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Oregon Entrepreneur Tries To Capitalize On Electronic Dance Music

OPB | April 17, 2013 6 a.m. | Updated: April 19, 2013 12:33 p.m. | Portland

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Wednesday is the launch party for a new digital service seeking to provide a home for a growing musical genre: electronic dance music. “EDM” as it’s known, functions under the radar of the traditional music industry.

For the past two years, attendance figures for the West coast’s premier electronic event in Vegas, Electric Daisy Carnival were more than double that of Coachella Music Festival, which featured acts like Kanye West and the Black Keys.

One Oregon entrepreneur wants to capitalize on the electronic dance music trend.

Kara Dake

Kara Dake

April Baer / OPB

Kara Dake is taking a meeting with one of the developers for her new venture. She’s in her office - and by “office” I mean a coffeehouse in Southeast Portland.

“Yeah, so Filipe, I got your note, and I wanted to see where we are with the infinite scrolling…”

Her platform, Signalfy, lists staff in LA, Brooklyn, London, Chicago, Bosnia, and then there’s her lead developer, Filipe, in Brazil.

“Sometimes he takes his shirt off. He’ll be totally shirtless, and I’m like,  OK! He’s from Brazil! It’s hilarious.”

Dake is a recent graduate of the Central Oregon business incubator, FoundersPad. Born in Oregon, she got into electronica after spending a few years in Europe.

The scene has grown exponentially. The 1980s underground rave scene brought people together for parties and club sets. As the 90s rolled on, DJs picked up on what was happening in the vast European electronic scene.

Now electronic dance music embraces everything from downtown clubs with maybe fifty people showing up on a Saturday night to top-drawer DJs who play Madison Square Garden, or club residencies in Las Vegas and Miami.

Electronic music is a lot bigger on the regional scale, too. The scene includes big outdoor Northwest festivals and events held in convention centers and community colleges. 

Jason Harlowe

Jason Harlowe

April Baer / OPB

Jason Harlowe has been DJing in Bend and Portland for fifteen years.

“You have party crews, as folks know them, that organize these events, that now have become companies, that have got their LLCs. They are doing this, they have marketing, they have presence, they have accountants they’ve got street teams, everything you have in a major promotional company, everything from just a few folks that got together to throw some so-called raves.”

Kara Dake worked on Wall Street for a while doing equity research, then got into marketing, then tried her hand at a few tech startups. But about six months ago, she says she started thinking about a gap in the electronic music scene.

“This is an extremely tech-savvy generation. They need a platform that reflects that.”

As with lots of other genres, Dake says fans can plug into events large and small on Facebook. She says that’s great if you know what you’re after. But the process can involve a lot of extra steps if you’re not deeply plugged in with friends who post about shows.

Likewise, if you want to try samples by headlining DJs, you probably have to leave the Facebook page.

“Songkick and BandsInTown are social web platforms that exist for rock and indie music. But there isn’t a EDM specific site, and that’s what Signalfy is going to serve with all the social and tech features that are going to serve this demographic.”

Chris Capdevila is one of the Mentors who worked with Dake through FoundersPad.

“Not only a great trend in terms of more focus, richer social networks, but also one targeted at a genre in music that’s seen tremendous growth in a real important demographic to advertisers and potential revenue channels.”

Dake says she wanted to design a platform that will allow large and small events to compete for users’ attention on an equal footing. It begins, she explains, with event listings.

“So someone comes to Signalfy, they view an event, and they say I want to attend this event.”

Signalfy creates a login, and — this is the critical step — interfaces with the user’s Facebook account.

Courtesy Jason Harlowe

“Then they send out via their social networks, a signal that they’re attending. So then you see in your friend’s FB  news feeds, your friend - ‘Aha, I see she’s said she’s going to go to this club on Friday.’ And that is the viral engagement loop, which is very important to this demographic as well.”

For Signalfy to really take off, Dake’s going to have to get buy-in from the people behind these events. And some of those people say the status quo is working.

Paul Song is the CEO of Red Cube, an EDM production company that puts on events for audiences in the thousands.

“Back in the day, the 1990s, it was all word-of-mouth, flyers and phone numbers and text messages, yeah.”

Now, Song says he doesn’t do any of that. No print ads, no flyers in record stores. He says, from a promotion perspective, it’s all happening in one place.

“As much as I hate FB, I have to spend 8-10 hrs a day on FB, that is how I promote my events and that is how my audience finds out.”

It’s hard to beat something that’s both free and integrated into many young peoples’ lives. Song says he’s not sold on the need for something more.

Anand Harsh is Chief Content Officer for TheUntz.com, a website devoted to aggregating information about electronic music shows and artists. It has a lot of things in common with Signalfy, minus the social media element.

Harsh points out the industry changes fast. And, perhaps because of electronica’s underground roots, it’s not easy to unite fans under one banner.

“It’s always going to be complicated to find that one silver bullet that’s going to get your show out there, just because there are a myriad of channels, each effective in their own way. People become comfortable with one way or another. It’s hard to get them out of that.”

Cynthia Valenti is a Portland DJ who’s playing Signalfy’s launch event. She says she’s very game to see if Dake can deliver. 

“It’s very easy to say you’re coming and not come. The guy who owns the venue where I played an event last night, he said he’s finding rsvp- to show-up-rate is about 30 percent. It’s just, everybody’s online all day, and it’s easy to click a button and say ‘Yeah I’m coming’, and it’s just as easy not to come at the last minute.”

Kara Dake estimates there are about 30,000 committed electronic music fans in the Portland metro region.

She’s trying to raise seed money to get a mobile app built, and launch in Seattle, San Francisco, and Las Vegas later this year. She’s applying for the Portland Incubator Experiment’s 2013 class.

In an earlier version of this story, OPB misstated entrepreneur Chris Capedevila’s relationship to a new Oregon startup. He was a mentor to the program. OPB regrets the error.

Signalfy

FoundersPad

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