We’re sitting down with leaders on the business side of the creator economy to get their best advice for creators looking to launch and develop their careers. This week, we spoke with Ryan Star, the CEO and founder of live audio app Stationhead.
Stationhead is an app that allows users—including musicians, fans, and a variety of creators—to host live radio shows. On the app, show hosts can chat with and call-in fans, receive tips, and play music which counts towards streams on Spotify and Apple Music.
Today, Stationhead announced a fundraising round which brought in over $16 million in investment to grow and improve its platform.
We spoke with Star about the founding of Stationhead; how the app is gearing itself towards creators; how fandom-creators, celebrities, and other influencers are making use of the app; its global appeal; and forming deeper connections beyond one-way content creation.
In 1995, a young up-and-coming musician, known as Ryan Star, entered a song-writing contest hosted by radio station Z100 with his high school rock band, Stage. Star and his bandmates won and were lucky enough to receive a huge prize: opening a concert for rock legend Bon Jovi. After he won the contest, Star said he was “discovered”—his song was played on the radio, and he was soon signed by the one-and-only Madonna’s Maverick Records.
“The idea there was some gatekeeper, right, took a shot on my band,” Star told Passionfruit in an interview. “That’s just how it was back then, someone took a shot on you.”
Star was able to build out an impressive music career, breaking hit songs and writing for radio and television. However, as time passed, Star said he felt the radio format he knew and loved was no longer keeping up with a world where kids dream of becoming YouTube creators, Twitch streamers, and Instagram stars.
“Nobody took radio and made a digital experience for it for a democratized, decentralized, non-gatekeeper world,” Star said. “I really understood that old model was dying, yet I loved the feeling of talking to someone on air, taking a call from a fan, playing music, putting them onto a record, or playing my own music and putting context around the songs I make.”
In 2016, Star decided to launch his own media platform to translate the aspects of radio he loved to a new social-media-obsessed artistic world—making him a bit ahead of the curve compared to other live audio apps like Clubhouse, founded in 2020; Twitter’s Spaces, founded in 2020; and Amazon’s Amp, founded this year.
Stationhead allows users to host live radio shows, call-in guest hosts, chat with each other, get tipped by fans, and stream music from Spotify and Apple Music—streams which count towards actual listens on those platforms. Although the marketing for Star’s pioneer live audio app seems geared toward music fandom and celebrity musician encounters, he’s encouraging diverse creators with varying audience sizes to participate.
“I saw incredible value in knowing my fans, knowing my true supporters, knowing who they are—not just some number on a streaming site,” Star said. “That core, that part, is what I think has built this creator economy. Like, you don’t need to be Lady Gaga, you really just need to be on a journey with great supporters who love you and want to be a part of that experience.”
Star told Passionfruit he thinks many creators are tired of fleeting moments of virality on other apps like TikTok and still crave a live, long-form way of connecting with others—to go deep on their art and explain its context.
“There’s so many platforms to get exposure and get out there, yet where are the platforms to actually give context and tell the stories around music with your fans?” he said. “That authenticity and that floor to speak about the music has kind of been lost.”
Stationhead attracts independent musicians promoting their own music; non-music creators looking for a talk show platform; niche and genre-obsessed individuals crafting a station based on what they love; die-hard fans creating fandom content; and big-time celebrities who show up live to greet the people making content around their music.
One fandom-content creator named Blez (@sb19usatin) is behind a fan group for U.S.-based followers of Filipino boy-band SB19. Blez’s group has attracted over 6,400 followers and 113,000 listens on Stationhead. In an email, Blez told Passionfruit he thinks Stationhead is a unique place to communicate deeply and easily with others.
“Stationhead allows me to be organized and keep up with the listeners’ requests while continuing a pleasant conversation in the chatbox,” Blez described. “I have interviewed several [Filipino pop] artists, YouTubers, and other fellow members of the [SB19] fandom that seemed to have enjoyed being on Stationhead as well. They all thought that it was so cool to have such a platform that can stream music simultaneously and interact with the other listeners.”
Star said superfans of musicians are able to organically attract massive celebrities—including big names like Cardi B, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Shawn Mendes, Alicia Keys, and Machine Gun Kelly to name a few—to the app without any recruitment from Stationhead’s end.
“The fans love it because they’re together as a community, supporting their favorite artists, having fun, celebrating the art, and then the artists love it because they have a button on their phone that in any moment they could pop in and feel their best fans that love them,” Star said.
Beyond celebrities, small and mid-size creators have come to the platform to build small communities and make friends. Star attests that he has seen smaller musicians with just a couple thousand listens on Spotify attain tens of thousands of listens due to their networking on Stationhead—largely due to the fact that live-streams on the platform count towards unique streams on Spotify and Apple Music.
Aside from musicians and music-lovers, if you scroll down the Stationhead leaderboard, you’ll find a wide variety of users beyond those interested in music. Among these users are talk show hosts and some more-classic creators—who have thousands or even millions of followers on Instagram or Twitter for comedy, fashion, lifestyle, and other content—who use the app to connect live with their fans in interesting ways.
One such creator is Cynthia Okeke, a pop culture, reality TV, and global news commentator and influencer based in West Africa. Okeke has cultivated a self-described “safe place for self-expression” for her followers known as the Pepper Room (@pepperroom), which has cultivated over 76,800 followers on Instagram.
On the Pepper Room’s Stationhead page, which has over 3,700 followers and 452,000 listens, Okeke regularly goes live to discuss the latest cultural and political news that has interested her audience. Although Okeke does utilize the music function, the primary goal of the page is cultivating a deeper connection with fans—users comment, and are even called in live, to participate and share their thoughts on news stories.
In a message to Passionfruit on Twitter, Okeke said she prefers Stationhead to other livestream apps, saying it was ahead of the curve on allowing multiple audience members to call-in on a live stream. Another significant reason Okeke says she uses Stationhead is its internationally-friendly live tipping feature—although Okeke is popular on Instagram, its live stream tipping feature known as “badges” is currently unavailable in Africa.
“Stationhead doesn’t discriminate, especially when it comes to countries in Africa,” Okeke said. “Stationhead has been a wonderful tool to connect with my audience all around the world.”
Star said in a creator-driven, globalized digital world, live-streaming is an integral part of the future.
“It’s a little more of a creator world. I don’t believe the antenna will go away, it’s a part of the infrastructure and someone will need it on a rainy day,” Star said. “But with all these communities celebrating music and talking globally I believe the future is communities streaming live together.”
Star advised all creators seeking a living off their passions, whether they are musicians or not, to look for deeper connections beyond just one-way content creation. In regards to monetization, he encourages creators to look beyond selling merchandise or physical products and seek out fans who will pay for live interaction.
“Platforms like Patreon or PledgeMusic really paved the way, for like, ‘Hey, there’s more things here than just the product we thought we were selling,’ because in fact people want the experience, they’d rather come meet me and talk to me and maybe get a picture than just buy something they didn’t need,” Star said. “For any creator listening, whatever platform is theirs, I think it’s important to have a place to get that support.”
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