MIMS, Erik Mendelson and DJ Blackout's app is about to disrupt the music game
Ten years after MIMS grabbed the number one spot on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart with “This Is Why I’m Hot,” he’s heating things up all over again. It’s just that this time around he’s besting other tech startups instead of rappers. Along with longtime business partners Erik Mendelson and Winston “DJ Blackout” Thomas, they’ve created RecordGram, an app that just won the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield last week.
How long have you guys been working together and in what capacity?
Shawn Mims: I’ve been working with Erik via a record label we started over 13 years ago called American King Music and I met Blackout through mutual friends over 12 years ago. We would later collaborate on “This Is Why I’m Hot.”
Erik Mendelson: We’ve been building RecordGram for a little over two years. I’m the CEO and handle business development, strategy and fundraising, Blackout handles UX/UI design and MIMS handles creative direction and artist relations.
What is RecordGram?
EM: RecordGram is a mobile production marketplace, recording studio and social network that allows our users to create original songs with award winning music producers for under $5 all from the palm of their hand. It breaks down barriers and empowers anyone, regardless of where they live or how much money they have, giving them the ability to awaken their inner musician.
SM: We allow aspiring musicians to collaborate with award-winning producers all across the world
How did the idea for RecordGram come about?
EM: The three of us were building a remix app platform and didn’t have the money to legally license the content we needed. Then MIMS called us and said why don’t create an app that connects producers with artists.
SM: RecordGram was an idea that came to me based on my frustration with the expensive recording process. I wanted to streamline the process of collaborating with producers without having to spend thousands of dollars. I also wanted to put money in the pockets of producers who’ve already spent thousands of dollars on equipment.
EM: This would have never been possible years ago when our phones weren’t that powerful.
You have a producer, a rapper, and a promo guy, how do you all come together?
SM: We created this app based on what we felt the music industry was missing. I myself have had my fair share of ups and downs when dealing with music labels. So I bring the experience of a musician who has been through the ringer when it comes to losing my creative spirit based on other peoples’ visions of what I should be doing. Blackout brings experience from the production world and what is missing that producers need. Erik is the one who brings the vision to the public.
EM: We have all worked together and know how each other thinks. We certainly don’t always agree but our different perspectives have created a real business that every investor is trying to get a piece of. I wouldn’t expect MIMS to pitch or take the hundreds of meetings that I do. And I know he wouldn’t expect me to handle the creative. We each stay in our lane but constantly bounce ideas off each other. We always try to mutually agree on every aspect of our business but I trust them to make the right creative decisions and they trust me to make the right business decisions. I couldn’t imagine building this company with anyone else.
Why does the world need RecordGram? What’s so great about it?
SM: RecordGram is allowing a community of creators to come together without the everyday stresses of the financial burdens that exist in the music industry. We allow a platform for creation as well as networking and promotions and we make it mobile, so anyone anywhere can do it.
EM: RecordGram is democratizing music collaboration and creation. Not everyone can afford studio time or has access to one. Not everyone knows how to use studio software and not everyone has access to award winning music producers and certainly, not everyone can afford to work with these producers. Through RecordGram they don’t need to have expensive equipment or even understand software.
What all goes into making an app?
SM: We are still learning much of the process but it certainly requires a great idea and a lot of funding as well as mass knowledge of the investment world. I’m sure Erik can elaborate more on this question.
EM: We started with an idea. I researched the competitive landscape and decided this was a business that we can dominate. We interviewed hundreds of developers, bootstrapped using our own funds and started developing our MVP without a wire frame (not recommended by the way). We have been iterating our product for two years before we introduced it to the market.
Once you have the app done, what happens next?
SM: Once an app is complete, you need a very strategic product roadmap. You have to define your target audience. You also have to have a product that appeals to the needs of an audience that might not know they need you, which is the most difficult part. Nowadays everyone is a “photographer” because of apps like Instagram. We hope to awaken people’s inner musician, even the ones that never knew they have talent.
EM: We’re about to launch our “go to market” strategy which includes everything above however our real immediate goal is to get quality content creators/musicians on our platform because we believe their fans/followers will come to see the original music they create. We didn’t build RecordGram for us. We built it for all the aspiring music producers and artists who are tired of karaoke apps.
