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Daytrotter brings music to the web for indie bands
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Photo: Aaron Facemire / staff
Sean Moeller, founder of Daytrotter, poses in front of the many band posters that line the walls at the 'Horseshack,' the Daytrotter studio in The District of Rock Island, on Nov. 30, 2011.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Aaron Facemire / staff
Sean Moeller fields a phone interview at the 'Horseshack,' the Daytrotter studio in downtown Rock Island, on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2011.

ROCK ISLAND -- There's only one Quad-Citian that's ever been named one of the 100 People of the Year by the entertainment staff of USA Today -- and you've probably never heard of him.

The local anonymity suits 33-year-old Davenport native Sean Moeller just fine.

"I stand a better shot at getting recognized in New York City than I do my hometown," said Mr. Moeller with a shrug.

His humble approach, genial attitude, and do-it-yourself spirit has helped catapult Mr. Moeller's simple idea for a website -- Daytrotter.com -- into the darling of the independent music scene. These days, Daytrotter brings in around five million page views per month and has become a daily must-stop for music fans worldwide.

The concept for the site is simple: Bands drop by Daytrotter's non-descript Rock Island studio space and record four songs straight to tape using vintage gear and classic analog recording equipment. Once the songs are laid down, they get uploaded to the website for the public to sample and download at their leisure. It's a virtual one-stop shop for music fans looking for their favorite artists or wanting to check out new talent.

It's a simple formula that's barely changed since the site's launch in March of 2006.

"The thrust of the site has always been our recording sessions. Even with a few twists and turns, Daytrotter in its current state is still pretty much the way I'd originally envisioned it," said Mr. Moeller.

That vision began shortly after college. Having been turned on to the music of Weezer in high school ("two great albums and then pfft!"), Mr. Moeller went off to college in Iowa City and rapidly gained an affinity for indie rock thanks to stores like the famed Record Collector.

"Times like that can change a man," said Mr. Moeller with a grin.

After graduation, Mr. Moeller applied his well-honed writing skills to freelance gigs and local journalism, but felt like something was missing.

"I was frustrated," he said. "I felt stifled. I really wanted to do my own thing, but what? I wasn't about to start my own music magazine."

When a former freelance employer suggested Mr. Moeller launch a website and volunteered some start-up funding, the path was chosen.

"It was an exciting time," said Mr. Moeller. "I'd taken some HTML classses, but basically had no idea what I was doing."

What he did have, though, was an extensive list of contacts in the indie music world.

"I started with a short list of labels and publicists that were willing to support us," Mr. Moeller said. "It's amazing how many of those people we still work with today."

Developing bands appreciate free publicity and exposure, and that's what they get with Daytrotter. Being a stone's throw from Interstate 80 means every indie rock band with a tour bus likely is driving past the Quad-Cities on their trek either to or from Chicago, which makes a quick stop at the Daytrotter studio logistically easy.

"When we started, we posted one new session every Monday," said Mr. Moeller, "and it felt like we were working SO hard."

Nowadays, Daytrotter posts three new sessions -- 12 songs -- daily, and it's still run by the same skeleton crew. Mr. Moeller writes the site's content while the day-to-day is handled by his brother-in-law, Phil Pracht. Local illustrator Johnnie Cluney provides the artwork and Mr. Cluney's wife, Bambi, handles publicity. The final component of the team is sound engineer Mike Gentry, who mans the recording booth for nearly every Daytrotter session.

Since the site's launch, Daytrotter has delivered more than 20 million downloads directly to music fans. For some artists, this makes Rock Island just as crucial of a tour stop as a major city. Occasionally, if the stars align just right, Mr. Moeller can convince the band to stick around and play a full gig at a local venue. Mere weeks before they were on the cover of Rolling Stone, Vampire Weekend played to about 50 people in the side room of Rock Island's Huckleberry's Pizza. Alt-folk guru Bon Iver routinely sells out 2,500-seat venues worldwide, but his Daytrotter gig in Rock Island was so intimate that he abandoned the microphone mid-set and just sang to the small crowd of appreciative fans.

With an ever-expanding fanbase and public hunger for more and more sessions, Daytrotter now has auxiliary recording studios at their disposal in Austin, Texas, Nashville, Tenn., Asheville, N.C., Portland, Ore., Montreal and London -- all of which feature vintage analog recording gear.

At the heart of it all is a music site run by a true music fan.

"I can't name one artist we've had in that I've been disappointed in," said Mr. Moeller. "If anything, Daytrotter has made me appreciate a good song and a good band even more."

Just don't ever confuse the site with a blog.

"So many music blogs out there are just non-stop hype machines," said Mr. Moeller. "I don't feel like we hype bands. We're not trying to tell people what to listen to. We keep it simple. Our approach is more like, 'Here's a band. Have a listen.' "

In order to facilitate the site's growth, Daytrotter recently abandoned all advertising and instead switched to an affordable subscription model. Two dollars per month is all it costs for full access to the site's 1,600-plus sessions, and new developments could take the Daytrotter empire to even greater levels in the days and weeks to come.

"Our goal is to just keep on keepin' on," said Mr. Moeller, "plus some other cool stuff. Let's just say that there are things coming down the line that'll make the Quad-Cities a pretty awesome place to be."

Maybe one day, locals might even recognize him.

Living the dream

Who: Sean Moeller, founder of Daytrotter.com

Quote: "The thrust of the site has always been our recording sessions. Even with a few twists and turns, Daytrotter in its current state is still pretty much the way I'd originally envisioned it."

For stories about other Quad-Citians and their dream jobs, visit Working the Dream.

Local events heading

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1914 — 100 years ago: President Wilson announced that he had received from the imperial chancellor of Germany a noncommittal reply to his inquiry into a report that the emperor was willing to discuss terms of peace.
1939 — 75 years ago: Delegates at the Illinois Conference of the Methodist Church in Springfield voted to raise the minimum pay of ministers so that every pastor would get at least $1,000 annually.
1964 — 50 years ago: An audience of more than 2,600 persons jammed into the Davenport RKO Orpheum theater with a shoe horn feasted on a Miller-Diller evening that was a killer night. Phyllis Diller sent the audience with her offbeat humor. And send them she did! It was Miss Diller's third appearance in the Quad-Cities area.
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