Touring the country in a van is not for softies. It's a daunting proposition for even the heartiest, scrappiest bands (see Henry Rollins' melodramatic yet entertaining Get in the Van for proof). But for anyone with a rusty Econoline and a rag-tag group of fellow-minded musical miscreants, it's a sort of birthright that's there for the taking. It's also a definite American rite of passage.
The endless highways and state routes that weave from sea to shining sea will take you to your psychological precipice. These proving grounds offer lessons not only in how much pit-stench you can handle but more generally in whether you're worth your salt as a road-worn rocker or whether you should just retreat back to Mom and Dad's cushy, air-conditioned basement and free cable TV set.
Well, there's now a resource that makes the whole process a little less challenging and a lot more feasable, especially for the impoverished and unsigned groups out there. It's a Web site called Better Than the Van, and it's a database that touring bands and music fans can use to swap needs and availability information.
Want to be a good citizen and support independent music? Get on the site, create a profile complete with customized info on how far you live from central areas, how willing you are to host the after-hours party and more, and offer up your floor, couch, guest room and shower for a night to a friendly, hard-working band on tour right now. In a band? Log on, get in touch with a series of helpful, like-minded civilian allies and plan your tour around free accomodations in private residences. (Maybe you could toss in a couple CDs or t-shirts gratis in the way of payment?) Everyone wins!
The site's Austin, Tex.-based co-founder, Scott Miller, says that the idea was to take a little bit of the uncertainty and cost out of touring. Recalling numerous shows that would end in band members asking if anyone had a place to crash, he and the site's main innovator, Todd Hansen, figured that there had to be a better way for bands whose touring budgets consisted only of food and gas--and not motels.
So they founded betterthanthevan.com about a year ago on a dating-site internet script they purchased (that's why the site resembles a social-networking framework) with the idea of providing one simple service--connecting bands with fans willing to put them up for free--and it's grown to nearly 1500 users since then. The service has especially taken off in the bigger cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and Indie havens like Austin and Seattle.
It's also been quite successful for the groups and folks who've used it. Miller says he recieves thank-you emails from hosts and bands all the time, tales about what a great time was had by all and how many new friends have been made.
Miller and Hansen have a major relaunch on a new, expanded interface planned for Sept. 1. However, excepting the addition of a paid-service feature for tour managers and record labels who want to use the site to plan free tour accomodations for numerous on-the-road acts, things are pretty much going to be the same for the D.I.Y. bands out there: free, easy and friendly.
"The goal is to have at least 10 couches and 10 bands in every city," Miller says. Here's hoping there's way more.
Check out the site here.