Joe Lennon CTO on Music

Streaming has done incredible things in terms of expanding access to music, and that’s a good thing. But I still see streaming as primarily working for general music consumption – it completely fails to provide a strong immersive experience around the music. When it comes to fans and superfans, they want to forge a deeper connection with the music and with the artist. I started Subwoofr in 2015 because I saw a problem with the music industry and had aspirations of providing a solution.

My name is Joe Lennon and I’m a software developer. I’m currently the CTO and co-founder of a start-up called Workvivo – we help medium-to-large sized companies improve employee engagement and internal communications in their organisations.

I’ve been into computers since I was a kid. I got my first computer with the money I received for my First Holy Communion – an Amstrad 6128PC. It was notable because it had a floppy disk drive rather than a tape drive. It was considered an incredible leap in technology in 1992!

I’ve loved technology ever since. I started my career as a software developer – since then I’ve had various roles in different companies including Product Manager, CTO, and CEO. I’m happiest when I’m in the thick of it, writing code.

As a software developer, I had become frustrated with how the advent of digital music had changed everything about music. As a fan, I felt that the way we were starting to consume music was eroding the connection between the fan and the artist. I also saw a pattern emerging where artists and smaller indie labels were struggling and decrying the tiny royalties that decent play counts of their music were generating on streaming services.

The original goal with Subwoofr in 2015 was to help artists take back control of the experience around their music, and give fans a superior product that they would happily pay for. While I would still love to deliver on that goal, the path travelled has ended up taking the current product in a slightly different direction than I first envisaged and, ultimately, we failed to deliver on that original vision.

I learned the hard way that not having prior experience in the music industry would make it difficult to establish the brand, sell to labels/successful indies and reach industry investors. We had some early traction, but like most music start-ups, reaching sustainability was an enormous challenge and our growth was far too slow to reach the levels required. The business is still operational, but it is not my primary focus right now.

If I’m honest, I would say that it was a great creative outlet at first, but because of the path we took (raised seed investment, targeted venture capital funding, and aimed for rapid growth) it was quite a stressful time in my life. I still absolutely believe in the original vision I had for Subwoofr, but it’s hard to see a way of making it work without significant funding.

The Irish music industry is incredibly small but hugely vibrant. The UK industry is incredibly strong and is so accessible from here too. This is great if you’re running a business that can survive on the back of local success. If you need to expand beyond Ireland to succeed, however, I suggest moving on early. People in the Irish industry are for the most part very accessible and willing to help. I met some amazing people while working on Subwoofr. There’s just not enough of them!

If I were to advise music entrepreneurs, I would tell you to position yourself in the parts of the industry that generate heaps of cash. Gigs, tickets, licencing. Go where the big fish are. Selling to independent artists and small labels is incredibly difficult. They tend to be very protective and passionate, so they are slow to close on any deals. The deal size is usually so small that you’ll probably end up losing money. If you need to raise money, you’ll want to focus on music specific investors. Target the moguls, the veterans, the labels, people who understand the industry and have made money from it.

I think the lines between the music industry and the tech industry are blurring all the time, and because digital is the centre of the music universe, these days it’s getting harder and harder to see a distinction. The age of the traditional music retailer is all but dead, and we live in an era of new age tech companies running the show.

The biggest difference right now is in the live scene, but I firmly believe that is the target of the next wave of disruption in the music industry. While Live Nation appears to have everything wrapped up, if they don’t evolve someone will pull the rug out from under them someday, and that day could be sooner than they think. Bigger and more powerful companies than Live Nation have made the mistake of underestimating the power of the forces of change in the past.

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