Spark DJ aims to disrupt the music entertainment industry by “replacing DJs with data science.” The app allows for live curation of music and seamless transitions between songs to keep a party going, delivering high quality music every time. Spark DJ earned accolades at both Minnesota Cup and Beta.MN and recently told their story at 1 Million Cups Rochester. The Spark DJ founders will showcase the app tomorrow night and invite all of Rochester to come out for the party.
Spark DJ creators John Boss and James Jones both have a deep love of music. Boss, a New Jersey native, began DJing at age thirteen after being gifted hand-me-down DJ equipment from a favorite cousin, a DJ in Pittsburgh. Boss would host parties for kids, as a kid himself, and even DJed a Gap store opening.
Jones, a self-described “data nerd,” was interested in the construction of music and beats. While in college, he needed a job but was limited on time while pursuing a dual degree in engineering and economics. He made an extensive list of ways to earn cash as a student, which included anything from cutting grass to day trading. Jones enjoyed DJing and could “spin for like three to four hours at a time.” He found that DJing was by far the best return on investment per hour for a college student.
“I was already into music and then when I started DJing, people really liked what I was doing,” Jones explained. He had the opportunity to open for some major acts like Big Sean, Girl Talk, and Bones Thugs-N-Harmony.
Boss and Jones both got to be such in-demand DJs that they had too many gigs. Both worked to solve this problem in amazingly unique ways. Boss started Apollo Music Group, a Rochester-based DJ management service, where he could vet and hire top-rate DJs to staff his increasing number of bookings.
“I was the weird one where I was like, I’m going to make this algorithmic clone of myself and try to use that instead,” Jones said.
Jones actually got hired on by Boss to DJ with Apollo Music Group. “I was telling him about this idea. And he got really excited about it and then I got really excited about it,” Jones explained. And it all snowballed from there to create Spark DJ.
The Spark DJ app uses artificial intelligence to deliver live-curated music right from a cell phone, providing “high quality music, mixed well, every time.” Hosts choose their favorite artists on the app and set up parameters for guests. Party-goers can then connect with the app using geolocation to submit song requests.
Spark DJ is not meant to replace DJs but to set the standard for DJing.
“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to compete with someone who’s really mastered their craft and is really taking a very artistic approach to what they’re doing and engaging the crowd, creating a really unique experience. Those guys, those are guys we want to be as DJs,” said Jones.
The pair explained how the bar for DJing was so much higher twenty years ago, when you had to buy tons of equipment like records, CDs, and a turntable. “The talent level at the time was respected. It was a craft,” explained Boss.
Now with MP3s, people can just download songs onto their laptop and start playing music, which has created a surplus of subpar DJs.
Spark DJ aims to raise the bar for all DJs. “If you can’t DJ better than Spark DJ…you shouldn’t be a DJ,” explained Jones.
Boss and Jones are now both in Spark DJ full time, learning the ropes of entrepreneurship. Before launching the startup, Jones was a statistics analyst at the Target headquarters in Minneapolis and Boss a financial analyst at IBM. Although both studied some degree of business or economics in college, Boss said you “can throw that out the door on many occasions.” Right now, the founders are connecting with other entrepreneurs, learning from their mistakes, and understanding how to navigate the startup lifestyle.
Plugging themselves into the entrepreneurial community has paid off big. Spark DJ was a High-Tech division finalist last year in the Minnesota Cup, Minnesota’s largest startup competition. Just last week, the pair were Golden iPod champions at the Beta.MN Startup Showcase in Minneapolis. Boss and Jones said these experiences were validating and helped them connect with people who loved what they were doing.
“It’s easy to go in a corner and code…but it doesn’t work like that. We’re all connected. …Going through the Minnesota Cup really helped us meet a lot of different people and learn a lot of stuff that we probably wouldn’t have learned just sitting in the corner,” said Jones.
Now the founders are deciding where to base the company, Minneapolis or Rochester.
“[Rochester’s] a little more in its infancy stage. But it’s in a healthy, fun one. It’s fun to be here. It’s fun to see what’s happening…you start to really see things,” said Boss. “If we can give people hope to stay in Rochester and start something great, that’s something that would be exciting for us as well.”
Boss and Jones invite everyone to link up with the founders and try out the Spark DJ app at their showcase event tomorrow night. The party starts in the Bleu Duck Kitchen Event Space at 5PM and moves to The Doggery at 8PM. Click here for more information.