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Riki Goldstein

"JewishMusic Stream is still about classic kosher music”

Wednesday, March 20, 2019


lose to ten years ago, Jewish music aficionado YITZCHOK LEVINE found himself looking for Jewish music radio options to keep him company. Not finding any of the available options suiting his taste, he decided to create his own music streaming website. With a background in IT and web development, he was able to set up the site and backend servers himself — and it still remains a time-consuming “hobby.”

“We purchased the domain back in December 2009, and started off with a capacity of just 100 slots, meaning that just 100 people could connect at a time, but for the first while it normally maxed out at about ten” he says. The new system, which they decided to call simply JEWISHMUSIC STREAM, went through some hiccups until it took off, occasionally going off-line before starting up again. “Growth happened very gradually. We never formally advertised, but used social media to promote the Stream. We were discovered by people Googling ‘Jewish music’ or ‘Jewish radio’ and recommended by word of mouth,” says Yitzchok’s partner, YAAKOV BIDERMAN. “Look for Jewish music and we’re the first thing that comes up.”

Jewish stores in diverse locations soon began using the stream to create a heimish and relaxing atmosphere for their customers, which offered exposure to thousands more listeners. “A grocery in Paris and a paper goods store in Manchester would start to stream us, and suddenly people would e-mail from that location that they’re enjoying our music,” Yaakov says.

At the time, some of the other Jewish music radio sites were closely connected to music distributors or heavily promoting particular artists. JewishMusic Stream protects its independence, and with its selections, it aims to maintain what Yitzchok describes as a “traditional ben Torah approach.”

The most surprising request Yitzchok and Yaakov received was an e-mail in Arabic, asking them to add the songs of a prominent Muslim singer to the stream. But dozens of e-mails and requests flood in each day. “When we get many requests for a specific group that’s a little further from our traditional style, we sometimes make it available by request only,” Yaakov explains. “Other times, we’re contacted by artists who have recorded their own songs, released independently or on social media. In such cases, we have to judge if the music will be of interest to our public. Usually, being produced and distributed by the mainstream frum companies is an indicator of a better fit for us.”

Other requests include listeners wanting a separate stream for Israeli-style music, or for English songs. During the parts of Sefirah where different people have different minhagim, the JewishMusic Stream has one stream with a cappella songs only, and another with music. Some listeners have suggested making an a cappella channel available all year for those who are in aveilus.

Of course, running such a station is a balancing act: While some listeners request a broader range of songs, others send e-mails demanding that JewishMusic Stream take specific music down. The station walks a fine line, aiming for its music to be acceptable in every home.

One day, Yaakov recalls, he got a call from a major frum household-name corporation regarding advertising. “I asked them why they were reaching out to us, and the CEO replied that he had walked into a distribution center in England, manned by 50 chassidish employees, and JewishMusic Stream was playing over the loudspeaker. ‘Each group of chassidim has their own policies, their own standards and even their own media outlets, but if they could all listen to this one music stream it must be acceptable and absolutely not controversial,’ he told me.”

While streamed music offers the option of listening without purchase, Yitzchok has built in a click-to-buy option on every song that is played, so that JewishMusic Stream constantly sends customers to the music distributors.

Levine stresses that although they’re up to date with the latest technology, as they have a broad range of listeners (JewishMusic Stream is accessed on their website, as well as using Google Home devices, Chrome apps, iOS, Android apps, and Chrome extension, and was also the first online radio station to have an approved radio skill built into Amazon’s Alexa technology), he emphasizes that “musically, JewishMusic Stream is still about classic kosher music. No change there.”

 (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 753)

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