SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA — After designing cars for McLaren, helping push The Beatles: Rock Band into being and co-founding the purposefully lowercase digi-rock group thenewno2, Dhani Harrison has set his sights on reinventing the way bands and music fans interact online.
“Websites are kind of useless,” said Harrison (pictured) while sitting in a blue, futuristic pod chair inspired by the influential psy-fi series The Prisoner. “There’s so much great web content and design out there, but the ways in which they are being experienced are not being maximized.”
The innovative new website of thenewno2, the group Harrison formed in 2001 with friend and filmmaker Oli Hecks, relaunched this week ahead of the band’s first North American tour, which starts Thursday in Dallas. (Thenewno2 is on the road with Aussie headbangers Wolfmother.)
Harrison teamed up with streaming video social networkers Stickam to build the site’s backbone, then set about transforming an inauspicious Santa Monica building into a surround-sound base of operations complete with a hi-def soundstage, state-of-the-art mixing room, administrative offices and more.
“It’s kind of like opening up a massive can of worms,” laughed Harrison, son of late Beatles guitarist George Harrison. “We’re trying to make everything seamless. Everything we write comes digitally off the stage, through the wires and into the mixing room. We’re shooting the videos here. We can make it personal, from a distance. We’re sitting on what is basically a seamless film and music company.”
The plan is comparatively simple: Compress and feed thenewno2’s output on video directly to its fan base, and they will come to support the artists and build a community. Everyone wins, except for other social networking and digital distribution entities that have been savvy enough to ride the gravy train before artists inevitably decide to take the reins.
“I’m not going to just give everything to Facebook,” Harrison said. “Rather than have fans just leave comments on MySpace, they can have a personal connection to the band. When they see my profile live on the site, they can literally click me and ask me a question or two. It’s interactive blogging, but we also wanted to bring that actual visual context.”
The viz is key. The theory is that once broadband penetration goes truly global, everyone will be wirelessly broadcasting video to everyone else through minicams in their phones, tablets and laptops, as clunky computers slouch toward oblivion. The tech is already mostly there, but market players, from dinosaur telcos to new music jacks like iTunes, are too busy jostling for primacy to let it flourish. Harrison figures it’s time for the artists to get out from behind and lead the way.
Some artists already have, most recently White Stripes honcho Jack White, whose Nashville indie label Third Man Records runs a record store, full-services production office, recording studio, rehearsal stage, photo studio, darkroom and online vault, which offers its subscribers premium access to material and well as streaming video.
Thenewno2’s California complex is a less ambitious venture, Harrison said, but with a similar spirit.
“Ours is a little different,” he said. “We can go live and visually chat with anyone, one on one. It’s also a subscription-based model, and we kept it cheap. We’re going to charge $9.99, broadcast all kinds of premium hi-def content, and ask users to become a member of thenewno2. And a lot of them are Prisoner heads.”
This article appeared at WIRED