This #TechTuesday we talk to Ben Bowler, co-founder of Chew.tv. Chew is a live streaming platform that connects a community of nearly 20,000 amateur, up-and-coming and professional DJs, producers and personalities from over 130 countries around the world. Ben co-founded Chew with Wil Benton in 2014.
Liilt: Hi Ben, thanks for talking with The Buzz at Liilt. Tell us a bit about your background and how you first got interested in electronic music.
Ben: My Dad is a Jazz arranger, saxophonist and keyboard player. I started out as a funk drummer, so that was all about beats and that eventually pivoted into my love of electronic music.
Liilt: Tell us how you started getting involved in the world of Tech and livestreaming.
I was self taught in coding and started doing some wordpress websites for friends, which I think a lot of techies do and then eventually I went into more backend development. When I came out of college I was freelancing and doing some techy stuff but there were a few places that I was looking to work at: AEI Media andHospital Records.
I got an internship in AEI Media and ended up working there for three and a half years. I started off in marketing there but eventually moved into development, planning & strategy then covering production & live streaming for different campaigns that we were doing.
Liilt: You co-founded Chew.tv with Wil. How did you both meet and how did Chew.tv come about?
I met Wil through a mutual friend. He runs a blog called FatKidonFire and he’s won many awards for it. It was interesting for me because I was into technology but also bass music. I met him near Oxford Street in London to start some work on an original project while I was still at AI Media called #eatbass.
The idea behind that was to create a place where you could consume all the music content you find on Youtube in one place. You would be able to go and sit back then watch a stream of content rather than hunting through Youtube. I asked Wil to help on the promotional side of that project. As things developed #eatbass expanded into more than just bass music and turned into something more generic I called Chew. I left AEI Media to work at Vice for a year, but I was still getting asked to work on live streaming from time to time.
I invited Wil to partner up on the original version of Chew (called Chew.fm) just like with #eatbass. We were doing live-stream production and the platform was a kind of freebie we gave. No one really wanted a subscription service, they want us for the production side.
We did some interesting streams there like the MOBOs, ITV2’s “The Office” but we got sidetracked into a lot of conferences which wasn’t really what we set out to do.
Liilt: By this stage you were both working on livestreaming but the platform was being used for different reasons. How did Chew become a platform for DJ’s and electronic music?
The key turning point, for us, was when we were doing a few events for Ignite up in Newcastle. We went from this production thing to the form Chew is in now. We found out during this time about people’s different motivations for streaming. For bands, for instance, you’ve got five people being paid very little to do a gig and the live streaming technology setup is super complicated. You’ve got to contend with live mixing, multiple audio mixes and multiple cameras.
But with DJ’ing you’ve got one person who gets paid, they’ve already got a laptop (which is effectively all you need to do a livestream) and their whole business is around self promotion in a way. We picked DJ’ing as a category because it works across genres and we found it opens us up to work with more musical personalities. For example, we have a group of three guys in Plymouth called Borderline Radio who do a radio show on nerd news, gaming and rock music – they all just do it from their bedroom.
Liilt: So you had the technology and a beginning, tell us about where the original content on Chew came from.
Before we launched we went out to the Media Production Society at Newcastle University, some of my contacts from working at AEI Media and of Wil’s contacts at from his FatKidOnFire label to get some original content to seed it. A lot of it was Dubstep to begin with.
Apart from that what we’ve done is seek out people who are doing interesting things in interesting spaces and asked them to come on board and now it’s gotten to the point where it’s building itself. There’s not really been a concerted effort to pick the genres which make up the site.
I’m a massive Drum n Bass fan so I make an effort to try and get more D’n’B music on there, Wil pushes Dubstep and our first employee Sam, is into house.
Liilt: Can you give us a bit of insight into how Chew.tv has grown?
We’ve done a lot of growth hacking. We’ve built out our Twitter account to over 26,000 followers in 12 months with some very targeted following and unfollowing. We’ve also done some paid stuff on Facebook to help with that.
We started tracking daily, weekly and monthly active users and referrals which has helped us to massively increase our active users by a huge percentage.
We’ve had quite a few radio stations come on in the last few months and they stream every day or multiple times a day. Of individual users and DJs, a lot of them do a weekly show and an average stream is around two and a half hours per session at the moment, which is really really long.
We’re very purposeful on the development of features and we’re concentrating on the core features that everyone can use. We ask our users what features they’d like to see and really take this on board.
Liilt: Looking at the site now, you guys have a Seedrs campaign looking for investment. Can you tell us a bit about investment in Chew.tv?
We’ve started the Seedrs campaign to allow the DJs,presenters and fans who use Chew to come in and help support us and get real shares in the company, and some interesting perks, in return. There is obviously value in what we do for our users, shown by the fact that we’ve got 80 investors already each investing from £10 to thousands.
Liilt: You have an upcoming event in London in a couple of weeks, what’s that going to be like?
We met Seth Goldstein, one of the founders of Turntable.fm on a trip to the US last year. He’s gone on to work on Crossfader and we’ve partnered with them for an event on 25th January. This one is interesting as it’s our first mobile event. We’re going to livestream the first ever collaborative dance party. It’s going to be insane.
We’ve got five of the top Crossfader DJs in the UK coming down to London to perform for around two hours. We’ll have dancers on location in London and dancers in the Crossfader location in San Francisco getting streamed in. We might even get Seth to try to DJ himself.
Liilt: Where can we expect to see Chew.tv this year?
Last year I was fortunate enough to win the IMS Visionaries competition and I’ll be speaking on an IMS panel in Ibiza this year. Then there is ADE in October. We plan to launch in the US later this year, I’ll actually be heading over there in February.
Liilt: So, what’s the plan when you head Stateside?
The US has been pretty big since launch. In some months it has been the biggest territory, up there with the UK and that’s all organic. We haven’t even officially launched in the US yet.
The US is really big to take on. Each city is like a whole other country to deal with really so it’s working out the best way to launch and how to reach the most users effectively.
Liilt: So you have big plans in the US. What else is coming from Chew.tv in 2016?
By the end of 2016 Chew will be launched in the US. We’ll also double down on the existing partnerships we have plus we’ll look to get working with mid-tier and larger artists more. We’ll also break down that perception of what a livestreaming platform is. We want to work with big artists and get livestream access into their lives, their creative process, behind the scenes rather than just streaming traditional livesets.
Liilt: Finally Ben, what advice would you give to anyone with an idea in tech or looking to start a business in the electronic music industry?
You have to start with a small first step. I’ve always wanted to start my own thing, even since I dropped out of college. I speak to people now and they say: “wow, Chew has had so much success in the last year”, but before that there have been several projects that have failed and things that I didn’t want to do in the end.
Second thing I’d say, which is sometimes hard to do, is to partner up with people. Things have moved twice as fast working with Wil as they would have doing things on my own. Overall, the progress that has been made by having two brains is more than twice the effect of just working on it on your own at the end of the day.