Issue July 14, 2009

Backseat alternative

Website gives touring bands an alternative to the van

Todd Hansen needed a way to stay involved with music. After years of touring with various bands and having little money on the road, Hansen wanted to provide the assistance to up-and-coming artists he never got.

A simple morning walk of the dog last July presented his Eureka! moment: betterthanthevan.com, an online hub to help low-budget musicians network for shows and places to stay in cities where they are touring. Bands search the site for residents in different cities, contact them and have a free place to crash during their stay. In return, the hosts get free admission to a show, free T-shirts, stickers or CDs, or just the happy fellowship of out-of-town musicians.

Hansen, who works out of Austin, Texas, said he built the site in a weekend and works with only a few other people. He’s made steady progress, with users in most major U.S. cities and traffic that averages 3,000 hits a day. The site has also been covered in The New York Times, Wired, The Independent (UK) and USA Today.

LEO: What were some of the touring problems that you thought betterthanthevan.com could help out with?
Todd Hansen: Logistics is a problem for a lot of bands. They may be from Indianapolis and book a show in Boston or New York, and they have no place to stay when they get there. It’s different if you have a good label or a good booking agent, but a lot of smaller bands are doing this stuff on their own. The financial difficulty keeps some of them from going on the road at all. This helps out with that.

LEO: It seems like it would help bands generate more of a fan base in different cities as well.
TH: There is a cool social aspect to it. The bands can let the hosts into the show, and the hosts might bring a few friends along with them. One idea is to send hosts some promotional material in advance, so they can flyer or sell merch before the bands get to town. It provides a practical way for fans and bands to connect.

LEO: What are the hopes for growing the site?
TH: We’d like to have more of a base in Europe. We have hosts in the UK, but we’d like to extend to countries like France and Germany. We really want record labels and promoters to use the site as well to manage their different bands. It’s a rough sketch, but we hope they can throw some money in.