Disclaimer(s) : I will me using the terms “we” and “us” and “our” to refer alternately to my band Railroad Earth, and to my colleagues in the jamband scene without differentiating every time which I’m talking about. You’ll just have to figure it out. Hope it’s not too confusing.

This began as an email to a Rails developer that I’d been conversing with. He brought up the Digg Trent Reznor interview. After the first bit my response became more like a blog post. So I’m posting.

I think the deal is that noone has come up with a solution that actually benefits the artist that the fans actually appreciate enough to pay for. Trent failed because everyone assumes he’s already rich, so why bother. Plus he’s trying to sell new music, which people just don’t want to pay for anymore. Every record label is failing because nobody trusts record label executives and the stuff they’re selling sucks anyway. It’s scientifically designed to be disposable, so who’s gonna pay for it? The only way forward is to start some kind of populist movement, but most semi-successful musicians just don’t have the network or the wherewithal or the motivation or the ideas. I actually linked to that Trent interview when it came out, because I do think he’s way ahead of alot of other people that high up in the biz, but he’s just trying to sell music with nothing else attached to it. Yeah, the iPhone app is cool, but it still feels kinda piecemeal to me, since he’s basically working a brand that’s already 20 years old and trying to adapt.

Where we’re going to succeed is here : we aren’t just selling music. We have a huge fanbase that is rabid about supporting us whenever they can and coming to as many shows as possible and spreading the word about us far and wide because we’re where the party is. We’re the ultimate grassroots marketing test for web 2.0. Even String Cheese (and their business model) came along before Facebook, etc. Our fans buy our T-shirts and our music because they were probably at the show and they want a piece of that, and if they weren’t at the show, they want it for the collection. We draw more people to any given show in any given town than 9 out of 10 people you see on late night TV. But noone knows how to market us because we’re older or we’re not very good looking so therefore we don’t fit into the nice little mold that is the only thing most people in the PR or record label end of the biz know. Therefore, the reason we do 1500 people in Denver (for instance) with virtually no press or airplay at all is word of mouth, because we’re where the party is. After the first 3 pages of Tribes, I started to put some pieces together.

Here’s where I come in. I am not rich. I am not a label suit. I am not some manager trying to sell your band. I’m not some software geek. I’m just Grubb, the bass player from RRE that knows a lot people up and down and side to side in the jamband world. There is a huge amount of business going on here that hardly anyone pays any attention to unless it happens to be Bonnaroo weekend. As excited as the marketing world is about Twitter and Facebook, nobody over here really seems to get it. They do in a sense, but step number one, their websites - the first exposure to new fans for virtually all of us - look like shit, don’t relay information, don’t pull people in, don’t look professional, don’t give anyone a sense of who the band is or why they should be interested. I propose that if we, as a unit, started getting a lot more active about using the means available to us, and applying some dead-simple marketing initiative to our individual and collective web presence, we could start that populist movement this summer and put the last nails in the coffin of the crap-spewing, download-suing dinosaur that is the gasping, wheezing remnants of the major label/print media system.

This is where the idea for the website/mobile app framework came from. It’s not complicated or original. There are competitors already out there. See kyte.com for the iPhone app framework, but they don’t get it either. Their product is kinda ugly to my eye, and they’re apparently only concerned with selling it to labels for their puppets (Soulja Boy, All American Rejects) to have. A few bands have gone on their own and developed an app (Death Cab, PUSA, Trent), but what bands in this end of the biz have the resources to do that? None apparently, and it’s a pity. It’s a pity because our fans travel incessantly to see us and lots of them have iPhones now. The Model/Controller end of every app built upon such a framework could stay exactly the same, and the View could stay largely the same for each bands’ app. The possibilities are absolutely unlimited for the cool stuff you could put in there that would be of use to a traveling music fan…

Of course, only a relatively small portion of the world has a smartphone at this time, but virtually everyone has internet access. A huge swath of our fans are first exposed to us and our music via our websites. Our (rre’s) website is okay, but not too spectacular visually, not too easy to navigate, and the eCommerce part of it is so outdated and difficult to use that it might as well not be there. Somehow we still manage to sell stuff through our website, which is a testament to our fans’ determination to help support us. I suspect that many bands have a similar experience. They have merch there, but take a look at a well done eCommerce site, and there’s no comparison. They need help. There’s no reason to not have a better machine in place. One that’s easy to use. One that’s easy to find. One that integrates cleanly with the mobile app. I think I found the answer this weekend.