Broadjam, Inc. is one of Madison's most successful contributions to the digital revolution that's turned the music industry upside down in recent years. Formed in September 1999 by Roy Elkins, a seasoned music technology entrepreneur, and his wife, Stephanie Essex Elkins, a former corporate sales and marketing executive, the company provides web-based promotional tools and services for independent musicians.
The list of its offerings is impressive. For a fee, musicians can take full advantage of online contests for vocalists and songwriters working in a variety of genres, networking opportunities, tutorials, reviews, web-hosting capabilities and much more. More limited free memberships are also available and include a sampling of the company's services.
The business saw some lean years, says Elkins, but after iTunes upped the profile of the Internet music scene in 2004, there's been no looking back. "We're the only music Internet site that's still around, from all the ones that were online when we started," he adds. "And we're very proud to be part of the Madison scene. I'm amazed at the depth of talent here, across all the genres."
Both musicians and music fans have signed on in large numbers. Currently Broadjam adds about 60 bands a day and claims over 80,000 musicians and music fans as members, says Elkins. They come from all 50 of the United States and over 150 countries worldwide.
Local players like Sims Delaney-Pothoff, a working musician since the late 1970s, have been quick to avail themselves of Broadjam's services. They've seen how quickly technology changes in the music industry and understand that early adapters often have a leg up on their creative peers. It's been "get with it or die," says Delaney-Pothoff, longtime leader of the gypsy swing ensemble Harmonious Wail. He's seen the industry go from vinyl 45s and cassette tape demos to compact discs, and watched as hard-copy press kits went electronic. Digital distribution services have since made bricks-and-mortar record stores an endangered species. Broadjam, he says, is just another technological tool - albeit a very powerful one - that helps him connect with an industry that's always looking for new sounds and inventive twists on tradition.
"It really helped us to get our music digitized," he notes from a corner seat at the Weary Traveler on Willy Street. "They have a huge database of categorized music. I give Roy and Broadjam a total thumbs up, no hesitation. I trust what they are doing; it comes from the right place."
Like any tool, it's only as effective as its operator. Broadjam doesn't perform miracles, but it is a tremendous advantage for those who take the time to understand its capabilities. "If you really work it," says Delaney-Pothoff, "you can get your music in front of professionals in movies, TV, and advertising. But you can't just sign up for it and wait for your phone to ring," the lanky mandolinist advises. "It levels the playing field, but it's still just a tool."
In fact, the company may offer more options than a busy working musician has time to employ. "There is a lot on Broadjam that I haven't taken advantage of yet," admits Steve Schad, a self-described "progressive acoustic guitar" player from Black Earth, Wis.
"I probably book about half my gigs via the Net," says Schad, who acts as his own manager. Broadjam has made that booking process much easier. For example, he notes that instead of sending out hard-copy press kits, he's able to offer a link from his site to a Broadjam page that contains an electronic version of the same material. That saves a lot of time.
Thanks to its international reach, Broadjam may not seem very "local" to clients who access services over the web. But it has had a significant impact on the Madison music scene at large - and one hopes a lasting one. Most obviously, it has become the primary financial backer for the annual celebration of south central Wisconsin's regional music, the Madison Area Music Awards, or MAMAs.
"The MAMAs wouldn't even still be going if it weren't for Roy's dedication," says lead organizer and co-founder Rick Tvedt. Elkins, Broadjam's president, also leads the MAMA's board of directors. This has caused some locals to suggest that the award show is just vain self?promotion for Elkins. But that's a load of poppycock, according to Tvedt. "Roy's life is a whirlwind; I don't know how he does it," says Tvedt. "But he still cares about local music. He really, really cares."
"The best thing about Broadjam," Tvedt explains, echoing Pothoff, "is that it allows independent artists the tools to help themselves." Some local bands don't like the notion of self-promotion. But those bands aren't really going to get anywhere, chides Tvedt, other than maybe the basement.
"There are tons of contests [on Broadjam]," Tvedt admonishes. "If you finish strongly in any of those, it should be a good thing for a press kit. Just like winning a MAMA should be a good thing."