Now Arriving On Track 3 – Indie Musician Josh Urban’s Rail Tour Report

TThe train crept into Union Station ever so quietly, as if it knew it wasn’t in New York any more, and people in Washington, DC did sleep at 1:30 am. I stumbled out onto the platform with, to quote Simon and Garfunkle, my suitcase and guitar in hand, greeted by a quiet station and the sound of electricity intermittently crackling off the wires overhead into the darkness.

Copyright 2012 Noah Urban / www.mazuzu.com

I had just completed my first Interactive Rail Tour, a novel idea spanning six cities, eight states, and as many trains. Throughout my journey, I involved an audience through street music and social media, chronicling my journey, and inviting anyone and everyone to join in using the hashtag #JURT (Josh Urban Rail Tour). The idea was that everyone has a story, so why should musicians be the only ones who get to tell theirs? I would share my stage with anyone who had a story – and since that was everyone, it was bound to be an interesting experiment. I also said that at the conclusion, I would be creating a montage of the media generated. I’m currently working on that, and will be releasing it soon.

This is my first follow up post to the previous story Indie Musician Josh Urban: How I’m Using a Train to Level Up. I’ll also be writing about some specific stories from the tour soon.

The tour taught me a few things that I’ll be using going forward. It is my hope that the ideas from the rails help you in your quest as well.

#JURT / NYC, NY

Idea #1: Leveraging inclusion

When I put on a traditional show, I’m involving audience members through the music I play. When I put a song online, I include people who click on the link. However, for me, I often have difficulty driving traffic to the link, or turning people out for a show. All it takes is people to click or show up, but they are constantly bombarded with similar requests. There’s a lot of noise, and a lot of other people doing exactly the same thing. Taking the show on the rails and inviting people to join me as artistic equals seemed to make the event much more compelling to people. Instead of asking them to commit a lot of time by listening to a song or watching a video (a one-way communication), I could tell them quickly about what was going on, hand them a pre-printed business card with details on it, and invite them to join in. They could choose their level of involvement, from simply listening to the story, or actively participating and jamming on the street, leading to the idea of a true conversation. During the tour, I was able to involve people in the following formats:

  • Inviting them to “tour” by using hashtags and:
  • Posting their story to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google Plus, which I would re-tweet.
  • Broadcasting live concerts from the street over my smartphone and Google Plus
  • Sharing my adventures over Twitter, Facebook, Google +, and Instagram
  • Engaging people walking by on the street
  • Talking to media (more on this later)
  • Inviting anyone to jam – I even brought a pair of drumsticks for this reason
  • Posting daily video updates
  • Talking to absolutely everyone about the project

Since I was talking about a process, and not just a song, it opened up a whole new audience. Even if the person in question wasn’t a huge fan of blues music, they might find the travel format interesting, and wish to hear more, or even better, share their story. Additionally, having more than one way to reach people proved helpful. For example, I arrived in Richmond, VA, to a nearly empty street. For a traditional street musician, this would have been a disaster. However, I was able to broadcast a show on Google Plus over my android phone “Live from Richmond, VA!” (People walking by probably wondered why I was yelling into my backpack on the ground. Little did they know it was propping up my phone!) Hedging bets – or – audiences – can be a show-saver!

Idea #2: Attracting Media Through Creative Ideas

For an indie musician such as myself, I was able to attract a surprising amount of media attention to the idea. Sure, sure, they weren’t knocking down my door, but a fair share of them took my calls. Apparently, the story sounded good to editors and internet media. I was told that the idea was “Unusual and creative.” Needless to say, I was thrilled. An important theme that I heard in my conversations with people who did not want to run the story was: “How does this relate to other people?” I did my best to explain that it did via the invitation for everyone to tour, but I wasn’t able to communicate that as effectively as I would have liked, which leads me to the next point.

#JURT / Philadelphia, PA

Idea #3: Keep the message simple

If I could go back and change one thing, it would be – make the idea clearer. Once an idea forms in one’s mind, it of course makes sense in it’s resident brain. However, I feel I could have been more effective if I simplified and centralized the message. Here’s a silly example of what I might have done to hone the idea:

The MeowTrain Tour: Follow musician Josh Urban as he tours America by train, looking for, finding, photographing, and singing about cats. But why sit out the fun? Everyone knows cats – post your story/photo/song about cats to the hashtag #MeowTrain to join the tour! Show the world YOUR view on our furry friends. Meow!

Next time, I hope to use a clearer message both to attract media attention, and to boost participation from fans.

Idea #4: A Two-Way Conversation – Musicians as Facilitators

Some people prefer to listen, others (like me!) prefer to talk. I think that everyone appreciates the opportunity to do both, regardless of if they actually do join in Since fan engagement is vital to the modern musician, I was excited to offer a genuine platform for people to share on. All the world’s a stage, and it was fun to share mine, treating everyone as an artistic equal. Talking to people I met along the way reinforced my conviction that everyone has something to share. Perhaps musicians can be facilitators for expression, much the way we are for parties and entertainment.

In conclusion

I had a fantastic time trying out this “pilot tour” of sorts, and I can’t wait to get back out on the rails. I’ll be working hard to make sure that each event of mine going forward includes these four points of leveraging inclusion, attracting media through creative ideas, keeping the message simple, and facilitating expression. Additionally, the trip provided much inspiration for an EP. I hope to have the first single out in mid-November. I’ll also be writing a short book about the stories I heard, people I met, and places I visited. If you have any questions about the tour, or would just like to say hello, don’t hesitate to connect at www.JoshUrban.com, www.twitter.com/dontjoshme, www.facebook.com/officialjosh, and on Instagram @JoshUrban

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