Rachel Van Nortwick Can Help You Push Play On Love

Category: POV Podcast

Author: Aria Vega

Rachel Van Nortwick is the founder and CEO of Vinylly, a dating app that makes matches based on your music streaming data. She was inspired by her own intense passion for music, plus the bonding power of dopamine, released in the brain by both music and meeting someone special.

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Podcast Transcript:

Aria Vega [00:00:00] This podcast contains explicit content. Listener's discretion is advised. POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.

Aria Vega [00:00:17] Rachel Van Nortwick is the founder and CEO of Vinylly, a new dating app that uses your Spotify data to make matches. Rachel, who has attended over 500 live shows in her life, is just as passionate about music as Vinylly's userbase. She even keeps a list of those shows where she counts the times she's seen each artist.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:00:37] This is going to sound kind of nuts, but I really have seen almost every single artist on my bucket list. Not to say that I don't enjoy seeing artists I've never even heard of, or other artists. So now I kind of pair... If I go see someone play and I've seen them before, I want to go experience a new venue that I've never been to, because that's also part of the experience too is, what if you can go see someone, let's say, in a more intimate venue, that just amplifies like kind of the connection and the overall experience.

Aria Vega [00:01:10] So clearly this love of music is the key inspiration behind your dating app, Vinylly. Tell me about when it first occurred to you to channel that passion this way.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:01:21] Sure. So obviously I'm a bit obsessive about music and seeing music. When I was a kid, I'd listen to my parents' records and that was my first exposure to music. So I listened to what they had, and they had like folk music, rock music, I mean, a lot of music from the sixties (and it was the eighties). So I got really interested in the influences from that time to the music that I was hearing on the radio. So I've always been just super interested in the way that music in and of itself is connected. There was a project called the Music Genome Project, which actually is a take on the Human Genome Project, which shows how humans are connected. With the Music Genome Project. They broke music down into a lot of different components, but basically were able to make, if you could picture a really huge tree that shows how different genres, artists, subgenres are all connected and the influences. I just thought that was really, really cool because you might think, Oh, I like Madonna, let's say at that time, right? And she's totally not related to B.B. King. Not the case, right? You can kind of track back that map, and I've just always been fascinated with it. So that being said, as I'm watching my friends and family like swipe constantly [on dating apps] and get nowhere, and those same people were huge music fans. It occurred to me, there should be an app that is devoted to matching people based on music, and that actually has a degree of complexity where it's not just going to be matching based on, you and I like this exact same artist because actually there's a lot more depth behind the music we like and the influences, that we actually could connect and wouldn't even realize it. So I set out to do that, created the app and founded Vinylly in 2016. It had been a thought before that, kind of made it happen and got working on it. Then the app itself was live in the US iOS App Store, in Canada as well, in October 2019.

Aria Vega [00:03:36] But of course, we all know what happened next. When the pandemic took hold in the following spring, Rachael had to think on her feet. Fortunately, she was able to quickly retrofit one of Vinylly's key features.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:03:50] Within the app, we had built a really cool feature where you're in the chat and you don't have to leave the chat to search and suggest concerts as a first date, and then you can actually buy tickets within the app. So it's sort of like one-stop shop. Then of course, less than six months later, concerts stopped, so we had to pivot really quickly. We we had to build our own feed for live stream concerts that work the same way. So we built that, stood that up really quickly. We've kept that alongside the live concert search. But I will tell you, what's crazy is, and this is something you could never have planned for, but the pandemic saw dating apps as a category trend in a huge way, because no one going to go out to meet anybody. People were super lonely, you know? So dating apps, even people, I think, who were getting fatigued maybe with dating apps they had been on just said, You know what, I just need to meet someone. I need to have human banter, at least something, right? So the dating apps surged, and so we were a benefit of that. We also provided an opportunity to be pure and about something positive, because also at that time, there was a lot of like political stuff, and a lot of divisive things going on in our world, and music kind of breaks right through that. So I think people saw it as a safe and positive space as well. You know, we also have Concert Buddies on the app. We don't talk about that as much as I probably should! So you can meet platonically with somebody and you can match the same way, and listen to the music that they're listening to and find out all about them before you "push play" on them. But you can just be on the app, you can be a couple and say, "Hey, we're looking for friends that likewhat a lot of people think is 'weird' or 'eclectic' music," which it never is! But if you're looking for people like-minded, it doesn't have to be for dating.

Aria Vega [00:05:57] I like that dating apps are beginning to evolve to expand beyond that specific, You're on here looking for romantic and or sexual connections only. I feel like it's becoming more like front and center that people are looking for connection. People are open to a wide range of connections, and they want to use applications that are designed to present them with a variety of different connections. Like Bumble BFF β€” I know we keep talking about Bumble, but I'm just thinking more of them are encompassing these features that are making it apparent like, Hey, if you want to use like this type of feature to meet people for different reasons, you should!

