Starbucks Entertainment, the record label, has released everything from the ukulele stylings of Eddie Vedder to indie darlings Fleet Foxes and Death Cab for Cutie, but it missed out on a potentially big idea that one start-up is taking seriously: turning a coffee shop's WiFi network into a local music hub.
Band Over Boston, the brainchild of Cullen Corley, is a simple concept. The service uses iTunes' ability to stream music over a WiFi network -- one WiFi network in particular, actually, at the In House Cafe in Allston, Massachusetts -- to present an array of local bands from that area that have submitted their music to the system. Corley told Evolver.fm that he plans to scale the service past that WiFi network to encompass coffee houses all over Boston, and we wouldn't be surprised to see it snapped up (or copied) by a nationwide coffee retailer, because it has the potential to make each store different from the next.
A sign next to the cash register and a stack of flyers alert visitors to the existence of this shared iTunes library, and while the owner of the cash-only, analog-register cafe can't offer cold, hard statistics on customer growth trends, since his cafe became a local music hub, he has acquired the store next door and expanded his offerings to include crepes and bubble teas. So as far as we can tell, this thing is boosting business. Ostensibly, the availability of a free local music service could make coffee customers choose a locally-owned cafe rather than a chain like Starbucks, which peddles the same Eddie Vedder ukulele album regardless of location.
"The big idea -- and then the bigger idea -- is to expose people to the buzzing local music underground in their very own city that many just have no clue about, while simultaneously turning local cafes into perhaps the preferred choice, at least for some, over the Starbucks or Peets down the street," explained Corley. "Then, [it's] on to more cities [to] let your average citizen know there's great music being made right down the street that they can go see live for $5-10 any night of the week, rather than waiting for that national act they heard on the radio to swing through for $30...
"Local is the killer app for everything!"
When we interviewed him in May, Corley said over 150 bands had contributed over 12 gigabytes of music to this shared library. As word spreads and the service ramps out to more coffee shops -- which Corley hopes to charge for the service eventually, due to its potential to draw customers -- and more cities, more will follow.
As that happens, "Band Over [Your City Here]" will surely contain plenty of stuff that plenty of people won't want to hear. That said, "one man's garbage is another man's gold."
By turning the service a Pandora-like streaming service that takes the listener's existing preferences into account, which could happen as Corley turns his iTunes kluge into a full-fledged web app, his creation will have a much better chance of recommending stuff people like.
Then, his vision of coffee drinkers huddling around a laptop to decide which local band to see that night could come to fruition -- and that would be a good thing for local bands, local music fans and local businesses looking to compete with nationwide chains where one store is the same as the next.