If you’ve ever tried to find a bandmate on Craigslist, you know that the experience can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. No matter how specific your ad is, you may end up with a rhythm-less bassist, a wanky guitarist, a tone-deaf singer, or, worse yet, no one at all. That perfect combination of competence, reliability, shared aesthetic, and local proximity can be elusive, indeed.
About eight months ago, Philip Kaplan was mired in such frustration. The San Francisco-based drummer was looking for a singer to play with, someone who lived in the city and liked Slayer as much as he does. But he could find no such combination on Craigslist — at least, not in the way the site is currently formatted. Since the posts in the musicians section of Craigslist are deleted every two weeks, it takes a certain amount of diligence to wade through them frequently enough to get an accurate account of who’s out there. Plus, it’s impractical for someone to list all of his or her influences in one ad. “The whole interface is so sucky,” the drummer lamented.
Then, Kaplan, a computer programmer, had a thought: “I want every musician in the world to be in a database. … If I had that database, I could find that guitar player.” The idea was for musicians to create profiles of themselves on the site, detailing where they live, what instrument(s) they play and how long they’ve played, who their influences are, and what genre they’re interested in. They’d upload YouTube videos of themselves playing, which fellow musicians could give “props” to, comment on, share, etc., in typical social-networking fashion. They could also follow or direct-message the user. And musicians could find each other using a search engine that could dial down to very specific criteria.
As ambitious as the idea sounded, Kaplan spent the next seven months furiously working on the project. Fandalism — which is kind of a misnomer, considering the site is for musicians — was launched on January 23 to little fanfare. Kaplan relied on its popularity growing by word of mouth, and it did, indeed. He smartly made it invite-only. He started with his musician friends, who invited their musician friends, who invited their musician friends, and so on. Thanks to the site’s Facebook integration, Fandalism quickly garnered some 85,000 users, according to Kaplan — pianists, singers, guitarists, and the like from places as far flung as Norway to Brazil — in just a little over a month.
His success was no accident. Kaplan has a background in starting Internet companies and then selling them. Of course, he has yet to figure out how to monetize the site. “The site is so pure; it’s just people making art,” he said. “I don’t want to muck it up with ads, which is ironic — I started an ad company a long time ago.” He said he isn’t yet worried about making money, but added, “it’s an expensive hobby.”
The site’s tagline may be “the world’s largest database of great musicians,” but the nature of being comprehensive means the quality of its users varies widely. And as for Kaplan’s original mission — to find a Slayer-loving, San Francisco-residing guitarist — Fandalism has yet to help him with that. If he wanted to find a harp guitarist in Raleigh, North Carolina; or a tattooed, pierced dude in Somerset, England, to play some fierce metal guitar leads; or maybe a young woman in Incline Village, Nevada, to belt out a Susan Tedeschi cover, well, then, Kaplan (who goes by the screen name “Pud”) would be in luck.
But Kaplan says he hasn’t even built the site’s proper search interface yet. “When I do, there’s probably hundreds of guitar players on my site,” he said. And, in the meantime: “I have found a ton of amazing musicians around the world.”