DJ app looks to lend professional spin to party dance mixes

April 22, 2017 by Jackie Renzetti, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

James Jones had the problem that every college student wants: too many paid gigs.

While studying engineering and economics at the University of Notre Dame, he DJed three to four parties each weekend and picked up opening slots for big-name acts like Big Sean. But he started stretching himself too thin, so he built a program that mixed music and took requests. He offered it to customers at a discounted price.

"I played it at a club that I was supposed to be DJing at and I walked around and asked people, 'Hey, what do you think of the DJ?' and they were like, 'He's good,'" Jones said. "I was like, OK, this works."

After moving to Minneapolis to work as a data analyst for Target, he DJed as a side job and met fellow table turner John Boss, who eventually joined his quest to make the program an app. In January, the duo started testing it out at events. Earlier this month, they made a limited version of the app, dubbed Spark DJ, available in Apple's App Store.

After gaining support from investors, Jones and Boss ditched their day jobs so they could drop the beat. With proper licensing, the two add songs to the app's library daily, scrutinizing each one to fit it into algorithms meant to simulate what a live DJ would do.

Once users download the app for free, they pay $5 to $10 each time they use it for a party. Event hosts can give the app guidelines by selecting artists, songs or genres they like, and the app curates a personalized mix. Users can also pick themes to fit specific atmospheres, such as barbecues or children's parties.

Like a live DJ, the app adjusts its mix based on the crowd's requests. Partygoers can download the app for free and "join" the host's party, which lets them request songs. In addition, attendees can "thumbs up" or down each other's requests, preventing the app from playing songs similar to unpopular ones.

Mark McGuire, a veteran entrepreneur who mentors the team among other startups, said the app provided a background mix fit for cocktails and chatting before an event for his startup accelerator, Gener8tor.

"It's really simple to set up, and the transitions between songs were super cool. It felt like there was a real DJ there," McGuire said.

The two also have a solid growth strategy, McGuire said. By inviting attendees to request songs, they ensure more downloads and potential customers.

"It has an inherent viral nature to it," McGuire said.

Dave Mao, managing partner of venture capital firm Come Up Capital, said the app made an impression at the 2016 Minnesota Cup, where it placed as a semifinalist.

"This was really, very different from the experience you'd get at home, or if you were throwing a house party or a party in your dorm room, because you would not get that quality of music experience," said Mao, who judged the competition.

Intrigued by the app and impressed with the duo's work ethic, Mao offered the team a space in Come Up Capital's office and became an investor.

Among other startup obstacles like marketing and finding capital, the app's biggest challenge will be living up to its goal of simulating a real DJ, Mao said.

"It's an aesthetic challenge. ... The DJ isn't sitting there just cutting from one track to another. That's what a bad DJ probably does. But a good one makes really smart choices about when they make the cut," he said. "To get to even 90 percent of the quality of a live DJ, that is the challenge."

While Mao considers streaming services like Pandora or Spotify as the app's main competitors, Jones and Boss say they are up against live DJs.

Through collected data and artificial intelligence, the app accounts for song aspects like tempo and key to create seamless transitions, Jones said.

"We look at songs in the way a DJ would ... instead of a sit-down session with Spotify or iTunes," Boss said. "What parts of the song make people excited? Is it the chorus, the intro, a minute of the song or seven minutes of the ? All those dynamics we constantly are looking at from a DJ angle."

The app's live music vibe keeps it from getting lost in a sea of similar music streaming services, Jones said.

"We're not meant to be listened to in your headphones. We're meant to be hooked up to speakers and get the party going," he said.

The app's ability to transition between songs and its low cost give it a competitive edge against live DJs, Jones and Boss said. Still, the avid DJs say their app isn't meant to completely replace the profession.

"For the people who are out there and really approaching DJing as an art form, being unique about their craft, Spark DJ isn't going to beat those guys," Jones said.

Instead, the duo aims to attract customers who can't afford to pay a live DJ.

"What we're trying to do is fill a void that actually exists. We're not undercutting or doing anything to DJs," Boss said.

Because the app is meant to accompany parties, Jones and Boss are targeting college students as a customer base.

"Not only is it easier for (students) to understand the app and the concept, college students also love good music," Boss said. "And the market size is huge."

Explore further: Personalization makes Pandora Premium a worthy Spotify rival

5 shares

Related Stories

Streaming subscription boom boosts US music sales

January 3, 2017

Song streaming on subscription services more than doubled in the United States last year, bringing solid growth to the music industry despite sagging album sales, data showed Monday.

Who's Who in music streaming: Tidal, Spotify, Pandora & more

March 31, 2015

Since Apple shook up the music world with iTunes a little more than a decade ago, online music has exploded and become the central way many people enjoy and discover music. Internet services such as Pandora and Spotify have ...

Recommended for you

Galactic center visualization delivers star power

March 21, 2019

Want to take a trip to the center of the Milky Way? Check out a new immersive, ultra-high-definition visualization. This 360-movie offers an unparalleled opportunity to look around the center of the galaxy, from the vantage ...

Ultra-sharp images make old stars look absolutely marvelous

March 21, 2019

Using high-resolution adaptive optics imaging from the Gemini Observatory, astronomers have uncovered one of the oldest star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy. The remarkably sharp image looks back into the early history of ...

When more women make decisions, the environment wins

March 21, 2019

When more women are involved in group decisions about land management, the group conserves more—particularly when offered financial incentives to do so, according to a new University of Colorado Boulder study published ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

EmceeSquared
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 23, 2017
Does Phys.org take money to run ads like this story? The Minneapolis Star-Tribune probably does, but otherwise why would Phys.org run it?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.