Music 'muves' on cell phones

| Friday, July 8, 2011

Jeff Toig's great-grandfather sold food from a push-cart, his grandfather opened one of Western Pennsylvania's first supermarkets in early 1950s in Greensburg and both of his parents are successful local retailers.

They all took risks on ideas that showed promise, said Toig, an executive with wireless carrier Cricket Communications. He tries to do likewise.

Toig, who grew up in Greensburg and the Pittsburgh area, led the team at Cricket that created Muve Music -- billed as the wireless industry's first plan to combine unlimited music downloads with voice, data and web browsing for a flat rate, $55 a month.

The much-promoted service just passed the 100,000-customer mark after five months on the market, Cricket said on Thursday. "It's been a pretty exciting time for us," said Toig, 38, who lives and works in Boston.

Before Muve Music debuted in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toig and others at Cricket worked on it for three years. Much of the challenge was to negotiate deals with the music industry so that Cricket could tailor its own digital song marketplace for mobile phones.

"We wanted to build an amazing experience specifically for a phone that is simpler and more compelling," said Toig, who in January took on a full-time role with Muve Music as its founder and general manager.

He started with Cricket in 2008 to run the product management team. Before then, he was a founder of Virgin Mobile and ran its messaging and mobile content division, and he helped The Gap start its online sales.

Toig said he learned by talking to Cricket customers that they prefer carrying music on their phones, but didn't like the cost, playback quality and inconvenience. "Most don't pay $1.29 to iTunes for a song, or $10 a month for Napster, he said.

Cricket's plans are prepaid, with customers paying month-to-month, not on a contract. And many of its 5.8 million customers are young and on tight budgets. Many rely on computers at school or the library because they don't have their own. That's a problem considering most digital music is downloaded from computers, Toig said.

Cricket, part of San Diego-based Leap Wireless International Inc., introduced ringback tones four years ago and now is second only to much bigger Verizon Wireless in sales, Toig said, and that was an early sign of customers' interest in music.

So far, Muve Music comes on one phone, the Samsung Suede, with its own music button. Android phones will be added soon, Toig said. By year's end, Muve's catalog should triple in size to 6 million song tracks.

Reviews of the service generally are good. Allan Keiter, president of consumer information site, said with its large music library, Muve Music could be a good alternative to pay-as-you-go products such as iTunes, or subscription services such as Rhapsody or Napster.

At $55, Muve Music is about $10 more than Cricket's priciest, non-smartphone plan, Keiter said.

The service is exciting to music companies, because it's gaining a foothold among people without credit cards who weren't buying songs on Apple Inc.'s iTunes. "This is giving customers a prepaid phone service and perhaps their first introduction to legitimate digital music consumption," said David Ring, Universal Music Group's executive vice president of business development.

Toig lived in Greensburg until he was 14, when his family moved to the Pittsburgh area. He attended Shadyside Academy for high school, majored in history at Northwestern University and went to Harvard Business School.

On his own Samsung Suede, he keeps songs by Mumford and Sons, Adele and Bruno Mars.

His father, Buddy Toig of Churchill, owned and ran Newmans, a children's clothing store that was a fixture on Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill until it closed in 2004.

His mother, Carole Davis of Squirrel Hill, owns Marjie Allon Fine Stationery on Walnut Street in Shadyside.

Toig's grandfather, Bob Davis, owned and ran the well-known Davis Supermarket in Greensburg for years. Davis and his wife, Phyllis, sold the business in 1996, but at age 90 he still works three days a week to oversee the Davis Shopping Center on East Pittsburgh Street in Greensburg.

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