There’s two types of music aficionados. Those that know and love Daytrotter and those that have yet to discover it. The Horseshack Recording Studios is located in Rock Island, Illinois a small city of less than 40,000, on the mighty Mississippi in the country’s heartland. It may seem like an odd destination to attract some of the premier and most exciting up and coming acts in the country, but attract they do.
Stripping down the music to its bare essence, more than a dozen bands per week lay down tracks in a live mini-concert with no editing, overdubbing or other effects. The session is recorded in analog with minimal mic’ing straight to tape. The sessions are ultimately transferred to a computer and digitized and that’s what appears on the Daytrotter site. However, what you hear is exactly what happened that day. Often raw. Often spine-tingling. Often soulful. Often compelling. Often brand new. Often intimately familiar but with a twist. Daytrotter delights not only with the outstanding recording, but likewise with unique illustrations and interesting biographies and write-ups that accompany each session. This is a music site without many peers.
I recently had the pleasure of asking Daytrotter founder, Sean Moeller, a few questions about the studio, the recording process, the bands and the technology that make Daytrotter such a magical experience. So no matter if you’ve never heard of Daytrotter before or already a fan of the site, read on to learn more about one of my favorite music sites on the web. In addition, we have a complimentary subscription for one of our lucky readers.
The problem with music on the web now is certainly not quantity. Music is ubiquitous with hundreds of streaming and download sites. Many services offer tens of millions of tracks from virtually any artist or genre you can imagine. Many services let you check out what your friends are listening to or even listen in with them. Others offer up suggestions based on a computer algorithm. However, it is tough to find a fresh stream of quality content that you can’t find anywhere else. Seemingly, everything is everywhere. Yet on Daytrotter, you’ll find recorded sessions that you can’t find anywhere else. You can either enjoy by streaming from the website, listening from mobile apps or downloading for playback on any device. With the likes of such bands as Mumford and Sons, Los Lobos, MGMT, The Avett Brothers, Bela Fleck, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Umphrey’s McGee, The Tallest Man on Earth, The Barr Brothers and hundreds and hundreds more, the Daytrotter catalog is stocked to the gills with an archive absolutely busting at the seams.
The archives continue to expand as every week over fifty tracks from a dozen or more bands are added to the site. It is always a treat listening to these sessions as you really feel like a fly on the wall during the recording. An intimate setting, a stripped down recording process with no over-dubs or editing and stunning clarity in the analog master reel adds to the mystique and enjoyment of the final recordings. While not every artist can appeal to everyone, Daytrotter has an extraordinary knack for culling not only the best quality performers but for getting the best out of them on each performance.
Tracks can be saved into custom playlists or you can enjoy playlists put together by Daytrotter. The “Daytrotter Artists Nominated for Grammys (2013)” is but one of many playlists and also demonstrates the depth of the catalog (Carolina Chocolate Drops, Alabama Shakes, Fun, Mumford and Sons, Jimmy Cliff, Aimee Mann, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes among many others). In-depth band biographies and write-ups accompany every session. It is much more than just a streaming site – Daytrotter is a beautiful music blog coupled with the unique artwork that is also custom painted for every artist.
In addition to the new weekly sessions that are served up every day Monday through Friday and the archived sessions, Daytrotter offers access to videos from their Barnstormer Concert series and other performances. Live sessions where you can listen in at the studio as the performance happens and a great shop with one-of-a-kind vinyl LP’s, posters and other hard-to-find merchandise are but a few of the other aspects of the Daytrotter experience.
I figured the best way to learn a bit more about this peerless studio and website was to ask the visionary behind it all, the founder of Daytrotter, Sean Moeller, a few questions. He was gracious enough to find the time between welcoming all the artists into the studio, the writing he does for the sessions and planning the upcoming schedules and Barnstormer tours to answer all my questions.
[Daytrotter Webpage with integrated player controls]
Parker Harrington: Thanks so much for taking the time to tell me a little bit more about Daytrotter. I guess I should start right there. What exactly IS Daytrotter and how did it come about? It is a lot more than just a recording studio right?
