We can't help but have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, can we? It's often our first stop when looking for local shows (though sfreporter.com/cal is helpful, just saying), but we've been well aware of the drawbacks for some time. Still, we long for small dopamine hits in the form of likes and content; companies that suck up our precious bandwidth in favor of targeted advertising and musicians who are plainly better than Katy Perry or Ed Sheeran getting lost in the fracas for…Katy Perry. And Ed Sheeran.
For musicians and fans of music, wouldn't it be nice to opt out of that framework? To find some new way of promoting ourselves and finding music we love that isn't reliant on someone else determining our fates?
John Cole seems to think so. The retired graphic designer and Santa Fe-based musician has a plan in the form of his recently launched Muezbiz.com, a music promotions site he describes as "grassroots, on the ground—for musicians, by musicians."
Cole dreamed up the online bulletin board while browsing in a local bookstore.
"Around 2012, Amazon created an app that allowed people to walk into a local bookstore, scan the barcode of a book, and buy it from Amazon," he laments, noting that, for the customer, it was about convenience. "People are busy," Cole says. "We go to Amazon because it's easy."
This gave him the idea to create an "umbrella alternative" in the music industry with hopes for "individuals to represent their ideas to their hometown."
But Muezbiz is about more than creating opportunities for independent artists—the site allows both musicians and fans to build fanbases for new and local bands and to curate their own larger picture of what makes up their scene.
"It's a social site," says Cole. "You can 'pin' anything [music related] to a wall, much like a bulletin board."
This includes an events calendar, lessons and sales, bandmate searches, discussion topics and more. Muezbiz consists of social groups congregating around various genres and is meant to act as a direct-to-ear marketing approach that stands in opposition to the multi-million dollar corporations and puts the power into the hands of those who deserve it the most—the artists and fans themselves.
For now, however, it's not great.
While Muezbiz might seem like a great idea, its user experience feels like a relic of the early aughts at worst, like it's still in beta purgatory at best. A clunky interface (to which I was unable to log in for weeks while working on this piece) is the least of the site's problems. It eschews the sleek, intuitive interface of more well-known sites like Bandcamp for a set of confusing navigation bars that don't seem to work as intended. Further, Cole himself admits the site suffers from a low membership count, hovering somewhere around 127 users at the time of our interview.
In fairness, he says, the the site is a labor of love and operating on a shoestring budget, both in terms of time and money.
"All music starts at home," Cole tells SFR, also claming that Muezbiz is a first page result for Google searches in some cities, page two in others. "We're on page two for New York City if you search for 'music bulletin boards.'"
I can only speak for Santa Fe's Google results, but Muezbiz was a no-show on any page when I conducted a search with the same criteria. Still, before you start sharpening the guillotine, please note—though the site may be an incomplete idea, it's a good one.
"What makes us different is that you could represent music and actually make money for it," says Cole, noting that users can allocate a certain intake percentage for different actions such as ticket or gear sales; payouts come after Muezbiz gets its 10%. Additionally, the site doesn't focus itself on local markets only, and Cole says that by building and maintaining virtual clubs, users can "post your band's video to a local page, but people in Chicago can also see the post."
Yes, it's a good thing for people to be searching for music outside of the mainstream sites. Yes, I want to see a local create the next big thing. Yes, most musicians probably want to be removed from the constant need to pump money into online promotions, wasting thousands of dollars only to be one-upped by lesser talents. But the next big thing has to be created for a user base that is given good reason to return, and right now, Muezbiz simply does not have that. Maybe in another year or two (and with a drastic site overhaul), it can become something more than what it is now. As it stands, I'll be crossing my fingers for Cole and wishing him well as he toils against the tough realities of the music game in 2020.