Blogger Spotlight: Joshua Weidling (Digital Tour Bus)

Hello and welcome to the latest Haulix spotlight feature. Our PR series is taking the week off due to the incredibly lengthy process of interview transcription, so instead we’re bringing you the story of a blogger who saw an opening in the digital journalism world and made it his own. If you or someone you know would would be a good fit for a future edition of our spotlight series, please do not hesitate to email james@haulix.com and share your story.

When I was younger I spent a lot of time thinking about what life on the road was like for my favorite artists. In my mind the lifestyle of a musician was something akin to the best moments of Almost Famous and This Is Spinal Tap rolled into one, but as I grew older I learned that is rarely the case. The vast majority of artists working today spend a lot of their time in vans, or some variation thereof, and until a few years ago life inside those mobile homes was the stuff of internet legend. Then one day a young man by the name of Joshua Weidling realized that he could expose the behind-the-scenes life of bands large and small to others through multimedia blogging, and not long after Digital Tour Bus was born.

Fast forward to 2013, and the same young man who had a vision in 2009 now stands at the forefront of digital journalism as one of the top video bloggers in the alternative music scene. Even better, however, is how far the site as a whole has come in that time. From relatively simple beginnings, Digital Tour Bus has blossomed into a one-stop shop for all things related to music, and they show no signs of slowing their growth anytime soon.

My first encounter with Digital Tour Bus came in 2010 when I was thinking of using a similar idea for a new feature on the site I was writing for at the time. A friend in publicity mentioned the existence of DTB to me and I remember thinking that I could have kicked myself for not coming up with their concept myself. I logged onto the site a few hours later and quickly fell in love with everything Josh and his team were doing. Three years later, I still stop by DTB regularly, and I believe you will too soon after reading this feature.

If you would like to learn more about Joshua and his ongoing efforts in music, be sure to bookmark Digital Tour Bus. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

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H: For those unaware, please state your name, the site you work for, and your role at said site:

JW: My name is Joshua Weidling and I’m the owner/founder of Digital Tour Bus, www.digitaltourbus.com.

H: To what or whom do you attribute your interest in music?

JW: Believe it or not, I wasn’t really a “fan” of music when I was younger. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I really got into music. I attribute my interest to one of my good friends, Jon Lewchenko (current drummer of Chicago-based, Mighty Fox). He joined a band and asked me if I could promote one of their upcoming local shows. I really enjoyed being involved in the local music scene and decided to dive in.

H: Do you remember the first album you purchased with your own money? Do you still own it?

JW: I believe the first album I purchased was “Stop” from the Plain White T’s and I still own it today. The T’s have always been my favorite band and still hold a special place in my heart.

H: Interviews play a big role in what you do. What first sparked your interest in journalism?

JW: My interest in journalism sparked during my senior year of high school when I started working for a local music magazine called, Crescendo Magazine. When I first started, it was just to help out with Marketing and Advertising, but after a few months, I started to come up with many of the spread ideas for the physical issues. I also wrote at least one article in each issue, although my writing was far from stellar, at the time.

H: You were involved in booking and promotions before writing. Are you still active in that area of the industry?

JW: Booking and promotions is where I got my start in music. It was something that I really enjoyed doing and not to give myself too much credit, but I was pretty good at it. At this point, I’m not directly involved in this part of the industry, but due to my knowledge of the touring industry, I have a few promoter friends who consult with me when they are looking to bid on a tour package.

H: So let’s talk about the origin of your site. Did you write online before stepping out on your own?

JW: I did write a little bit online before starting Digital Tour Bus. I wrote for both, Crescendo Magazine’s website and another site called, For The Sound. Neither of these sites are still active, to my knowledge.

H: What was the inspiration for Digital Tour Bus?

JW: I’ve always felt the need to push the envelope and do something that is unique and different. Digital Tour Bus has served as my outlet for creativity for almost 5 years. When I came up with the idea behind the site, my goal was to give fans access to a part of a band’s life that was, at the time, mostly private.

H: Most sites we ask how their name came to be, but yours is fairly straightforward. That said, it is unquestionably unique. Who was the first band to let you film their ride? How did it come together?

JW: The first band to let me film their ride was the Equal Vision band, Damiera. They were playing a show I put together at a venue in my hometown. That video is and will remain, unreleased. I can admit, when I started doing Digital Tour Bus, I had no film experience and had no clue what I’m doing. I bought my camera, which I still use today, when I decided to develop the idea in January of 2009. That being said, the video I shot with Damiera didn’t fit the standards I set for myself shortly after my first couple of video shoots.

H: What was the original goal of Digital Tour Bus? Has that changed over time?

JW: The original goal was simple, take fans inside the touring vehicles of their favorite bands and artists. Although that is still part of our goal and lives strong in our “Bus Invaders” video series, our overall goal has become much more broad. Today our goal and tagline is “Bringing You On Tour” and essentially what that means is, we want to give our visitors features and news that will both entertain and educate our audience about touring music.

H: How many contributors do you have at DTB? What do you look for in new writing talent?

JW: Between all of DTB’s video editors and concert reviewers, there is a rotating cast of between 10-15 people working on stuff for the site at all times. At the moment, I’m the only person who posts content to Digital Tour Bus’ website, YouTube channel and our other social accounts. The public imagine of Digital Tour Bus is very important to me, but I’ve recently started letting go of some of my personal tasks due to the site expanding past what I can handle on my own.

