iConcertCal [download it here] is an add-on to iTunes that scans your music library for artist names, then constructs a calendar of those artists’ concerts in your area. The calendar appears as a visualizer within iTunes, and running your mouse over each gig brings up concert information. Click, and you’re taken to JamBase, which offers more details. Every artist you listen to. All of their gigs near you. Get it? I actually threw my fists over my head in triumph when I realized what it was.
During wintertime here in New York City, I keep my spirits up with oaths to make the very most of the warm season, when thousands of musicians converge on the city’s clubs, parks, museums—an endless flood of opportunity to see great gigs.
But when the warm weather rolls around, I lose track of those gigs, and invariably, my summers end in regret. I hear about performances by my favorite musicians after they’ve already played their final show in the city—“And then, dude, he brought ten of us on stage to sing behind him! I played the bongos! It was unreal!”—and I seethe silently at my desk as autumn closes in.
Not this year.
The curse of the digital age is that with so many bands represented by only a song or two in your collection (more than 800 artists reside in my iPod alone), you can’t really expect any single publication to let you know when they’re all coming to town, and my eyes tend to glaze over after the first page of concert listings. By contrast, it’s difficult to describe the satisfaction of running your eyes over a calendar of concerts and realizing that you want to go to not just most of them, but all of them. I’m suddenly faced with the fantasy of seeing multiple shows in a single evening. Can I start my night with the perky eccentricity of Björk, drop in for the apex of Arcade Fire’s set, and then zip off to catch Amy Winehouse’s drunken encore? After Bright Eyes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, I find myself wondering, is Judy Collins perhaps the perfect way to wind down a weeknight?
iConcertCal is an incredibly elegant idea, and ten years ago, the guys who built it (a pair of electrical engineering grad students, Brandon and Jeff, from the University of Washington) would have been batting away offers from venture capitalists. (No joke: The day after I discovered their creation, I was describing it to a friend of mine. He winced, took a weary sip of his beer, and described how, in 1996, he came up with the idea of a service that keeps track of the CDs you play on your computer, and feeds you concert schedules for the artists. “Disney offered me $20 million to run with the concept for three years,” he admitted, eyes burning. He turned them down, calculating that the years 1997 to 2000 would pay him more if he kept his options open. He was wrong. Back then, we all were.) Brandon and Jeff deserve a nice lunch with some executives from Ticketmaster, at the very least.
Even if it doesn’t make them rich (it should, don’t get me wrong), I contend that they have, knowingly or not, created the very future of the music business. The classic formula—you all know this, undoubtedly—is that the music industry makes money off the recordings, while the bands make money off the gigs. The industry is panicked about not making money, because recorded music is available to consumers for little or nothing, and the bands are trying to decide whether or not to panic. But thanks to iConcertCal, the bands will receive even more of their well-deserved compensation by handing out as much free recorded music as possible, because it will bring more people to their gigs. The more MP3s floating around out there—even MP3s that have been stolen outright—the more likely someone is to know about an upcoming concert, and spend money to come see it. With iConcertCal in the middle, free MP3s and paid concert tickets are suddenly connected. It is, at least in part, what the music industry’s been looking for all this time.
And yet, world-changing as this idea is, the software’s free. It blows my mind. I’ll never miss a performance by Manu Chao again—a mistake last summer that had me considering suicide—but iConcertCal doesn’t ask any money from me. They’re just giving it away. And so, by the odd logic of the digital music revolution, I’m going to go off and PayPal a donation to Brandon and Jeff, and I’ve already bought three hundred bucks worth of tickets for the summer. Thanks, guys. You rock. —Jake Ward