Interview by C. Vincent Plummer (@cvpmusic) - co-founder and social strategist for Bedloo.com
Joshua Wiedling, Digital Tourbus
Welcome to #Fangagement, a rapid fire interview series for artists, entrepreneurs, and aspiring entertainment industry folks on the go. This is a series dedicated to the exploration and inspiration for finding new and interesting ways to connect with people.
I am your host, C. Vincent Plummer. I am a musician, but I am also the co-founder of a new voting platform that uses photos, videos, and music called Bedloo where artist can gain engagement, and actionable data in seconds.
Now I'm here today with Joshua Wiedling. At a young age this guy has already done a lot of interesting things. For example, he started a promotions company. He started an annual music festival in Chicago. And he's a content producing machine and the CEO of a new platform called Digital Tour Bus which allows fans an exclusive sneak peak into the lives and all the mayhem of artists on tour. So let's check him out.
Starting Chi-Town Productions
Vincent: What did your struggle look like when you started Chi-Town Productions?
Joshua: I was a junior in high school, so at 16. I really just was going to local shows. I had a few friends who were starting bands, and I kind of just asked them if they wanted me to get involved in helping them get kids out to their shows, and what not.
Of course what is it for them to lose, they’ve got nothing to lose. So they said they’d love to have me on.
I’m the kind of person that I just can’t go to something; I have to be completely 100% involved in it. That’s always been the way that I operate.
So after about a year of helping bands promote shows, and what not on MySpace, or handing out flyers at different concerts. I had the opportunity to book my first local show at a coffee house in the middle of winter.
Actually, it was like a really bad snowstorm. So actually I had about some 80 kids come out, and it was awesome. But after that I kind of just dived more into the booking, and I found a place in my hometown. It was a youth church, and the place was called Matchbox.
And after a few shows, the kids really liked coming out. Once or twice a month, we’d have a concert every Friday, and only on Fridays. The kids just flocked to this place.
Vincent: You started at a coffee house, and then you took it to a church?
Joshua: Well, it’s a bunch of different places. There are some bars in there and some VFW halls, stuff like that. Then I did book a couple of shows in like actual venues, actual legitimate 100% that’s what they do.
But the main place I did book was in my hometown Bartlett, Illinois. It is called the Matchbox, and the kids just flocked. It was awesome. I had the opportunity. I mean it wasn’t all luck. There was no music scene in my town when I started. The bands just started flocking once there was a place to play.
I was very adamant about bands trying their hardest to bring people out. I handpicked all the bands to the shows, organized the lineups. I am a perfectionist when it comes to that stuff. By the time I stopped doing shows there, the last show had 450 kids, all local bands.
No tour bands. This is before tour bands were like a huge thing. It was only, people only hit the big venues, when they actually had fan bases. Nowadays you just see so many bands on tour. But it was just a ton of building, a ton of hard work. I stopped booking shows when I went to college basically. So I booked shows for about 2 years.
Early Stages to a Music Festival
Vincent: So basically you had Chi-Town Productions up and running, and you’re about ready to go off to college, and it’s kind of early in its infancy... Is this before you got to the music festival?
Joshua: I did it while I was doing the shows at this place. By music festival, it wasn’t some huge deal. It was me putting together, probably in my opinion some of the best local, all local band lineups that I possibly could.
I didn’t bring any big touring acts. I didn't get any, if there it was a signed band; it was just a small label. I had 2 stages. They alternated all day. There was usually around 20 bands playing, and hundreds of the kids just came, even for the increased price that I had to charge for it.
It was just a fun day. We had some outdoor setups and some stuff indoors, and just awesome local music. The fest was called Stick It To The Man Fest, don’t know why.
Vincent: Stick It To The Man Fest? Well that sounds like a kind of thing that you want to do just after high school, and in early parts of college for sure. I definitely played a lot of Stick It To The Man kind of benefit concerts, and protests and stuff like that. Absolutely.
