(photo by me from FORM festival 2019)

The Year that Music Died

One founder’s journey during uncertain times

To clarify, I don’t believe that music is dead — similar to how it didn’t really die the day that Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, but the sentiment is the same. However, I do believe that the music industry has changed forever, without notice. There is no need to go into detail about the impact the last several months has had on the music and entertainment industry. The ripple effect can be seen far and wide. While I am one of many, I believe I fall under a smaller subset of entrepreneurs and startups within the music and technology space who were in the nascent stage when the dramatic shift began.

In April of 2019 I had a transformative experience while volunteering at the FORM music festival. It was the first time, in a long time, where I felt truly connected to the experience happening around me. Music, especially live music, has always been a form of ritualistic healing for me. One that I felt was slowly diminishing with the continued development of mobile technology. As someone who is always interested in finding ways to improve things around me, I found myself driven to generate a solution that would not only retain the genuine live music experience I grew up with, but ensure its future.

I committed myself to work full time on Reflective Refuge when I joined a 12-week immersive software engineering course last October. The goal was simple, to create a community for people to connect through music. Following the course completion in February, on a long weekend trip back home to NY, I found my co-founder.

Come March we were running full speed ahead. And then…

What music means to me

It’s hard to say exactly what my first musical milestone is. I have been told that as a baby the only restaurant I wouldn’t cry in were Hard Rock Cafe’s — thought to be due to the louder than normal volume of the music playing. In a more conscious state, if I had to make a guess, I would say listening to 99.1 WPLR while driving around or helping my father out in his workshop. I have some pretty vivid memories of him very enthusiastically singing Pinball Wizard. Every-time I hear that intro I can’t help but smile.

That passion for music quickly grew within me. I spent many evenings sitting on the floor in my living room playing with our stereo waiting patiently for a song I liked to play on the radio so that I could record it to my custom mixtape.

As I got older those mixtapes grew into endless burned CDs. I was notoriously known for “stealing” CD mixes from my friend's cars growing up. (I always reimbursed them with a personalized CD mix in return. I thought of it more as a blind trade)

Having recently moved from the West Coast, back East, I discovered my first iPod while packing. I received it as a Christmas gift in my junior year of high school (2003). Talk about hitting the goldmine prior to a cross country road trip! Maybe it was due to the serene nature of driving through the salt flats in Utah or the desire to be transported back to simpler days, but while driving cross country listening to those old playlists, a euphoric feeling came over me and I felt like I had time-traveled back to my younger years.

As the rise of streaming platforms took off music began to fill more and more of my days. As an adult, music continued to be a form of connection.

(photo by me of Florence and the Machine at FORM 2019)

What I realized is that music has always been the glue in the majority of my closest relationships.

Music is a language of its own and has the power to create a transformative mental and physical experience. While there is magic in it as a solo experience, the euphoric feeling you get when you and others can collectively experience it is, in my opinion, is one of the purest forms of real-life magic. Better than anything else.

Music and Technology

The music industry and technology have always had a fraught relationship. Understandably so. When Napster first came online it not only changed the way that people consumed music it affected every aspect of the music industry. Without ever asking permission. (Kinda reminds you of a similar situation, huh?)

Many bands and people inside the industry fall on one of two sides. They adapted and used technology in their favor or they fought against it.

Madonna vs Radiohead

Now the relationship between the two is almost as if one can’t exist without the other. Just about every day, as I am sure can be said for many others, this is all I think about.

The initial problem we set out to solve was to keep people connected whilst at a live show. But now, there are no live shows (at least not in the same way they were before), so how do we keep people connected?

It’s about the next generation.

The more I reflected upon my own personal musical milestones the more I began to think about what that looks like for the next generation. Having the pleasure of being surrounded by 7 young nieces and nephews, I often find myself thinking about what the world is going to look like for them. When I initially set out on this journey I was determined to find a solution that would revitalize part of the live music scene. Although a lot has changed, the desire and passion to create a product that focuses on connecting people through music is still the same.

We are constantly asking ourselves the question: How can we create a digital experience that is captivating without implementing any of the hook model tactics that can create addicted behaviors?

How do we foster the curious nature of music discovery that begins at such a young age without the added potentially toxic tactics that social media platforms are known to use? How do we create a habit without addiction? One of the most informative examinations of this topic is the Johann Hari TedTalk: Everything we know about addiction is wrong.

What is the thing that really sets TikTok apart from Instagram? It focuses on music. In case you need a reminder the app used to be called Musical.ly.

TikTok used the inherent nature of music and its ability to connect people as a way to get users hooked. It makes sense, but within that layer of music discovery on a platform like TikTok the dynamic can quickly shift to areas that aren’t always the best. As an adult, it is hard to create the boundaries and separation from our real life and digital ones, for an adolescent it can be nearly impossible.

Is there a better way forward?

Silver Lining

While it has been challenging to create products for an industry that is in a difficult place with a somewhat unknown future, I do feel very grateful to be in the position I am during all of this. An industry that was once a tight-lipped community is now an open book. The access to panel discussions and conversations from industry insiders are endless. The openness for networking and having a conversation about concepts that would have been shut down 7 months ago are not only welcomed but encouraged. In my opinion, now is as good of a time as any to be creating a product with a focus on music and technology.

During one of the panels I watched, Amber Mundinger (Artists Den ,Bring Music Home project) put it very simply: “It’s accelerated the need for that transformation to take place.”

Now more than ever people are looking for ways to connect, and music can be a great tool in doing that. We are excited to see what the next year brings and happy to be a part of the transformation.

I love having conversations with people about music, technology, and pretty much any other topic. Please feel free to reach out to learn more about who we are and the products we are working on at Reflective Refuge.

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