There are productive people, and then there’s Sean Moeller.
Moeller founded Daytrotter, the entertainment website that records live artist sessions at Horseshack recording studio in Rock Island, Illinois, in 2006. From the beginning, their goal was simple: to expose people to new music, running the gamut from rising indie artists to legendary performers of decades past. The studio keeps a rigorous schedule, taping roughly 20 sessions a week with no editing or overdubs. What you see is what you get, and it’s all available for download at Daytrotter’s website for a small subscription fee. Moeller also writes a weekly column for Paste titled “Straight from the Horse’s Mouth” to feature the weekly highlights from Daytrotter’s recordings.
Last night, Daytrotter celebrated another milestone, its 5,000th session with indie rockers Built to Spill. We caught up with Moeller in light of the achievement to talk about what keeps Daytrotter going after nearly a decade in business.
What’s your timeline or recording schedule like these days?
Sean Moeller: We’re working every day. We do the majority of things in Rock Island, but we have auxiliary studios in other spots: London, Nashville, San Francisco and Austin. So all told, we probably record about 80 to 100 sessions a month.
At this point, having so many sessions under your belt, how do you keep things fresh?
Moeller: I think that’s kind of the easiest thing. There are so many bands doing this. I’m finding things that I like on a daily basis. And I think that now, having done this thing for nine years, a lot of people have kind of grown up with Daytrotter, which is a weird mind scrambler for me. That means that if somebody’s 25 now and three or four years out of college, they were actually a freshman or sophomore in high school when we started this.
Your goal with Daytrotter from the beginning has always been to find great music that you love and show that music to other people. Has that goal changed or expanded at all over the years?
Moeller: I think it’s really just expanded. My favorite thing is still finding somebody that I listen to and immediately am drawn into them, and giving either an out-loud sort of outburst, like “How the fuck don’t people know this person?” or just getting excited that I did find them. It’s exciting for me to find something and immediately write them or reach out to them and say, “Hey, I love your music. When can we get you to Rock Island?” And to get those responses back from a lot of people, it just turns out more and more frequently these days that they’re also fans of what we do and that they’re ecstatic to have caught our ear. We have the capability to record a lot of people and to do a lot of work, and that in turn helps a lot more people.
What’s it like going from recording some relatively unknown bands to one of the artists you have in your legends section, like Carly Simon or Aimee Mann?
Moeller: We treat everything the same. Everybody gets the same amount of time in the studio. It’s usually two hours from when they get here to when they leave. I think when you start treating people differently, that’s when it kind of goes strange. We’ve always just looked at it as you’re another artist, and that’s not necessarily downplaying somebody that has earned a little bit more of a stature. Everybody is on even footing when they come to Daytrotter. They’re gonna come up the stairs just like everybody else, see the gear that’s available for them to play on and they’re gonna have two hours. I think there’s a simple sort of beautifulness in that.
You don’t really adopt the mindset of a lot of media publications when it comes to being the “first” to show somebody something, because realistically you can’t prove who was the first. Did you guys view yourself as contrarian when you started Daytrotter?
Moeller: I don’t think so. When we started Daytrotter, there were fewer things like it out there. Now there are lots of sites that do sessions and bring people in to shoot video or audio. At the time, I didn’t really think we were being contrarian. There was no need to make any wild boasts. There was no reason to have any huge slogans or mission statements. Plenty of people know about plenty of bands. If we’re able to chronicle somebody that’s great, that’s really all that should matter. I’ve always looked at Daytrotter as more for the common people, rather than just for the people that wear tight jeans and have a different mind frame. We’re just trying to bring the best stuff that we can showcase.
For one guy doing all the artist write-ups on Daytrotter’s website, you’re pretty prolific. How long does it take per artist?
Moeller: It really depends. I had to cut back quite a lot. I just felt I wasn’t doing it justice anymore. It was just really time-consuming. I’d like to do more of it, but at the same time, I sort of take stock in what I’m really great at. It’s better to arrange for [an artist] to come and visit us than to spend hours and hours working on an essay, when I could be helping somebody in more of a tangible and meaningful way.
How did you start writing “Straight from the Horse’s Mouth” for Paste?
Moeller: Josh just asked me to, and that’s actually been great because it’s sort of replaced doing the hardcore writing for Daytrotter with doing more snippet sort of things for Paste. I’ve had a lot of fun submitting those every week and providing a snapshot of what we’ve been doing.