Guest Columnist

Column: Bands drum up feedback with app

Guest columnistAugust 19, 2013 

Trent McKenzie started writing music soon after he got his first guitar in 2009 and within a year he had lined up classmates at N.C. State University to join his new band called JANT.

Though the band booked local shows and performed on the Warped Tour, it wasn’t long before the frustration came. There was no good way to communicate with the band members about the songs he wrote. There was no good way to poll fans either.

He wanted to know more about a song than just a “yay or nay.” What specifically did fans like about it? Or not like? Only then would he feel confident enough to craft an album that could really take off.

A member of the university’s Engineering Entrepreneurs program, McKenzie took to the lab. What if he could create software that allowed band members and fans to collaborate on songs together using their smartphones?

“It’d be a good marketing ploy for a band,” McKenzie says. “Help us write our next record or hit song.”

McKenzie is representative of a bigger trend happening in music. Bands have learned from the business world that data drives decision-making. And better decisions can mean more notoriety and profit.

American Aquarium, a Raleigh country rock band that plays 250 shows a year across the U.S. and Europe, uses new Facebook analytics tools to mine the demographics of its fans and to determine the most popular songs by region (based on who’s listening to songs they download on the site).

The data helps the band plan unique shows in every city, says lead singer-songwriter B.J. Barham. They’ll play a loud and raucous show for a college-age crowd and a serious lyrical performance for the over-30 audience.

Craig Reed, a music promoter and event planner with Raleigh’s Younger Brother Productions, calls data “the next frontier of the entertainment industry.” He’s started to use a tool called Ticketfly, which tracks social media activity and ticket sales to find a band’s biggest fans.

But McKenzie is taking it all a step further, creating a startup data company at the same time as JANT records a new album. A pair of N.C. State students is helping build the business and develop the mobile app.

Initially, it will let band members communicate with one another about elements of a song while listening to it. Eventually, bands will use the technology to also poll fans. The app will compute the responses to pinpoint for bands what chords, lyrics or sounds work and which don’t within a song.

The team has received undergraduate research grants from N.C. State and won nearly $7,000 in its annual LuLu eGames entrepreneurship competition this year.

McKenzie, who works by day as a patent agent at the Charlotte law firm Moore & Van Allen, has already secured a patent for the technology.

Though many bands have already expressed interest in using the app, McKenzie and JANT will be the first.

“We built this for us,” McKenzie said.

Laura Baverman is a journalist, who spent eight years covering business for Cincinnati newspapers before moving to Raleigh.

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