Fuzz Aims To Destroy Pandora With DJ-Spun Online Radio [INTERVIEW]

Sometimes when we print interviews with Rockstars, we serve up a grand turkey dinner with all the fixings. Sometimes, what we give you, it’s more of a tasty snack. This interview is one of the latter, but it’s not for lack of cooperation on the part of Jeff Yasuda, founder of Fuzz online radio. I asked Yasuda a few quick questions hoping to grab some quotes for a profile I was going to run. Instead, he hit the ball out of the park and gave me full stories. So I said to myself, I said, “I can break apart these quotes and make something less interesting out of them, or I can let Jeff Yasuda speak for himself.” And so that is exactly what I’m going to do.

First though, a quick background on Yasuda and his company: Fuzz is the latest in a long line of online radio stations that hopes to knock Pandora (and to a lesser extent, Spotify) from its perch. Having familiarized myself with the Fuzz format (I’m actually listening to a “station” called “The Darker Side of 80’s New Wave right now) I must say that while finding genre stations is a little tricky — typing in “HOUSE” in the logline lead to a bunch of stations playing “Crowded HOUSE” songs — I dig on the anti-algorithm digital DJ format. Instead of having “math” suggest what I might like to listen to, instead I get to hear the user-created playlist of some like-minded raver. It’s a part of the new, more people-friendly Internet. Plus, not having to listen a garish, generic ad every five songs or so (ala Pandora) is a plus, but that will likely change as businesses typically need to generate sufficient income to continue running. A premium “ad-free” option is in the works, but therein lies Fuzz’s Mount Everest: Will people pay for internet radio?

I dig the format though and eagerly await a mobile version (also in the works). So without further ado, here’s Jeff to answer some of my Fuzz-y questions:

First off, why “Fuzz”? It is such a mainstream word — I imagine you had to pay an arm and a leg to a domain broker for its use, and I don’t immediately grasp its connection to online radio (not that Pandora or Spotify offer such connections either).

Jeff Yasuda: Way back in 2006 when we started working on the first iteration of FUZZ, we were called Fuzz Artists. It was a set of tools and analytics for garage bands to market themselves. You’re gonna laugh, but at the time, the name of my band was called “Fuzz,” and I just liked the name to use for the company. I asked the team what they thought, and they liked it too. It just stuck, and we ended up buying the fuzz.com domain name. It actually was pretty reasonably priced.  Unfortunately, we then shut down Fuzz Artists and focused all of our attention on Blip.fm. Fuzz.com went dormant for years. When we decided on launching the new product, we wanted to revisit the fuzz.com domain. A four letter .com URL that actually is a word is a pretty rare thing these days. We wanted to bring it back because we still like the name.

I saw it mentioned somewhere that Fuzz does pay a royalty service (SoundExchange was it?). If your service only allows “DJs” to play songs they already own, why the need for you to pony up?

We are a bit different from what you described. FUZZ is what is known as a “DMCA compliant internet radio service.” Everyone thinks of the DMCA as the “take-down statute,” but it also contains the law creating what is known as internet radio (in particular Sections 112 and 114 of U.S. copyright laws). Put simply, if you’re going to DJ a station, you of course have to bring some music. When you upload music, it is like bringing your CD collection to the DJ gig. Since these are your tracks, you can listen to them whenever and however often you like. But when other users listen to your stations, we apply the rules of internet radio. Among other things, this means we pay the PROs and SoundExchange for every play of a song on someone else’s station

Jeff, you got your start in the venture capital game — what compelled the jump from finance to music?

LOL. I get that question a lot. In 2005, my venture fund was winding down, and I decided to go travel the world for about 6 months. On my travels, it suddenly hit me that life is too short not to pursue what you love doing. I am a big music fan, and I’ve been playing in bands since I was 13. I didn’t want to be lying on my deathbed asking myself why didn’t I do something in music. So I took the plunge into one of the toughest industries with my team to see if we could build a compelling music product that people like. The first Fuzz Artists was a failure. Blip.fm turned into a DJ product that attracted over a million users, but still didn’t turn out to be the business we hoped it would be. Now, we are hoping to use that DJ base to help us build the new FUZZ, which we opened to public last week.

What does “DJ Jeff Yasuda’s” radio station play?

I’ve created a bunch of stations on FUZZ. As you will see, my tastes are all over the map. Here are a few that I hope you like:

Indie Madness
Mellow Jazz
Badass Funk and Acid Jazz

(I’m not sure if Jeff meant specifically that he thought I’d like those stations, or if he was referencing the editorial “you,” but either way, I’ll check ‘em out if you will)

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