By Valerie Vedral
Photo By Mike Pirnat

Promotion is still a hurdle for artists. Essentially, what we’re looking to do is take that music and distribute it.”
—Aza Raskin, AB’05

Aza Raskin, AB’05, was sitting in a coffee shop one day instant messaging a friend on his computer when a song he wanted to share with her popped into his head.

The only problem was that there was no easy way for Raskin, 24, to share the song at that moment. That got him thinking. “If Google lets you find any web page, why can’t I find any song?” he asked himself. A short while later, songza.com was born.

Songza is billed as an internet music jukebox. Users type a band or song name into a search field, and Songza finds and plays the music. Users can rate and share songs, add them to personalized play lists, or post them to a blog.

“You can listen to almost anything on Songza,” said Raskin, an accomplished French horn player who has toured the world. “It’s very immediate. It’s a delightful and very sexy page.”

Raskin created Songza with Scott Robbin over the summer of 2007. They spent nights and weekends tweaking their design until the site was ready to launch in November. Songza differs from other websites such as Rhapsody or Last.fm because it gives users control over what they want to listen to and when, Raskin said. The site is designed to be viral.

Songza is free

So far, about 20 million songs have been played on Songza, and the site plays about 200,000 songs a day, Raskin said. Although the service is free to users, Raskin and Robbin said the artists whose music is played on the site are compensated.

“Songza does pay publishing rights, but to the end user it feels free,” said Robbin, Songza’s 32-year-old president. “On the back end, artists are getting paid.”

Raskin, the son of computer interface guru and Apple Macintosh creator Jef Raskin, founded the software company Humanized, Inc., best known for its Enso line of productivity software. The idea, he said, is to make computers easier for people to use.

“Everybody is frustrated with the computer, but they don’t need to be,” said Raskin, who has been consulting since age 17.

Other Humanized members include fellow University of Chicago alums Jono DiCarlo, SM’05; Atul Varma, SM’04; and Andrew Wilson, AB’05. Currently the company is located in Chicago’s Ravenswood corridor. Mozilla recently recruited some of the Humanized staff, including Raskin, who will move out to California at the end of March to head up the user experience side of Mozilla labs.

On to Bloxes

Raskin recently launched another project, Bloxes, with Wilson. Bloxes are interlocking, corrugated cardboard building blocks that can be used to make anything from walls to office desks. The eco-friendly modular product debuted March 7.

Although Humanized will move to the West Coast, Songza will stay in Chicago.

Robbin, a musician with a computer science background, said Songza is currently testing a concept with artists that would allow them to gain exposure, grow their fan base, and learn more about their listeners.

“Promotion is still a hurdle for artists,” he said. “Essentially, what we’re looking to do is take that music and distribute it.”