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Feature Tue Sep 28 2010
Before Pandora, Hype Machine, and even Last.fm, the best way to discover new independent music was through a site called Epitonic. Founded in 1999, Epitonic was one the first sites to offer free (and legal) mp3s from independent bands and labels from around the world. Music fans would spend hours digging through the site's recommendations and discovering bands they would have completely missed without the site. Epitonic lasted until 2004, but has remained dormant since. However, one of the original founders and co-owner of the site, Chicagoan Justin Sinkovich (The Poison Arrows, File-13 Records), is being the site back is a big way, and the support has been overwhelming. He has started a Kickstarter page for fans to help and show their support, and is planning a launch event to be held when the new site is ready. We recently had the opportunity to ask Justin a few questions about Epitonic, why it is coming back, and what we can expect.
Gapers Block: The landscape of music resources on the internet has changed since Epitonic was last alive. Where do you see it fitting in now?
Justin Sinkovich: That is very true. Epitonic was a cutting edge website throughout its active life. After several years of dormancy the old version is no longer the groundbreaking idea that it once was. When we all got back together and started trying to realize what the site would be today, we came up with a concept for the initial launch and some dreams for future versions that would capture the original spirit of the site, but with modern technology and ideas of how to do things that haven't quite been accomplished in music discovery so far. Our initial plan is exciting and once we get the new site up we will be steadily adding new features and we will see where that takes us. One of the exciting things about Epitonic originally is how the initial idea evolved over the first year of the company in 1999.
GB: What was the traffic like on Epitonic in its prime, and were you surprised by its success?
JS: Epitonic had about 500,000 unique visitors per month which translated into several million impressions per month at its peak. We were certainly surprised by how it all snowballed in size, but we ramped up the business side rather substantially to try and get moving quickly in such an exploding .com and online music era. With that and our unique ideas we were more taken aback by how everything exploded, including the spending in San Francisco during such an expensive time for web development, being young indie-minded kids that always seemed overwhelming.
GB: Are there any new features on the site that you can talk about now?
JS: We are trying to save all of the specifics for launch because the exact details of what we can launch with, what our final ideas keep evolving just like the original site. Also, we have limited resources for the launch compared some of these larger companies I would be afraid a site would build upon our ideas before we even go live. What I can promise is that the new site will be enjoyable and compelling for Epitonic fans new and old. My team and I are all from the original site, and since launching Epitonic have continued to be very forward in the web and music fields, so I have been confident that we've been bring even more good ideas to our development wish list than we did originally.
GB: One of the key elements of the site was always the recommendations for similar bands that were on a bands pages. That is where most of the discovery occurred. How are you making those relevant today? Will that be evolving over time?
JS: Agreed, we've always acknowledged that sort of early data relation and interplay was largely what made Epitonic compelling. We have the original database developer Alex working on the new site and he has been working with us all to build a modern version of what we had and then be able to exponentially use relational data to create music discovery avenues. Certainly sites have made huge strides in this area in the past few years, but all of the current Epitonians have been active in this field of dynamic online user interaction.
GB: What do you have planned for the launch party? (Where, when, who's involved, etc)
JS: I do not have any specifics yet honestly, but the overwhelming support from all of the artists, related business community, and music fans I have been reassured that so many great people are willing to help pitch in to make it great. I envision something at one of the great music venues I've played in for decades now, with food and drinks, and artists excited to perform and celebrate the relaunch.
The Poison Arrows (Justin Sinkovich, Adam Reach, Patrick Morris)
GB: You also run File 13 Records, what is new over there?
JS: Well, a lot is new at File 13 with my band The Poison Arrows recently releasing our new album Newfound Resolutions worldwide, and touring for a couple of weeks in August. Also we just released an album by The Young Scamels on September 21 which features members of Shipping News and Rachel's, a recorded score of Shakespeare's The Tempest. I had these two albums in the works prior to any thought of Epitonic's relaunch, so now that the site is being rebuilt, I have no plans for releases after these although I have been slowly collaborating to produce several tracks that may be released on File 13 or perhaps another label. Most everything is on hold though with Epitonic in full start up mode again and let's not forget I have a real day job, and one that I love teaching at Columbia College!
GB: How do you find the bands (aside from your own Poison Arrows) that you sign to your label?
JS: Several years ago my partner Stephen and I realized that a record label is difficult to sustain profitability-wise to say the least, so now we only release music that we make, or that we love and are created by our friends. We maintain a family of musicians and help them out when we have the time and money and mostly disregard the economic ramifications as long as everyone will be happy with our plans for release. Due to Epitonic's time commitments we had to turn down some great possibilities, but maybe someday we can get both Epitonic and File 13 working together.
GB: What's next for The Poison Arrows?
JS: The band has been super super busy for the past two years with two albums being written, produced, released, and marketed ourselves through File 13. Two EP's the years prior as well with tours for all four releases. So as we are continuing to promote the new album particularly in Europe where we are honestly far more reputable, we are having to take a break from live shows due to Epitonic. Adam and Patrick are ridiculously busy as well. But we are always open to offers to play fun shows. The Poison Arrows members always promised to be flexible with the other members' work and personal commitments, and to only pursue shows and other projects that would be fun and with friends of ours. So if a great band calls and asks us to play as they seem to do pretty regularly, we would seriously consider it if we can make it work with our schedule. Otherwise we are taking a little break probably until we do some European live dates finally, we've been postponing offers there for a while since we've all three been so busy. We are all working on new music separately that we plan to bring together at some point. Adam and Patrick are working on some tracks together while I work on Epitonic and school. I've promised to work on music when I can, which actually I have several things in the works thanks to my laptop and home studio production capabilities...so we plan to reconvene production wise in a few months. Early on we worked on songs more separately, and we always like to experiment. So it's been fun to mix it up writing and production-wise again.
Epitonic's Kickstarter fundraising ends soon, so if you feel like getting involved (monetarily), pledge before 10:59 p.m. October 1, 2010.