Encore – lights up or curtain call?

The Tab interviews James McAulay, one of the creators of new Cambridge online music service Encore.

On a particularly blustery Monday night, The Tab dived into the relative warmth and dryness of the nearest coffee shop to meet with one of the founders of new online music service, Encore—set to make a bit of a splash in Cambridge.

We were greeted by a slightly drenched but beaming James McAulay, 21, a recently graduated Computer Scientist from Fitzwilliam College, now pouring all his energy into this exciting project. Headed by McAulay and fellow creator James King, formerly at Queens’ College, the Encore team have already been tapping on the new musical intake.

“I’ve been camping out at West Road all weekend with the CUMS auditions. There were so many musicians going through the road and it was the best time to get people on board.”

He couldn’t wait to whip out his laptop to show us the website—the result of “a couple of months of basement programming”.

It looks like a pretty nice basement

It looks like a pretty nice basement

Aiming to revolutionise the way students manage live music, the site allows Cambridge musicians to create a profile, build a sort of musical CV and then get involved in and source players for concerts and performances, as well as help them to find out what musical events are on in Cambridge—of which there are hundreds. McAulay pinpoints the Camdram service, which helps students navigate the equally busy drama scene in Cambridge, as a sort of parallel to Encore.

“At least for a year or two, people have been saying ‘Why doesn’t one exist for musicians?’ and essentially, in Cambridge terms, that’s what Encore is—Camdram for musicians. That’s not how we’re marketing it but it serves the same purpose.”  He claims that their site might even outdo the other, in the way that Encore profiles puts faces to names.

And so we get to the core of Encore’s mission—to fight what the team see as a certain “nepotistic” attitude in the Cambridge music scene. McAulay describes his occasional frustration with the scene and its “lack of transparency”:

“…it’s done very much on who you know. I had a fresher asking me over the weekend “How do I get involved in things—how do people get their name around?” He had an instrumental award and was probably going to get into on the top orchestras…but if you haven’t known about or auditioned for any of that then from the start you’re already sort of discounted. It’s hard to break in if you haven’t already got an established profile.”

Colourful Publicity

Not quite see-through yet

An Encore profile, on the other hand, has a section to list previous achievements and performances. “It’s much easier to give an idea about your standard and ability. It’s much more of a meritocracy.”

The Tab wonders if these profiles and CVs won’t descend into shameless self-promotion. It’s a fear, he admits, the team shares. Some musicians may be just see it as a cheap way of creating a website. McAulay reminds us all music involves a little self-promotion but they are sure Encore is creating “a level playing field”. He also admits, since the last launch last Friday, that reactions to the site across the University have not been consistent. “Some colleges have definitely been warmer than others”.

Despite this, the Encore team are very optimistic. They’ve already introduced a competition—the College music society with the most signups by midday Friday gets a free case of wine—but with over 300 signups at the time of writing, it seems they hardly need to offer incentives.

And with such personalities behind the project, it seems unlikely it will disappear quietly. McAulay himself, who turned down places at music college to come to Cambridge, has an very impressive CV, which includes founding the indispensable WhichMayBall site.

Team Portrait

Power couple, James King (left) and James McAulay (right), who reportedly “Loves Cindies, hates Life” (image: Martin Rolph)

If all goes well, the site may grow. “It definitely has a future beyond Cambridge”. But for now, the enthusiastic “tight-knit community” of the university is the perfect testing ground. “It’s very very exciting”.

Encore? Time will be decide if we want more.