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:06:42] Yeah, I think just in general, people and relationships and gender, gender roles... There's so many things that are more fluid now, and relationships are maybe less traditional and also too, sometimes people like to kind of slow-play it, especially on dating apps. Not to say that Concert Buddies couldn't turn into dating also, right? Single people can say, I just want to dip my toe in. And the cool thing about music too, if you are concert buddies, it's like music as the perfect group date too, right? So many people go to concerts with a bunch of friends, versus like some other dates would be obviously as two people, so it lends itself to that. But I think overall people's definition of how to meet somebody or what a relationship is, this kind of is kind of evolving.

Aria Vega [00:07:37] Whether romantic or platonic, Vinylly makes matches by analyzing your streaming data. Just play your music like you normally would, and let the app do the rest. No swiping necessary.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:07:48] We have a proprietary algorithm that actually takes into account currently your Spotify listening history, as well as a few questions that we ask you. The reason for that was I really wanted the app to be data focused. So instead of some other apps that are a little bit more superficial, where the user can kind of portray themselves either in a light that's not accurate, or that maybe doesn't actually do a good job in describing who they are, your music can actually speak for you. The questions we ask range from, What was your first concert? Last concert? What music couldn't you live without? How often do you like to see live music? We also ask, What role does music play in your life? Because you may be somebody who likes music but likes lots of other things, but it is really important for you to have a plus one to go see your favorite band. And that's cool! We think it's important that your music obsessiveness matches somebody else's. And so I can tell you with the algorithm that we are going to be adding an additional way for users to create a profile. So we will have the Spotify option, but we're also adding our very own profile generator, and that will be coming out really soon. What's cool about that is that anybody who's a music fan, you don't have to stream music at all. You just have to know what you like and we're going to do the rest. And then you'll be matching with other music fans in just a few seconds.

Aria Vega [00:09:26] This idea of a data-driven algorithm versus one that is reliant on users portraying themselves... Being the unreliable narrators that we are on dating apps, right, it makes a lot of sense to pursue that method to balance out the landscape a little bit. I even see the mainstream apps kind of taking a page from this book. My favorite feature on Bumble, if you use Spotify, there is a widget that puts in I guess it's the most streamed artist β€” I don't I don't think you choose them, I'm pretty sure it algorithmically chooses based on your streaming what to list there β€” and it really is a helpful snapshot of the person. I'm like, okay, when we're riding in the car together, I know what to go for on the aux.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:10:17] Well, I mean, people use music as an icebreaker all the time. Like, what are you what are you listening to and what's your favorite concert memory? Things like that. So I listen, I have like mad respect for Whitney, the CEO of Bumble, and her journey. I think it's really amazing what she's done as a fellow female founder. For Vinylly, obviously music is our focus 100%, so we match on it, we actually use your music and the data from Spotify as matching criteria. Whereas with Bumble, it's something that they think is relevant to add. And I do agree like it is really a nice insight to have, especially when you're trying to put a playlist together or you put on something at your house or whatever, if you're having a first date that you know that they're going to respond to.

Aria Vega [00:11:06] Yes, setting the mood! Just thinking about the different ways, other than attending a show, that music tends to play into courtship. Like think about if you're want to go out dancing together....

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:11:17] ...Or you're going to create Instagram posts! I mean, it's awesome, there's so many ways you can integrate music just into your daily life, into social life. I mean, it's our soundtrack, and so it's become really, really important. Day to day, not just when you go see a musician, it's all around us. So at some point, your music taste, whether or not it's how you meet someone, eventually your music tastes are going to come out. And so what we try to do is just put it up front. So if that's important to you, you can connect right away with somebody who shares the same appreciation.

Aria Vega [00:11:54] One of my favorite rom-coms from when I was in high school, just popped into my mind: Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. Have you ever seen that movie?

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:12:03] Yeah, yes!

Aria Vega [00:12:04] I adore that movie. Very charming performances from Kat Dennings and Michael Cera, but just the whole the idea of it: running around the city, finding these bands, figuring out how to connect to each other through the music... There was just something so earnest about that, and in a way that... You know, so many rom-com plots feel contrived. Whereas that was just like, Yeah, of course two teenagers would connect this way, the music is the language that they speak. For so many people, you're never more obsessed with music than you are as a teenager.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:12:40] So no, it's very true. And actually, psychologically, the music that you're listening to, it can flex for people a little bit, but generally the music that you're listening to from the time you're about 12, 13 to 19 is actually the music that you are going to have the strongest emotional reaction to the rest of your life.

Aria Vega [00:13:01] Yes, I'm noticing already!

