There are a lot of talented musicians in the state. While making a living solely from music is not the norm, many Iowans are professionals, working venues throughout the state as well as beyond the borders. Many have also taken the business of recording their work into their own hands, using technology that has shaken major recording labels. While the major labels fear internet downloads will "file-share" them into oblivion, the working musician may see it as a means to an audience.
Both major labels and struggling artists are looking for a business model that will generate profit. The circumstances are no different for Iowa musicians. One venture that may be on to something -- is utilizing its artistic visions, technical acumen and geographic location to reach well beyond Iowa.
The shores of the Mississippi have long been home to innovators in music. Adding their new take on an old industry, Daytrotter.com is a Quad-Cities-based music Web site that provides bands with an on-line venue, and fans a place to hook-up with music in the form of free downloads.
Visitors to the site have logged more than two million downloads since it was launched in February of 2006.
Daytrotter’s conception feels like a simple act of fate. A small group of friends from Davenport, each with complimentary talents; one with a stash of analogue recording equipment, found a home in the spacious rooms of a former radio station, all located just off the Interstate 80 corridor.
Daytrotter’s founder, Sean Moeller, conceived of an idea that put all these assets into action.
Sean Moeller, Daytrotter Founder: "Everybody drives right through, whether they're coming from Denver or Omaha to get to Chicago... you just have to give them a reason to stop."
In the last two years, nearly 300 bands have pulled off the touring fast lane long enough to record exclusive versions of songs at Daytrotter's Futureappletree Studio One. The Daytrotter sound is a merging of old-school analogue and newer digital technology with live recording spontaneity. The sessions are meant to have a raw sound.
Devoted to supporting independent music, Daytrotter believes offering free downloads of these unique sessions helps promote bands rather than cut into their potential CD sales. The bands are not paid to record, but are provided a virtual venue to connect with new listeners.
Mark Hurty, Daytrotter Web Developer: "You know, the music recording industry is struggling right now to try and figure out how do we reach people in this generation, the Internet generation? How do we get music in their hands and still do it in a way that artists can make a living? And we think that this is part of that whole process, that we're giving artists a way to promote themselves to a community that is really interested in knowing about them. We're giving them a chance to hear music, unique recordings of the music, not just the tracks that are on their CD but actual live special recordings."
Daytrotter fans are visiting the site for more than its music. Providing a platform for artists working in various media, Daytrotter uses illustrations rather than photographs and seeks a more literary quality in what's written on the site. Daytrotter sees its site as a publication rather than just a web portal.
Moeller: "We try and do things the hardest way possible. We record analog, which is harder. We use all illustrations, which is obviously is harder than just posting a press photo that somebody sends us the JPEG two seconds ago, you know what I mean? I spend almost a full day writing a feature about the band. I want Day Trotter to be seen as kind of crude. We want it to still feel home-made and hand done."
Given that much of the content, including the music and illustrations, are donated by artists hungry for exposure, Daytrotter is able to keep operating costs fairly low. Daytrotter sells on-line advertising to generate income. Recently, the site’s success led to additional revenue in the form of a partnership with a California music company.
In January, 2008, Wolfgang's Vault purchased just over a majority stake in the Web site. Those funds will fuel new ventures, like the concert Daytrotter hosted for an audience of 3,050 people. About 50 people attended the Quad Cities performance while the other 3,000 listened on-line then took part in a live question-and-answer session.
Although success has given Daytrotter more freedom, their driving force is still fueled by altruistic motives.
Hurty: "We're doing it because we love the music. This Web site gives people a chance to get in touch with the music in a way that is not costly. Nobody around here is getting rich. It's a labor of love in a lot of ways. There's something cool about that, that people are doing that for the right reason."