Site for sounds

Dec 14, 2005 at 12:00 am gained a front-and-center spot in the legion of current music blogs soon after it was launched in early 2003. Nearly everything on the site is stuff you can find elsewhere. But, it’s the assemblage of “information” — the blog postings and MP3 files, essentially — that accounts for the site’s popularity.

What’s refreshing about MCR is it doesn’t boast a cluster of naval-gazing typists who fancy themselves “writers” ranting incessantly about music. The brainchild of twentysomethings Ryan Sult (pictured) and Matt Caruana, this site is all innocence and DIY purity with a smattering of cheek and (un)healthy dollops of love for new Detroit rock ’n’ roll and indie bands. It transcends its own almost deliberate artlessness with its sheer volume of gossip, MP3 downloads, podcasts, show calendars, a forum, the occasional feature or review, and links to Detroit-specific rock “news” stories, both local and national. Though the site favors the personal tastes of Sult and Caruana, there’s a sense — through its show listings, forum and tidbit-gathering — that it’s community-owned. Plus, the plethora of local and up-to-moment MP3s (compressed song files) available makes it a veritable library of up-and-coming local rock music.

Sult, a bespectacled University of Michigan grad (American culture and music) is gracious almost to a fault. In conversation, his opinions about and exuberance for music are guarded, and he’s careful not to insult anybody. That trait is reflected in his site; MCR rarely offers true music criticism, though commentary from outside sources is linked. After college, Sult did a six-month stint in New York City, interned at RCA Records, and returned home when no record biz gig materialized. He got hired on at All Music Guide as a technical editor (“It’s a lot of dealing with the factual content of databases; not the most exciting stuff in the world”). He also manages the band Holy Fire, which is set to announce its signing to a significant record label.

Sult and Caruana came up with the Motor City Rocks as a “way of making Detroit a little more informed about the strong music scene that’s there,” Sult says. “Matt came up with the idea of adding on a blog. That seemed to be what people were most interested in, so that became the focal point of the site.” A third MCR principal, Gary Blackwell, is now living in Colorado.

MCR’s blog is one aspect, the MP3s another. With MP3 players the gimme item-of-choice for Christmas 2005, young adults between the ages of 18 and 23 have made it known that they prefer downloading to radio. Too, bands and artists have taken their wares to download sites and launched careers overnight. In 2003, DJ Danger Mouse showed that blogs can be a powerful marketing tool with the Beatle-tripping Grey Album, and Brooklyn’s Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah is one recent success tale.

Indie labels and A&R weasels can get whiffs of bands in an instant, sure. But if somebody hears about your band off of, say, MCR, there can be a downside if you’re unprepared and your songs blow. If the scouts come across a band before it’s ready, an initial negative impression could lead to closed doors in the future.

“They may have made their decision of, ‘Yeah, I wasn’t totally thrilled with it,’” Sult says. “Then you have an even harder job of changing a person’s first impression.”

Sult says MCR “generates about $150 a month” from small ads, so it pays for itself, which is all he’s asking for.

The site averages 3,200 page views from 1,600 unique visitors a day, a number Sult says is “more than we ever thought we’d get.” Too, MCR has so far succeeded at its startup objective of providing a platform for the discovery of indie bands that otherwise would be ignored.

Send comments to [email protected]