The three founding members of Sound Alliance are the unlikeliest pick of our powerful digital media players. But they’re showing the cashed-up, resource-rich players at the big end of town how to make a buck online.
We’ve bent the rules a little here and included all three founders of the thriving entertainment publishing business because Neil Ackland, Libby Clark and Andre Lackmann have all played a role in shaping Sound Alliance since its inception in 2001, and they represent that new generation of entrepreneurs that relies on collaboration.
Their stable of publications now includes inthemix, FasterLouder and SameSame. Earlier this year, they partnered with 50 other entertainment and music titles from across the globe to manage their advertising sales. Now, their network spans more than one million unique browsers, meaning at least that many Australian devices — an iPad, laptop or phone — make at least one visit to one of their sites over the course of a month.
But it’s not the audience figures that make Sound Alliance so remarkable, it’s the loyalty of its fans, and the fact that it has stayed true to the youth market it set out to serve. Ackland, Clark and Lackmann have also showed the traditional players that the best way to succeed in digital media is to build communities and deliver a platform that provides users with a sense of belonging. You also have to create (or fill) a need.
It comes down to one question, says Ackland, that the three keep asking themselves: “If one of our websites disappears totally tomorrow, would anybody care?”
Sound Alliance’s audience do keep coming back. They’re young, too. So why does that make them powerful? Because those 18-29 year-olds, which is Sound Alliances’ core market, will consume and engage with this rich content instantly — on their mobiles, tablets, through social networking — while making ticket purchases at the same time. And that’s what makes them relevant, despite their relatively small size.
The Power Index finds Ackland wearing the right mix of smart-casual that has him fitting in well within his Surry Hills surroundings when we call into his office. His staff may don a more casual appearance but Ackland’s the boss and it shows. The office is hidden behind what appears like a derelict building. Inside, it’s a converted warehouse with the right balance of open space and all the trappings to suggest that the cool kids live here.
There’s no music playing, an oddity for an office that thrives on a shared passion for noise. We’re told the office speaker system and portable turntables have been carefully unwired in preparation for their upcoming move. The Sound Alliance crew is shifting into the old MySpace digs down the road. Now there’s an omen.
Although there are three founders, The Power Index is invited only to interview Ackland. He’s the face, he says, and as the MD, he generally handles the media stuff. These people know their strengths, and while Lackmann works with the technology, Clark co-ordinates the content, Ackland handles the company face. He’s good at it, too.
Sound Alliance appears a smooth operation, an up-and-coming digital media company that, we’re told, has had several acquisition offers on the table from larger organisations. It has about 80 staff in Sydney and Melbourne, crossing editorial, sales and production.
But it has taken the company the better part of 10 years to get to where it is today.
Like many a start-up, Lackmann, Clark and Ackland spent their early days sharing ideas in the corner of an apartment. It was a joint passion that made it happen, rather than any lofty ambitions to build a business. Dance music made these three a trio. In 2001 (yes, after the bust) they saw an opening — in dance music and on the web — to build something unique online, a community.