A new startup, Imagine Radio makes over 10 million songs from local and international artists legally available for anyone with a smartphone
On Monday, app-based music streaming service Imagine Radio was officially launched in Dhaka. The service is available free of cost on both Android and iOS, with a desktop based platform in the pipeline.
The service reflects the world-wide shift in the music industry toward streaming services. Even though streaming had been available in Bangladesh, Imagine Radio is unique in its scope and is the first of its kind in the country, with artist royalty and a vast collection of over 10 million local and international songs available on the platform.
Shahriar Shahid, founder and CEO of the company, started planning the service four years ago, which culminated into forming a team in December 2017, finalizing the product and rolling out the service this year. The app is a complete in-house design, as is typical with startups like Imagine Radio.
“Off the shelf products would not be the same,” said Shahriar. He says the product is constantly being updated and it is technologically sound. This wouldn’t have been possible if they had just bought a software from a foreign company.
The other streaming services available in the country have been by the telecom operators. But unlike these services, which are only for the customers of the respective telecom customers, Imagine Radio has open content and anyone with a smartphone can start using the service and get instant access to 10 million odd songs, including every major international artist in the world.
“This is the most unique aspect of our product. The amount of content we provide is unparalleled in this market,” said Shahriar.
Another unique feature, says Shahriar, is a complete focus on ‘musician’s welfare’. “We have a dashboard available for the local artists. They can see the full analytics. This means they can see how many times their songs are being played, as well as detailed information about the demographic of their audience,” he said.
This provides the artists with the opportunity to not simply track their earnings from royalties, but actually see useful data such as when their music is most played, the age and gender statistics of their listeners and so on. With the dashboard, artists can send notifications to their listeners and communicate directly, enabling musicians to announce new releases and other news about their activities to their listener-base through Imagine Radio.
The royalty system is dynamic and it will pay according to the popularity of the music within the app.
The company started with seed funding and later on raised more money from angel investors. Shahriar says that the company will be looking at bigger funding after a certain period.
The revenue model for Imagine Radio is ad-based. Innovative ads are shown within the app and that is the main revenue driver. The company plans to introduce a subscriber-model in the future, which will offer special services to the subscribers, while still keeping all of its content open to the public.
Imagine Radio has gathered an impressive collection of local artists already, including big names like Artcell, Aurthohin, Souls, Bappa Mazumdar, Shironamhin and a host of other Bangladeshi artists including Chirkutt, Dolchhut, Avoid Rafa, Mechanix, Salekin, Nemesis, Arbovirus, Blue Jeans, Cryptic Fate, Conclusion, Attic, Martian Love, Meghdol, Sohojia and Vikings.
“We didn’t expect to get so many to sign up with us so early. But we ended up having 150 artists on board before launch,” Shahriar said. The music of these Bangladeshi artists will be available in 52 countries, where the app is accessible. This, says Shahriar, will play a role in promoting Bangladeshi music to a foreign audience.
Imagine Radio will have a strong focus on young indie artists and hopes to not just run a business, but play a role in the music market of the country. “There are a lot of very talented young artists out there. We want to provide a platform for them and connect them to wider audiences through our app,” said the Imagine Radio CEO.
One of the major problems in Bangladesh has been the complexity surrounding ownership of music. In the past, artists signed contracts with labels without much deliberation for intellectual property rights, a rather unfamiliar concept in the earlier decades.
This gave labels rights to the music, which later started to cause ownership disputes. This led to the artists being very skeptical about new services like Imagine Radio and negotiating deals regarding ownership of their music. But Shahriar’s company solved the problem like new disruptive tech-based services do: by being innovative and flexible.
“We don’t deal with rights,” Shahriar simply said. Instead Imagine Radio only acquires usage permission and pay the artists royalty fees. The intellectual property rights for the music remain with whoever own them, leaving the artists free of worry over ownership. For foreign music, Imagine Radio gets the usage permission from the appropriate licensing authorities, which gives them the legal rights of making the music available to Bangladeshi users of Imagine Radio.
The Imagine Radio app uses the ‘progressive bandwidth allocation’ technology to automatically play the appropriate quality audio at the user’s end. The app can detect the connection speed of a user in real time and play the music in fitting bit rate. “If you have a 2G connection the app then will play a lower bit rate. Our intelligent server can select the bit quality in real time,” Shahriar said.
“320k audio, appropriate for high fidelity audio systems, is available on our servers for every song and listeners can get that through the app. You just need to have the connection speed,” he said. Typically 3G and broadband connections are able to seamlessly play 320k, which is the highest quality audio. This essentially gives almost anyone with a wifi connection to play 10 million songs in high bit definition just by installing Imagine Radio on their phones.