Classical music streaming made in Berlin

Interview with music tech startup IDAGIO


Berlin-based music streaming service Idagio has been turning heads for offering a new way of curating and consuming classical music in a post-CD world. Founded in 2015, the company aims to make classical music accesible to more people around the world. With more than 1.6 million downloads and their use base spread across more than 190 countries, we took the chance to sit down with Idagio Co-founder Christoph Lange at their Berlin office to talk about why classical music needed its own streaming service, why he thinks Berlin is the best place for tech-startups and what makes working for Idagio so special.

In simple terms: What is Idagio about?

Idagio is classical music streaming. That’s what we do. The “about“ part is a little bit more aspirational. Why are we doing this? Ultimately we’re a bunch of people who are very passionate about classical music and our mission is to make sure, that more people listen to classical music.

We’ve recently had this study published where we showed that classical music is the fourth most popular genre in the world. Our ambition is to make that number one. We feel that there is such a rich history to be discovered and we’re really eager and excited to share that with the world. People in 190 countries actually listen to classical music via Idagio so a big part of our „why are we here?“ is: We want to make sure that around the world more and more people are listening to classical music, and Idagio is a great service to do that.

What does the team of Idagio look like and what are the latest accomplishments?

To answer your first part of the question: It’s definitely a very diverse team. We are over 80 people from more than 30 countries - even for Berlin standards that is pretty high. We have a lot of people that are very passionate about classical, but at the same time  are very passionate about technology and digital products. I think that’s a big part of what makes Idagio so unique. Bringing these two together in an organic way through attracting engineers and software developers who are passionate about classical music, who come from the US and move here to Berlin specifically to join Idagio.

In terms of recent achievements, I think something that we are really proud of, is the catalogue that we have put together. Because it is not just putting music online and saying “we licensed all these recordings, let’s put them online“. We have a team of 15 people here in Berlin and another 20 to 30 in Bratislava, that do nothing else but to edit all the meta-data around the recordings. Together with the music that we put on the platform it really builds this amazing library, probably the most extensive library you can imagine, because it’s built purely for classical. And I think that’s an achievement that we continue to be proud of.

How is Idagio different from services like Spotify, Apple Music or Deezer?

What sets us apart from other streaming services is who we’re building the service for, which are the people that are really, really passionate about classical music, the aficionados. The world of classical music is not explained by artist, album, track. You need to know: who is the composer? You need to know:  what’s the work you’re listening to? You need to know: what’s the movement that I’m listening to in a symphony? You need to know: who is conducting? Which interpretation style speaks to me the most?  With Idagio you can search for „Beethoven 5“ and you’ll see all the interpretations on one screen. So it’s super easy to say „ah okay, I didn’t know there are 12 recordings with the Berliner Philarmoniker, let me skip through and see which one I personally like.“

For people who are new to classical, we have our mood player, because we noticed that when you ask „why do you put on classical music?“ a lot of people answer „well, it’s really great music to help me calm down or relax, because it’s so peaceful.“ So we decided to give them an option to say „I want peaceful, classical music – or radiant, or festive and much more“. It’s curated by people who really know their stuff in classical, so you’re not getting some random tracks. These people are experts, who have dedicated their lives to this. They selected these tracks, so you don’t have to know all of this - you can just go in and say „peaceful“ and off you go.

„Berlin is clearly the classical music capital in the world“

Why did you launch Idagio in Berlin and not any other major (European) city?

That’s actually an easy one to answer, I’d say, because straight forward: It’s a great place to start a business like Idagio. On the one hand, Berlin is clearly the classical music capital in the world. We have more than a handful of orchestras situated in the city, we have four opera houses, we have the Berliner Philharmoniker, arguably amongst the top three orchestras in the world. So much history of classical music took place in Berlin as well.

On the other hand, you have this whole innovative startup ecosystem with their digital products, software developments and new technologies. Why would we do this in San Francisco? This wouldn’t come out of the Silicon Valley. It doesn’t make sense. You might have the technology expertise there, but classical? They might also have great orchestras, but certainly not the history and richness in terms of classical music culture that Berlin has.

Why do you think Berlin is the classical music capital in the world? Has it always been the number one or do you see a shift in recent years?

I think in terms of classical music that was the case for many, many decades, if not more. I mean if you look at the history of classical composers,German speaking countries always played a huge role in classical and so did Berlin with e.g. the Berliner Philharmoniker and Deutsche Grammophon. What has changed is the startup ecosystem and the digital space.

I remember the first time in Berlin in 2006, when I co-founded a streaming service called Simfy, you really knew the people by name who were doing something with digital startups. It was a group of maybe 50-60 people. And that just exploded in the past years, which is great, because back then it was really hard to find someone who had done what you are about to do and could share experiences. There was no one who built up a team of engineers in Berlin. Nowadays you essentially just have to pick up the phone and you’ll be on the line with someone who did that at Zalando, who did that for any of the Rocket Internet companies or Soundcloud. So that network has definitely changed and made it a lot easier to start a company here.

„You have a lot of venture capitalists actively investing in Berlin“

So networking and finding talent is easier now?

Definitely. And I would even add finding fundraising is a lot easier as well. There are a lot more business angels for seed money, people who have successfully excited their companies and are now giving back to the startup ecosystem by investing, which makes it easier to start. And you also have a lot of venture capitalists in actively investing in Berlin specifically. Not just German investors anymore, but international investors, European investors and more and more US and Chinese investors, looking at companies specifically in Berlin.

There is this NOAH Conference once a year, where essentially all the major venture capitalists of the western world are present in Berlin. In the past, you would say „forget about American investors“ because what they will tell you is „This is a great business, but I’m not willing to fly from San Francisco to Berlin for a board meeting. I have enough companies to invest in here in the Valley.” That has changed because there is a lot of potential in the city and the ecosystem.

Are there any obvious cons of launching a startup in Berlin?

To a certain degree German bureaucracy is a limiting factor sometimes, it slows you down more than it should. At the same time I don’t think it’s as grimm as people paint it. Actually, we have never really had any major problems, like getting a work visa for someone that we wanted to hire. I think given that Berlin is a pretty international city, it’s also easy for people who are moving here to work for Idagio, to just get started and have a social life outside of this company.

There is a sense of stability when it comes to the economic setup. I mean just look at the situation in the UK at the moment. Brexit is a major issue for many, many startups where they suddenly have half their employees wondering „Am I still welcome and allowed to work here in the future?“. That uncertainty is not here in Berlin. It’s a pretty good spot to build a company like Idagio.

What’s your vision for your company’s future?

To make classical music the most popular genre in the world. Any startup is rather a marathon than a sprint. It’s not a project that you do and then half a year later you’re out. But I think particularly for Idagio it’s the case, because there are expectations set already by some great services like Spotify and apple music about what the minimum convenience level for streaming services is, so we have to replicate that. On top of that, we have to add value and that is not something that you do over night. You have to build a great service to gain and build trust with the community first and then over time, I think this can turn into a really powerful contribution to a degree that it’s actually possible to turn classical into the most popular genre. If you build a great product that really inspires a lot of people, not just the aficionados of this world, then that could actually happen.

Thank you for the Interview, Christoph!

Interview: Spring.Brandideas.

All images: © IDAGIO