One could argue that Epitonic was conceptualized on New Year's Day 1999. Leading up to that day, Aaron Newton had been working at an Internet startup called Cybergold as a programmer in the Bay Area, in the middle of the .com boom. He had been in discussions with his hometown friend Scott Bilby who was also very experienced in technology. They had developed a preliminary idea for a music site utilizing an emerging new audio compression format called the MP3. They decided to create a company and that their idea to create a platform for independent music via the MP3 also required someone with a music business background, so they contacted an acquaintance of Aaron's from college, Justin Sinkovich. Justin had been working in music as the US Label Manager of Southern Records so Aaron and Scott thought he could help out.
Aaron, Scott, and Justin emailed each other and talked on the phone about their ideas for the company toward the end of 1998. On New Year's Day of 1999, Scott and Justin flew into the San Francisco, where the three brainstormed an initial idea for a website. As they paced around a room, they came up with ideas for functionality, and then names, then searched for names' availability as a URL. After a couple of failed attempts at existing word combinations, the team wanted something that projected the idea, and related to San Francisco, the epicenter, and then music, or sound, or tone, tonic. Epi-tonic, the center of sound, Epitonic.com was then born at least in theory.
The three Epitonic founders then went out and created a company and started building a website. They did their best to assemble a team of friends who could help them achieve their goals of helping music fans, no matter where they live, to be able to learn about, listen to, and then decide whether to buy music. All three of the founders had grown up in small towns, and the idea of the Internet empowering the "geographically challenged" to have access to listening as much of the best new underground music as possible for free and by permission of the rights holders was the simple and pure catalyst in the creation of the site.
Over the period of a whirlwind year Epitonic became one of the first and most popular legal MP3 sites music fans discover new album, artists, genres and sub-genres through a targeted "indie" aesthetic, yet diverse offerings of rock, electronic, hip hop, jazz, folk, and much more. All of this great content was curated and presented by a very dedicated staff, all of which were true music lovers, practicing what they preached by show-going, touring, DJ'ing, producing, or simply having great music collections.
While gaining hundreds of thousands of unique monthly visitors, winning a Webby Award, and being nominated in the Wired Reader's Poll for "Best Music Site," (and losing to the original Napster), among other very appreciated accolades, Epitonic, like most other big websites from that era, raised quite a bit of money and spent it quickly. When the "dot com bubble burst," Epitonic was in trouble, and then was acquired by Chris Blackwell's Palm Pictures with a very forward thinking vision of including a Epitonic among a number of cutting edge brands including Rykodisc, Manga, RES, Sputnik 7, and Palm Pictures Film and Music. Several of the core Epitonic team ran the site for Palm including Aaron, Alex, Justin, Luke, and Jesse for some time with continued successes but limited revenue. Around 2004, Palm decided to shutter Epitonic.com to focus on other company priorities. The site remained online yet unchanged for years. A company called Echospin partnered with Palm in 2006 and attempted a re-launch, however an abandoned new site rendered the old content largely unusable. Audiotube then bought Epitonic to revive the site, but never quite got their new version complete and online.
In 2010, the former CEO of Audiotube, Karsten Becker owned Epitonic in full. He had been contacted a year or so prior to that by Justin Sinkovich who had always expressed interest in relaunching his old site. Karsten called Justin and a new two-person partnership was formed. Justin became the manager and principle owner, he was put in charge of reviving the site. He immediately started getting back in touch with most of the old staff. Everyone was super excited to be involved as best they could. Most were pretty busy with their other pursuits but most everyone aspired to at least be an editor.
On August 16, 2010 Justin and original Media Contact Colette Sandstedt announced that a relaunch was planned through a press release, a temporary splash page and daily download page built by Aaron Newton, and a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. The announcement caused a lot of excitement online and in the press, plus 86 people raised over $5000 on Kickstarter to fund the project, a crucial amount of funds since the site this time was funded by Justin's savings and the donation of time and resources. More and more friends started asking to help out and in a few months Epitonic had dozens of people working on the site, most of them for free.
The project took a bit longer than everyone expected with most people spare timing it, but in early 2011 everything started to come together. Everyone at Epitonic wanted to pick a date prior to SXSW to launch, and one day while discussing a launch date it dawned on the new staff that March 8th would be the 12th anniversary of the original site launch.
The date was set and a scramble to complete the site began. It wasn't much time for what they had to finish but they built something that would proudly mark a new beginning for Epitonic for such a beloved yet troubled website. The new site is a celebration of what the original site represented, being one of the first music discovery sites and representing independent music, while also enjoying the new technological opportunities that were not feasible back in the day. Epitonic hopes to be a pioneer in online music again, and the first step was to get a renovated version of the old site with some key new features up for Epitonic's 12th anniversary. Now that it is online, an extensive list of new functionality will continue to be introduced in the coming weeks and months as time and resources allow. What is important is that it again exists. We cannot always right the wrongs of the past and cannot always bring back something that we miss and care about, but in this case we have. We even had twelve amazing artists generously premiere new tracks to celebrate the relaunch, a track for every year of the site's existence.
This relaunch is dedicated to everyone who has cared about Epitonic. Thank you to the original founders and staff and to the new staff. Thank you to all of the companies and people at those companies who stepped in to try to keep Epitonic online over the years. Thanks to everyone who has ever stayed up late working on some functionality or editorial, those fought through financial and other administrative frustrations. Thank you to all of the great labels and artists we've worked with. Finally and most importantly, thank you to all of the users if you are reading this you did not give up! This is just the beginning, the beginning of the resurrection of the center of sound, the new beginning of Epitonic.
Epitonic Party - November 11 1999
Founders Aaron Newton and Justin Sinkovich
Epitonic Retreat - November (?) 1999
Third founder Scott Bilby
Epitonic Retreat - November (?) 1999
Epitonic Ski Trip - February 21 2001
Epitonic Ski Trip - February 21 2001