H: Episode 500 of your ‘Bus Invaders’ series is fast-approaching. Do you have anything special planned for the occasion?

JW: I wish I could say yes and reveal some elaborate video or event that I’m working on, but to be honest, episode 500 is just going to be a regular release in the series. As of right now, episode numbers are just a way for me to tell viewers how many videos of each series exist and I’m more focused on developing some new video series that I’m working on, as well as schedule video shoots with some unexpected touring acts.

H: I noticed a few ads on the site. How much effort have you put into monetizing the site thus far, and do you plan to expand those efforts moving forward?

JW: We currently use Google’s Adsense to monetize the site, but we’re currently working on a few new revenue streams that will take some of the weight off of this source of revenue. I can’t go into detail about all of our future monetization plans, but I can say that we have a definite plan to launch a merchandise store very soon.

H: What are your thoughts on ‘pay walls’ and/or premium content offerings?

JW: Honestly, I’m not a fan of pay walls, especially for sites, like mine, that are in growth mode. It would be dumb for me to limit access to our most popular series, Bus Invaders, since I believe most of the potential reach for the series hasn’t been tapped yet. For larger sites, I believe pay walls can work, but have to be dealt with very carefully. With the internet being and ever growing and changing platform, restricting access can drive visitors into the open arms of your non-pay wall competitors. On the other hand, I am in favor of offering content on a “pay-what-you-want” basis. Although most people will choose to pay nothing, there are many people who are willing to pay for content that is available for free, just to support the creators. Services like Flattr is a good example of this mentality.

H: You’ve featured a number of young artists on your site. Where do you turn when seeking new music?

JW: I’m a big fan of Spotify, for streaming full albums, and YouTube, for checking out singles and music videos.

H: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see young artists make when attempting to promote themselves online?

JW: Easily, the biggest mistake that I see young artists, as well as established artists, making, almost across the board, is thinking they’re too good to talk to interact with their fans. Creating a conversation is so important when trying to establish a fan base and so many fans simply think that having good music is enough. Good music was enough before the internet, but those days are long gone. Also, a big mistake is artists caring too much about the numbers. Having 20,000 likes on Facebook means absolutely nothing if those people aren’t willing to come out to a show or buy your album. I currently manage a band named, Jocelyn, out of Iowa City, IA and although they only have 8,625 likes on Facebook, they recently managed to raise of $20,000 on Kickstarter from over 600 backers. Also, they just finished up their first tour and they drew more people per night then bands that have 50,000+ likes on Facebook and a record label backing them. If artists want to make it in the modern music industry, they better start interacting with your fans and stop treating them as just a number.

H: When it comes to receiving music for feature consideration, which services do you prefer and why?

JW: Like I said previously, I like checking out music on Spotify and YouTube, when available, but if it’s pre-release of an album, services like Haulix are great. I’m not saying this just because this is an interview on Haulix, but because it is probably the most widely used service by independent publicists, at this point. All of the major labels have their own platforms and I personally think they are a big hassle. If possible, I’d like to get all music to be sent to me the same way. Personally, I prefer to streaming music when I can. I avoid downloading albums like the plague. There’s only so much space on my computer and external hard drives.

H: What is the hardest part of this ‘job’ you’ve made for yourself?

JW: My overall goal is to release content consistently, but this is also the hardest part of what I do. This is, in part, due to there being so much flexibility in my schedule. I’ve learned that the more organization that I can add to my daily life, the easier staying consistent becomes. Being complacent is the mortal enemy of a person who owns their own business, so I always try to stay positive and reach for the stars to keep myself focused.

H: How do you feel about music piracy? Can it be prevented?

JW: I’m completely over music piracy and everyone’s focus on it. The big dogs in the music industry, are still, so focus on the unattainable task of eliminating it that they’ve destroyed many of their opportunities for new revenue streams. Any labels who aren’t using streaming services, like Spotify, are not only missing out on a new and growing revenue stream, but on huge promotional opportunities as well. If labels aren’t willing to make their releases available on the platform of the listener’s choice, that is when people resort to illegal methods of maintaining music. Also, sometimes it is easier to obtain a music legally then it is to purchase it. For instance, when albums are released on separate dates in different parts of the world, people become impatient and find a way to get the album on its first release date.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

JW: If I could change one thing, it would be the industry’s constant resistance to change and innovation. Technology is a beautiful thing, but not when you work in an industry that has refused to embrace it to the point that it’s too late.

H: What is your ultimate career goal?

JW: My ultimate goal is to be able to make a comfortable living doing what I love. At this point in my life, doing Digital Tour Bus fulfills my creative goals, but you can never predict what the future holds. If you would have told my younger self that, at age 23, I’d being doing what I do, I would have laughed. The American Dream is alive and it lives in the people who you feature in this interview series.

H: Before we let you go, can you tell us a bit about what you have planned in the months ahead?

JW: In the coming months, be prepared for a lot more videos for both our current series, Bus Invaders, Tour Tips (Top 5) and Crazy Tour Stories, and new series that I’m currently developing. Also, look out for new additions and changes to Digital Tour Bus’ website, as well as a merchandise store.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.