Junic Kim and RecordFarm Want to Make the World a Better Place with Online Social Audio Distribution
Online Audio Distribution. It’s literally everywhere. Or is it? As popular companies like SoundCloud are hashing out deals with record labels, a young innovator in South Korea is hoping his startup company can help independent musicians achieve their dreams. While Spotify has already made moves into Asian markets, countries like China and South Korea remain wanting. The service is still unavailable here (I’m writing from South Korea…hello from the future…we are more than a half of a day ahead of the US in this time zone…PS the zombie apocalypse hasn’t happened yet).
The void left by Spotify’s absence in South Korea is a hole in the market that Junic Kim, a PhD student and entrepreneur, was eager to fill.
Kim recently started RecordFarm, an “open social audio platform” (in his own words). I recently had a chance to talk with Kim, via Skype, about RecordFarm.
He told me about his academic and professional history and the future of RecordFarm. We chatted about his DJing hobby, RecordFarm’s recent live performance promotions and the power of social media marketing.
Kim is a formidable businessman with impeccable English skills. He’s ready to help make the world a better place using his social audio platform as a vehicle for musicians.
We usually want to call our service as “audio YouTube” or “audio Instagram”.
Nathan Galster: If you wanted to tell someone, specifically a foreigner like me, about RecordFarm, what would you say? Knowing only that the website is an open audio platform and social networking site, is there anything else you can tell me?
Junic Kim: Actually RecordFarm is an open social audio platform because my basic service plan is a mix between an audio platform and a social network service.
We usually want to call our service as “audio YouTube” or “audio Instagram”. So in Instagram, the content is based on the photo. Instead of photos we use the audio as the main content for a social service. On RecordFarm, users are enabled to record, upload, resend, share and promote their originally created audio files with other users or listeners. That is the most different thing about our site from other services.
SoundCloud is more focused on the audio platform. However, our service is more focused on not only an audio platform but also the social network service. I’m not sure if you know about Cyworld, the Korean version of Facebook. I tried to mix between Cyworld and SoundCloud.
When users are making their accounts, we directly give them their own pages. On these pages, they can upload their own originally created audio files. They can also extract other peoples’ files and make their own albums [like a play-list]. We call them albums. If they really want to hear these songs on a rainy day, they can organize them into an album and name it “Walking in the rain”.
NG: When did you launch RecordFarm? I see a copyright as of 2015. Did you start this year?
JK: We actually started our company from this January . That is when we filed this corporation in Korea. Beta services started for testing in the middle of last year . After 6 months, were were still developing and we got many comments and other market feedback. We officially launched our service in January, this year.
NG: From your resume, I see that you have a lot of experience studying and researching platform businesses, but little related to music. What was your motivation for starting RecordFarm? Was there anything personally in your life that made you choose to start a business related to music?
JK: Firstly, I need to change from the term “music” because RecordFarm is, as I mentioned, an audio platform, not a music platform.
I wanted to focus mainly on audio, not only music. For instance, there are some individual radio DJs who are working on RecordFarm. That is why we have a podcast category too. I want to focus more on audio, not only music. Of course, music is the main part, but we also hope to have people uploading podcasts and audio recordings of things like meetings. For example, people can upload an audio recording of a meeting on their page and share the meeting files with their colleagues. Our future goal is to incorporate other kinds of audio.
I’m also an academic person. I’m currently in my last year of my PhD. Before starting my PhD I worked in Samsung Electronics and at that time I was really focused on mobile strategic planning. I also had a little experience working in the UN ITU, which is the International Telecommunication Union in the United Nations. After that, I started my PhD in the U.K. My PhD is focused on a dynamic approach to a platform business model. Actually RecordFarm is part of my action research.
So not only my academic research and but also my working background is related to platform and IT business. However, I also found out some possibilities for audio content in Korea and Asia.
It’s already happened in the US. It’s still currently in transition in Asia.
The Asian audio and music market is huge because of the population. And also the market has moved to mobile and internet from traditional industries like selling albums. The whole market paradigm is changing, moving from selling albums and performers towards streaming and listening to music online and on mobile devices. It’s already happened in the US. It’s still currently in transition in Asia.
Another reason, is as a Korean, making Korean content is one of the easiest ways for me compared to making English or Chinese content. Korean artists, like Girls’ Generation and other big idol bands are really popular in the Asian market.
As you can see on our website, many individuals cover their songs as fans. Its also very easy to promote those contents to southeastern Asian and Chinese markets.
My personal philosophy is that startup has now gone to global.
NG: I see that you have language settings for English, Korean and Chinese. Do you have any idea what kind of usage you have outside of Korea? Do you plan on expanding to any other countries/languages?
JK: Nowadays one of Korean startups’ problems is focusing only on Korea. My personal philosophy is that startup has now gone to global. So we need to focus on not only Korea but also other countries as well. Another practical reason is nowadays 10% of all of our users are from out of Korea. Some of them are Koreans who are living in other countries. However, most of them are actually foreigners. From last month, we just started to support English and Chinese languages to promote more.
We recently hired one Chinese person to join our marketing team, a native Chinese person living in Korea. We also hired an American who will join our marketing team too. We plan to do social marketing to China and the US. We really rely on the social marketing so far as a startup company. So far, we mainly do it in Korean. With our Chinese and American members we want to do social marketing in those other languages.
NG: Are you able to track your usage in terms of language? Do you know if you have active English or Chinese users?
JK: We can guess through the IP and with Google analytics who is using our site. But as I said, we do know that 10% of all users on the site are from out of the country.
NG: So what languages might be next for RecordFarm?
JK: Of course, we plan to support other languages. Basically we are really focusing on Chinese and English first. Japanese and Thai might be the next languages to emerge.
