|Company Founded:||Tambr||Year Graduated:||2010|
|Title:||Founder||Degree:||BA, Music and Political Science|
|Location:||Arlington, VA||Residence Hall:||Keenan|
From a young age, Dominic Go was drawn to music. Living just a quarter mile from the University of Notre Dame campus, he could hear the Fighting Irish marching band playing on football game days. While he never played tuba or any other brass instrument for that matter, he sang. All. The. Time.
“I was number seven in a family of eight kids, and I was always singing,” he says. “I was the annoying little brother.”
In sixth grade, Go was “discovered” by his music teacher who encouraged his parents to enroll the crooner in voice and piano lessons. They followed the advice and soon Go was playing piano, guitar, singing, and dreaming of being a professional musician.
When college rolled around, Go strongly considered enrolling in Indiana University’s music program, among the best in the country. One thing got in his way. Go was a Notre Dame faculty brat. “My father worked in Notre Dame’s Office of Information Technology, so I qualified for tuition assistance. That was hard to pass up but so was a degree from Notre Dame.”
Once on campus, Go hedged his bets, majoring in Music and Political Science. Even so, music and performing received his full attention. In addition to his formal musical training and performance which leaned heavily on opera and a classical technique, he joined the Notre Dame Glee Club and The Undertones. While the all-male Glee Club performed traditional and barber shop quartet songs, The Undertones were an all-male pop-singing acapella group whose on-campus gigs were always sellouts. He also performed in regional musical theater as a side gig.
Go admits he found more than his voice at Notre Dame, he found his future wife, Colleen Huml. “She was the director of Harmonia, the all-women acapella group and I was the director of The Undertones. We had our own Pitch Perfect competitive thing going on, but ultimately, we got together and started performing together.”
After graduating, Go was on the fence about a professional music career. “I had a mountain of student debt and looking at the music industry and what it takes to be successful, I had my doubts. It’s a very binary industry. Either you’re incredibly wealthy or you live in poverty; there’s not much in between. Even touring musicians do it for the passion; there’s just not enough money in it,” he explains.
Faced with the reality, Go decided to give his professional music career a go. “I had dedicated my time at Notre Dame to music, setting aside my other interests. So I had to try,” he says. More roles at regional musical theater and performances at bars and clubs followed.
As he did with his academic degrees, Go had a back-up plan. When Better World Books, an online used bookstore with a social conscious, offered him a job as a project manager with a flexible schedule, Go took the offer.
Then something funny happened. His day job was great! He finally had the opportunity to explore another interest, technology and specifically data analysis and coding. For the next year and a half, Go worked on the tech side of Better World Books under the tutelage of his first boss, Paul Drake. “He was incredible. He somehow saw potential in me, and so he granted me the autonomy to follow my interest,” Go says. “But I still had a passion for the music industry. I just had to go at it from another direction.” Go went on to formalize his technological training moving to larger institutions, and eventually cultivated more than 10 years of experience in the field.
Throughout this period of professional growth in the field of technology, the thing that gnawed at the back of Go’s mind was the income disparity in the music industry due largely because if an artist wanted to make it to the big time, they had to go through a “king maker.”
“Back in the early days, talented musicians had to have a big record label behind them to pay all of the upfront costs of recording, marketing, booking appearances, and managing distribution channels or record and later CDs . When Pandora was founded in 2000 and Spotify in 2006, they solved the distribution problem by disrupting the music industry with live streaming. But there was still a big problem. Independent artists still weren’t making any money,” Go explains.
“That was a problem for me. I thought maybe tech could be the solution.”
Go says his “ah-hah” moment on how to share the wealth of the music industry with all artists came during a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. “I heard a busker singing on a street corner and was floored. The guy nailed his song. I wanted to tip him but didn’t have any cash and there was no Venmo at the time. I felt really bad, but it made me think about a new way to pay artists.”
The new way ultimately became Go’s company Tambr, which he began building in 2015. In 2018, he completed his prototype and officially launched the platform and app. Tambr’s mission was to give all musicians a way to be heard while allowing them to monetize their music in a new and fair way. Fans then had a new way to find and support emerging talent or established local bands they might not have found without Tambr.
Tambr operates as a freemium model. There is no charge to musicians who use the platform, and they retain full ownership of their music. Users can listen for free but get ads as part of their experience. Premium users pay $7.99 a month. In addition to no longer having ads, premium users can listen to music offline and can back the artist of their choosing. This directs $2 a month of their subscription is paid to their favorite artist.
Go admits that some people roll their eyes at Tambr being just another streaming service. When they understand 25 percent of their subscription goes directly to an artist, they’re all in because of the ability to support artists. “We’re not trying to differentiate on price. We’re cheaper than Spotify and Pandora, but more expensive than a service like Ultimate Guitar Tabs. The price is really about trying to find a balance in the marketplace relative to our competition.”
To gain early traction, Go approached musician friends from his Notre Dame days as well as from his own professional career. Many gladly uploaded their music. Meanwhile, Go continued to iterate on the platform. In 2021, he added livestream capabilities. Performers immediately embraced it, some doing more produced sets from a club or other venue, while other artists streamed from their homes. Listeners now had the ability to donate to artists with just a click. The Tambr app is available on Google Play and the App Store.
The year 2021 was big for another reason. He earned a Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Chicago. He laughs at the story. “My wife wanted to go to medical school and let me know she’d be spending a lot of time studying for the MCA. I wanted to spend time with her, so I decided to study for the GMAT, the preparatory test for graduate school. I had no intention of going back to school. When I earned a top score, I didn’t want to waste it. I concentrated in Economics and Entrepreneurship and loved it.”
Go’s MBA was well-timed as he is now focused on scaling Tambr. In the early days, the company was funded with $200,000 from friends and family. Today, Tambr is cashflow positive. Go is preparing to launch a $700,000 pre-seed funding round, with the proceeds directed at user growth. “To give new musicians a path to build their careers and thus have real impact on the artist community, we need hundreds of thousands of users. Fortunately, it’s very doable.”
Go explains that regional bands often have followings of 20,000 plus on social media platforms like Instagram. Converting them to premium Tambr subscribers can generate to significant income. “If just 1,000 fans join Tambr as premium members and designate the band, that’s $2,000 in predictable monthly income. There are other ways for musicians to make money on Tambr such as direct donations and merchandise sales.”
The biggest challenge of Tambr to date is fundraising. The space is crowded with big names such as Spotify, TikTok, Apple, and Amazon. However, Go says they are not after the masses. Their target is the younger audience that enjoys finding new bands and solo musicians and appreciates the social mission of Tambr of supporting emerging artists. He also admits technology is not their moat. Rather, it’s the community of artists and listeners who support social change.
“When people say, ‘Do we need another music streaming service?’ my response is ‘Did we need another shoe company?’ and then I point to Allbirds, which also has a social mission and is very successful. They also have a good product. As a consumer product company, we have to deliver on every experience,” Go says.
His biggest win to date has seeing the excitement of artists who have embraced Tambr. “Some musicians are livestreaming performances every week. They are really excited to have a new tool. That’s the most gratifying thing for me,” Go says. “I’ve also discovered a lot of new music myself.”
Go’s advice to others who dream of starting a company: Be open to feedback.
“I spent way too much time not taking feedback,” he admits. “It’s your baby and when you get feedback it feels like a personal attack. Your baby is no longer your baby. Don’t be an arrogant S.O.B like I was. Learn how to discern useful and not useful advice. Startups are a tough journey. We all need advice.”