Sean Moeller: Well, we’re mostly a website that happens to have a bunch of recording studios all over the world. We like to think of Daytrotter as this finely curated land of wonderful music, with a lot of art and love rolled into it. We’re a place that you can come and listen to familiar things feel unfamiliar again, where you can make incredible discoveries.
PH: Definitely, I have found a slew of new music lately that I never would have discovered without Daytrotter. What was the first session you recorded? Did it click immediately in your head that you were onto something special that was going to work and appeal to a lot of people?
SM: The first two sessions we did were with Catfish Haven and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin and while it didn’t click immediately that we were onto something special, it did feel right and while we were making up as we went, there was a really cool feeling coming out of that afternoon that did make it seem like maybe this was a good idea in a lot of ways.
PH: How many sessions have you done so far? What are some of your most memorable sessions or favorite ones?
SM: We’ve taped over 3,000 sessions since 2006. Almost all of them are memorable in different ways for me, but the ones we did with Glen Campbell, Will Oldham, Mumford and Sons and Kris Kristofferson will always stand out no matter what else happens.
PH: Can you tell me a little bit about how the scheduling works? How many bands per week do you typically record? Is it a combination of you reaching out to performers and them contacting you? How do you decide who would be good fits for Daytrotter?
SM: It really all comes down to what I like — what I think we can do something great with in the studio. Everything goes through me. It’s a bit of everything when it comes to booking the sessions. I reach out plenty, but I’m bombarded enough to not have to do that if I didn’t want to. We tape between 15-20 sessions a week — sometimes more and sometimes less.
PH: Is every session that is recorded made available or are some not released due to quality or other issues?
SM: Everything goes up on the site. We don’t really let a band leave unless they’re happy. There have been only a couple of occasions over our seven years when we haven’t been happy with the finished session, or when a technical mess up occurred. You could count them on one hand.
PH: How does the artwork come about? Is it done day of performance?
SM: The great Johnnie does all of the artwork by hand — markers and ink. They aren’t done the day of performance, but typically from photographs that we take the day of the sessions. Johnnie uses those as the basis for the drawings.
[Every Daytrotter Session is illustrated with artwork. Here, the Carolina Chocolate Drops]
PH: So in addition to these illustrations by Johnnie, every band gets a pretty compelling essay written up, correct? I find these such a fascinating part of the Daytrotter experience. How many writers do you have?
SM: Just me. I’ve written every essay and Johnnie’s drawn every illustration.
PH: Another pretty cool thing about Daytrotter for me is seeing up and coming bands featured side-by-side with international headliners and other major acts. All receive equal treatment – in regard to not only session length, but quality of the essay as well as everything else. Was that a conscious decision or did it just evolve like that?
SM: It’s the way I’ve always wanted the site to be — a level-playing field where we’re not giving anyone any preferential treatment. I’ve always liked the idea of presenting artists and not giving a grade or blowing something up more than you would for someone who only 50 people know about, just because they’re massive superstars. I like the idea of everyone getting the same fair shot to have their music heard and it’s pretty tough to do. I’m really proud of how we’ve done it and we’re going to keep doing it that way. If someone’s on Daytrotter, it’s because I think they’re good and worthy of a lot of people listening to them. It’s up to the listeners to decide if they like it or not. I’m not going to try and influence them any more than presenting the bands to them.
PH: What bands that you’ve had in over the past year, that may not be well known, do you think will have a big 2013?
SM: I think Night Beds made a beautiful record. I think PAPA should be huge. Shovels & Rope, Esme Patterson and Rayland Baxter made wonderful records. I really like the On An On and Big Harp records. Duologue is sick. Anna Ash and Jenn Grant are tremendous. I’m really excited about Wampire, Magic Man, PHOX, Swim Lessons, Pacific Air, Murals, Future of What, Mean Lady, Wild Cub, Ponychase, Shakey Graves and Kelsey Waldon too. So much good stuff out there!
