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Volumio CEO Talks Digital Streaming, Audiophiles, Music Tech, and More

Volumio is an open source Audiophile Music Player. It is designed to play all your music in high quality from any device with a browser.

The Volumio team believes streaming all your music should be simple. This is why they designed Volumio to combine all your favorite music sources in one single platform. Their powerful music player system is designed to maximize the audio quality and get bit-perfect playback.

You can play all your music files and stream from your favorite music services such as TIDAL, Qobuz, Spotify and many more. With Volumio, turn your microcomputer or any PC into a complete music player, and control it via an intuitive interface.

We recently had the good fortune to connect with Volumio CEO Michelangelo Guarise to discuss all things audio and streaming, as well as his views on the music streaming business and what’s ahead for music tech.

P&S: What led you to start a music player/platform — what was the jumping-off point to develop Volumio?

Michelangelo Guarise: It all started as a hobby project. The moment that Raspberry PI came out, I thought that would be a perfect platform to develop a High-Quality digital streaming appliance at a very low cost and effort.

But nobody at the time did develop any software solution in that sense. So, one afternoon I started putting together a very basic proof-of-concept of such Audiophile OS for Raspberry PI.

It was meant to just fit my needs: I just wanted to create for myself a very optimized OS, which was capable of streaming Hi-Resolution audio to my DAC and able to play all my files and Spotify (back then, only Spotify was streaming).

Since I used many Open Source tools to achieve that goal, I thought to make it freely available to others. So I set up a website to allow everyone to download it.

I was really surprised to see the number of downloads and feedback it generated, so I started to improve it, little by little, with the help of the community that gathered around the project.

And from there, it never stopped. But I and the team remain loyal to the very same principles: develop solutions which maximize audio quality, compatible with all musical sources and content in an easy-to-use package.”

P&S: Were there any notable obstacles in getting the Volumio up and running?

MG: “The first one was skepticism: many people joked at us in the beginning. Raspberry PI was seen as nothing short of a toy. We were told repeatedly that to achieve a respectable level of performance we should use only High-Specs computers which cost 20 times the PI.

We proved them wrong: now using small computers like the Raspberry PI is the Audiophile’s favorite way to get good results.

Another great obstacle is creating partnerships with content providers, like streaming services. When we want to integrate a new streaming service, the most difficult step is actually getting the agreement done to receive the SDK: the secret code that we need to develop the integration.

I can understand why that is: streaming services have quite strict agreements with labels when it comes to distributing music (for example streaming is allowed only in certain areas) so they must be sure that we do also comply with those agreements. Building the necessary trust then takes time and a lot of effort. Luckily, we were able to build up a reputation of trustable partners who are very sensible respecting the IP of everyone involved.

The last obstacle was of financial nature: we are proud to say that what we achieved we did without any external funding, but by reinvesting all revenues in making the project grow.

If we’d taken funds we would have probably grown faster but the upside is that this forged us to become a very efficient project and company. On top of that, we were able to not compromise on our core values and not sacrifice our philosophy for short-sighted returns.”

P&S: How do you see music technology changing over the next 5–7 years?

“We already observed a pivotal change in music consumption habits in the past 5 years: music now is predominantly streamed and music files usage is lower than ever (it’s following the same faith of CDs). The result is that each one of us uses at least 2 or more different services: for example Spotify and online radio channels. This means that musical content is becoming more and more an on-demand service in an increasingly fragmented scenario.

I believe that the next pivotal change will involve how we interact with music creators and the creation process. Music consumption has always been a one-to-many process: listeners just consume the musical product and the only way they can influence how and what is created is just with their listening habits and purchase behavior.

I think that the next big change will be fostered by the hot topics of decentralization, blockchain and NFTs. I imagine a world where listeners engage more with content creators and will be able to co-design and co-invest when it comes to creating new musical products. I, therefore, imagine the music technology scene of the next years way more interactive and decentralized, bringing artists and their fans closer to each other.

There are many projects going in this direction, but I think that whoever will win this is the one that will be able to package the underlying tech in an intuitive and socially engaging package.”

P&S: How does Volumio differentiate itself from other audio systems?

MG: “One thing that sets us apart is that Volumio is designed as an open system, which is constantly improving and can serve both newcomers to Hi-Fi and seasoned audiophiles wanting to move to digital streaming.

Our users love Volumio because, unlike other solutions, we managed to integrate all audio sources, streaming ways, and customizability into one intuitive package.

For example, you can listen via High-Quality Bluetooth then switch to a radio station, then to your files and your favorite streaming service from one single point of control, and all of them with the highest quality.

And, if there is a service we did not think of, there might be a plugin for that. It works like an app store, where you find apps to do cool things with your Volumio device, thanks to the contribution made by thousands of developers who develop on Volumio’s platform.

Volumio is also used by many Hi-Fi brands as the technology powering their streamers, so the cool thing is that you can start with a Raspberry PI and later move on to a branded streamer, without leaving the platform.

So all in all, what makes the difference for our users is that the Volumio platform can suit the needs of many kinds of music lovers and adapt to their needs, thanks to the fact that the ecosystem is powered by the contributions of our community of people. When we state that Volumio is made by music lovers for music lovers, we do really mean it.”

P&S: What are your thoughts on the music streaming business as a whole?

MG: I have mixed feelings about the streaming business. On the upside, we have an unprecedented choice of music to listen and curation services with minimal effort. It really is a wonder of our day and age to have all the music you can think of so easily available.

On the other hand, we know for a fact that this business model is not benefitting artists enough: but there’s no wonder about it considering the subscription prices, which are too thin to guarantee everyone in the business a fair cut.

Last but not least, I fear that we have the big risk of seeing in the music streaming industry what is already happening in the video streaming industry: prioritization of production of viral content over original and niche works.

Basically, if the success and profitability of music are determined by how many “listens” it can generate, we might have in the long run a lot of “mediocrity” and less “niche content”.

This mechanism, that anyway always existed, is now particularly emphasized by the data-collection capability and analysis of such services, which are all competing to grow their userbase.
This is why in my opinion a more interactive and decentralized approach will preserve “inhomogeneity”, which all in all, is what makes art and music interesting.”

P&S: What’s on the horizon for Volumio? What plans do you have looking ahead for the business?

MG: “Having established our position in the Hi-Fi market, we now want to think big and take part in the challenging transition to a more decentralized and engaging way of distributing musical content.

We want to create a place for people to be closer to their artists, interact with them, and co-invest with them. We want to provide our users and their artist with a platform that can increase engagement and promote diverse musical content. And we want to do it together with our 450k install-base, by involving them in the co-creation of such space.

In short, we want Volumio to become the go-to place for music lovers and creators, staying loyal to what brought us here: preserving the quality of music and making it more accessible to anyone.”

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