I had the honor of interviewing Jason Horton, the owner of multiple music sites, check out his awesome sites!
Me: So my first question is, for those that aren’t familiar with you or your websites, tell us some about you and your websites
JH: It all began back in 1995 when I was looking for software to record and edit music and discovered there were no websites at that time dedicated solely to this topic so I started a webpage called “Shareware Music Machine” – unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of that original webpage, but there is a copy of the website from 1997 which I built with my best friend and now current business partner, Daniel Barnett, at https://web.archive.org/web/19970206092048/http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/
We’re both musicians, we used to play in a band together back then, and since then, we’ve gone on to create a business around providing information to other musicians.
We’ve created many websites over the years and these days our main focus is on these sites:
http://www.guitarsite.com/ – where we provide news and information about guitar related products.
https://parlor.guitars/ – we’re huge fans of the instrument and this is our attempt to help popularize this 19th to mid 20th century guitar.
https://www.gearank.com/ – something we’ve been working on since October last year and quietly made available to the public in December. We realized that a lot of the advice we give on our other websites is biased by our own personal preferences so we created the Gearank algorithm to objectively uncover which items of music gear are best for the task at hand – it’s only in the early days now, but we hope other musicians will warm to the idea over time.
http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/ – we still maintain our original music software directory, although the need for a service like this isn’t as relevant as it was 20 years ago before search engines became as effective at surfacing music software as they are now.
Me: Very awesome!, what’s your history as a musician?, and what was the process like going from being in a band to running websites?
JH: As a musician, I dropped out of studying physics and mathematics to become a rock star – that side of things didn’t quite work out as my band’s debut single only sold about 27 copies and I’m pretty sure my family and friends bought 26 of them.
For me, the path from playing in a band to producing websites was quite natural because I was really into computers and computer networks (local point to point modem networks before the internet was officially publicly accessible) and my day job at the time was working in print media – industry magazines in the retail sector, then I set out on my own with a print publication for musicians in my local area.
Also, at the same time, as I was playing gigs around town I started to manage other bands in terms of both live work and recording and publishing. I went on to work in music, radio and television, produced recordings of other bands, and was a founding member of the peak body for the music industry in Queensland, Australia – QMUSIC. I was always drawn to the business and media side of the music industry.
But once you have the musician bug – it started for me as young as I can remember but really hotted up at about age 15 – it never goes away. To this day, I still play and write music, albeit for my own pleasure rather than for a public audience now.
Me: Did the stuff you learned in print media and music management help the success of your websites or was it a learning time in the beginning?
JH: Oh, the experience I gained working in business, both music and otherwise, played a huge role in being able to produce successful websites for musicians.
Anyone can create an online resource for musicians, but only a small percentage of those will attract an audience, and a smaller percentage still will be able to turn that into a viable business.
The mathematics are very similar to creating a successful musical act.
The big difference between becoming successful as a performer in music or business is that in business you can use your experience to break through at any stage in life – as a music performer you generally have to do it before you hit 30, otherwise, you’re washed out as far as mass media and public attention is concerned.
That’s not to say you can’t establish a successful niche audience as a musician when you get older, but it’s rare that anyone becomes a pop or rock star at the age of 30 or more – but it does happen in business much more frequently.
Me: Very awesome!, so your first website is guitarsite.com, where you provide news about guitar products, how has that came about and evolved?, and how do you stay up to date on news?
JH: Actually, GuitarSite.com was our second major website after Shareware Music Machine. We initially launched GuitarSite.com in 1999 by merging two websites we bought for a total of $10,000 (a massive sum for us back in those days) – you can see a brief history of the site at http://www.guitarsite.com/news/other/guitarsite-v40b/
GuitarSite.com is now very well known to the management and publicists who work at all the major guitar related manufacturers and brands, so as the editor of the site, my inbox is flooded with information from them on a daily basis.
Me: So they email you when stuff happens?, that must be great!
JH: Yes – I get to know about products before they’re officially announced – it’s a lot of fun!
Me: And then there’s parlor.guitars, which is a 100+ year old guitar?
