Finnish entrepreneur Timo Poijärvi wants to change the way we discover music with Hitlantis — a visually impressive rethink of the traditional box of search results.
Poijärvi complains that using a search box to find what you want on a music site is like shouting through the letterbox of a record shop. He wants to let people more effectively browse around for what they want, and at the same time build the world’s biggest music community. “And I’m gonna do it,” he says quietly.
Hitlantis arranges its catalog as a huge circle of bubbles, with each bubble representing a band. You can click one to stream full tracks, and if you’re using the web-based interface you can also buy the songs. A band’s proximity to the center is based on their recent popularity, and the size of their bubble is dictated by the amount of content a band has available and the number of fans they have on the site.
The catch for listeners is that you won’t find the Foo Fighters, Lady Gaga or The Beatles in the Hitlantis catalog — right now it’s solely for unsigned bands, who have to upload the content themselves and don’t get paid for streams. Instead, bands are given the opportunity to pay 5 euros ($6.66) per month for a premium account, which allows them to sell recordings and keep an impressive 90 percent of the profits. Poijärvi says that around 7 percent of the bands on the service have signed up for the premium offering.
Recordings are sold on a pay-what-you-want basis, and the more fans pay, the more it moves the band’s bubble toward the center of Hitlantis’ sea of content. There are three tiers of popularity — on the lowest, there’s no minimum price to pay; on the middle tier, the minimum price for a download is 0.25 euros (33 cents); and on the top tier you need to pay a minimum of 0.5 euros (66 cents). The minimum purchase for a single transaction is 1 euro ($1.33), for what Poijärvi describes as technical reasons, but you can include as many songs as you want in a transaction.
Right now, 60 percent of the catalog is Finnish, though bands from more than 40 countries have uploaded their music.
Musicians using the service are given a few other opportunities too. A deal with Universal Music Finland means that three to five of the most popular bands each month get written feedback from Universal’s A&R team, while a deal with Live Nation opens up support slots for gigs, including one for Bon Jovi in Helsinki in 2011, for the bands that can recruit the most fans to the site.
In the future, Poijärvi hopes that he’ll be able to open up the site to licensed, major-label content too, though he admits that he’s concerned about the costs of licensing that content and how it would adversely affect unsigned bands to have Madonna next to them in her own enormous bubble. Eventually, though, he wants all major music catalogs and as much unsigned content as he can collect in the same music community.
Nearer-term, Poijärvi plans to add the ability to access the site through Facebook and the addition of ticketing and merchandising mechanisms so bands can earn more from their work through the website.
“There’s lots of places to upload music and get listened to, but they’re all the same,” said Poijärvi. “It’s so difficult to be found from that digital swamp.”