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A Friend Service For Touring Bands - Better Than The Van

Nobody likes to sleep in the van. It's one of the most degrading, aggravating, and relationship-killing things a touring band can go through. That's what Better Than The Van is out to solve, and the website is built to unite fans and future friends together with the universal sign of companionship: letting a few musicians sleep on the couch. After all, not everyone has willing friends in every city. I recently caught up with Scott Miller (that's him on the left, alongside partner Todd Hansen) and chatted about his site, his vision and the constant lack of drummers.

So what first inspired you to start Better Than the Van?

I came up playing music in Minneapolis. It's an awesome town but I wanted my band to go play out further. There was a huge lack of good tools to help young/new bands get out on tour. Back then MySpace was a place to start if you didn't have a booking agent or management to help. So that's what we used, and it worked OK but was too much of a promotion platform. As we toured we found ourselves sleeping on the floors of a lot of great people who ended up really helping us out in the long run. So after I moved to Austin and stopped touring I thought it was time for a site that used hospitality as a way for people to connect, support and discover new music. I wanted to make something that was really "useful" and not just another platform to throw your music and tour dates on. There are enough of those. So I threw together the first version of BTTV and put it out there to see what would happen.

Is there any story behind the name?

My wife came up with it. She just blurted it out while sitting on the couch listening to me ramble on about possible names. She's much smarter than me.

What's more important to you, the practicality of finding places for bands to stay or the social aspect of linking fans and musicians together?

I think what's most important is that hospitality can act as the a hub from which a variety of interactions take place. Bands can find other bands touring around the same time and try to hook up shows with them. Music fans can find out about shows, venues and bands they may not have heard of and support them all either through going to the show or offering up their floors/couches. It's also a great tool for bands to find out more info about new cities they're touring by hitting up people in those places. Likewise, music fans can find free places to stay if they're traveling to a show far away. Essentially BTTV is an idea that is constantly evolving to meet the needs of the people who use it.

You have another site called Drummer Hunter. Would you like to eventually build a network of websites like BTTV?

Drummer Hunter was my first idea. As a drummer, it made a lot of sense and was more of an experiment than anything. Yeah, if we had the time and resources, a network of sites has definitely been sketched out. It would be great if we could make it happen. I think the world needs it. And if you need a drummer, stop by DH! It's got over 5,000 profiles of bands looking for drummers and vice-versa.

What are your plans with BTTV down the road, are you working on any new features right now?

Yep, we are. We actually always are. We have quite the laundry list of ideas that are driven by what people who use the site really want.

Here are a few:

1. Location Based Show Alerts: Users will be able to customize notifications that let them know when bands are touring near them.

2. Auto Import for tour dates. Bands will be able to link up their MySpace, Last.fm or other services to their BTTV band profile and import their tour dates.

3. Better SoundCloud integration.

4. Making it easier to post shows to their social networks.

5. Offering a way for bands to sell or "gift" their music.

What have been the biggest obstacles with developing a site like this?

We are a bootstrapped site (read: low cash flow) and it's only three of us so time is the biggest barrier to development. We have a lot of ideas, but only so much time. Plus it's hard to get across to people that the site does so much more for them than just find a place to crash. In a way, we're a bit like a mini-LinkedIn for bands and music fans. We try to be a resource for people who want to get stuff done, not just promote themselves.

On your blog you have interviews with plenty of other music-related sites like BTTV that at their core are built to enable burgeoning musicians. How important is it to you to build this kind of infrastructure for entry-level bands like the ones who would probably use BTTV?

It's extremely important. It's really a small business infrastructure that's being built around DIY. A lot of this didn't exists when I was touring a lot. It's only in the past few years that services like Bandzoogle, BandPage, Pledge Music, Band Camp and others have come around. It's great and they provide a ton of value for bands who want to use them. If it keeps them touring, making records and selling merch then it's a good thing. It all supports the art and spreads more music to more places. That's great because that's what BTTV is all about.

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