amount of volume. We can only handle so much and we want to give everyone a chance, but it just takes time. We have great people who want to be DJs that would be really offering something new and special on the service and we want to get those guys up. But we also do things like listener shows, where we have listeners who are big fans of the service submitting playlists and we will give them their own two-hour slot in a week. I mean I’m hearing stuff that I did not hear before because some listener is into something totally different from what every other DJ is on and they are bringing that to the Gimme Radio audience. There are a lot of different types of DJs that are on the air and we will get to them all, it’s just taking us a little bit of time.
Do you have any rules about what music can and cannot be played?
That’s a great question, it’s one we struggle with, we want to be pretty freeform and let people play whatever they want to. But we have to balance that with having a strong editorial voice or viewpoint. We want to establish Gimme Radio as a trusted name so if something is on, there is a certain expectation there. We’ve tried to fit some loose guidelines (i.e. should be metal, should be extreme) but there is tons of stuff that comes in that’s a little bit outside of that. Randy Blythe’s show talks about mostly punk rock and hardcore because its about his experience of being a huge punk fan but being in a metal band and how punk informed him as a musician. He has probably the one thematic show that is not “metal.” And then with the other DJs, its very rarely but there are times when people play stuff or we will see on a playlist, songs that are so far afield that doesn’t make any sense. If there is a reason why they are playing that and they’re playing it because they are going to talk about how that song influenced some other metal song or why that song is important or something then that makes sense. But if someone gets on and play a bunch of Depeche Mode because that’s what they want to play, that doesn’t really fly.
Is there any kind of rotation or weekly chart of what tracks are getting the most air time? Like most radio stations have?
There is not. There are certain, new records that we in a sense, get behind because we think they are awesome and we want people to hear those records. Frankly, it’s often records that probably aren’t getting a lot of attention other places. We will talk with DJs, people who we have like Dean Rispler who has a show every Tuesday or Shawn Bosler who has a show every Thursday. Those guys are really tied in with us and will talk a lot about new releases that are coming out and stuff. So, that type of relationship may be a little bit of this is what the station’s into right now but there is not any rotation they don’t have to play any number of tracks by any artist or off this album. None of that. None of those kind of rules exist and that’s very much by design. At the end of the year, we looked at what were the most listened to songs on Gimme Radio over the first 6 months, and number one was “Sails of Charon” by the Scorpions and number two was a song, I don’t remember which one, it was a Necrot song off of Blood Offerings. I think the fact that the number one song was a Scorpions song and the number two song is a Necrot song, that really exemplifies what Gimme Radio is about. It’s about playing that Scorpions track and the proto-metal and the metal stuff that isn’t getting a lot of airplay in America and in the world right now. But also playing stuff that is brand new and exciting and frankly isn’t played on even the other metal outlets that you would expect. That Necrot record was pretty big last year and was on a lot of end of the year lists but I never heard it anywhere else you know?
You have the store as well. Is it a big goal? Does your model depend on people buying music from the store?
It does. Our whole thing is, the founders all came from the world of $10 subscription services. It’s a really challenging business with razor thin margins and it’s basically a game of chasing people that churned out of the service. We didn’t want to do that again. In a world where people can get things anywhere for free, it’s a hard game to play. Especially starting out as a small company. I also just think the ad-supported model is such a shitty consumer experience. We believe that with metal in particular, that fans are buying the vinyl records in multiple colors, they want the limited edition T-shirt, or the fan experience. And yet, it’s really disaggregated on the internet. People go and they buy vinyl here, and they go an listen to music here, and go to a blog here. We really believe that we could build a place where you can do that all in one spot. The key to our business model is the hope and the belief that as we continue to work on the store, it only launched two months ago, build that out, make it easy to find things that we believe are really featured releases or new stuff going out. We can start to focus on that business side of it and hopefully sell enough records and other fan items [and merch] to actually support the business.
What are your long term plans for Gimme Radio? Where do you see it going?
We’ve just started. We haven’t really done any marketing. It amazes me when I come across people everyday that I would have thought would certainly have heard of Gimme Radio just because it’s been around for six months and we’ve had a couple articles here and there. These are people that should have totally known about it but they haven’t even heard of it. There are so many people out there that have yet to try Gimme Radio, that I think are going to love it, in the metal world. That doesn’t even take into consideration Europe and South America, and places where we don’t do anything. It’s a huge global community and I really want to see Gimme Radio succeed as the first not only metal, but really any genre of music, that is doing streaming music differently. Doing it for the fans, building a thing for the fans of the music rather than just a utility. I think there’s a lot we can do with the community aspect (with the live feed), I think there’s a lot we can do with special, limited and exclusive type products for the store, I would love nothing more than to find an up and coming band and be the place that gets behind that band and breaks that band. That would be amazing, to actually start to help artists with their careers.
Hip/Hop, R&B and Top 40 are the biggest and the most lucrative genres right now with streaming services. Do you see those streaming services doing anything further to appease metal or do you find yourself in an area where you can just fill that niche?
I think we can fill that niche. Having worked for a lot of those places, I think they do a lot of things right, and I have a subscription to those services. I’ll use them just like people have Netflix accounts, but they’ll still want to go to the movies or watch a movie that hasn’t been released on DVD in 15 years and it’s only on VHS. I don’t think that those big streaming services will be able to focus, at least for some time, on things like metal or underground punk rock or bluegrass. Just areas of music that are out there that have rabid communities of fans and people that love it but they don’t have that sense that they are included in some of the bigger players’ space. I really think we know that we’ve struck a nerve because everyday people are coming in and they are like, “I just found this today, I can’t believe it, this is amazing, thank you.” I’m seeing people on the live feed form friendships from all over the world. They log on with “Good morning” and they log off with “Good night” to their friends, who are their friends because of Gimme Radio and that’s pretty cool!
That’s awesome. Anything else you’d like to add?
The one thing I always forget, and kick myself, I don’t know if it has a place in this, we are a really small team we have about 8 people working on this. It really wouldn’t exist without them and them believing in this vision. You have myself, David [Rosenberg] and Jon [Maples] who are founders there’s another founder named Andy [Gillliland], who comes from a design background. That’s why I think, Gimme Radio looks so great when compared to a lot of the stuff out there. We put a lot of thought into the look, feel, and design. We all come from this world of streaming media, we worked at all these places for years and everybody is really committed to doing this and doing something that’s really different and feels more about the music and about the music experience then just being about to deliver 40 million tracks for $10 a month.