Sunday, March 6, 2011

Welcome To Daytrotter: An Interview With Sean Moeller

One of the most exciting developments to emerge from the independently-minded online music community has to be Daytrotter. Since 2006, Daytrotter has been inviting touring artists to stop by their studio in downtown Rock Island, Illinois, called the The Horseshack. All performers are invited to visit for a two-hour recording session block, and to simply record a handful of songs of their choice, however they choose.

For some artists, it is an opportunity to strip down their material to its bare essence, while others choose to completely rework their compositions stylistically into fresh, new arrangements. Still, those that choose to remain faithful to their own recorded work are always welcome to do so.

Every day, an artist or band records for Daytrotter, and in turn, every day Daytrotter posts new recordings and offers them as "Daytrotter Sessions" on their website. Most of the posted sessions run the length of your average EP, and almost all of them are available for free download (or for about $4+ for "lossless mp3 quality").

Any way you cut it, Daytrotter offers one of the most direct avenues for artists and fans to connect today, virtually instantly and effortlessly. It's an amazing resource to discover new music, and in true DIY fashion, cut out the middle man to spread art to everyone with an open ear and internet access.

A good friend of mine turned me onto Daytrotter last year, and initially, and quite naively, I thought it was simply a "who's who" in indie rock. But within minutes of discovering the site for myself, I realized that I could not have been more misled or mistaken. When I began digging through the site's archive, I was completely amazed at the range of musicians (from legendary to relatively unknown), within the impressive and diverse scope of music genres that were offered.

For fans of (for the lack of a better word) "traditional" music genres, there's lots to grab, share, and enjoy for repeated listening. Charlie Louvin, The Del McCoury Band, Avett Brothers, The Low Anthem, The Felice Brothers, Abigail Washburn, Bela Fleck, Alejandro Escovedo, Justin Townes Earle, Fleet Foxes, Trampled By Turtles, Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses, Kris Kristofferson, Laura Gibson, and Richard Buckner (just to name some of my own personal favorite offerings) have all stopped in at the Daytrotter studios. 

You can already probably imagine what a spectacular playlist all of these sessions would make, and I can assure you: It's even better. But don't take my word for it, check it out for yourself. There really is something for every type of music fan, and that's no small feat.

Last week, as I finished up John Swed's brilliant biography of Alan Lomax, I interviewed founding member, Sean Moeller, of Daytrotter. As I combed through his answers, I found myself wondering what Mr. Lomax would make of such a project as Daytrotter. One that simply welcomes people to come and play music, with the sole intention of capturing a few tunes, and then shooting the set out through cyberspace for people everywhere to download and add to their own music collections.

When I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Moeller, I thought it would be best to simply start by asking him how Daytrotter started. He described it simply as "A natural spin-off to what I was currently doing at the time: working at a newspaper and writing for a bunch of alt-weeklies and rock magazines across the country. It started as a whim, as an idea that we just started doing a few weeks later, without really thinking about it too much."

He went on, plainly, "The initial goals, in my mind, were and are the same. I always wanted Daytrotter to be a way for me to write about and tell more people about the music that I thought was great. It was and is, that simple." He went on to add "If I think someone would sound good in our studio, I'll ask them if they’d like to come and visit us. I have it down to a science what I think we can do with certain people and how they will sound with us."

And not much has changed since it's inception in 2006. Ask anyone who frequently visits the site, and you'll find that most fans often dig through the archive, follow/ share Daytrotter's daily updates on Facebook and twitter, and download performances weekly. Daytrotter continues to bring in an impressive range of artists that run the gamut across musical genres and styles. The site offers something truly remarkable for every kind of music fan. 

When I asked Mr. Moeller about the recording process, he simply said that it "Forces artists to be great at playing their songs live." He went on, capturing the essence of the project: "All of the sessions are recorded live in one room, as if they’re practicing. Everything is tracked straight to quarter-inch tape, often with bands using a ton of the vintage gear we’ve collected over the years. The sessions are raw in the best possible way. They let the songs speak. If the songs are good, they sound great doing it this way."

As we continued, I asked him about how he envisions the future of Daytrotter, and it's contribution to how bands and fans connect in an ever-changing digital landscape. "One of the things I’m proudest about is that Daytrotter has barely changed since we started it five years ago. My goal is to be able to say the exact thing 20 years from now. We just want to keep getting better and better at what we do" said Moeller. He then quickly added, "Vinyl will be involved. There will likely be some more surprises too."

He happily spoke of the feedback he has received from bands and the music industry alike. "People have really embraced what we’ve built with Daytrotter. It's been great. I feel that we have been doing things the right way and the word gets out. Every day we strive to uphold that.  We never want to disappoint anyone."

The informal setting at The Horseshack recording studio allows artists to record what they want, how they want. "All of it is dictated by the artist" said Moeller. "We don’t tell them anything or discuss anything with them prior to them showing up. I think that’s what makes the great majority of these things so magical."

As I thought of Mr. Moeller's words, and listening to some of my favorite sessions, I cannot help but admire the fact that at it's core, Daytrotter allows the artists to make all of the creative decisions, knowing that the site's reach extends to such a wide audience. While Moeller and his partners offer invitations, welcome guests as they arrive, and then record the performances live, it's quite a reminder of how rare it is to enjoy such a pure document of recording artists performing, knowing that the work is distributed without hesitation or corporate music industry influence. Talk about DIY.

When I asked how he sees Daytrotter within the greater music industry landscape, Moeller frankly and modestly replied "I just see it as a very unique opportunity. How we fit into the grand scheme is something that others can tell us. It’s not really for me to say or anything that I really worry about. I hope that we have a great reputation amongst the artists out there. Everything else is gravy."

Mr. Moeller ended with a heartfelt description of meeting legendary artists Kris Kristofferson and Van Dyke Parks as being  "great", and added "It’s always really gratifying when bands come in and they can rattle off their favorite Daytrotter sessions and that they’re so stoked to join the club". Proudly, Moeller said: "It’s one of those things that puts everything into perspective."

If you have not had the chance to check out Daytrotter yet, I highly recommend it. Chances are that if you type in a couple artists you like in the search box, you be surprised how many of them have stopped by The Horseshack for recording sessions. So head on over, and make some wonderful new additions to your own music library. Good luck!

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