I Am Making Progress

documenting a new internet venture from day one

Hear The Scene – My First Website

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In November 2010 I moved to Cambridge, MA. I love to see live music and goto clubs to dance. I’m also a huge internet user and all around nerd (for example I have a Ph.D. in physics). Finding where to go, what was cool, what I could expect from the bands/DJ’s proved difficult in my new city without any “real world” connections to the local scene. It was this problem that lead me to the idea of Hear The Scene (HTS).

My issues with getting to see local music could be solved by the internet if there was a site that had a comprehensive listing of shows with the artists’ music embedded in the listing. My thinking at that time was that reading “critic reviews” about a band or looking at the band’s bio just wasn’t enough to give me a feel for their music and more importantly make me confident that I will enjoy the show if I go. My music tastes are very personal and don’t usually match up well to any one music blog or review site. Additionally, if music could really be communicated with words alone it would seem that there would be little use for the artform in the first place. There is music for many of the bands on the internet but I found it far too time consuming to click on each listing and then click on the various artists’ links to websites, Facebook or MySpace pages. If there were 10 shows in a given night, that’s a lot of clicking and navigating back and forth.

I sat on the idea for a while until I was laid off in May. At that point I decided to take a stab at creating the website. During that time I came across a few interesting sites. If you let Songkick have access to your iTunes folder, they will alert you to any upcoming shows in your area for any artists in there. It’s a really great service, and helps with the problem of missing your favorite bands’ shows the one time a year they come to town. I also found Tour Volume and even a local Philly site Bits and Watts. These last two sites are quite similar in philosophy as Hear The Scene. Tour Volume is national in scope, I’m not sure how they populate their events list. I would assume they use some API from Live Nation or other nationally scoped site. They only have short samples of music (from itunes?) but it’s better than nothing. I’m not sure what was the story with Bits and Watts by the time I found them they seemed to be shutting down. Maybe I can get the founder to write a guest post on here about their story? Finding some competition really boosted my confidence that I had a good idea. But like all good ideas, it’s the execution which counts in the final analysis. Time will tell with Tour Volume and I guess Bits and Watts didn’t quite get the right formula.

At the time of my layoff I had only limited experience with HTML, CSS, javascript and a little bit of Ruby. I decided to start two tumblr blogs hearthescene.tumblr.com and hearthescenedj.tumblr.com and started posting a daily list of philly shows so I could get up and running right away. Every post had an embedded video from youtube/vimeo or streaming audio from soundcloud/bandcamp. I then began learning HTML, CSS and javascript in order to develop a full site. I was also at a cross roads, I had to write the “back end” in some language. The web server needs to be able to connect with your database. There are lots of choices, but I was deciding between Ruby and PHP. I had a little experience with Ruby and some friends that really were pushing me to use Ruby, but I found the online resources to actually learn Ruby were difficult for me to use and not very numerous. I was already learning HTML, CSS and javascript from tutorials at www.thenewboston.com and I really loved the style of them and picked up the languages quickly. The New Boston had PHP tutorials but none for Ruby. Against most of my programming friends’ advice, I learned PHP.

With my growing knowledge of the necessary web development tools (HTML, CSS, javascript (jQuery), PHP, MySQL) and the help of a real pro web design friend (see www.drivve.com for an example of his work) I began developing the full site. I moved back to Philly and linked up with an old high school friend who is a database programmer. Together we finished HTS version 1.0. Version 1.0 of HTS is pretty similar to what we have now, so take a look at this video to see how it operated.

We had a nice database structure, all the events, artists and venues were tied together well and we had some back end automation, so once we had an artists/venue in our database it was a breeze to add new events for them (If you go back in the calendar to August-October there you can get a feel for how the site worked back then). That being said, ultimately what killed HTS is the process of adding events. First issue, we mainly worked with the database using Microsoft Access. Hah, I know, wtf?? Anyway, it’s what my partner used at his job and I just never got around to finishing the web-based input forms so we could get rid of MS Access. Second issue, the events needed to be manually added. Entering the DJ listings would go quite quickly as they are pretty repetitious month to month, but it took many hours each month to enter all the live listings and find all the media to go with them. At it’s inception I had confidence that the process would speed up over time and that ultimately if we wanted to expand out of Philly we could hire interns or employees at relatively low salaries to actually input the events. None-the-less, we didn’t make it that far and my new idea (or maybe it’s just a pivot) is in part directly a result of this difficulty.

The event input bottleneck was certainly a real problem, but if we had more traffic we probably would have stayed motivated and made a real effort to streamline that process. Ultimately we saw very little traffic, we would be excited to see 30 people visit the site in a day. If we had a site that didn’t take SO much time each month just to maintain, we could have let it go for longer and HTS could possibly have caught on in Philly. So the second big issue that I am addressing with my new venture is that of user engagement.

In summary, although HTS is in its death throws I still believe very strongly in the basic idea that lead to its creation. Comprehensive, music event listings with embedded,streaming music would be a very useful and popular tool online.  The development process of HTS got me to learn all types of new skills and really primed me to be able to tackle this new idea. Back in May I couldn’t consider something this complex or ambitious, I just didn’t have the skills to pull it off. Now, I also have about 6 months of experience in the trenches with listing music events and the local scene in Philly. I’ve made some connections with people and developed a pretty clear style as to formatting useful, readable listings, presenting them on a site and how to structure a database to manage all this data. In my next post I will present my new idea and maybe start to discuss what I’ve done so far with it and what I plan to do next.

Til then,



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