At the after party for a comedy show this summer co-presented by The Onion and Noise Pop at The Independent on Divisadero, one of the comedians asked me, "What, um, is Noise Pop?" It seemed like an easy question to answer but I found myself stumbling with my answer. Part of that may be my own desire to come up with a brilliantly clever quip in response to this clever-quipping comedian. And part of it is because Noise Pop isn't something that can be simply summed up. Noise Pop is an annual music festival, that part's easy. But starting this year it is also a new business dedicated to a number of other things including a continuing series of special events here in the city, original podcast programs, a sprawling new website with lots of features, internet radio programs, and merchandise.
But somehow, even after rattling off our different initiatives, I am not sure if I've explained what Noise Pop is. And interestingly I think there are more and more new businesses that are similarly... inexplicable. Take Little Radio, based in LA. Basically, Little Radio is an internet radio station. But their website is also an indie music blogzine -- highlighting news and posts from dozens of music blogs from all over -- and a podcast network with links to various music podcasts. Beyond that, Little Radio's headquarters is a warehouse in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles with a stage and good sound system that plays host to unannounced shows by indie heavyweights including Sonic Youth, Peaches, and She Wants Revenge among others. In the parking lot next door they held a series of barbeque shows every Sunday this summer called the Little Radio Summer Camp. These events were free, had two to three bands performing and attracted sizeable crowds to listen to live music, frolic in inflatable pools and slip'n'slides, drink cheap beer and eat homemade barbeque.
All those things sound like a lot of fun -- cool music events, secret hipster shows, informative website. Here's the thing, Little Radio are also organizing a four month bio-diesel bus tour of the US with stops in various cities at music festivals and shows where they'll be spreading an environmentally conscious message and webcasting live. They're also renting out office space next to their warehouse / venue and do CD and DVD manufacturing.
The business elements are in there somewhere, mixed in and marinating with the fun events; but taken together they don't add up to a simple sentence of explanation. I think that Little Radio is an example of a new kind of experiential business concept -- a company that has a specific experience and character at it's core as opposed to a product or service. Further, success is not based on manufacturing the highest quality of whatever is being sold. Success is instead measured by how effectively the character of the company is reflected and amplified.
You might suspect that this is an elaborate excuse for me being tongue-tied when asked about Noise Pop; something along the lines of "It's not my fault if words fall short of capturing what we do in concise terms because it's just too cutting edge a business model to explain." And that's not totally wrong but what's also true is that there are new music and entertainment business models being road-tested in tiny clubs, warehouses, bedrooms and even bio-diesel buses that someday soon may not require any explanation.