This time last year, Founder Drew Meeks and his team started Riff Digital as a passion project at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. He and developers Dennis Lysenko, Andriy Katkov, and Lukas Lozovski have successfully built a mobile app turned music discovery tool that has the capacity to compete with the likes of Snapchat.
Riff aims to improve the efficiency and enhance the experience of music discovery in a way that is intuitive for users and lucrative for artists. Riff allows users to select a clip of any song available on their mobile device or Riff’s sizable in-app library and supplement the clip with a photo taken either in-app or accessed from the device’s gallery with the option of adding text. The message is then sent to other Riff users who will be allowed to view the message for the length of the clip (up to 20 seconds in length) before it disappears. At the close of the message, recipients will then be presented with the opportunity to buy the song that was shared with them.
By creating a platform that gives artists more exposure while allowing users to make music sharing an engaging social experience, Riff Digital presents a compelling alternative to Snapchat. While Snapchat did recently add a music function within their messaging system, Meeks says they “missed the mark”, offering Riff as a solution in last week’s interview with Hypebot transcribed below.
Q: I’m going to start by asking the question on everyone’s mind: You’ve built an app for the purpose of doing essentially what Snapchat just did. What differentiates Riff Digital? How are you raising the bar?
A: Without question, Snapchat is an incredible platform with a great user experience – but in the case of including music, we think they are missing the mark. Music is one of the very few universal forms of communication, as it transcends demographic barriers and geographic limitations. When it comes to utilizing the music itself for the purpose of communication, users of Snapchat need to have it playing in the background of a video to send, which in our view is completely ad hoc and not especially compelling. The goal for Riff (and what differentiates it from Snapchat) is to become not just an engaging messaging app, but a utility for music itself – a natural extension of the relationship between the user, their favorite music, and their friends who love the same music.
Q: I find myself missing the video capability when sending music to friends via Riff. Is a video feature on the horizon for Riff?
A: The Riff team has been working diligently to build the foundation for several other features for future inclusion in the app – video included. Before we include these features, however, we want to establish Riff as a simple platform to interact with (and send clips of) the music they love. Every feature we add going forward must be a natural extension of that core relationship, and obviously video has a place in such an environment.
Q: What does your built-in music library look like and how are you continuing to expand it? Can users pull their favorite songs from their own library?
A: Riff draws from several online libraries, namely SoundCloud and Grooveshark, which give users a vast catalog of tracks to choose from. In addition, users also have access to personal collections of music currently on their individual phones, supplementing the already substantial selection offered by Riff. We are still exploring strategic options for expanding our available libraries and access for the users of Riff, but the current selection is still notably robust.
Q: I see that you have an agreement with Apple and Amazon that allows you a 5% cut of any purchase made via Riff – do you have a royalty agreement with artists? Does anything about Riff contribute to artist compensation? Could it in the future?
A: Currently our only affiliate agreements in place are with the major online digital music stores (iTunes and Amazon .mp3), but we recognize the incredible potential Riff has to help small- and mid-level artists get exposure (and ultimately drive sales) for their music. Riff helps contribute to artist compensation in the sense that we are attempting to help get their music our to fans and generate sales. Artists now make the majority of their income from concert tours and merchandise sales, and we think this is completely backwards. Artists should be better compensated for creating incredible music, and hopefully we can help by giving the users of Riff the option to purchase songs via embedded links for the iTunes or Amazon store.
Q: You’ve mentioned you want Riff to be used as a utility for music discovery – how do you see and/or suggest users get the most out of Riff?
A: Music discovery is currently an extremely fragmented, non-linear process of getting recommendations from friends and chance-exposure through outlets such as streaming radio. Riff gives users the opportunity to send actual clips of the music itself to the people they think will enjoy it the most. This word-of-mouth style reference system is as powerful as marketing can be for any product – but especially music. In essence, Riff enables users to creatively interact with their friends using music they enjoy, all while simultaneously perpetuating a point-to-point marketing mechanism for the music itself.
Meeks concluded the interview with these remarks:
Music is an incredibly powerful medium of communication – one that transcends simple notes and lyrics on a page. It forever links people with moments in time, unique relationships, and special memories that will always be triggered by simply hearing that ten or twenty-second clip of a track. Our goal (and the inspiration behind creating Riff in the first place) was to build an app that leverages this special relationship and enables users to create specially crafted content around it.
The same music can mean a million different things to a million different people – why not let them decide how to best interact with it? After all, you can go a bunch of different places online and get previews of any song – why should you not be able to send that clip to people you know will enjoy it as well? Full disclosure: we built Riff because we wanted to use it ourselves, and we continue to use it daily for our own personal entertainment and fun.
Our goal is now to make sure everyone using Riff gets that same level of enjoyment and connection with friends through the use their favorite music. In the end, music is something that helps its listeners connect with each other as well as themselves – Riff just wants to help.
While Riff clearly differentiates itself from Snapchat in notable ways, the technology in place is similar enough that it’s adaptability is plausibly inherent for most users. The addition of video capability will up Riff’s competitive edge considerably, but even at this early stage in development, the app boasts clean design and intuitive functionality, offering artists a new medium of exposure powered by fans