When James Jones needed extra income to cover his tuition at Notre Dame University, the self-professed music junkie turned to his passion for the answer.
“My college life consisted of two things,” he says, all joking aside: “I studied and made music…my best friends were my turntables and my weekends were spent on the clock.”
As his name and repuation for sweet sounds began spreading around campus, things really started picking up for Jones.
Eventually, the demand for his time had reached levels even he didn’t see coming. The problem then was Jones could naturally only be at one venue at a time, and he found himself tapped out at 3-4 live shows per weekend.
“I was going from one show to the next to the next and still turning down additional opportunities. I ended up double booking and realized that I really needed to duplicate myself and work smarter,” he recalls.
“How can I do 8-16 or more gigs every weekend?”
It was in response to that question that Jones taught himself objective-C to develop an application that could test his theory of offering DJ services remotely and on demand, at a fraction of the price.
His invention began as a single customized session he made for house party that wanted his talent but couldn’t capture his time. While Jones was unable to be there in person he sent them a pre-recorded audio track that he had made just for them and they loved it.
SparkDJ, as it would come to be branded, has evolved to use automation, machine learning, and live feedback to create a personal DJ using libraries of popular and underground tracks, seamlessly woven together the way a good DJ does it.
“It’s replacing DJ’s with data science, doing what the PBX machine did with phone operators or the ATM with bank tellers,” he explains. “There’s a lot of analysis, a combination of technology and manual efforts involved. This is more complex than I ever thought it would be but I believe it’s going to be worth it,” he asserts.
As his college days have since passed, Jones is still pursuing his passion for music on nights and weekends, while working full time at Target. Instead of spinning records, he’s crafting code and developing a full blown mobile app.
SparkDJ is currently in usability testing in Apple’s app store with the first release expected this fall; his gameplan is to charge hourly for the service at higher rates than your typical streaming services — Spotify, Pandora, iTunes — while users would still pay significantly less than it would cost for a live DJ, which runs hundreds to thousands per gig.
“My research indicites that there is about $6b annually spent on live DJs,” Jones says. “The feeling walking in a club and hearing live music is something we cannot yet use technology to repoduce, and I don’t think SparkDJ will ever top that. There’s bound to be a percentage of those who will find the cost benefit of this unique experience to be worth paying something for.”
This entrepreneurs persistent persuit and fresh approach to shake up the world of music has earned Jones a spot on the Minnesota Cup semifinalist list for 2016.