A Good Local Band Is Hard to Find
My friends' band Uggh
I noticed this first in Los Angeles of all places. Despite the number of garage and bedroom musicians around Hollywood, there's little digital infrastructure to support finding artists who haven't yet "made it." You could listen to college radio and hope the DJ says the artists' names and where they're from, or scroll Instagram for past venue billings—other than that, maybe if you went to enough random shows in Echo Park or Chinatown warehouses you might find a few local bands you like.
In general, this struggling but often talented (and ever-interesting) class of musicians goes unknown, undiscoverable beyond serendipity.
And if there's one thing digital tools are remarkably good at, it's reducing serendipity in our lives.
There might be a fairly simple explanation. There’s little money to be made in scaling promotion of local music—mixed quality artists, low ticket prices, low merch sales, niche audience.
I grew up surrounded by music, helping put on small concerts throughout high school, and then writing for a few music magazines (FILTER, FLOOD) in and beyond college. Now that I’m a bit older, I still think there’s nothing better for a night out than paying a $5 cover and a grab-bag of local musicians working on their craft, experimenting, writing songs while there's hope for, but before the impact of, success.
And I think a lot of other people would like it too! The last fifteen years has seen a growing underground music scene, growing vinyl sales, and independent musicians scoring soundtracks for big film releases (Oneohtrix Point Never, Alex G).
I think the major drawback is ease of access to information, shareability, and an easy way to check out relatively unknown musicians ahead of time. Also, admittedly, a lot of the better shows are at kind of grimy dive bars, so there's a ceiling on the price they can charge.
The closest solution today is Bandcamp which offers streaming, merch sales, tour dates, contact info, and it's the only artist database I've seen where all musicians list their hometown. Artists get a much larger share of streaming profit through Bandcamp than competitors Spotify, Apple Music, etc.
However, it doesn't filter well. You can filter by town, but then you have to click every individual artist, and it's not organized in any meaningful way.
This is when I set out to brainstorm a solution, and I realized there could actually be a fairly simple one. With a robust database of music and a simple geotracking API (Google Maps most likely), you could quickly generate playlists based on where you are, meaning you could use this in a few ways:
In your hometown, find artists with a series of filters: genre, active vs. inactive, upcoming shows
In other cities if, say, you'll be traveling or you're just curious
As you're on a roadtrip, you can hear the local sounds of various cities / zip codes as you drive through them.
I titled the app “Local Radio” and began thinking: what can I do to test the Product Manager waters and see if I really enjoy developing a product from the ground up with a problem-first mindset. I came up with the following steps:
Existing landscape & competitor research (mentioned a bit above)
Identify core problem to solve
Build a persona
Learn FIGMA fundamentals
Design page layout
Design and prototype an MVP
To get the big thing out of the way, I don't believe this app would be profitable. It'd need to hit critical mass with artists uploading their music so that we could play it legally, and users tuning in to a fairly niche service. That means low advertising dollars. Plus, the app would need to be smooth running since it's live streaming, so probably fairly expensive upkeep. Anyways, still fun to think about. It would be best for a larger service like Spotify or Apple to integrate a feature like this into their existing UI.
I mentioned a bit of the existing landscape above, but I'll jot out some of the more interesting interview findings, and share the rest in a future post. I interviewed two friends in small bands and two friends who I know attend a lot of local shows.
User Interview Key Findings:
Would be very helpful for booking shows, especially if the app offered inter-band messaging and a schedule availability feature. Currently bands have to scour IG posts or flyers to try to find local bands to join them when they're visiting a city on tour.
Would be a nice alternative to Spotify, but needs to have a lot of diverse artists.
Since a lot of the music won't be great (more amateur) it would need a skip function, and ideally some sort of personalizable learning algorithm to be able to recommend.
There were good questions regarding small artists on labels—getting that publishing permission, paying fees, avoiding legal issues.
Friends in bands would join for free for exposure, since they don't make any money off Spotify anyway.
Would there be quality control? Any criteria for artists to be able to join?
Ultimately, for this exercise, I realized I'd need to pick a small feature-set, so I chose to use the following three use outcomes to guide my thoughts:
- - -
Leading to the following features list and flow chart:
And a skeletal "implementation roadmap" if I were to build out the whole thing:
That's it for now—this app likely won't get built by me, but hey, maybe someone from Spotify will happen to see this and get inspired.