One boring day in late February, I stared listlessly at my Twitter feed looking for nothing in particular when a tweet popped up from one of my friends touting a new social networking site. Did I dare sign up for one more inevitable time suck? As it stood, I was already fighting a losing battle against the allure of constant streams of information. But, this site had music, a lot of music ready to be pieced together into the perfect mix. After a minute or so of internal debate, I joined Blip.fm. Since then, I've been on the site nearly every day, sometimes to create my own mini-compilations and sometimes to simply listen to what others have to offer.
Having launched in summer of 2008, Blip began life as a "tab" for indie band marketing/networking site Fuzz.com, according to founder Jeff Yasuda. But where interest in Fuzz lagged, Blip steadily developed a following of people who like a little social interaction with their music. In April, less than one year after Blip's launch and a few months after Fuzz folded, roughly one million people used the site, which connects fans to legally streaming MP3s hosted on servers across the web (primarily through Imeem).
"We're pretty excited to see the growth," says Yasuda. "It's gone from zero to something significant."
What makes Blip different from other music discovery sites is that the recommendations made rely on word-of-mouth (or keyboard, if you will) rather than algorithms. Upon joining the free service, you are asked to select three bands you like. Those names are run through the site's database matched to the selections of thirty users, who are then assigned to your Favorite DJ list (you can choose to remove these if you wish). From there, you can peruse DJ pages, the public stream or Blip's search engine for that classic track you haven't heard in years or the next big thing.
"An important, fundamental belief that we have is that music discovery is inherently social," says Yasuda. "When I was a kid, I discovered the English Beat because the kid down the street listened to them."
With radio continuing its descent into irrelevance and record shops coming closer to extinction, Blip's human touch feels slightly nostalgic, like the mixed tapes and zines that music geeks once swapped with one another. Just as dubbing the latest and most obscure bands onto a cassette once earned selectors cool points, so can Blip DJs collect "props" for their taste.
The prop system is essential to Blip. You can bestow one upon a DJ for a single song choice or to compliment his/her overall set. Every time someone gives you props, you receive more credits with the intention that you will "pay it forward." With the quick click of an accolade, DJs begin following each other and their listenerships grow.
As with Twitter, the most successful Blip DJs, those whose profiles are marked by stars boasting hundreds, even thousands, of listeners, are the ones who interact the most. These are people who not only spend hours a day scrolling and blipping through the massive song archive, but also frequently reblip and comment on others' picks.
"There are users on here that have 25,000 followers," says Yasuda. "Most of them are very active on the site. It's the social element. It's also about the interaction, propping people, reblipping, responding to people's blips. It's that social interaction that keeps it interesting."
Thinking about joining Blip.fm? Here are some DJ picks.
@thepetshopboy With over 1000 blips to his credit so far, this DJ 's taste runs from house to metal. He has a knack for spotting great new tunes (Delphic "Counterpoint") and unearthing cool covers (Noel Gallagher reworking The Smiths' "There is a Light That Never Goes Out") too.
@HollyJohnson The former lead singer of Frankie Goes to Hollywood has been on Blip for just over a month, but has already amassed a healthy collection of vintage soul, '70s glam rock, new wave and modern rock complete with his own insightful observations.
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@Alec_Empire Founder of techno-punk group Atari Teenage Riot and corresponding record label Digital Hardcore, DJ/producer/entepreneur Alec Empire mixes his own work with an interesting selection of punk (The Screamers), dub (Horace Andy) and acid house (DJ Pierre). A great collection to play at parties where pop won't cut it.
@jeff Yes, founder and CEO Jeff Yasuda blips regularly too. His taste is eclectic and his page features choice cuts from Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Del the Funky Homosapien and The Style Council.
@connorhalo The friend who introduced me to Blip.fm has since become an extremely active DJ on the site. His mix leans far to the alternative/indie rock side and relies heavily on newer sounds from artists like Peaches, Franz Ferdinand and Shitdisco.
Find Liz Ohanesian on Blip.fm @lizziegolightly.