I'm sitting at my computer. It's about 11:00 in the morning.
I'm listening to my streaming LAUNCHcast when I hear a familiar tune. It's "Dig" by the stalwart of early '90s alternative Christian music, Adam Again. However, it's not the dark acoustic and reverb and nasal voice of Gene Eugene – it's lighter acoustics and Dan Haseltine's gentler voice leading the harmonies of Jars of Clay.
I suddenly stare at my computer with a start – I didn't know they covered that!
And I have something to look up later.
Just as I did when I heard a Jimmy Eat World song I hadn't heard before last week – "Dizzy," from the Chase That Light album – and was so affected by the song that I just went out that night and – shock, horror – paid money at the record store for the album.
Just as I did nearly ten years ago when the song was a set of snare drums ahead of some thin electric guitars that heralded the start of Sarge's "Charms and Feigns," and I simply had to know who that woman singing that song was.
LAUNCHcast has been a wonderful old friend. And it's going away. By the time you read this, it may already be gone.
The guys who started up LAUNCH Media in Santa Monica in 1999 had quite a few good ideas. I remember hitting up their website several times in the formative days, watching music videos and reading music news. God knows how many people they sucked in – or nearly repelled away – with ads featuring a new video by a new starlet, Britney Spears (those were the days). But there was plenty of music-based content to keep your eyes trained.
And then there was LAUNCHcast.
Start rating your favorite artists, your favorite songs, your favorite genres. The scale goes from 0 to 100. Your station is then compared to other stations, especially those who rated similar songs high, and there would be an electronic hunt for songs that you might like. "Music that listens to you" is the promise.
Even if it had been a false promise, I might have still been hooked at the mere concept. It wasn't a false promise. The station began to figure out my favorite styles of music immediately, and select new stuff that I had never heard of and immediately loved. The programming of the widget was simply amazing.
I think we frequently overlook the kind of talent it requires to code an app like LAUNCHcast, and to make it work broadly for so many people. So many people whose names we'll never know deserve a rich, deep round of applause for this one. For my part: Todd Beaupre, Jeff Boulter, and every coder around you two who hacked the thing together, SAAA-LUTE.
It's hard to continue the story too far beyond this point without mentioning the raging battle between LAUNCH and the recording industry. Lawsuits began to crop up, using phrases like "unlicensed use of music" and "unapproved level of interactivity." I simply can't understand the threat behind allowing listeners of music to choose the music they listen to when they listen to a radio station. The volumes written about the RIAA's control-freak nature are simply too overwhelming for me to add anything of value to them. This isn't for them, anyway; too many people see the commodity and miss the riff, the groove, the killer lyric, the joy of listening to music.
The small community that grew up around LAUNCH – and I especially remember Todd Beaupre's simple username, "hitsman," and the wonderful adult alternative station he assembled that was a pretty essential "influencer" station – had no part of this. There were just a ton of really cool people who had wonderful and interesting tastes in music. As a late 20-something who was in a music-listening rut, so many of those stations were absolute revelations. I discovered Sunny Day Real Estate on LAUNCHcast. The Frames and Glen Hansard. The Promise Ring. Lincoln. American Football. Coheed & Cambria. I rediscovered many of my loves from college radio – Animal Logic, Poole, Kirsty MacColl, Hüsker Dü, and Roseanne Cash's amazing Interiors album.