Butler student develops local-music CD vending machine
While the retail music industry continues its freefall and the record labels take on Internet users, a Butler University student is bringing a product to market that could change the way music is sold.
Ron Popeil, eat your heart out: Jason Huntley, with his invention, the Disc-Go disc burning machine
A prototype of the Disc-Go machine was delivered last week to Millennium Records, LLC, the company founded by Butler business student Jason Huntley. By midyear 2004, Huntley hopes that 50 of the machines will be vending CDs of customized, independent music at locations throughout the Midwest. The idea came to him a few years ago, when the issue of online music piracy began making news. “I felt like the industry was heading to a place where there was going to be an opportunity for the person with the right idea,” he said. “It’s obvious that the customer wants a customized CD. How can we make this legal, how can we make the artist profit from it? How can we bring it to everybody, not just people with a home computer and high-speed Internet?” Three Karma stores and the Butler and IU student union buildings will host Disc-Go machines before the roll-out occurs next year. While researching the project, he took the idea to his professors at Butler, who connected him with a representative from the Small Business Administration. After finding the idea feasible, Huntley began working on the proprietary software and hardware that make up Disc-Go. Although still in college, the Indianapolis-born Huntley comes from a business-minded family. His grandfather is the president of N.K. Hurst Co., the dry beans packaging firm based in Indianapolis, and his mother is the vice president of a food business locally as well. He began researching the music industry, trying to figure out who gets paid what when a CD is sold. He quickly settled on trying to attract local, independent artists to offer their music on Disc-Go. “Distribution is one of the hardest things an independent artist faces,” Huntley said. “The Disc-Go gives them a way to get their music to potential customers in a way that hasn’t been done before.” At the same time, he began discussions with 10 to 15 engineering firms to build the machines and fine-tune the software. He contracted with the non-profit Business Modernization Technology firm in Indianapolis for help in the design. But the music, of course, is the main attraction of Disc-Go and Huntley began working with artists to get their music placed on the machine. After signing contracts with the artists and their labels, as well as the venues in which the machines will be placed, Disc-Go’s business model works like this: Artists are paid on a per-song basis. The Disc-Go software tracks royalties and a full accounting is available. The venue also receives a payment for each CD. “It’s free for an artist to sign up for Disc-Go, and we don’t claim any exclusivity to the music,” Huntley said. “When an artist signs up with us, they get free distribution and free promotion with no strings attached.” The music community in Indianapolis has been receptive, Huntley said, but a tiny bit skeptical of how the process works. Still, he’s signed deals with local/regional artists to offer around 1,000 songs to start with, and more artists are being added daily. When the full product rollout occurs next year, the machines will be capable of holding 80,000 individual songs. Huntley sees merit in having a single source to find local, independent music on CD. “If you heard someone at Birdy’s last week, or you were in Bloomington or Terre Haute and heard a band, you can’t just walk into any record store and find that artist,” he said. “We want to have Disc-Go machines be the place where you can find the music by that independent artist you heard.” The touch-screen interface will feature a band bio and photo, as well as brief samples of each song being offered for sale. Music will be categorized by genre as well as artist. Huntley’s goal would be to have music from virtually every regional independent artist available on the machines, making them a one-stop shop for consumers. With 80 minutes of music available, customers can sample unfamiliar artists with little financial risk. And in an era where recorded music sales have been declining for years, it offers a way for CD shops to increase their business. Huntley said, “It’s great for record stores. They’ll get two bucks off every CD sold, so it won’t matter to them whether they sell a CD off the shelf or from the Disc-Go machine. They’re still going to make their profit. It’ll allow them to exponentially increase the amount of song titles available without taking up any more floor space.” And right now, Huntley said he doesn’t fear the giant record labels coming in and stealing his idea. “Most of the big entertainment companies are focusing on the online side of it, such as how to sell your music on a Web site. We’re different in that we’re in public venues. You don’t have to have any computer gear to use Disc-Go. It’s a vending machine for music.” Additionally, Disc-Go is based solely around independent and regional artists, unlike the major labels. With just a brief time before his idea makes its public debut, Huntley said he’s both optimistic and a bit nervous. But he has no doubt that his idea is solid as a rock. “We’re a start-up company, we’re a work in progress,” Huntley said. “We’re trying to develop everything from the grass-roots up.” For more information: www.godiscgo.com.
The Disc-Go disc burning machine allows total customization of the CD-buying experience. Slated to roll out statewide next spring, the machines will be located in record stores, restaurants, sports bars, college student unions and nightclubs. How it works: • A customer pays $10 via cash or credit card on the machine. • Using a touch screen, customers can browse hundreds of songs and listen to samples of them before committing to purchasing the tracks. Currently, more than 1,000 songs from independent artists have been licensed for use with Disc-Go. • New songs and artists can be added to the machine remotely at any time. • Up to 80 minutes of music can be chosen for each CD. • After selecting the songs, they’re instantly burned to CD and a label is printed. • A few minutes later, the CD is ready and the transaction is complete. Artists receive royalties for each song purchased. Source: Millennium Records, LLC