Making money from music used to be relatively straightforward - major label signs band, band records album, label promotes and distributes album, album sells well and money all around. Well, more or less. And the traditional music scene's idea of a startup, if we were to compare how a startup sits compared to other established companies, was the indie label. An independent label literally meant a music label that operated outside of the 'big five' major label group (now down to four, almost three: Universal Music (in process of buying EMI), Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music. And the more extreme indie labels went for 'alternative' album distribution, avoiding the traditional record store route. And that was that.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Technology enabled tech-heavy startups to dabble in music - and they succeeded in making money from mobile in a market where smartphones are just a sliver of the total mobile subscriber base. I would say these startups would have continued making money if it weren't for the lack of regulations protecting the consumer, and the greed of a few companies seeking to abuse the system. Whether or not charging by SMS for services will make a comeback, only time will tell - but for now, the music industry - starved of income from the disappearance of CD sales, and now RBT sales - has yet to find a new 'silver bullet' to quench the thirst.
Enter Dotuku. Dotuku was developed and launched without much fanfare earlier this year, by the tech team behind Redtree Mobile, and serves initially as a content and news site for music content by Seven Music. Seven Music itself is an indie label in the traditional sense, and it is one of a few Indonesian music labels that have managed to transform itself to be more adaptable for the 21st century (I will cover other notable music companies in other articles). Redtree Mobile and Seven Music are basically siblings as they operate out of the same building, with one providing the technological expertise, and the other providing the music industry expertise.
Looking at Dotuku's site at a glance, though, you'd think it was just another music/entertainment portal. The design looks like a modified blog template, and it's not exactly clear on which section Dotuku wants visitors to focus on first. But the site is obviously a music site, as it has a top downloads and recommended section, has music videos, and you can listen to music as well. The 'Songs' section offers 40-second previews, and a link to download the song. The song download is not free - you need to purchase points called Tuku to get the song, by either upgrading your membership, reloading, playing Dotuku games (only listed as 'coming soon' on the site), write music blog posts or receive transfers from other Dotuku members. Downloading a song by using your Tuku will earn you Dots, which you can use to buy items at the Dotuku Store.
Now, between the design and the Tuku and Dot system, I'm feeling a bit confused, as both things are a turn-off for me, as it would be for a lot of internet users. A front-end design that is not appealing might pass through with the right content (Detik's homepage a year ago comes to mind), but it still needs to have focus. And when you manage to still keep site visitors, the initially confusing Tuku and Dot system might scare potential users away (not to mention the page that explains how Dotuku works is pretty long; even for writing this article I didn't bother reading the whole thing). Wawan AEC, the head of Seven Music and the Dotuku project, admits that the site still needs a lot of reworking, especially regarding the front-end design. But he has grand visions for the site, as it is a tip of the iceberg to a larger strategy that he was unwilling to disclose.
For one thing I'm curious on where a label-specific music portal and store would achieve as opposed to a cross-label solution, but I applaud them for trying to figure out the best solution for themselves. Let's see when that larger strategy becomes more apparent, eh?