Music and Political Science graduate Dominic Go ’10 creates an app to showcase and reward independent musicians // Department of Political Science // University of Notre Dame – nd.edu | Start Classified

Dominic Go was drawn to music from a young age. He lived just a quarter mile from the University of Notre Dame campus and could hear the Fighting Irish Marching Band play on football game days. Although he did not play the tuba or any other brass instrument, he sang. All. That. Time.

“I was number seven in a family of eight kids, and I always sang,” he said. “I was the annoying little brother.”

In sixth grade, Go’s music teacher encouraged his parents to enroll the crooner in singing and piano lessons. They took the advice and soon Go was playing the piano and guitar, singing and dreaming of becoming a professional musician.

When college started, Go qualified for student aid because his father worked in Notre Dame’s Information Technology Office. “That was hard to miss, but that was also a conclusion from Notre Dame,” he said.

Go studied music and political science on campus. In addition to his formal musical training and performance, which drew heavily on opera and classical technique, he joined the Notre Dame Glee Club and The Undertones. While the all-male glee club performed traditional and barbershop quartet songs, The Undertones were an all-male a cappella pop vocal group whose campus performances sold out. He also performed as a side act in the regional musical theater.

He found more than his voice in Notre Dame, he found Colleen Huml. Now they are married. “She was the director of Harmonia, the all-female a cappella group, and I was the director of The Undertones. We had our own Pitch perfect competition, but eventually we came together and started performing together.”

Passion for the music industry

After graduating, Go was initially undecided about pursuing a professional music career. “I had my doubts. It’s a very binary industry. Either you’re incredibly rich or you live in poverty, there’s not much in between,” he said. “Even touring musicians do it for passion. There just isn’t enough money.”

He finally decided to give it a try. “I had dedicated my time at Notre Dame to music and put my other interests aside. So I had to try,” he said.

Other roles in regional musical theater and appearances in bars and clubs followed. And when Better World Books – an online antiquarian bookshop with a social conscience – offered him a job as a project manager with flexible hours, he accepted.

His job was great and he got an opportunity to explore another interest – technology, specifically data analysis and coding. For the next 16 months, Go worked on the technical side of Better World Books under the guidance of its first boss, Paul Drake.

“He was incredible. He kind of saw potential in me and gave me the autonomy to follow my interests,” Go said. “But I still had a passion for the music industry. I just had to approach it from a different direction.”

Go formalized his technological education, moving to larger institutions and eventually accumulating more than 10 years of experience in the field. During this period of professional growth in tech, he was bothered by income inequality in the music industry – largely due to an artist having to go through a “kingmaker” if they wanted to make it to the top.

“Technology could be the solution”

“In the early days, talented musicians had to have a major record label behind them to pay for all the upfront costs of recording, marketing, booking gigs and managing distribution channels or records and later CDs. When Pandora was founded in 2000 and Spotify in 2006, they solved the distribution problem by disrupting the music industry with live streaming. But there was still a big problem. Independent artists were still not making any money,” Go said. “That was a problem for me. I thought maybe technology could be the solution.”

His “aha” moment about sharing wealth with all music artists came during a trip to Asheville, North Carolina, but I didn’t have any cash and there was no Venmo back then. I felt really bad, but it got me thinking about a new way of paying artists.”

The new path eventually became Go’s company, Tambr, which he began building in 2015. In 2018 he completed the prototype and launched the platform and app. Tambr’s mission is to give all musicians a way to be heard while allowing them to monetize their music in a new and fair way. Fans then also had the opportunity to find and support emerging talent and established local bands.

Tambr works as a freemium model. There are no fees for musicians using the platform and they retain full ownership of their music. Users can listen for free, but advertising is part of their experience. Premium users, paying $7.99 per month, hear no ads and can listen to music offline and support the artist of their choice. This forwards $2 per month of their subscription to their favorite artist.

Go said some people rolled their eyes because Tambr is just another streaming service. But when they understand that 25% of the subscription goes directly to an artist, they’re all in. “We don’t try to differentiate based on price. We’re cheaper than Spotify and Pandora, but more expensive than a service like Ultimate Guitar Tabs. Pricing is really about finding a balance in the market compared to our competition.”

To gain a foothold, Go turned to musician friends from his Notre Dame days and professional career. Many have gladly uploaded their music. Go, meanwhile, continued to iterate on the platform. In 2021, he added livestream capabilities. Artists embraced it, some doing more produced sets from a club or other venue, while other artists have been streaming from home. Listeners can donate to artists with just one click. The Tambr app is available on Google Play and the App Store.

“Some musicians stream live performances every week. They are really excited to have a new tool. That’s the happiest thing for me.”

Upscaling Tambr

In 2021, Go also earned a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Chicago. He laughed at how it came about. “My wife wanted to study medicine and let me know that she would be spending a lot of time studying for the MCA. I wanted to spend time with her, so I decided to take the GMAT, the graduate school prep test. I had no intention of going back to school. When I got a top score, I didn’t want to waste it. I focused on business and entrepreneurship and loved it.”

His MBA came at the right time; he is now focused on scaling up Tambr. In the early days, the company received $200,000 in funding from friends and family. Cash flow is positive today. Go is preparing to launch a $700,000 pre-seed funding round to support user growth.

“To give new musicians a way to build their careers and make a real impact on the artist community, we need hundreds of thousands of users,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s very doable.”

Regional bands often have more than 20,000 followers on social media platforms such as Instagram. Converting them to premium Tambr subscribers can generate significant revenue. “If just 1,000 fans join Tambr as premium members and nominate the band, that’s $2,000 in predictable monthly income. There are other ways for musicians to make money from Tambr such as: B. direct donations and merchandise sales.”

Fundraising was Tambr’s biggest challenge; The space is crowded with Spotify, TikTok, Apple and Amazon. Tambr isn’t after the crowd, though. Its target group is the younger audience who like to find new bands and solo musicians and appreciate the social mission of supporting up-and-coming artists.

“When people say, ‘Do we need another music streaming service?’ My answer is, “Did we need another shoe company?” and then I point to Allbirds, which also has a social mission and is very successful. You have a good product too. As a consumer goods company, we need to deliver every experience,” Go said.

It was enriching for Go to see the joy of the participating artists. “Some musicians stream live performances every week. They are really excited to have a new tool. That’s what makes me happy the most,” he said. “I also discovered a lot of new music myself.”

His advice to others who dream of starting a business: Be open to suggestions.

“I’ve spent far too much time not taking feedback. It’s your baby and when you get feedback it feels like a personal attack. … Learn how to distinguish useful and non-useful advice. Startups are a tough journey. We all need advice.”

Originally published by Melanie Lux at ideacenter.nd.edu on June 22, 2022.

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