While sitting across the table, talking about mobile app design principles and how Songza and Path inspired him, Wang Zhixiang, CEO of a one-year-old startup, didn’t impress me as a seasoned musician, who has been a lyrics writer, song composer, arranger and producer for the past several years. It just sounded like he has always been in the Internet trade.
From Musician to Founder
Wang, in his late twenties, is now leading a startup staffed by 14, in hopes of evolving China’s digital music landscape, including how music get distributed and how people discover, explore and consume music.
Wang Zhixiang, founder and CEO of Niting
Niting, the Beijing-based startup’s flagship product, found its way into more than 150k iOS devices in China. It’s Android sibling, according to Wang, would be launched later this year, but will not be the main focus yet. At least not until Android ecosystem is as well-regulated as Apple’s is.
Back in his life in China’s record industry over the past years, Wang composes/writes lyrics/arranges/produces for many famous Chinese singers. Eyeing the gradual decline of the old-fashioned music industry and the rising of the digital music and how it disrupts the old empire, Wang thought to himself that he should seize on the new opportunities to create a new service, to solve some problems that would never be solved in the old ways.
He wants to help people find the right music at the right time in the right context. The old way of feeding people with new titles via Billboard-like charts doesn’t work anymore in a world where mass-produced music equals to trash to some.
With that idea in mind, he started Niting from scratch, by being rejected by Internet professionals over and over again. How could those people bear listening to a laymen talking about mobile Internet and business model? He laughed and told me this in the interview.
So, he taught himself Axure RP, a prototyping tool often consulted by product manager in designing Internet-based products, drafted the first version of Niting, and then touted his idea to people in hopes of attracting people with similar thoughts. Gradually, he built up his team, one by one. Now Niting is 14 people team with half of them are product engineers.
Before the birth of Niting, there’re already a big army of online music services, why do you think people would need another one? And particularly, why do you think people need Niting? I asked Wang.
Because Niting is different from everything available in the market, with three Rights, he said.
Take Kuwo, and Kugou for example. The two resemble each other from many ways and sometimes its hard to users to tell which one they’re using. They both have a dedicated website, desktop clients as well as mobile clients (iOS and Android), both recommend music to users in old-fashioned ways via different categories and subcategories like “charts, artists, albums and genre, and they both operate online gaming business on its web premise, yes, you read it right, online game translates into real money. Since music service (including online streaming and download) are provided for free, these startups have to find a way to make money off of their traffic.
Niting won’t distract itself like this, Wang claimed, even though gaming means money.
Niting want to be a pure music service, a service that help people uncover and explore music they’ll never step into before if Billboard is the only thing the refer to when thinking of getting some new beats, a service to help people find the right music at the right time in the right context.
Algorithm V.S. UGC
There’re two major approaches to helping people uncover new songs. The first one, adopted by the likes of Douban.fm, Xiami.fm and Jing.fm (we wrote about them before), is algorithm.
These services automatically push what they (or the algorithm) think users would love to listen to. Users vote by clicking a heart icon (meaning loving it, give me more like this) or trash can icon (thank god, don’t ever play this to me again). The services will then cater to your music tastes by faithfully putting down what kind of music you like and hate.
Machine learns and understands your personal tastes? That sounds like something very sophisticated and intriguing, Douban.fm and Jing.fm, both were quite popular among music fans. But there must be a catch.
And the catch is, sometimes they’re just too faithfully to keep record of your flavors, so the more you listen, the more they understand you, the more confined your music spectrum would be. It’s easy to imagine. Once the service literally understands your tastes, it’ll try to please you with more music similar to what you like, hence you’ll always be confined to a limited scope of music choices.
Niting, on the other hand, adopted a rather different approach.
Context-Based Music Finding
Wang, defined Niting as a social-based UGC-driven music service, through which people find music by choosing different contexts (scenes).
Firing up the app, you’ll see a digital clock taking up the screen top and several scenes beneath it, like “afternoon tea time”, “party”, “doing chores”, “reading”, “dating” and so forth. Tapping on one of them, Niting will start playing music for you under that scene. Technically, every scene is a big music repository consisted of songs lists created and shared by users.
Benefits of co-edited song lists? As people’s music flavors vary, you have better chance cheering up your ears by encountering songs that you might miss out on, they’re just so out of your genre. And also, you don’t have to knock yourself out on thinking of something to listen to, just tap the scene fits your current status, and then listen up.