By Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
Music is not made in a vacuum — not literally, because vacuums abhor jams, nor figuratively, because musicians are in bands, and bands are in scenes. A “scene” can range from a handful of hopefuls going to see each other’s sets at the same local venues each week to larger-scale transformations, like the New York punk scene in the late ’70s, the Britpop scene, the San Francisco hippie scene, and so on.
For delving into larger scenes, eMusic’s Scenes app for the iPad does a fine job, as do other resources. But what about smaller music scenes? Specifically, what if you were part of one, and you want to document it before everybody gets too old to remember the details? Or maybe you want to track down the people from that band you used to open for and see what they’re up to — is there a way?
Matthew Rothenberg has been trying to document his erstwhile scene (San Diego ’80s) for years — an effort I wrote about for Wired.com back in ’08. Now, he wants you to provide funding for “the world’s first software that lets you add to and trace the history of your music scene.”
For the past four years, Rothenberg and his partners, Jason Brownell, and Jonathan Goldin, have been working on software designed to help people document music scenes — “a software time machine that lets you travel back to the places and eras that meant the most to you and explore the connections between the people, places and bands that built that scene.”
So far, they’ve produced a “rough” website called Sceneroller.com, which has yet to take off — an assertion we feel confident in making because there are only 11 bands listed for Brooklyn.
Now, they want $45,000 on IndieGoGo to evolve it further into two components.
First, a Sceneroller API would “provide the connective tissue to link music sites of every stripe — band sites, fan sites, blogs, archives and online magazines, web based or mobile — in an intelligent way,” based on real people in real music scenes. They say they have built this database already, and just need to turn it into an API so that other sites and apps can access it. And if you are or were in a scene, you’d be able to contribute to it.
For any listed band, be they famous or completely unknown, the API would deliver “shows that artist has performed, other acts that artist has played… details about the history and lineup of each… the venues and hangouts where it thrived, and important people who interacted with the performer but may never have taken the stage.”
Second, they want to build Android and iOS apps as clients of the Sceneroller API, so that you can access all of this stuff on mobile devices.
Aside from collectors, weirdos, and other obsessives, much of this information will likely be useful only to people who experienced scenes, either as performers, audience members, or, well, scenesters. And that’s fine.
Speaking from personal experience, I would thoroughly enjoy an API/app combination that explored “my” scene, from when I was playing rock music in front of people (San Francisco from ’97 to ’02 or so) — gigographies, biographies, recordings, photos, “where are they now” photos, and so on. Would I pay $5 to $5,000 to make it happen?
I’ll need to think about it. In order for an app like this to work, plenty of other people from the scene would have to be involved. Still, that is a possibility, because everybody’s on the internet now, and can ostensibly be found. If it works, SceneRoller will be pretty amazing, rescuing all sorts of things from obscurity, even if they only matter to the people who were there.
Photo of The Bottom of the Hill, where I used to play music: Flickr/AndrewYang