The hall in Poughkeepsie’s Dooley Plaza is lined with relics of a bygone time. A newspaper clipping from a 1907 issue of the Putnam Hall Chronicle is matted and suspended in a frame. A battered pack of Beechnut Brands chewing gum and a package of Philip Morris & Co. cigarettes dangle in a shadow box. A timeworn plaque for J. D. Johnson Co., the pipe, valve, and fitting company that once operated here, still dominates the wall across from the entrance.
It’s not the type of environment you’d expect to find cutting-edge technology, but the historic plaza by the train track is home to the developers of Mixaloo, a new web application that has brought a jazzier version of the mixtape into the 21st century.
Perhaps this is not surprising, considering that CEO and founder Mark Stutzman isn’t quite what you’d expect for a techie, either. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he was an English literature major and used to pound out loud, aggressive sets as the drummer in his band, Poureurik, with local guitar legend Johnnie Wang.
Stutzman says he was lucky to get involved in the Internet boom as early as he did. After college in 1994, IBM hired him to work on one of its first Internet-commerce projects. After his stint there, Stutzman spent a few years as chief technology officer for Bolt.com, an online community for teens that boasted millions of users at its peak. Then, in 2000, Stutzman departed to found Digital Variant, a full-service interactive marketing firm specializing in social networking sites that has done work for companies from Comedy Central to Smithsonian magazine. By late 2006, Stutzman was dreaming up his next venture—Mixaloo.
“I’ve always been thinking about ways to marry my passion for music and my passion and skills online,” Stutzman says. “When I first started thinking about Mixaloo, I was really trying to think about how musicians can take advantage of this new viral social landscape to better market their products.”
The application, which allows users to create customized playlists and personalize the mixes with names (example: Stutzman’s mix titled “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” a compilation of Nirvana, Ben Folds Five, Genesis, and of course, Primus), was originally envisioned as a promotion solution for independent musicians. Stutzman says he quickly realized that the site’s success would depend on its ability to offer big-name music as well. The idea continued to take shape quickly over the course of a year, beginning in late 2006. With the help of cofounder Mark Peabody and investors, a private test site was running less than a year later and a public beta site was introduced in December 2007. In that short amount of time, Stutzman and his team had procured three-and-a-half-million songs through deals with major record labels and made them available for users on the site to create modern-day mixtapes. This agreement allows users to download anything from Alan Jackson to Fergie to Zebrahead.
“It was a challenge,” Stutzman says of getting the record labels to make a deal. “There’s not a lot of companies who are actually doing what we’re doing. Labels have never really been fans of custom compilations, which is really what this is. But I think they recognize there’s a couple of things that Mixaloo’s doing right.”
In the midst of an illegal download crisis for labels, Mixaloo proposed a unique concept that would profit everyone involved. “We proactively started discussions with the labels to do it right from the get-go,” Stutzman says. “We’re giving a legal way to share music on people’s profiles, with their friends, wherever else. And the second thing is it’s all about driving sales. It’s all about actually selling these tracks.”
The sales aspect is what makes Mixaloo definitively different from other music sites and applications. Users who create mixes are given the option to promote them on a variety of social-networking sites. Once published there, other users browsing the profile can listen to 30-second clips of each song and opt to purchase the mix. When someone buys the compilation, Mixaloo splits the profits with the user who created it 50/50. As you create a mix, the application automatically tallies your earnings potential for you to see. A 10-to-15-song mix will generally earn a user about $1.50 to $2 per sale.
“What really ends up happening is, we get away from this paradigm of the music store, the one place you go to get all your music,” Stutzman says. “Now Mixaloo is building this vast distribution network where the fans of the music, the ones who are most passionate about it, are actually promoting it. And they’re promoting it to their friends, so it becomes a trusted source.”
Mixaloo has set up a payment system through PayPal, and a user must reach an earnings threshold of $20 to receive compensation. “At the end of the year, we’ll pay out everyone anyway,” Stutzman says. “At the end of the fiscal year, if we owe you two bucks, that two dollars is going to get paid out. Twenty dollars is the threshold for the monthly automated schedule. We wanted to make it a reasonable number so we weren’t cutting checks for one dollar.” Users also earn Mixaloo points, which are redeemable for everything from Mixaloo gear to mp3 players and flash drives.
Still, some users have expressed distress in blogs, like one on MySpace that accuses Mixaloo of defeating the purpose of a mixtape, which has traditionally been given as a gift, by charging money for the download.
“Twenty years ago a mix tape was something that you made and gave to your friends,” Stutzman says. “The definition of friends has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet. Now on your Myspace page you might have 3,000 friends. Now, that doesn’t mean that you would burn a CD for 3,000 of your closest friends and send it out to them for nothing. It does mean that this is a great way to share it with people and introduce them to the music you’re into.”
Plus, traditional mix tapes have never really been legal. “I get the comment that mix tapes are supposed to be free,” Stutzman says. “But unfortunately, sharing music in the current environment is illegal and it’s what all of the labels are battling. So we give people a way to share music in a legal way.”
This innovative blend of music, social networking, and a rewards system caught the eye of Mashable, one of the leading online voices of the tech community. “Mashable actually named us one of the seven coolest web apps for 2007, which is just awesome for us,” Stutzman says. Mashable’s Open Web Awards, where users cast the votes for winners, ranked Mixaloo as a finalist among more established sites like Pandora and Last.fm. “That’s pretty extraordinary for a site that’s been live for three weeks,” Stutzman says.
Mashable’s Stan Schroeder wrote that “mixtapes are retro in an undeniably cool way, and Mixaloo comes as near to the concept of a mixtape as possible.”
Just a month after launching its public beta, Mixaloo has registered more than 137,000 users, and has been encouraging users to give feedback so that they can better tailor the site to consumer needs. Stutzman says there is no shortage of ideas.
“We’re planning on turning Mixaloo into more of a destination site, more of a full-blown community, finding folks that are similar to you based on the music you listen to,” Stutzman says. With users spending an average of 20 to 25 minutes selecting tracks to create their mixes, Mixaloo will be continually upgrading its offerings.
“Our goal here is not to compete with social networks,” Stutzman says. “But we already do, and we’re going to have a lot more people active on the site building their mixes. So it’s only logical to give them more on the site around the music.”
Stutzman says the Mixaloo team of six full-time workers and one part-timer (as well as “cherry-picked” Marist interns, three of which eventually joined the team) is a youthful, driven group. “Everyone is totally into Mixaloo,” Stutzman says. “It’s kind of hard not to be excited about a project like Mixaloo, because no matter who you are you’re into music. And software developers tend to be into music more than most people. Our challenge is always prioritizing the work, but there’s no lack of direction for Mixaloo. There are so many great ideas out there.”
It’s free to register as a user at the Mixaloo website, where you can create your mixes, listen to clips of artists and publish your mix to social-networking sites. Independent musicians who would like their music to be available on the site should opt for digital distribution on partner sites like CDBaby and The Orchard. www.mixaloo.com.