Music and the Internet have a complicatedrelationship plagued by legal quagmires, but for TonePedia.com foundersand longtime friends Danny Strelitz and Sagi Eiland, the combination isfertile ground for untapped possibilities.
"Musicianstend to be old-fashioned people who don't accept new technologieseasily, so the on-line market for musicians is just getting started,"says Eiland with a charming grin. "We're always a little bit behind."
As a guitar player, singer and songwriter who formerly playedin the band Tnuat Hameri, regularly performs at the Cameri Theater in The Wandering Israeliand one of the first musicians to play at Tel Aviv's Barby club in theearly 1990s and later sign a record deal with its label, he shouldknow. Indeed, with his shaggy brown hair and retro green T-shirt, thismusician-cum-entrepreneur looks like a rock star straight out of the1970s.
And it was Eiland's passion for vintage gear that is made ofhigher-quality wood and has superior sound that originally gaveStrelitz the idea for their newly launched start-up. "I was alwayssearching for new stuff on-line and I kept a wish list on eBay,"explains Eiland. "One day Danny asked me why a Web site didn't existthat would allow musicians to hear the gear and combinations of gearbefore they buy it."
The idea seemed like a good one, and they weresurprised that nothing of the kind already existed despite numerous Websites dedicated to reviewing music gear. After all, a picture of aparticular guitar, amplifier or speaker may be worth a thousand words,but it certainly cannot compete with hearing its actual sound -especially when the combinations of gear produce an enormous range ofdifferent tones.
But the path from idea to product was a long one. The pair cameup with the concept two years ago, but Tonepedia launched just sixmonths ago.
STRELITZ'S BACKGROUND is in cognitive psychologywith a focus on human-computer interaction and man-machine interface,and he previously worked with several start-up companies. But neitherof the two founders has a strong technical or business background,which made things slightly more challenging as it required them to hireprogrammers to execute their vision.
Eiland came up with the name (the Wikipedia of tone) whileSterlitz created the design and perfected the user interface, whichprovides quite a few handy features.
"The idea with TonePedia is to create a social community wherepeople who are passionate about music can share information, uploadimages and recordings and find all the information they need aboutspecific gear, including hearing the way it sounds," explains Strelitz."That doesn't exist anywhere else on-line today."
Because success relies almost entirely on having an activecommunity of users who upload sound files and interact, Tonepedia stillhas a long way to go before it will be able to generate revenue, forwhich future plans include selling gear. For now, Strelitz is contentto provide real value to users by creating an information database thatwill revolutionize the way musicians search and buy gear on-line.
"I spent the last year walking around Tel Aviv with a taperecorder and a camera interviewing friends and fellow musicians to signreal people up for the site," says Eiland. "We didn't want to launchwith a bunch of fake users like a lot of other Web sites do."
Although some of the musicians with user profiles have beendead for more than 30 years, such as Duane Allman of the AllmanBrothers Band, you can hear the unique combination of instruments theywere using in some of their more famous songs. For musicians -especially those who love old gear - this is fantastic.
"So far we've gotten amazing responses from people who reallylike the idea and our community is growing every day," says Strelitz.Although they would not disclose the actual number of users, the pairwill say they have almost 1,500 followers on Twitter, and somewell-known musicians like Dan Whitley of the Dan Whitley Band areregistered users.
"We haven't been able to raise any money yet because it's hardto convince people that the community will succeed, and investors areleery of anything to do with the music business on-line because of allthe legal issues," says Strelitz. "So far, we've put a lot of sweat andmoney into it, but we're hoping to raise money in the future because assoon as our community takes off, there are many different ways tomonetize the traffic."
AND ALTHOUGH musicians often hate the very idea of Guitar Hero,as one of the most successful games ever made, it is certainlygarnering huge interest in guitars and playing music - especially withyouth.
"I saw a musician the other day wearing a T-shirt that said'f**k Guitar Hero. I play the real thing,'" Eiland says, noting thepalpable tension that exists between the two worlds. Yet, he admitsthat the game has certainly gotten a lot of kids to actually learn howto play the real thing and raised demand for information on-line aboutgear.
Although TonePedia is still in its infancy and it remains to beseen whether or not its social community will actually flourish, thepotential user base is quite large and it has focus and innovation onits side. The musical instrument business is about $12 billion a yearand according to mibluebook.com, there are more than 100 musicalinstruments for sale on eBay every day, so a Web site with relevantinformation and good recordings has a great potential niche.
While there is no doubt that the idea behind TonePedia isstellar, a long road to success still stretches before it. "It takes alot of strength to be an entrepreneur," says Strelitz. "We have a lotof persistence and willpower and we strongly believe in what we'redoing. We're determined."