As a software-whiz and music mogul, Elliott Breece had already made a name for himself before long before he joined the tech powerhouse known as Google. The Brown University graduate co-founded Amie Street, an independent online music store, and later sold it to Amazon. He then went on to help create Songza, a curated playlist machine that serves as a soundtrack to users’ daily activities. The humble and dedicated Breece is still on a mission to create more software for music-lovers to enjoy, even after selling Songza to Google.
Now as a product manager at Google Play, Breece is constantly keeping in tune with what users want to listen to and working on new ways to deliver content. EBONY spoke with Breece about his success in the fields of music and software and how he plans on making sure Google Music stays ahead of its many competitors.
EBONY: When you, Josh and Elias founded Amie Street, what was your inspiration? Goals? Did you guys have a ceiling for how big it would get?
ELLIOTT BREECE: Our goal was to build something that could get our friends to pay for music again. At that time we were still in the wake of Napster and Limewire’s takeover of music consumption. Amie Street was a digital music store where tracks and albums were priced by their demand. At that time digital music retail was still a growing market segment, so we saw a lot of room for growth and disruption.
EBONY: When you sold Amie Street to Amazon, did you feel like you guys had made it big?
EB: Amie Street was an exciting ride. I don’t think we felt like we made it big, but it definitely helped us better frame our second act–Songza.
EBONY: Was Songza co-founded by the same group of guys? What was your vision/inspiration for Songza?
EB:It was founded by the same group, yes. Our vision with Songza was to improve the things that people do everyday with music. Most people don’t set aside time to listen to music. Music is usually on in the background to improve the things you actually set aside time to do, like working out, studying, or driving. We wanted to build a service that makes it easy to soundtrack those events. For Songza, that meant building a concierge service that pairs listeners with expertly-curated playlists by predicting their mood or activity.
EBONY: How many unique visitors does Songza get each month?
EB: We don’t typically share these sorts of numbers. However, I can tell you that the Google Play Music subscriber number has more than doubled in the last 12 months. We’re really excited about its growth, and hope that this progress will continue.
EBONY: How did you feel after selling Songza to Google? What was that experience like?
EB: I think we felt validated. Google was a perfect fit for us because of their technology advantage, but also because their commitment to the idea of the mobile personal assistant. In a lot of ways products like the Google App are kindred to Songza’s concierge.
EBONY: What would your ideal TGIF playlist consist of if given 5 artists/ 5 songs?
EB: It is easier for me to answer what I have in rotation right now: Future- DS2 (It’s all the same song so pick one), Ab-Soul, “Ride Slow,” Stereolab, “Brakhage,” Everything But The Girl “Walking Wounded” and Philip Glass “Vessels.”
EBONY: Were you always into technology and music as a kid?
EB:Absolutely. My first computer was a Commodore and my first music purchase was a Funkdafied by Da Brat on cassette. My parents were very supportive of both interests.
EBONY: What kind of projects you currently working on?
EB: I have been working on helping Play Music understand context. Earlier this year, we launched music concierge on Google Play music to help people find the right music at the right time. For example, if you frequent the gym we might recommend you a great radio station for working out. Last month, we launched a completely free ad-supported version for users in the US. We are pretty proud of it. Our team of music experts, including the folks who created Songza, crafts each station song by song so you don’t have to. Some of my recent favorite stations are “Sunglasses & Aspirin”, “The Cookout” & “Step Aside Young Buck”.
EBONY: How would you describe your role at Google Play?
EB:As a product manager, I spend my days trying to understand what our listeners want from our product and building features to support those desires. On a normal day, I am building specs and working with our engineers.
EBONY:Do you consider Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music your direct competition now? What sets your product apart?
EB:We are, indeed, in a pretty crowded space with very large players. I think what sets us apart is our focus on improving the things people do everyday. Our focus is on helping people get through the working day, pushing people to work out a little harder and setting the right mood when adults want to do adult things. In 2015 people shouldn’t have to work to have the right soundtrack.
EBONY: What’s the most essential ingredient that a tech startup needs in order to succeed?
EB: Become an expert in the user pain you are trying to address.
EBONY: If you had one piece of advice for young African Americans who want to get into coding/technology what would it be?
EB: I would recommend dropping everything and building a piece of software. There are so many free tools online that make it easy to begin coding. Even if you ultimately don’t want to become a professional software engineer, it is important to understand how software works.