Frederick Wells and Gabe McDonough weren't the first to get in on the action when podcasting went aboveground, but despite their late start they've carved out a niche of their own in the young medium. Music podcasts--streaming or downloadable audio files that can be automatically distributed to subscribers--often follow the form of a radio show, and Wells and McDonough's popular weekly podcast, Market Frenzy, is no exception. But unlike most amateur podcasters, they include complete tracks, not just excerpts--technically illegal because they don't get clearances, but so far no artists or labels have made a stink. Market Frenzy is lovingly curated, each hour-long installment covering music both well-known and obscure from a wide range of genres: the show has included hip-hop from up-and-coming Somalian sensation K'naan and old-school Philly legend MC Breeze, for example, and 60s rock from hit makers like the Moody Blues as well as forgotten psych pioneers the Misunderstood.
"We play basically everything," says McDonough. "We play newer stuff that people might not have heard yet, or older stuff that's more obscure. People in bands will often float us an advance of something that's not out yet. And of course there's lots of shit-talking in between."
Since debuting in April 2005, Market Frenzy (market-frenzy.com) has developed a healthy audience--about 1,000 downloads a week--thanks to a network of music-obsessed MP3 bloggers and Internet message-board geeks, with some help from old-fashioned word of mouth. Within months it had fans in South America, South Africa, and Europe, and in December it appeared in Spin as an "essential" podcast. In February McDonough and Wells started a second podcast, this one for the Empty Bottle, that focuses on music and interviews from artists playing at the club; it's available once a month both at the Bottle's Web site and, because the venue gets written permission to use the songs, free through the iTunes online store.
McDonough, best known as the bassist for the defunct Boas, and Wells, a fellow bassist and local club DJ, got the idea for Market Frenzy in early 2005. "It was about the time when the first MP3 blogs were being talked about and 'podcast' was just starting to get thrown around as a term," says McDonough. "So Fred and I were sitting around having a few beers and talking about that. And he had some good equipment at his house--a mixing desk, a computer--and he just went, 'Duh, why aren't we doing a podcast? We're sitting around playing records and talking about music anyway. Let's do one.'"
Within a few days they'd come up with a name, registered a Web site, and picked DJ handles--for the show's first year, Wells podcast as Particle Ranger, McDonough as Pharmaceutical Executive. They recorded their debut episode the following week at Wells's home, which they dubbed SoFu Studios (for "south of Fullerton"). "It was kind of a way to exercise our little college-radio fantasies, except people around the world could hear it," says Wells.
A mix of music, interviews, and banter, Market Frenzy derives much of its charm from Wells and McDonough's easy familiarity and obvious enthusiasm--there's nothing snarky or detached about their commentary. The show also regularly brings in guests to spin favorites or preview new tracks, including friends or local musicians like Tim Kinsella of Make Believe, Matt Lux of Isotope 217, and Wayne Montana of the Eternals. "The show is tailor-made for a certain kind of music enthusiast," says Wells. "People who, when they hear a record that completely blows their mind, just need to tell all their friends about it--like, 'Oh, you gotta hear how the bass drum comes in in the second verse.' It's really just an excuse to nerd out about music."
Wells and McDonough say making full tracks available for download without compensating artists hasn't gotten them in hot water because Market Frenzy amounts to a good-faith promotional effort--and they claim that most of the bands they play are either so obscure or so new that they're grateful for the exposure. "When we first started, we weren't sure if it was the kind of illegal where you actually get sued, or if you're doing it at a certain level people look the other way," McDonough says. "In the beginning we used pseudonyms and only told our friends about the show. But we got bored of that pretty quickly. . . . In the end we're really just trying to share some good music that people might not otherwise hear."
In keeping with their philosophy, McDonough and Wells have rejected overtures from advertisers and sponsors, including Griffin Technology, makers of the iTrip FM adapter for iPods. "I understand their desire to advertise with us. I mean with podcasting you're so dialed in to a specific demographic--early adopters, if you want to use a marketing term," says McDonough. "But it wouldn't be right to make a dime if the musicians we're playing aren't being paid."
Market Frenzy's success has brought McDonough and Wells a different kind of windfall, though--the Empty Bottle gig. McDonough used to work in the Bottle's office, and club owner Bruce Finkelman approached him last summer about doing a podcast for the venue. "I hemmed and hawed for about six months," says McDonough, "until Fred kicked me in the ass and said, 'Let's do it!'"
"Ultimately, we're just complete music nerds," says Wells. "So the chance to have access to all the people who play the Bottle was too good to pass up--because practically everyone comes through there at such a key stage of their career."
McDonough and Wells typically tape the Bottle podcasts midmonth and post them a few days later. Five episodes in, the show has already racked up more than 8,000 downloads, surpassing Market Frenzy in popularity--thanks in large part to its fascinating interviews with artists like Akron/Family, Edan, and the Animal Collective. The July 20 installment will include an interview with the Ponys and a live performance by the Singleman Affair.
McDonough and Wells aren't paid for the Bottle podcast, unless you count getting into shows for free--they consider the extra exposure compensation enough--but it's nonetheless more professional than Market Frenzy. That extra sophistication is rubbing off. "We've tried to put more structure into Market Frenzy--putting together a mix of DJ sets, guests, theme shows," says Wells. "It's become less of a hobby. Well, technically it's still a hobby--but it's gained a little bit more weight and gravity in how we approach it."
Market Frenzy has also started dabbling in video, most recently with highlights from the two days of the Intonation Music Festival. McDonough and Wells are also promoting their first concert--an August 25 date at the Hideout with legendary Italian Afro-cosmic DJ Beppe Loda, who'll be making his first-ever tour of America. They'll spin their own set too, as will New York-based MP3 blogger Jeremy Campbell of Tropical Computer System.
In last week's column I reported that Ambulette guitarist Matt Clark had sold his car to replace his gear. In fact Clark is only considering it in the event that the band's insurance company doesn't pay out--at present he's still the proud owner of a Volkswagen Jetta diesel.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.