Joshua: The kids really related to the name, and at the time we had a really strong local music scene. It was awesome to be able to pay at the time; I think I charged like $10 to get in to see like 20 of the best local music bands in the suburbs.
Difficulties Getting Started
Vincent: So when you get something like this up and going and you got some traction... talk to me about one of the biggest struggles that you have. Because I know that you’re going to have to bypass certain kind of walls or permits, and going to have try to open closed doors.
But tell me one of the biggest struggles that you had during this time, and how were you able to work through it?
Joshua: Probably one of the biggest struggles, especially just trying to literally getting the bands to commit to it. At the time there was nothing like it in my area, and trying to get bands to commit to something 6 months away was really difficult. You might get a lot of bands adding and dropping.
Then especially if you wanted to grab like a bigger local band or what not, they would say, “Well, we want a large guarantee because it is a festival.” I had to come back and say, “But we’re not charging a typical festival price. We’re trying to enhance the local music scene here.”
Really I wasn’t profiting too much off of it. So it was really a labor of love at the time. So probably the biggest struggle was getting the bands to commit and follow through.
One more big thing involving the band is, I tried to get everyone involved in selling presale tickets, most of it was walkups to the door. But in a format like that, when you have 20 local bands, everyone comes out with a mentality like, “Oh we don’t have to draw as much because there are 19 other bands playing. So we’re not going to promote the shows that much, because the other 19 bands will make up for it.”
But if all 20 of those bands have the same mentality about the event, no one is going to be there. That’s what I had to constantly fight.
Joshua's Band Shout Out
Vincent: If you would give a big shout out to a band right now, who’s the band that came through like the little engine that could?
Joshua: I would say, I did this local music fest for 4 years, I believe. In the second year, I had an awesome headliner. There was a local band named Eli.
Vincent: Shout out to Eli for going hard.
Joshua: Yeah. They were probably the big buzz band I helped to build their local scene in my area. I think they brought out like 100 plus kids themselves. It did help that one of my best friends was the drummer. Well he is just the drummer though, I’m just kidding.
But it really helps when you can get a headliner, or someone up at the top of the lineup to really push it, because all smaller bands in the lineup follow suit, I would say. So that year was Eli. They really pushed it. They made sure that all their fans knew, and they all came out.
Vincent: Now you did this for 4 years? Which years are we talking about, from when to when?
Joshua: I think it was 2007 through it was 2009 or ‘10. It was either 3 or 4 years. I can’t remember exactly.
Voting and Contests
Vincent: So I want to hear about the creative ways that you were able to get the message out and market to these guys at the festival. What worked the best for you in getting the word out?
Joshua: Alright. I’m really excited to answer this actually, because I think I had a really awesome way of marketing it. So at the time, this is when MySpace was like the big deal. So I utilized MySpace to its full potential.
The way I did this was, I’m not going to say I was the biggest local promoter at the time. But I had a good handle on my area, and the bands that were in my area. So, all the bands in my area wanted to play this Stick It To The Man Fest.
So what I did, I utilized that want, and I created a contest. It was kind of like a battle of bands but not in a sense, because there were no shows. It was all held online. So I had the bands vote. I had their fans vote.
They’d come to the Chi-Town Productions MySpace page, and they had to comment on the profile, which band they are voting for. I allowed people to comment once a day for 30 days.
I believe the second year I did this; I did it right from the beginning. I came up with the first year, but the second year is when I did the best. I think I had like, it was like 8,000 or 9,000 votes, and these are all manual comments. I don’t remember the exact number of unique people that commented, but it had been at least of 1,000.
I had bands, there was I think like 20 bands that competed the second year for it. Literally, the band that won got the opening spot on the lineup. They played at like noon, but there was still a ton of kids there. So it didn’t really matter to them.
But in MySpace profile, the profile picture was the concert photo, or the flyer for the show. I had my events all updated. So it not only helped that event, it helped all my other events.