PH: What is a typical day for a recording artist or band that comes to Daytrotter?
SM: The whole thing takes about two hours from arrival to departure. There’s either some coffee or beer drunk and we shoot the shit for a while and then they’re sadly back in their vans, headed away from us to a bar.
PH: Can people visit Daytrotter… sit in on any of the recording sessions?
SM: Not really – they need to know the secret handshake. Some days it works, but most of the time that doesn’t work. We might start letting more secret handshakes work soon though.
PH: How can Daytrotter fans keep track of all the new sessions – there’s a Twitter feed of upcoming sessions? And you can opt-in for email notifications?
SM: Yeah, we’re pretty active on social media. It’s a pretty constant flow coming out of us. And we have a daily email newsletter that tells people about the sessions and live streams that are happening that day.
PH: The sessions really sound amazing acoustically. What makes the sound so crisp and warm? Are people too accustomed to overly post-processed music? Sometimes I really feel like I am right there in the recording studio.
SM: I think we just have some great engineers and importantly, the bands that come in to do sessions with us put themselves in our engineers’ hands. They have heard our recordings and they realize that they can trust them to make them sound good. I think that’s a huge thing. We record to tape. That’s another.
PH: So people can stream from the web and members can download the tracks and listen back anyway they like, correct? What format are the downloads? Can people also listen from apps for Android and iOS? How about connected devices like Sonos?
SM: That’s correct. The majority of the downloads are at 320(kbps). There is a small amount of stuff at lossless, but we can’t afford to do that for everything so that’s a premium and we’re not really adding to that list these days. We have iPhone and Android apps, yes — both of which allow you to listen to everything on the site as well as tune in to the live audio streams of the sessions as they’re being taped. We’re looking into Sonos. [Parker’s note: I ended up discovering that most of the Daytrotter sessions are accessible from Wolfgang’s Vault if you are a member there. Sonos streams Wolfgang’s Vault so you can access them that way already]
PH: Besides being able to download the sessions, what are the other benefits of becoming a Daytrotter member?
SM: We’ve started releasing limited editions of Daytrotter sessions on vinyl and members get a great deal on those (all members get 25% off of everything in the Daytrotter store). We have promotional deals with each vinyl release where if a person purchases a new annual membership or gifts an annual membership, they get the vinyl being offered for free (minus shipping).
PH: In addition to the sessions that you record there in Rock Island, you also put on highly acclaimed tours. Can you tell me a bit about those for people that have never attended one? What makes them different than any other summer concert?
SM: We put on shows in old barns, mostly here in the Midwest. They’re pretty difficult to describe in that you can’t fully understand how incredible it is to see Delta Spirit or Dawes or anyone, really, play in a beautiful old barn in the middle of nowhere without actually having been there yourself. It’s truly magical!
PH: Any details that you can let us in on for the Barnstormer 2013 tour?
SM: Not yet. Hopefully soon.
PH: What most excites you as you begin looking forward to next year?
SM: A little bit of everything. We’ve got some exciting plans for this coming year, many of which are going to get going very soon. Can’t wait to see the new year.
PH: If you had to pick one band or artist that hasn’t yet visited Daytrotter- who would it be?
SM: Willie Nelson. Let’s do this!
Membership is just $24/year which affords the member not only the ability to stream an unlimited amount of HD tracks from either the website or robust Android or iOS apps but also to download unlimited tracks, access to all the videos and a 25% discount at the store. And if all that isn’t enough, in a current deal that seems too good to be true, with a yearly subscription of $24, you receive a $20 coupon for use in the Daytrotter store. Pick up a hoodie, T-Shirt, poster or other one of a kind rock memorabilia. If vinyl is your thing, there’s some interesting choices including Trampled by Turtles, Doc Watson, Dawes and various compilations.
Hidden Track has a complimentary one-year subscription for one of our lucky readers. Just leave a note below telling us that you want to enter the contest and we’ll randomly pick a winner sometime early next week.