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Article updated: 10/13/2011 9:54 AM

Area men develop website to sample indie bands

By Burt Constable

In an economy where most recent college graduates are satisfied, even thrilled, to be employed, lifelong friends Dan Arwady and Jim Skuros kept thinking about the next big thing.

"I took a job, he got a job, but we'd get together once a month to discuss entrepreneurial ideas," says Arwady, 25, who lives in Arlington Heights.

"We've always had that relationship where it's always, 'Wouldn't it be cool if…?'" says Skuros, 24, who grew up in Park Ridge and recently moved to Chicago.

Their newly launched website -- SoundOff.fm -- is entrepreneurial, cool and built around their mutual love of music. The free site gives indie bands and musicians from all genres a chance to post their music, lure fans, promote gigs and compete in a unique competition format that strips away identities and pits performers against each other in head-to-head battles featuring only anonymous 20-second clips from songs.

"We've been called the ultimate battle of the bands, but I think we're more like that blind taste test in the 'Pepsi Challenge,'" Arwady says. "You hear two songs and choose A or B. After you vote, then you see the information."

Listeners who vote earn credits. Bands and solo artists earn credits. Everyone can buy credits. And credits can be used to purchase music downloads and earn more perks. The site links with Facebook and has the potential to grow into a Twitter-size application, say the SoundOff partners, who have the business training where lingo such as "enterprise applications," "Google analytics," "paid search" and "self-cleansing algorithms" rolls off their tongues.

Both graduates of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Skuros majored in management of information systems and now works with computers, social media and other technology developments, while Arwady was a marketing major who went on to grad school and now works for an advertising agency.

But they both have musical roots. A drummer in the jazz band and marching band at Rolling Meadows High School, Arwady still performs everywhere from bars to weddings with bands such as The Masters and Sure Fire Groove, and also does studio work. Skuros, who graduated from Maine South High School, worked as a DJ in high school and in college.

"I've always been intrigued by musicians because I think they are the most passionate people I've met," Skuros says.

SoundOff.fm gives musicians a chance to get their music to the public and see what people think about it, Arwady says. Musicians post 20-second sound clips of their work, and the site uses blind, random testing technology to link two songs in a competition voted on by listeners. But listeners can opt to hear entire tracks, and bands also can directly challenge each other. While Arwady and Skuros say the site is "intuitive" and easy to use, it features plenty of options, such as a tool that rewards listeners who have a knack of voting for the most popular bands. Other applications are in the works and Arwady says they are expanding a gamelike element where listeners "could manage a band, almost like a fantasy football thing."

"We went through a painstaking process to engineer this site," Skuros says.

The friends, who have known each other their entire lives because their moms became friends in college, say they've invested about $6,000 in the site and can make money when people purchase credits to download songs or promote their music.

Musicians uploaded 350 songs in the first week of the site, which allows for an eclectic mix of genres including alternative, rock, hip-hop/rap, metal, country, pop, electric, R&B/soul, Christian & gospel, dance, singer/songwriter, jazz, reggae, blues, easy listening, vocals, new age, soundtrack/film score, world music, anime, children's music, classical, opera and comedy.

"Amateur comedians can even pit their jokes against each other and find out who's funnier," Skuros says.

Trying to find new and interesting music across the Internet can take forever and prove fruitless, but SoundOff.fm boils it down to a 20-second chance to be impressed.

"If it's just about the music," Arwady says, "who is going to come out ahead?"

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