NG: You have a really cool counter on the site that shows how many records people have listened to. The site says that your users have listened to 1,663,369 recordings [as of our conversation on 6/25/15]. Do you have a general number for how many users you currently have?
JK: Registered users are confidential so I can’t give you exact numbers. But I can say that the features are showing an exponential curve. So it’s really going up. That is the reason why in the very early stages, venture capitalists have started to invest in our company.
We only launched this year and the venture capitalists invested 0.3 million US dollars in our company, only 4 months after we launched. So they checked the possibility of service and the data is showing an exponential curve in growth.
JK: Yes, “I Like Live Stage” is us. That’s our official Facebook page. Actually, if you search in Korean you could find much more about us. We just started marketing there a lot.
To save our marketing budget, social marketing is a really great strategy to initially ignite a network effect for our platform.
NG: I’m assuming this has probably helped you quite a bit.
JK: Yes, it has helped a lot. Because as I mentioned, the marketing budget is a very big burden. To save our marketing budget, social marketing is a really great strategy to initially ignite a network effect for our platform.
So, I have been really focusing on Facebook. From last year, when starting our beta service, we also focused on the Facebook page to gather more fans and users. One of the huge reasons for RecordFarm’s marketing strategy, is actually most users knew about our service through our social marketing pages, especially Facebook. And we recently started Instagram and Twitter too.
JK: We launched them about 4 months ago. A little bit later than the web, 2 months after starting the website. A very interesting thing is when we launched, our application on Google play, we were ranked 2nd in the “Hot Issue Apps” in music and audio categories. It was pretty cool.
NG: Obviously you’re very business oriented, but do you have much interest in music?
JK: I really like music. I’m crazy about electronic and house music. Personally I also learned DJ’ing. It’s one of my hobbies. I’m not very good but I’m usually following some DJs on RecordFarm.
NG: So, you have a personal account on RecordFarm?
JK: Of course, yes, using my Facebook account.
NG: So you said you follow some DJs, are there any artists in particular that you like? Are there any stand out, popular musicians trending on RecordFarm now? I see a lot of people doing cover songs. Are there any undiscovered musicians putting out really great music that you foresee becoming more popular soon?
JK: There are so many good ones. So many people, I can’t really think of any right now.
Actually one of the famous artists so far on RecordFarm is Jin Ho Kim. He won the best of the best in the hidden singer program last year. He is pretty active on RecordFarm and he also performed at our first RecordFarm concert.
We held a concert in HongDae sponsored by Swatch and Bernini. [Hongdae is the name of a university in Seoul, South Korea. But the name also refers to the popular nightlife area filled with bars, clubs and restaurants surrounding the university.] You can find the video on YouTube.
We also plan to open our second concert in late August in HongDae again.
NG: Do you have any tips for users on how to best use RecordFarm to make their uploads more successful and be heard more?
JK: I think we have strong share functions. After uploading your audio files on RecordFarm, users freely share their audio content to other websites through the provided source code. They can share their audio content on Naver [a South Korean search portal], Facebook, Kakao Talk [a South Korean based messaging application], Daum [another South Korean web portal] and Twitter. And now are also trying to support WeChat [a Chinese messaging application] and also Tumbler. From next month, we will also support some other major websites.
The interesting thing is that even though listeners listen to your audio posting on other sites, for example on Facebook, the number of plays is accumulated on your RecordFarm page. It will show up in the rankings or popular pages on RecordFarm. We gather and collect all traffic from all of those sites and put it on the RecordFarm pages.
NG: Obviously copyright issues are a hot topic with sites like Spotify and SoundCloud these days. I made an account on RecordFarm and could see that you have a copyright policy. Although I couldn’t read it because it’s in Korean. What is your policy regarding copyright issues?
JK: Of course we consistently notice copyright issues to users and we do not provide any download functions to prevent copyright issues. We strongly follow the copyright rules in Korea. There is not any major problems about copyright on our site yet. But actually as the service is getting bigger and bigger, companies like Apple music and SoundCloud are an example, there are always issues.
NG: How do you handle issues of copyright? If someone uploads something that is not theirs, what happens?
JK: If someone uploads something that is copyrighted we block the content and take it down. We don’t block the user but we block the content.
Actually our own philosophy is we strongly follow the copyright rules and respect all musicians copyrights.
NG: Have you seen the recent news about SoundCloud making a deal with record labels to give royalties to musicians? What do you think about this? If RecordFarm really takes off, do you think something like this could happen?
JK: Actually our own philosophy is we strongly follow the copyright rules and respect all musicians copyrights. I also have many musician friends in Korea. In the near future with enough traffic, we will start a new business to help independent labels to start making money from plays of their songs and content on the streaming service with advertisements. So, we strongly want to contribute to make the virtual cycle in the audio industry. That is our philosophy.
Our philosophy goal is to make the world a better place.
NG: What are your other goals for RecordFarm? What is in the future for RecordFarm?
Our business goal is to become the best audio platform in Asia first. Our philosophy goal is to make the world a better place.
NG: How will you go about that?
JK: As I mentioned, I want to contribute to make the virtual cycle in the audio industry. For example, at the last concert with Swatch and Bernini, we had a social contribution. Tickets were free. We spent all our sponsored money and gave a free concert..
Their dream is not making money. Their dream, especially the individuals, is singing a song in front of an audience.
All the artists were really amateur artists. Their dream is not making money. Their dream, especially the individuals, is singing a song in front of an audience. So, we made their dreams come true. We also delivered a very qualified concert to the audience for free.
In the next concert, we plan to invite some music labels to discover the new artists. We want to make some virtual cycles between individuals and listeners and music labels in this industry. We also want to let them make money with us together. I thank that is one of the good points to make the world a better place.