Soca music ranks pretty high on the list of things that make a Caribbean person happy. More than just a song that you play in a fete during carnival or one you jam to on the road wearing the prettiest costume, soca music emits a vibration that allows us to transcend our daily lives, to let loose for two days, uninhibited, in ways that allow us to feel bigger than ourselves. It can be argued that the reason soca music has the ability to put party-goers in a trance-like state is the idea that for two days you get a release, you get to let loose, to ‘break way’ during a period just long enough for you to enjoy it but short enough that carnival tabanca sets in long before the last masquerader has left the road.
With radio hosts and DJs notorious for making the Soca switch-off at midnight on Carnival Tuesday replacing songs from Skinny Fabulous, Machel Montano, Destra Garcia and the like for dance-hall, hip-hop and the newest thing on the charts, what are Soca lovers supposed to do until their next fix? The founders of Radial seem to have the answer. Here’s what they had to say.
Tell me a bit about yourselves. Who are you? Where are you from? What is Radial?
Radial is a team of eight people that focuses on creating the experience that is the app. We are developers, data scientists, music producers, DJs, designers, mathematicians, economists and most importantly, people that love Soca music. Most of us are spread out between Trinidad and Tobago, Washington DC, Michigan, Seattle, San Francisco and Oakland. However, the Radial family is much larger than that with so much support and belief coming from persons who love Soca music and love what we want to do to help promote our Caribbean culture.
What was the inspiration behind Radial? When did it first occur to you to get into the streaming business, especially in the Caribbean? What type of challenges have you faced in getting the app off the ground?
My cofounder [Abay Israel] and I met at Morehouse College in Atlanta and when I moved back to Trinidad, I realised that the apps on my phone that I took for granted could not work here, specifically the music apps. I reached out to Abay about this mainly because of our DJ experience back at Morehouse and how he helped Caribbean people connect to their music back home. Our general consensus was to build our own solution to scratch this itch. We brought his brother, (Kit Israel), on board, who is an acclaimed producer and writer in the Soca industry and Radial grew from there.
Since then we brought on Phoumano, affectionately called Puma, who handles iOS development, Jonathan, who takes care of Android development, Dane and Regis who handle User Experience and User Interface and Chloe who is our Data Scientist. We were the first Caribbean company to win the TechNoir Big Pitch Competition in Washington DC, we were invited to showcase Radial at the FCC, as well as participated in many events supported by the World Bank such as StartUp Jamaica, TechBeach and Haitian Renewal Alliance conferences.
We have experienced every possible challenge in taking Radial from an idea to an actual service. We lost one of our early engineers to Google because of how talented he is, we didn’t have enough money to pay for our servers in the cloud and we even battled low energy levels when our first iterations were ugly and unusable (because we built it on the Blackberry platform and Trinidad still had EDGE cellular networks at that time). This has been a labour of love, filled with hard work, sweat and tears. What always kept us going was our passion to take our culture to the rest of the world and our friendships.
There are three key moments that helped us realize we were onto something:
Investment is not a true milestone of a company however the belief and support from an institutional investor, in this case, Arlan Hamilton at Backstage Capital really emboldened us. Her network, connections and fearless efforts to work with underrepresented founders is admirable.
We brought on board our Data Adviser, Learie Hercules, who is the senior director of Big Data at AT&T and this a great moment for us. Radial is a lot more than a streaming service, in fact anyone can build a streaming service. We wanted to build an analytics and machine learning company that used all this valuable data that the developed world does not focus on. We spent a lot of time sharing our vision with him and he has added tremendous value to what we do.
I would say one of the most warming feelings we have had was through one of our users, Clayland. When you see someone you never knew before, not only using your service but actively pushing it to so many other people, it touches you. This moved us to the point that we wrote an article to thank Clay. His support, feedback and evangelism is something that marvels me every single day. We created something that inspired someone to share with other people. That fills us with pride.
Soca tends to be very seasonal, with only a handful of artistes releasing full albums as of late. What has been the response from the Soca artistes to the App?
Soca is only “seasonal” if you consider each Carnival as a disjointed experience and if you ignore the millions of fans across the world who listen to it all year round. It is true that each region experiences a “soca switch” annually for a given period, but if you consider Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival as the official kickoff and Miami Carnival or Bayou Bacchanal as the last hurrah, there are still well over 50 Carnivals across the world in between! To us, this is far from seasonal, this is an all year experience — not even including fans like us who are obsessed with Soca and can listen to it every day even without a Carnival festival around the corner.
With respect to the artistes, we have gotten amazing feedback. They love what we are doing since we are promoting their music all year round and exposing them to markets outside of the Caribbean, for FREE! Recently a really popular artiste emailed us all his 2017 tracks just minutes after he learned about what we were doing. All he wanted was to share his music with the world and to have a way to connect with his fans; and that’s what we did for him. Some even reached out to us asking for us to put their entire discography on our platform. Even DJs are jumping on board as they can see the value of expanding their reach. It’s been amazing and we are excited for the future.
And Soca fans? What has their reception been like?
Phenomenal! Soca fans are some of the most passionate people in the world. Soca isn’t just a genre to them/us, it is a lifestyle. It is the oral history of our culture in song and permeates every part of our lives. We consider it the soundtrack of our lives. Those in the diaspora who are not able to visit home love what we are doing and we receive tons of tweets each day of people loving the app or expressing themselves via their favorite songs. Those at home are ecstatic since there is finally an app that is dedicated to what they know and love. We even have people who are not connected to the Caribbean at all falling in love with our music and that is just the greatest feeling. Truthfully, we are learning so much from the fans. Everything we built is because they gave us feedback to co-create something that is just right for their needs and not just a one-size-fits-all product that loses its identity. Soca fans are awesome and we could not have done it without them.
How do you source music for Radial? Can persons in the industry reach out? How can they get in touch with you?
We are fortunate to be partnered with some great people including one of the largest distributors of Soca music in the world (Fox Fuse) who represents some of the top producers and artistes in the business. Additionally, managers and content creators push a ton of content to us in similar ways to how the radios receive it — sometimes we even get early access due to the relationships that we have built over the years. It also helps that our co-founder happens to be one of the top producers in the industry and has received awards like song of the year and Soca monarch. So in many ways, we are not just the creators of the app, we are the creators of some of the content, and the target audience. Where else but here can you find that type of combination?
The music is amazing and there is just so much great content that is looking for its own place and voice. That’s why we are always willing to work with new and upcoming artistes in the same way that we work with the seasoned stars. We want to provide a platform for the music to shine on its own merit and not be the gatekeepers. Let the music talk for itself as we take the entire genre to the global stage. If any artistes, producers, djs, writers, etc, want to reach out to us, simply drop us a line on any of our social media accounts or via email. We are always listening and would love to work with you.
I came across Radial on social media (Twitter) a few weeks ago- downloaded it and I love it- but I’ve noticed that it’s only available for apple users. How soon would the app be made available for persons with android devices?
Great question. The typical developer answer to a question like this is, “when it is ready”. Haha. Seriously though, we are working on solutions which will help Android users as well as desktop users enjoy what iPhone users have had since June 2016. If we can get that out before Trinidad Carnival we will be ecstatic.
Twelve months from now, what are you hoping you would have accomplished with Radial?
We have three goals for Radial within the next year:
- Increase the revenue that artists, producers and promoters receive through their events.
- Widen the reach of Soca music and Carnival outside of the Diaspora. When we see what’s happening with Japan and their Carnival, we want to take that even further.
- Provide the best experience for our listeners. A singular place to find all your Caribbean music and the content around it. Notice, we said ‘Caribbean music’ 😉