It's Raining Music, Courtesy of Mog 

Berkeley tech start-up Mog parties like it's 1999 as part of a multimillion dollar bet on an elusive killer app: cloud music.

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First, the company built a slick, fast site with some of the web's most current technologies, like the fast and scalable Ruby on Rails platform, and Ajax, which also helps with speed. It took two years and, though fraught with problems, was not the hardest part.

Next, Hyman had to use all his industry contacts and goodwill from working at Gracenote and other prior ventures to convince the major record labels to pay attention to him and then make a deal.

"To have the rights to the music, for a startup, is not easy," Hyman said. "It's not easy." Hundreds of start-ups clamor for the attention of a handful of executives, and most don't even get a meeting. "The relationships that I've had with them and the trust I've had really helped," he said. "We built a product, and so I was able to go in and show them this beautiful thing. I was able to get the meeting. I was able to show them, 'Hey we built this, if you give me the licenses, we could give this to the public and we'll all be the benefactors.' It was the kind of thing where they said, 'You know, there's an opportunity here. This is a really good product. We want to enable you.' It comes down to faith.

"It's a lot like being an artist," he added, "and spending years developing a skill and not knowing whether you're going to get a deal."

In 2009, Mog inked deals with all four majors and a huge majority of the minors, resulting in a 7-million-song catalog that grows by the day. On December 2, 2009, Mog launched Mog All Access. Mog board member and super-producer Rick Rubin helped with the name, Hyman recalled. Now, anyone can open up a web browser, navigate to Mog.com, and start listening. Type in "Sade" and Sade starts playing. Not just one song by Sade, but Sade's catalog in one big radio playlist automatically generated by the site. A slider on the jukebox will leaven similar artists into the playlist. Slide the slider to the middle and Seal may start popping up in your playlist. Slide it all the way over and the playlist could go as far afield as some downtempo Massive Attack.

"It's the first real, unrestricted radio product compared to things like Pandora," Hyman said. "It just blows it away. We've given people better radio. You can jump ahead, save songs, and directly control the playlists. If you want Bob Marley radio you get Bob Marley 24-7, a dedicated radio station for every artist that just plays that artist."

New users can sign up for a three-day trial of All Access. Hyman says 17 percent of people who try the service for three days elect to purchase it for $5 a month. The low rate is a result of generous licensing agreements Hyman negotiated privately with major record labels. The labels are generally loathe to do such deals, yet they've displayed enormous faith in the Berkeley company. In 2008, Universal Music Group and Sony BMG even joined the ranks of Mog's investors, which include Menlo Ventures and Simon Equity.

Mog won't disclose how many subscribers Mog All Access has garnered since its launch, but Hyman says people love it, even though he only sees its flaws.

"Considering we've been out the gate for a little over two months, yeah, I'm happy, but do I want millions of users? We'll get there."


The third component of getting there is in the palm of people's hands at the Mohawk.

The advent of so-called "3G" smartphones — with their fast microprocessors and higher capacity for transmitting data through the air — has become a game changer in the technology industry. Apple rewrote the playbook for cell phones with iPhone, and Google has tacitly endorsed Apple's vision by crafting a smartphone of its own, the Nexus One, which runs on Google's easy-to-program, open-to-the-public Android operating system. Applications running on smartphones represent the next Internet bubble, with thousands of them being sold, and tens of thousands more in development. Mog hopes to ride the 3G wave this summer when it introduces Mog All Access Mobile for iPhone and Android phones, the same way Pandora's userbase exploded when it released its own app.

Mog officially unveiled Mog All Access Mobile, Monday, March 15, in Austin to a crowd of rapt music bloggers and techies. The result of some hard-core label negotiations behind the scenes, the service costs $10 a month, and is basically like the desktop version, only you can take it wherever you want to go. Furthermore, you can download as much music as you want from the cloud to store on your smartphone, so you still have access to your tunes even when cell phone and wi-fi reception has long died.

Mobile product manager Anu Kirk walked the crowd through a videotaped demonstration of All Access mobile for iPhone and Android OS, showing how it launched, searched, browsed, downloaded, and played. Voice commands worked on the Android version, and the streams sound good at the standard 64 kilobits per second, but pristine with the free option to download at album-quality 320 kilobits per second.

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