Downwrite is a new project started by Bob Nanna (Braid, Hey Mercedes, Lifted Bells) and Mark Rose (Spitalfield) that allows fans to have their favorite artists write a song just for them. The site has quickly assembled a roster of fantastic musicians boasting current and former members of bands like the Get Up Kids, the Anniversary, Punchline, Alkaline Trio, and Piebald.
I was able to catch up with Bob Nanna to ask him a few questions about how Downwrite started, what is next for the site, and if he would write a Polka song.
To start off, what is Downwrite?
Simply, Downwrite is a place where you can have your favorite artists write an exclusive song especially for you. There are other fun twists and turns in there and of course, there is the artist’s perspective but that one line sums it up nicely.
How did the idea for the site come around?
Mark Rose and I were having dinner and just got to talking about the concept of writing songs specifically for other people. It’s an idea that I’ve been messing around with for a while because often times I feel like I write too many songs for my own good. Conversely, I wish I wrote more songs, too. So we were just going over ways that a musician/songwriter in a band could do meaningful work while on “downtime.” We came up with a lot of ideas, including a website devoted to such a thing. The next day, I woke up and called Mark and said something like, “remember that ONE idea we had, let’s try and make that one happen.”
How did the two of you get hooked up to work on a project like this?
Mark and I have been friends for a long time and our bands have toured together as well. We also know what it’s like to have a few different projects going and the challenges involved with being a full-time musician.
How does the experience work for a customer?
The customer comes to the site, finds the artist and then answers questions on that page. Usually it’s related to what they would like the song to be about, who is it for, etc. but it could also be a little more vague. The customer then pays the fee determined by the artist and within 2 weeks, the song is delivered, and at that point, the artist gets paid.
How do you approach writing the songs for a project like this versus your own bands?
It’s not that different actually other than I have a specific frame of mind as to what the song will be about. For any of my other projects, 9 times out of 10, the music comes first and then the subject matter develops from there.
Is the delivery of the music purely a digital file at this point or do the customers get anything extra with the package?
It is just a digital file at this point. If any artist wanted to add an extra item or a physical copy, that that’s up to them.
Are the songs that are being purchased mainly by fans of the artists at this point or have there been any bands/artists who have used it as a collaboration technique?
It’s been mainly fans of the artists. Eventually, I’d love for Downwrite to be a place where people can find their NEW favorite artist.
Is the expectation that if I, for instance, ordered a Bob Nanna song it would sound like that or if I wanted Bob to write a polka that would happen?
Personally, I’d LOVE the challenge of writing a polka. I still have tons of my grandparents’ old polka records and grew up in a predominately Polish neighborhood in Chicago so I know my way around an accordion. But if the artist is ever uncomfortable with the request in anyway, they can always politely decline it.
This is probably an obvious question but if you could pay money to have someone write a song for you, who would it be?
Judah from The Velvet Teen or Tony from Aloha – I’ve been in contact with both of them to be a part of the site so those could be realities. As for pie in the sky stuff, maybe Morrissey or Evan Dando.
There has been a lot of personalization/specialization within the music industry. I think of sites that give private concerts, for instance. Was the approach for this more of a business plan or art experiment?
Business plan based on an art experiment, if you’ll accept that as an answer. Making music is art and getting specific challenges or constraints can result in very positive artistic outcomes. I really love some of the songs I’ve done for the site. And to be able to get directly compensated for the work, well, as a person who knows all too well what it’s like to drop thousands of dollars into a record that most people will download for free, it’s a welcome change. I don’t mean that to sound bitter, but it’s just the reality of things now.
You already have a fantastic roster of musicians, do you approach the musicians or do they come to you?
Most of them have been invited by us. They’re all friends, though, because the site is brand new and we expect some growing pains. Better to go through them with people we trust.
When did the idea for a podcast come around?
I’m a podcast fanatic so I’ve always wanted to do one, even before the site launched. Doing one in conjunction with the site is great because there will always be new content every week for people to enjoy.
Aside from the expansion of artists, what other plans do you have for expansion and growth?
We have a stupid amount of ideas. Ha! From “building a virtual band” to “have this artist actually play with/for you” to a covers/holiday twist. We need to get the basic foundation solid first and get some more backend people onboard before we go crazy.
Has anyone who has bought a song from you then re-recorded that music as a band or singer-songwriter?
No. We’re a new site so nothing like that has happened. As I mentioned before, we’re working with friends so if something like that comes about, we can handle it without too much ado.