Vincent: So how were you doing the voting at this time? You were counting comments?
Vincent: Wow, okay.
Joshua: I had like my 'sh*t' day at the end of it all. I took out the doubles and I counted them all. I did it like manually using just tallies on the sheet. I think that was the easiest way to do it. But near the end of the counting, it was kind of like, all right. Some of the bands only had 5 or 10 votes. I no longer counted those. I was counting those that were in the 700, 800, and 900.
Vincent: Man, that’s great. I think contests are awesome ways to get people engaged too. That’s awesome that was part of your marketing plan.
Joshua: Yeah. It’s all by having the right prize.
Vincent: Right. So what was the prize? So the leverage was that the bands got all of their fans to vote because they wanted the good slot, right?
Joshua: They wanted the 'a' slot.
Vincent: They wanted 'a' slot. So you had enough action at this point where you couldn’t actually get all of the bands on the stage?
Joshua: Definitely not. I handpicked as always. I was always very strategic with how I booked my shows, and I handpicked all the bands. Once the lineup was set, I launched the contest. Which it was like all right, do you want to play with all these bands? At the time these were like the best bands in the area. So, all of the other bands wanted to play basically.
Starting Digital Tour Bus
Vincent: I want to talk to you about when the idea came for Digital Tour Bus. I love the idea of bringing fans aboard the bus so that they can see behind the scenes. So I’d like for you to talk to me about taking this from the idea stage to execution. Because everybody knows it like ideas are easy, execution is the hard part.
So tell me when you first came up with the idea, and the first time that you were able to execute on it.
Joshua: Okay. So I was a freshman in college at the University of Iowa. It really just came to me; I can’t really pinpoint a moment where it was like an epiphany moment. It was kind of a combination of I would say, I have to give credit for MTV Cribs for existing, and just basically curiosity.
I didn’t know what the bands toured in. I know they toured in these buses, but I didn’t know what they looked like.
So it was kind of my own curiosity. I remember the exact day that I decided to pursue it. It was New Year’s Day, January 1st, 2009. I was working at the time. I was home for a Christmas break, and I was working at the local Goodwill. I was working on a different project at the time and it kind of fell through.
I was frustrated. So I used that frustration and I was like, alright I have this idea. I’m not going to sit on it, even though I’m in college. So I just started working on it. It wasn’t super fast-paced. But that was the day I was like alright, I’m just going to start developing this idea.
So it actually took from that day until, so January 2009; the site itself didn’t launch until March 19th of 2010. So throughout that time, I’d hired a web developer. I had started filming videos. I actually had over 100 videos filmed for the site before it even launched. I don’t know how I convinced these bands.
Vincent: So, 100 videos of you going to onto random bands buses?
Vincent: Before you even came up with the site, you had 100 videos?
Joshua: I had the domain. I had the logo. I had everything in place. I had a web developer who was working on it. But I was hitting up publicists, and convincing them to let me go on their band’s tour buses. I think here, I’ve got to give a couple of shout outs.
There’s Mike Cubillos from Earshot Media. Huge, huge in getting me started.
Vincent: Say that name one more time, a little bit slower.
Joshua: Mike Cubillos from Earshot Media. He is still one of my - I work with him all the time. He hooks me up with a lot of bands. He was one of the first publicists to believe in me, and actually trust that I was actually going to launch a website. That I wasn’t using this as a way to get free tickets basically.
After a year and three months of development, I had a site up. First day I launched it, there were 30 videos. Every week from then on, I would upload 3 or 4 videos a week. So that’s really how it got started.
The Big "Take Off" Video
Vincent: What was that video - that wild stallion video - where you were like, "holy shit I’m onto something!?" Or you were like, "Sweet, look at the numbers!?"
Joshua: Yeah. I’m going to say, within that first 30, I had a video of a band called Hey Monday. They are on, I can’t remember what record label they are on. But the singer Cassadee Pope won The Voice two seasons ago.
