While warming up prior to a game a few years ago, former NFL lineman Jason Fox noticed Cam Newton nearby with his hood up, dancing.
Fox’s Detroit Lions were set to take on the Carolina Panthers, but the routine stretching let his mind wander to what music Newton was getting into the zone to.
“Almost instantly I was like, ‘Man there are 85,000 people here and millions more who would love to be in his headphones,’” Fox said.
Jump forward several years and Fox is hard at work perfecting his app, EarBuds, to allow for better music sharing — in real time and archived — so fans can listen to what Newton listens to while he warms up or what The Rock listens to while he works out or is on set.
The final catalyst to start the business was in 2016, as Fox was finishing up his football career and watched the Olympics. Swimming great Michael Phelps had an iconic moment where he was listening to music with an apparently angry face as he waited for his event. Millions of people tweeted at him to ask what he was listening to.
“People were so curious,” Fox said. “Music is the only medium not shared. Pictures, videos, statuses, friends, work connections all are shared readily on the major social networks. Music has remained incredibly stagnant, which is crazy because it’s inherently social.”
Initially, Fox was held back from starting the business because he knew it would be difficult and he wondered why no one else had launched a similar service and it seemed too obvious.
Eventually, he went with it.
“I was just the type of guy that sees an opportunity and wants to bet on myself and went for it,” he said.
Fox built the beta version in 2017 and worked out initial kinks. EarBuds was then funded with what Fox called a “pre-seed” round to help iterate a real product. For a year now, EarBuds has brought all aspects of the company in-house and is headquartered in Austin, Texas.
EarBuds lets users broadcast the music being listened to at the moment and lets other users synchronize, but also allows to collaborate, save songs and is provider agnostic. EarBuds already has integrated with Spotify and Apple Music, allowing for cross listening without hiccups. Fox said the goal has never been to be a competitor to providers of music.
The app launched in January and is currently in a slow rollout so the company can solve any major glitches before any potential major wave of users. Fox said he’s preferred the organic step-by-step growth rather than a massive launch. Early on, Fox said the company has received excitement from the streaming services, labels, sports teams, athletes and celebrities, and brands.
There’s already at least one NFL quarterback enjoying the app: Cleveland Browns signal-caller Baker Mayfield.
“EarBuds lets you listen in on my world, right along with me,” Mayfield said. “Whether that’s pregame, or when I’m training during the offseason, or even hanging around the house. Snag songs you love for your own playlists.
“Livestream your picks whenever you’re inspired. My music is your music, and you can be the judge. When I’m up on EarBuds, it’s real. It’s real-time. It’s authentically me.”
While the initial idea for the product was to allow famous people to share their music with their fans, there was a broader use for the product Fox said wasn’t on the radar to start. The early testing showed people finding a variety of uses, like syncing music on the golf course, during marathons and on the ski slopes.
Sharing music is primarily done through screenshots and YouTube links, Fox said, so he believes his app to be a major disruptor.
“We’ve found so many unique use cases,” he said. “The real opportunities are in peer-to-peer music sharing. This is a way to share in real time, or just like in Instagram, see what people were doing in the past.”
He doesn’t want to spread too much excitement, but Fox shared he has several big-name athlete supporters. When the time comes, the platforms of athletes and celebrities will be important to its success.
“It’s another way for them to connect to their followers,” Fox said. “Listening to what The Rock is listening to on set or Kylie Jenner works out is our biggest ace up our sleeve to spread the word.”