MusiciansConnect.com: Where musicians band together

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In the quintessential music-geek film High Fidelity, slacker record store clerk and aspiring singer Barry, played by a pre-Gulliver's Travels (read: still comically edgy) Jack Black, coolly bluffs his way through a conversation with a fellow musician who has responded to a little-noticed flier seeking band mates for Barry's pet project Sonic Death Monkey.

Of course, by the end of the movie, it becomes clear that Barry is something of a musical wunderkind (Black is, after all, one-half of the deceptively talented comic rock duo Tenacious D), and the viewer is left to wonder how he went so long without an outlet.

It's a fictional example, but it's no doubt a familiar situation for many old-school musicians who have struggled to find the right project, the right mix of talent for their band, or even the perfect instrument.

In the digital age, however, the grungy "seeking musicians" flier – a longtime staple of any college town – could, and perhaps rightly should, be on the way out.

That's where Ben Seigel and his start-up website, MusiciansConnect.com, come in. In short, Seigel's site aims to connect musicians with other musicians and with music instructors, and helps musicians find instruments and other gear. In other words, it seeks to impose order on an often chaotic world – that of the artist who seeks to profit from his art.

"Musicians are an interesting breed, artists in general," said Seigel. "I love them, but they're often very un-business savvy. They can be brilliant at their instrument and making music, but all the other things they must do to have any degree of success are often forgotten or left aside. So for people to have a place where, if they're looking for a bassist who plays reggae, to be able to target it down to that and find five people and contact them, we hope to make it easier for people."

Getting started

In reality, MusiciansConnect is more of a reboot than a start up. It's a new-and-improved version of MadisonMusicians.net, which Seigel started in 2001 to fill what he saw as a gaping hole in the market.

"In 2001, I moved back from the Twin Cities and was looking at taking music lessons again because I was kind of a lapsed musician, and also to form a band," said Seigel. Unfortunately, when Seigel looked for resources that could hook him up with instructors and potential band mates, he found very little. "So I built MadisonMusicians.net to serve that very purpose," he said. "I had ulterior motives because I needed to find people myself. Actually, I ended up finding a brilliant studio engineer that way. … The impetus for the new site is to build off the old site and make everything a whole lot better."

Part of the challenge in putting together a sleeker, better site was finding someone to take on the task of building it. Seigel, who runs the Madison Web Design and Development Meet Up, began looking for a partner and found Corey Losenegger, an experienced programmer. Losenegger recently won the best entry award in the Build Madison event for an application called Brainsy, an interface for browsing Etsy.com products that he built in 24 hours with two other programmers.

The fact that Seigel was willing to bring on a partner – when he's a programmer himself – speaks to how serious he is about the endeavor.

"I could have started building this myself; I built the original one, MadisonMusicians.net, but I wasn't confident that I could do as good or efficient a job as someone who is really a true programmer," said Seigel. "That's one of the challenges people find with a start up – do I try to do it all myself, which of course then if you succeed you're 100% owner, or do I kind of swallow my pride and bring in someone who's better at certain things and split the labor more efficiently?"

Right now, the site is live, but is restricted to the Madison market. Seigel says he ultimately plans to expand into larger markets, making money with display ads and possibly charging music instructors for their listings. Given the vast number of musicians who are out there eager to ply their trade, Seigel feels the potential is enormous.

"The musicians that are working musicians – they make a full-time living at this, or are really serious amateurs [who] have a day job but are really serious about their music – they kind of become known to each other in the community because they're out playing gigs, they're interacting, and they're opening for each other," said Seigel. "So if you're in that circle, you do get to know a lot of people quickly who are part of that fraternity. You may know 100 people, but you can go online and find 1,000 or 10,000."

Staying on the cutting edge

Of course, Seigel will have to contend with competitors, some of which are well established. In 2001, when he started his first site, Craigslist was still a relative upstart, but it's since become the go-to site for people who are looking to sell something, find a service, or make a connection.

Seigel, however, isn't worried. He feels that he can drive people to his site simply by making it more compelling than his competitors' offerings. Part of that may involve adding a review function, testimonials, and success stories about people whose bands came together with the help of the website. His strategy is also focused on making the site, first and foremost, a music site.

"We feel objectively that what we're offering is far better and far more targeted," said Seigel. "On Craigslist, someone might post the same ad every day. We won't allow that. We're much more specific about the searchability, the results, the visual appeal, the design."

In short, says Seigel, MusiciansConnect.com is a site about musicians and for musicians – a place where musicians can do business without getting bombarded by irrelevant information.

"When Craiglist wants to add a new category for antiques between 1800 and 1900, they can add that and it will just be kind of part of the big morass of stuff they can do," said Seigel. "With us, we're never going to do antiques – it's all about musicians finding each other and ultimately helping them get stuff done, like helping them accomplish their goals, whether it's a band or studio recording or finding the right teacher, etcetera."

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