Codename Mae – The idea I killed

This was the idea I’d been waiting for. It came much sooner than I imagined it would, I thought. I was ready to stop Built in Public and start working on this idea exclusively. This was the one.

The idea behind Mae was to create a back-catalogue for any musical artist by mashing up data from setlist.fm and videos recorded by fans at concerts. On top of that I’d insert historical events from each artist like band members joining or album releases. Maybe one day we’d work with artists to contribute their own data.

I wanted users to be able to watch any concert song by song, stream YouTube videos of any song in the setlist.

Imagine being able to see the entire concert history of a band. Being able to pick a show, see the setlist, click a song in that setlist and see everything on YouTube and Vimeo.

Here’s an example with some historical data:

Kanye, Grammys, February 2008
  • On August 30, 2005, Kanye West released “Late Registration” with a track on it called “Hey Mama.”
  • On November 12, 2007, Kanye’s mom passed away after plastic surgery.
  • Late November 2007, Kanye played four arena shows in Europe.
  • On February 10, 2008, Kanye performed “Hey Mama” at the Grammys. An incredible performance, one that even today gives me chills(start it around 1:10 for the best parts).

Whether you’re a hardcore fan of Kanye or a casual one, these four events grouped together give another dimension of context to the Grammy performance. Every artist has a few of these moments.

My favorite band, The Gaslight Anthem, before they were Gaslight, three of the four members were in a band called This Charming Man. This Charming Man had a demo called “She Coulda Raised the Titanic” which became Gaslight’s “1930" off of their first album “Sink or Swim.”

Before This Charming Man, Brian Fallon, the frontman of both TCM and Gaslight had a band called Brian Fallon and the Cincinnati Rail Tie. There was an interlude in one of their demos with barely audible lyrics. The lyrics from that interlude later resurfaced as a bridge in This Charming Man’s EP closer “Sweet Delta Blues.”

As a music fan, I love these little details.

So why am I no longer working on this?

Rights. Ugh, rights. Who owns the rights to user-generated content? The person who recorded it? YouTube? The label? This business could become a licensing nightmare.

The curation effort is way too large. After doing some research, much of the content I found really sucks. Cell phone videos from arena shows have audio that clips. Some people only record the first half of a song. After separating the good from the bad, for each song and each artist, there’s no guarantee that anything worth listening to would remain.

It would be a hugely disappointing experience for you, the user, to pick a show, pick your favorite song, then realize that most of the available content for that song isn’t any good.

If the goal is to bring a rich after-show experience to users anywhere, the Achilles’ Heel is user-generated content.

Video, mobile video especially, is growing quickly. There’s an interesting business in there, curating video in creative ways beyond a simple YouTube search. Mae was my first idea in this space but not one that I want to move forward with.

In the spirit of building in public, I wanted to document an idea that I got excited about, started prototyping, and then killed along with the reasons why.

Leave a note on this post if you have any thoughts on Mae as an idea or as a business, I’d love to hear them.

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