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:13:04] Yeah, it makes an imprint! It's really, really funny, I'll have have music come on the radio that I like, music from today or music from before I was born. But the music that comes onβ€” yesterday, for example, I was driving around and "Invisible Touch" by Phil Collins came on (I'm showing my era...) But I jammed to that! I was like, This is so amazing, and it's because I have that emotional, I was coming of age then, just like the movie you're talking about. And it just it's different,It just hits different, you know?

Aria Vega [00:13:46] Something that came up the last time we talked was the mismatch between our intentions with the apps or the sites, and how we're actually using them. Let's say you go on the apps because you say you want to find a relationship, you want a partner, [yet] you are engaging with it in in a passive, unintentional way, the same way you might with Instagram, sort of scrolling... Swiping, scrolling. What's the difference? Right. And it takes on this same *blegh*, like the same unsatisfying, I'm putting a lot of effort and I can't seem, I don't feel like I'm getting any closer to what I actually want. Do you feel like this has more to do with the way that apps are designed, or the way that we are engaging with them, or both?

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:14:44] I guess a little of both, I think. Two different things: for some people, it's conscious the way that they're using these apps. They're aware that they're just on there to, it is almost sort of like this quick pop of dopamine, right? Like you see somebody, you swipe, and it's like what they talk about with all of us just being addicted to checking our phone, just checking it, just to see if you've gotten a new message or whatever. It's that same idea, that I think it's just a pop of dopamine. But the thing is, that's never enough, right? You never feel satiated, so you just keep doing it. But you know what you're doing and that's why you seek out these apps, is for that. Then there's other people who who actually got on the app with the intention, right? Like you actually wanted to get off the app at some point. You actually wanted to have some type of relationship. And now you've been on it so long and maybe you've had dates or maybe you haven't, but now you're just by practice, it's something you do every day, maybe you're still in bed in the morning, you get up and you're just going through it, and it doesn't even resonate or mean anything to you like it did before. It's like part of your day, you need to do that like you check the weather app, or whatever. So I think, yeah, people have gotten just, they've gotten a little burnt out on it. But also, it is a balance. It's a difficult thing to build an app where the user experience is awesome, but also it isn't asking the user to do maybe more than they either have the time to do or want to do, right? So it's like a balance between a passive sort of experience and also not wanting it to be too involved, because then people won't use it. So it is, it's something we face too. What's the right amount of user input that we want to keep people engaged, but also not to feel like it's work?

Aria Vega [00:16:38] Mm-hmm. But engaging enough, too. Now I'm thinking about a Coffee Meets Bagel sort of thing, which I was initially attracted to because of that same, Oh okay, there's three matches, there's a time limit. I like this! This is that momentum...

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:16:53] ...Sense of urgency...

Aria Vega [00:16:54] Yes, that sense of urgency! But then that didn't feel like quite enough, though. You know, three matches, that's almost like no matches, which is almost like not using it. It wasn't enough. It didn't make its way enough into my digital app use habits and yeah, fell too far short of that line. Yeah, it's a hard line to walk.

Rachel Van Nortwick [00:17:20] YeahI mean, there's so many different dating apps that are trying to crack the code. I think I don't have all the answers, but I do think providing a space where somebody just feels good and feels positive, using it where they feel like they can be their authentic selves, and where they're getting that back. If your intent as a dating app is to actually deliver a true connection,that's how you should be thinking about it. How can I enable authenticity? And there are plenty of people who use dating apps and that have zero intention not only to meet people, but it's just actually another platform. So many influencers, obviously, are on dating apps and create profiles just to then drive you to their socials. That's a major thing. Obviously there's scammers, there's all of these different use cases for dating apps, and so there's some landmines, you know? You have to try to avoid to not just like being bored, you also have to [wonder] Oh, is this person even on here to even meet? So you have to navigate a lot too, and with Vinylly, because of the way that we take user input and how we deliver it, there's a very limited amount of information that you're able to reform and to try to like potentially divert somebody away from the app. So that's always been something that's been important to us, too.

Aria Vega [00:18:44] That's Rachel Van Norwick, founder and CEO of the dating app, Vinylly. You can download it on Android or iPhone at vinyllyapp.com. That's "vinyl" like the record, L-Y app dot com. Don't miss the chance to stream your way to someone special. Did you happen to meet your lover on the internet, but not via dating app? I've been saying forever that Instagram and Twitter are some of the best dating apps out there. Anyone want to back me up with a story? Reach out to askaria@lustery.com with an email or a voice memo. Or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. You can always remain anonymous. If you're into the show. Please leave us a five-star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Kathryn Fisher and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at lustery.com, and we're on Twitter and Instagram @lusterypov. So long, lovers!