Forget $9.99 Per Month, Earbit Trades Engagement For Tunes

Posted February 28

Earbits — an online radio service that caters to up-and-coming artists — goes on-demand Thursday, ushering in this new functionality with a twist. Instead of asking users to fork over cash in order to listen to tunes, they’re rewarding folks with digital currency known as “Groovies,” which can be earned for executing social acts that help the artist get the word out about their music.

Earbits was founded as a 2010 as a commercial-free, streaming online radio service that would be free to consumers, and would act as a marketing tool for up-and-coming bands. The service allows labels, bands and concert promotors to buy exposure on the service (IE, more airtime) and generally focuses on banging the drum for newer bands. Currently, it hosts 480 labels, 8,000 artists and more than 300 channels.

Today’s move aims to help consumers get access to more tunes, while simultaneously furthering Eatbits’ mission to help bands find new fans.

“The site has, for the most part, been a radio-esque experience,” says Co-founder Joey Flores. “We’ve never really allowed people to play more tracks by an artist on-demand. So this week, based on user feedback and our goal to create more value for the content creators, we’re going to be opening up the platform to more on-demand features — the ability to click on a discography and cue up a few more tracks by that artist.”

Unlike Spotify, Slacker Radio and Deezer, however, those on-demand offerings will not cost the user any physical cash or time spent watching commercials — only interaction with content, which nets the user “Groovies.” So, for example, if a user joins a band’s mailing list, tweets about an album, or “Likes” a band on Facebook, they will be rewarded with “Groovies,” which they can use to listen to more tunes. The model is similar to one MOG announced a few years back.

“The whole platform is built to be a marketing platform for the artist,” Flores says, noting that the only parties that are charged a fee for use of Earbits are the bands themselves — and they only pay out to get more airtime/better promotional opportunities.

In the future, those promotional opportunities will also increase. Flores says that fans could be awarded Groovies for checking into live shows (currently, Earbits is only available on the Web, but mobile offerings are forthcoming), buying music or merch, or participating in album release promotions. Users also net “Lifetime Karma,” which is basically a rating of their loyalty over time. Flores hopes that bands and labels will be able to track that loyalty in order to give top fans early access to new releases, merch or special meet-and-greet opps with bands.

With this move, Earbits further solidifies itself as a service that focuses on the artist. At present, the majority of online music services — in part because of the backlash related to the proposed Internet Radio Fairness Act — have begun introducing or teasing artist-related features, including data about listeners, more advanced artist profiles and commissions for bringing in new users.

Earbits has been artist-focused since day one — allowing bands to submit their tunes for inclusion directly (not through labels of distribution companies) and integrating tour dates and merch sales into the platform as well (something that few services, aside from the upcoming Daisy, promise to do).

Granted, Earbits is able to operate as such because the bands that it caters to are usually much more indie than those found on other services, but the model — where the service makes decisions based on what will net the artist the most worth — is certainly one to watch.

Image courtesy of Christian Reed