JH: The Parlor Guitar became popular with social elites in the latter part of the 19th century – it was one of the few portable social instruments at the time and began to rival the Piano at social gatherings which were often held in wealthy people’s parlors. Mark Twain is perhaps one of the best known people who played one at the time.
It’s popularity began to drop off in the early 20th century, but due to it’s portability and affordability, it had a resurgence with the less socially mobile members of society, particularly African Americans who played it as a “blues box”, and then later, with serving personnel during World War II.
It’s popularity seemed to drop off after the war, but it has become more popular again over the last 10 years or so – I personally bought one back in my teenage years – and all 3 of us that make up the key editorial team here are huge fans of the instrument.
I can’t say that we launched https://parlor.guitars/ as some sort of genius business idea, but we are quite proud of the fact that we have spent the last year or so building one of the most up-to-date databases of the modern representation of the instrument.
If you’ve only every played full sized guitars, then they take some getting used to, but they have a retro tone that modern full sized guitars simply can’t replicate.
There is some disagreement over the definition of what a Parlor Guitar is, so we have attempted to explain the instrument as best as we can at https://parlor.guitars/blog/what-parlor-guitar
Me: Awesome!, what attracted you to it?
JH: When I was a teenager, it was the relatively low cost of the instrument that drew me to it.
That’s an important point.
The history of western music is dominated by the wealthy and the elite up to the early 19th century – you had to have a lot of money to be able to afford musical instruments and lessons.
Then the rise of the guitar during the 19th century began to democratize music and the parlor guitar played a role in that. Here was an instrument that was more affordable, easier to learn, more portable and more sociable that most other instruments.
Even today, if you have a cheap parlor guitar, you don’t mind throwing it around and letting others have a go at playing it at parties and get-togethers with friends.
Me: So parlor guitars are cheap but great, and that’s what attracted you and brought about the website?
Me: The low cost initially attracted me to parlors, but it’s the shorter scale and lower string tension which I quite like these days.
The three of us which make up the core editorial team here at Hitsquad all really like parlors and we had talked about starting the site for months before we did it – finally, we found the time to create the site almost exactly 12 months ago.
Me: Oh nice!, do you do anything to celebrate anniversaries with any of your sites?
JH: We have done in the past, but we’ve been so busy getting https://www.gearank.com/ ready for its official launch, and working on our NAMM coverage, that we haven’t really done anything to celebrate https://parlor.guitars/ first birthday.
We opened https://parlor.guitars up to the public on January 21st 2015
Me: Awesome!, can you tell us more about gearank.com?
JH: The concept behind Gearank is to analyze ratings and reviews of individual pieces of music gear by users, customers, experts, and analyze the sentiment in forums, to produce a score out of 100. It provides musicians a measure of user satisfaction with individual items without having to read all the reviews, articles and forum threads themselves. If it succeeds, we hope we’ll do for music equipment what metacritic did for film and TV.
We also pull all of that information together to produce Gear Guides which provide a summary of the best pieces of gear for a particular purpose, based upon all the information we gathered when processing items for their Gearank score. For example, you might be looking for a good condenser mic under $100, hopefully after reading “The Best Condenser Microphones Under $100 – XLR & USB” you’ll have found what you’re looking for.
We’re only in the very early stages yet – the site’s only been available to the public for 1 month so far – you can see most of the pieces of gear we’ve processed so far and what their Gearank score is at https://www.gearank.com/gear
An explanation of how Gearank scores are calculated is at https://www.gearank.com/how-gearank-works
Me: The metacritic or IMDB of music gear, sounds very awesome!, so we’ve mentioned everything but hitsquad?, can you tell us some about that?
JH: Hitsquad is the name of our business which we started nearly 20 years ago.
Although we did a little bit of consulting in the early days, we were building our own websites from the beginning with Shareware Music Machine being the first one.
Me: Seem to have alot of awesome stuff going on!, thank you so much for this interview!
JH: Please let me know when you publish the interview and I’ll spread the word with our followers, thanks Bryan!