TastemakerX Builds a “Taste Graph” to Reward Music Trendspotters

Take a guy with dual lifelong passions for new music and fantasy sports; run him through business school, the dot-com gold rush, and the world of big-brand advertising; and then set him loose in the new world of mobile apps and media sharing. What do you get? For Marc Ruxin, the answer is TastemakerX, a new website and iOS mobile app where users can express their fandom by buying and selling “shares” in their favorite bands and musicians.

TastemakerX is a little hard to describe, so I’ll just tell you how Ruxin, the co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based startup, explained it to me. “It’s a discovery platform, a social game around music, an influence network, and a mobile social app,” he said. “The goal is to gamify music the way fantasy sports gamified sports.” (Of course, sports are games, but let’s not get metaphysical.)

The startup came out of stealth mode in early March, right before the South by Southwest music and Internet festivals, but it’s been in private beta-testing mode ever since. Today, it’s opening its iOS app and website to the general public, giving the startup its first chance to see whether a broad group of consumers is interested in tracking the ups and downs of Dr. Dre, Two Door Cinema Club, and Beyoncé and getting music tips from the community’s most avid members.

The top players chart on TastemakerX

Ruxin says the main idea behind TastemakerX is to give music mavens a richer way to advertise their passions, while giving the rest of us a new way to follow the people who always seem to spot the hottest new musicians. “I profoundly believe in the 90-9-1 rule,” he says. “Less than 1 percent of people tweet most of the tweets and post most of the YouTube videos and publish most of the photos on Instagram. Another 9 percent of people are avid followers of the first 1 percent. And the other 90 percent will read the occasional tweet and click on the occasional picture.”

Ruxin’s site is built around an artificial marketplace that’s designed to give the 1 percent—the tastemakers—a way to show off their prescience when it comes to musical trends. Every new member of the site gets 25,000 points or “notes,” which they can spend buying shares in the bands listed on the site. (The price of a share in a band is determined largely by demand: the more people who are buying shares, the higher the price will go.) The game’s leaderboard shows the top players, measured by the total value of their holdings.

The way to get “rich” and gain credibility in TastemakerX is to buy lots of shares at a low price for a band that’s trending upward. Do that enough times, Ruxin explains, and other people will see you on the leaderboard, follow you on the site, and pay attention to your trades (since you’re evidently a pacesetter).

“The high level picture is that we’re attemping to build what I call a Taste Graph,” says Ruxin, whose last gig was as chief innovation officer at advertising agency McCann Erikson. Facebook, of course, came up with the term “social graph” to connote a person’s network of social connections, and many other companies have talked about “interest graphs” that link people with similar interests. TastemakerX will be a special type of interest graph—one entirely built around music.

Importantly, it will also be a graph that remembers users’ tastes over time, spotlights those tastes, and rewards people for being trendspotters. “When you first went to Facebook, they asked you ‘What is your favorite artists, your favorite book, your favorite film,’ but I doubt you have ever updated them,” Ruxin says. “Most people don’t know what you like and most people never look back at what they said on Facebook or Twitter. The current social platforms don’t serve vertical taste at all.”

The company plans to make money by selling virtual notes to people who have spent their initial 25,000-note supply, and also by letting brands run sponsored contests with more notes as the prizes. When users buy copies of the songs they discover through the site, TastemakerX will earn commissions from Apple. Finally, the company will be collecting data on artist popularity that could be valuable to music studios.

In addition to buying and selling shares, members will also be able to express their admiration for bands by checking in from concerts and posting pictures. All such activities earn members more notes to spend. “Our goal is to take anything that is saveable and documentable and create an archive of who you are in a vertical way,” Ruxin says. “It’s a very different paradigm from just pushing things to Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn and never seeing them again.”

TastemakerX iPhone screen showing recent trades

If TastemakerX catches on in the music “vertical,” Ruxin says the concept could easily be adapted to let users acquire shares in movie actors, restaurants, food, wine, and politicians.

The startup has 11 employees spread across three offices in San Francisco, New York, and Guadalajara, Mexico, Ruxin says. It has raised $1.85 million in seed funding from True Ventures, Basline Ventures, AOL, and Guggenheim Partners, a private equity firm that also happens to own Billboard magazine and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ruxin says that for him, running TastemakerX is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. “When I was a little kid, there was a British deejay named John Peel, who ran the most important music show on the BBC for 50 years. Getting on the radio with John Peel was what it took to get credibility. I wanted to be him, the guy who found the bands that were going to be awesome.” Now Ruxin is doing more or less the same thing—except he’s figured out how to crowdsource the job.

Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

Trending on Xconomy