So she had actually tweeted the link to the video on her Twitter, which was probably my first big plug by an artist. Because they were buzzing at the time in the underground music scene, and she had like 90,000 followers on twitter at the time.
But even without her, the first week I did 17,000 page views. I can’t remember the uniques number. But in the 7 days I was already receiving some traction.
But throughout the whole development process, I didn’t sit back, and it was probably naïve for me to do this. But I was active on social media, telling people what was going on, who I was working with, the stages of where I was at with everything.
In hindsight I’d probably wouldn’t do that again just, because I don’t want someone to take my idea before I can launch it. But I think I was 18. I think I just turned 18.
Now I would do things differently. But it really helped with the initial push, by having all these fans already interested like, “Oh you film buses, all right, when’s the site launching?” “Oh it’s launching March 19th, you should come view it.”
One quick thing that I did for the launch of the site was I did a 24 hour stream on Ustream. I stayed up for 24 hours basically doing everything I needed to do. Emailing people to tell them that the site launched, and that videos were up, and posting news content, posting on social media sites.
I had a few of my friends and few people that helped me out along the way there, to basically be on this webcast for 24 hours. I was actually up for 36 hours straight, because I’d done a radio interview that day. An online radio interview, Fearless Radio in Chicago asked them to be on for the launch. It was crazy 36 hours. I think I slept for 30 minutes.
Fans Helping With Decisions
Vincent: One of the questions that I always liked to ask people was, do you like the idea of getting fans involved in helping artists making important decisions?
Joshua: I definitely think that fans would love to get involved in helping artists make crucial decisions. I know there is some record label-esque startups out there that are trying to solve that, giving the fans those options.
But I can also see it from the other end, on the artist’s end, where do you want to give the fans that option to basically take away from your craft, because that is what you are doing for a living?
Do you want them to maybe to pick their album cover? Is your album cover that important to you that you don’t want the fans involved in it, because it is not part of your concept?
But if it’s not, then I say get fans involved as much as possible, because they are going to latch themselves onto something that the artist is giving them the option to latch on to.
Vincent: What about just giving their opinion specifically, do you find more engagement from fans when they are giving opinion on things?
Joshua: Definitely. Who doesn’t want to give their two cents on a topic, or on anything? I mean I love to personally, so I’m assuming other people do too. When you ask someone for an opinion on a new release, everyone has their thoughts. They love to share, especially on social media, where it’s somewhat anonymous even when a name is attached to it.
People love to share in the YouTube comments, that’s for sure. Whether it’s things that shouldn’t be said or what should be said. So yeah, people love to share their opinion.
Vincent: Have you had any situations where you’ve had fans get involved in helping you guys make decisions with the Digital Tour Bus?
Joshua: I mean of course. We always are asking who we should film with next. Who is listening to what? You know, new albums that are out.
The only issue with me asking for fans, for who we should work with, is we have no control over who we work with. It’s really up to the bands if they want to work with us.
So I try to limit the amount of interaction I do. Asking them such a broad question, it’s more specifically like, which video should we release next? Or are you excited for this video release? Or something like more targeted, and I say the specific band.
When I ask a general question, because there is a few bands that my fans really, really enjoy, and would love to see a video up on our site with. If you go to YouTube, and you search Bus Invaders, you’ll know which bands those are. I’m not going to say any of them now.
But we don’t have control over whether they let us on their bus. So it’s really just solely up to them. So, getting the fans involved in that process can sometimes let them down at the same time.
Vincent: Other than Digital Tour Bus, what are some of the ways that you’ve seen other artists engage with their fans that you’ve been like, "man that’s absolutely brilliant?"
Joshua: Yeah man, that’s a good question. I’m trying to think of a specific instance. Just in a broad way I would say, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, PledgeMusic stuff like that, used in the right way can have huge results from your fans.
Giving the fans that feeling of importance, that they are helping you get through something – the funding of your next album, the buying of a van for your tour.