How did you get involved in TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield?
EM: I apply for every pitch competition, especially if it doesn’t involve giving up equity. TechCrunch was doing their first Miami Meetup pitch competition. I entered. We got accepted to the pitch and came in first place in front of 2,000 people in Miami. By winning, TechCrunch gave us a demonstration table in Startup Alley for one day at TechCrunch in NYC. Event attendees were able to vote for a startup in Startup Alley to move onto Battlefield status. We were selected as a Wild Card to move into the Battlefield pitch competition. We then won the preliminary pitch on Monday and they moved us to the final Battlefield pitch on Wednesday. We won!
RecordGram was the first wildcard company to ever win the TechCrunch Disrupt Cup, let alone being a music technology and minority-owned company. I’m not kidding when I say the staff at TechCrunch had tears in their eyes because they were so happy. The whole TechCrunch Disrupt event was a surreal experience.
How many apps did you go up against?
EM: I think there were 20 apps in the Battlefield round but in order to get into Battlefield we probably had to beat 100 apps or so.
Which competitor were you most worried about and why?
SM: In my opinion, you really have to be concerned with every competitor mainly because the TechCrunch staff does an exceptional job making sure every app has a different story and different purpose. So I tip my hat to all of the startups that competed.
EM: Of the five companies, we were most concerned about Collider because 3D manufacturing is hot right now and they did an amazing job pitching. Music technology doesn’t usually win these competitions but everyone loves music and can relate to what we’re doing and recognizes our value proposition.
Does each Battlefield city exist as its own entity, or do you now move onto another round as the NY Winner?
SM: This is the big Hoorah….It’s like winning the Super Bowl of Technology, in my opinion.
EM: That’s it. We’re the NYC Battlefield Disrupt Champs. They actually let us take this 50-pound stainless steel cup home. I think in three months we have to pass it onto the San Fran Disrupt winner but it may not make it back from Miami. What happens in Miami stays in Miami!
What happens next for the app?
SM: Our next goal is to build awareness and sign up as many users as possible. As we gain new sign-ups we will have our personal A&R’s as well as some Music Professional A&R’s scouting for the next big talent.
EM: We want it all. We want to keep pitching because it gets us in front of audiences that can lead to partnerships, downloads and exposure. We’re going to raise money also, and in a few weeks, we’re going to make a huge announcement.
So is the app totally done?
SM: We are very creative people, so the process of adding things to the app will always exist, but we are more focused on the marketing aspect. The product, as it stands now, does everything it needs to do. There will obviously be some great additions in the near future as well.
EM: We’re always improving our app to make the user experience the best possible but yes, we are definitely focused on promoting this app and disrupting the music industry.
How has this experience been for you?
SM: This experience has been nothing short of amazing for me. We put our minds to something we believed in and now are getting recognized for it. I’ve been at the top of the music industry, having a number one record and selling millions, and this win feels just as good, if not better, than that.
EM: The entire experience over the last several years has been a huge learning opportunity in hustle. I’m not exactly the youngest entrepreneur but my team has tenured domain business experience, which I believe is our true advantage.
What would be the ultimate achievement for RecordGram?
SM: The ultimate goal is to provide a platform for emerging artists, be able to create new jobs in the music and tech industries, and give a place for fans to discover new music.
EM: Our long tail play is to get artists signed from RecordGram. In our short time, one artist has received a meeting with Universal. Another artist, Jimmy Levy, a 19-year-old male Adele; Red Bull Records already called about him. We have amazing talent on RecordGram and the best will rise to the top. However, our ultimate achievement is being a market differentiator and part of Apple’s ecosystem.
What’s next for each of you?
SM: What’s next for me is to stay innovative and ahead of the curve but also enjoy the ride and be thankful for every opportunity that comes forward.
EM: You’ll see in a few weeks.
Can we expect more apps from you?
SM: You can absolutely expect more apps as well as more innovative music tech ideas.
EM: Yes we have a ton of other app ideas but RecordGram has to be our focus.
Bonus Q: Erik! What’s up with that flamingo blazer!
EM: The flamingo blazer was my business card. Everyone wanted to speak with me. Everyone remembered me, which is exactly what you want when you’re competing against 100 amazing apps.
BY ANNE KRISTOFF, Mass Appeal