Too broke, ambivalent, couch-potato-like to make it down to this year’s SXSW? Don’t worry, in this age of niche affinity groups there’s a community of like-minded individuals willing to accept and entertain you without judgment, $500 hotel rooms, $225 wristbands and interminable lines. Meet Couch by Couchwest, a web-based festival that lasts from March 8-16 filled with free, exclusive music performance videos and whose motto is "where the beer is cheaper and the only hipster is you." We caught up with the site’s co-founder Amy Holdor who broke it all down (plus, pointed us to some of their best videos).
Billboard.Biz: Tell us about Couch by Couchwest
Amy Holdorf: It’s a group effort– there are four of us located [mostly] throughout the east coast: I’m in Boston, one guy is in Baton Rouge, another is in Atlanta and one guy is in Blacksburg Virginia.
How did it come about?
We are all friends on Twitter and have similar taste in music. In 2011 we were all feeling jealous of our friends who were attending SXSW -- a couple of these people have kids and families or just didn’t have the money to travel to Austin -- so we said where is the festival for people who sit home on their couches and watch TV? So that’s when we came up with Couch by Couchwest.
What Twitter connection did you all have?
We are all music fans of similar music and read the same kind of blogs –we’re all kind of fans of alt.country genre. For example Lucero is one of our favorites or Two Car Garage. There’s always secret cabals of people on Twitter who like similar things. We all have day jobs and other gigs. But we all have similar interests that ‘s how we got to know each other.
Have you been to SXSW?
I have not, unfortunately I live in the Northeast and it’s always been prohibitively expensive for me to fly to Texas. We don’t want to slag on SXSW, we’re just jealous that we can’t go - -that’s the bottom line.
I read that one of your founders Greg (who runs the Captain’s Dead blog) said he’s been ten times but that SXSW was even getting to be “too much for his music, beer and taco-loving self.”
He’s 38, I’m 40 we’re all in the same age demographic. He was complaining that he wanted to see a band last night in Louisiana but they’re set didn’t start until midnight and that he’s too old and has a job in the morning.
Complaints seem louder this year than ever about SXSW's crowds and corporatization, is CXCW an antidote to that?
Yeah, to some extent. We get 10,000 hits on our site a day, SXSW is prob. getting 10 million. I don’t know how much of a antidote we are, but it’s fun. It’s great for us and it’s fun for the people on there. The vast majority are musicians who play because they love it – they are realistic, they know they’re not going to be the next big rock star, they sit in their living room and strum their guitars and have a passion for music and that’s what drives them.
How did you launch the site.
We set it up in about three minutes and made a Tumblr blog our first year. We put a random call almost entirely on Twitter for musicians – we all know a handful of musicians and used some of our connections and some PR people picked it up and asked their friends and clients too to participate.
What’s with all the “critters” on the site?
It started in 2011 we just had a picture of a fat cat with a remote control and a bottle of a beer as our Twitter photo and told people to send us pictures of themselves watching videos – so they sent pix of their pets -- we give awards at the end of the year. We do best of show for cats and dogs, best of show for facial hair – we just do goofy stuff at the end of the festival to acknowledge the people who made cool videos.
What are the finances of the site like?
We don’t have any budget, we don’t have any sponsors -- actually I shouldn’t say that we’ve had a couple of independent record labels that have given us prizes to give away. But In terms of money, we bought our web domain and that’s about it. We’re not making any money from this. We’re selling t-shirts essentially at cost.
What are the parameters for submitting videos?
The one rule is that you have to make a unique video for Couchby. So pretend it’s your performance – that’s the only rule. It can be a cover or an original, you can promote your music if you have an album out.
I didn’t recognize any of the musicians on the site, who are some of the bigger ones you’ve had?
We got Neko Case our first year, she was promoting a charity -- that was pretty neat. We posted one last night by Chuck Prophet he was cool for sending us one. I filmed Rhett Miller last night who happened to be in Boston. We always try to sweet talk musicians who are more well-known on Twitter. Sometimes they answer us – it’s fun that way.
There is an overwhelming preponderance of Americana or alt.country groups on there.
We’re open to any genre, but our joke is that we’re a showcase for white guys with acoustic guitars but we would honestly would take any type of music.
It’s crazy how many white guys with guitars there are out there.
Yeah, there’s a couple of indie rock bands, but if a hard rock pops up that’s be fantastic. Even a rap group would be awesome. We’re not huge music snobs, we’re fans of every kind of genre
What other platforms are you on
We have a couple of YouTube pages. We have a playlist from 2011 and 2012 in our archive section on the website and we have a Facebook page and of course a twitter site – we try not to spam people on Facebook – we do most of our posting on Twitter.
What are your most popular videos?
This year so far there’s a guy named Riley Baugus who’s a very well known banjo player who’s on the Cold Mountain soundtrack and played with Willie Nelson and other famous people – he’s the most popular video so far in the first few days. He’s very well known in the style of traditional Appaliachian banjo – that’ just this year.
What about the last three years.
I don't know about those? I’m sure Neko Case got a lot. Gretchen Peters, Ray Wiley Hubbard were very popular.
What’s the most bizarre video you’ve posted
There’s a guy named Bluejay from Florida last year and his band did a video entirely naked – they’re pretty good musicians too. He did it in 2011 as well.
Naked as a Blue jay?
Yeah, exactly. The fun one this year is this rock band from rural Utah called Two Mule Blues who are licensed in explosive and did some pyro at the end of their video. Their in a ranching mountain area you can see all these cows scurry away in the background as the pyro goes off. [Look for the pyro around the 4:18 mark]
How many videos do you put up a day?
We’re way behind. We started out doing 30 a day, we’re going to have to go to 50 or 60 because we are going to be overwhelmed .
What about international videos?
We have videos from Europe, last year from Australia, we had a guy from Finland who writes a blog and sends photos of his cat and Canada.
Have any artists broken out from CXSW?
We have handful of artist who played here and then played SXSW the next year – a band called the Pollies. Fairly new last year and think they just formed – all veteran musicians they’re playing SXSW this year. I know there’s been others.
Is there a best video in the Couchby Awards?
Most of them are funny and we couldn’t just come up with one. We do an editor’s choice awards, we came up with a bunch of our favorites last year – a lot of us have the same favorites. There was a band in the Atlanta area called Chase 56. They did a couple of really great videos last year.
What are your traffic numbers like?
Our highest total in terms of page views last year 6,000, but we had 11,000 yesterday –we already surpassed last year by a lot.
What’s coming up?
We’ll have the awards up on Monday or Tuesday.