I manage a pop rock band out of Iowa City, Iowa called Joslin. They are not a huge band. They have like 8,000 likes, 9,000 likes on Facebook, nothing huge. But when they did their Kickstarter over the summer, they had the right rewards in place, and they raised over $20,000.
So it’s really just knowing your fans well enough to put stuff out there, that they can connect with.
I would like to say that I’ve seen a few bands and artists that have done the “Where should we tour?” They have like interactive maps and what not. But I know enough about the touring process, the booking and the planning process, to know that those are kind of just false hopes for fans.
Most of the time it’s like the tour is already planned. They are just trying to figuring out how many people are going to show up in each city. So I don’t really like those, because any kind of false hope I don’t really enjoy.
But definitely there are so many, the possibilities for crowdfunding are endless. Using it the right way, asking your fans the right questions beforehand, figuring out what they want, and then delivering.
Important Lessons Learned
Vincent: I’d love to know some important lessons that you’ve learned thus far, that you wish you’d have known when you first started out.
Joshua: I’ve got one right off the top of my head. I would say when I first started, even once the website was up and there was a visual representation of what I’m doing. There was numbers to backup of what I’m doing. I would say I still get denied, probably at least 50% of time to film a band’s tour bus.
So, it’s really just getting past denials, knowing they’re not personal. Knowing that at least in this day and age for me, there is a ton of tour bands that I have access to potentially. So it’s really just, don’t take things too personally. Because it’s not personal, it’s business.
So if I’m not providing enough value to an artist or a band to take their time for an interview, that’s something I have to get better numbers, or I have to pitch in a better way . Or it’s not definitely them saying, “Your idea sucks, and you should just go, quit.”
There is a lot of competition out there. You can’t let the little things bother you like that. That’s a huge thing. I used to let it bother me. It was almost to the point where, when I first started, it was 90%, 95% denials.
So it’s because the idea is foreign, “I want to go that a tour bus.” “Oh can you do an interview?” “No, I won’t do an interview. I’m only going to come on the bus.” That was a foreign concept. It still is.
So it’s really just getting the right positive, mental attitude to get through all those things. It’s been really important. That’s the only reason I can make it through today. I mean I still get denied so often, and if I let each one bother me I wouldn’t get work done.
Plans for the Future
Vincent: What are the plans for the future? What are the exciting things that are right around the corner for you guys in Digital Tour Bus?
Joshua: Okay, cool. I want to give a little background first. When I first launched the website, it was literally just the tour bus videos. There wasn’t even name for the feature. It was just Digital Tour Bus was bus videos, bands showing off their buses. Now that’s been rebranded as Bus Invaders. That’s my longest running series now.
So Digital Tours has become what I think my tagline represents, it’s we’re bringing you on tour. Everything on the site is tour based; tours news, tour tips, and crazy tour stories.
I’ve got a couple of new features that I’m launching. I’ve got a new “How To” series launching both in video, and text. I’ve got a new series that I just launched called Cooking at 65 Mph.
Just everything I do, its tour based. So it’s tour cooking. The first episode features the singer of the, they are like screamo rock band called The Skylit Drive. The singer cooks his dish that he cooks almost every day on the road on camera.
Vincent: Awesome. So you already have a ton of these? “Show us what you cook on road?”
Joshua: I’m working on it. There is a couple. This is again another foreign concept.
Vincent: I like it man.
Joshua: Beside that, it’s really just a lot more video coming and a lot more I would say guest blogging, stuff like that. Just trying to make people feel like they understand how touring works without going on tour. Basically that’s my goal.
Vincent: Well, hey, thank you so much for chatting with us today. Everybody check out Digital Tour Bus. Check out the Bus Invaders and all kinds of cool cooking tips from the road.
This is C. Vincent Plummer from Bedloo signing off. Joshua, thank you very much for your time today, man.
Joshua: No problem.
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Catch you next time.