WILMINGTON — Software developers Jason Ashby and Kennon Young didn’t plan on rolling out their new song contest phone app during the Covid-19 pandemic, when a majority of the American population is under stay-at-home orders, but the timing was ripe.
“It was an unfortunate opportunity, but one nonetheless,” Ashby said. “[There are] a lot more people jumping on live-streaming and sharing their videos online. And this contest will give people something to do, and a chance to win a few bucks.”
Ashby and Young rolled out their inaugural MicTurn contest on Monday for musicians nationwide, capped at 200 contestants with $5 from each entry pledged by the local nonprofit 100 Men Who Care toward Meals for Heroes — a fundraiser launched several weeks ago to feed medical workers on the front line of the health crisis meals from local food trucks and restaurants.
The first day they saw five Wilmington-based musicians enter the Spring 2020 Original Song Contest.
“It’s nothing crazy but it was awesome to see — the first people rolling in, seeing the stuff they got,” Ashby said.
Filling a ‘blank dead zone’ in the market
Ashby, a local musician with a family and a full-time job working for a cybersecurity company out of the Tek Mountain co-working space, said he and Young saw a void in the song contest market — a platform for independent musicians who, like Ashby, wanted to share their music without quitting their day jobs to hustle for gigs, or others who didn’t have the ambition or desire to become television contest pop stars.
“There’s this middle area, a blank dead zone in the music industry where there’s just nothing happening,” Ashby said. “We have internet and social media where people can get stuff out there more … but there’s this need for independent musicians who make up a huge portion of the music world, to get ‘em out there, maybe give them some sort of connection; get their song on the radio or on a movie soundtrack or something like that. It makes [musicians] feel good. And I think that’s what a lot of people want; they don’t necessarily want to be the next pop star, which contests like American Idol crank out.”
The central idea of MicTurn is to connect these musicians to music industry professionals who will act as judges in each contest while giving them a platform to share their music and a chance to win prizes like cash or free studio time.
From April 20 to May 3, a panel of five judges will determine the top three winners of the pilot contest. The first place winner will receive $300 along with the choice to become a judge in an upcoming contest, second place will receive $150, and third place will receive $50.
The panel includes three Wilmington music industry leaders: Trent Harrison, owner of Hourglass Studios in Wilmington who was awarded Producer of the Year in 2015 by the Carolina Music Awards; Whitney Lanier, co-owner of Live At Ted’s; and local musician Matthew Magne (aka Matty Mags) from the local band Stationwagon. Aja Hashian, a songwriter from L.A. (and daughter of Sib Hashian, former drummer of the iconic rock band Boston) will also judge contestants alongside Merris Grant, a singer and songwriter with the band Handlebar Betty out of Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Contestants must record their entries via the MicTurn phone app, a decision made by Ashby and Young to preserve the authenticity of live-recorded music.
“That’s why I love this raw uncut video — you can really see their personalities and styles come through, versus a pre-recorded video,” Ashby said.
And you don’t have to submit an entry to view the contestant’s videos — just download the free app on your mobile phone to watch each contestant’s song.
‘A poor man’s American Idol’
For now, Ashby said he and Young want the app to grow organically by limiting contestants to those based in the U.S., but once they understand the legal ramifications of going global, they’ll aim to do so.
He said they’ll use guerrilla marketing techniques rather than paid advertisements to get the word out both locally and nationally.
While he expects the first few contests to be free, supported by sponsors to help fund video hosting costs and prizes, his goal is for future contests to require entry fees, “especially as we get in touch with more music industry veterans.”
They also plan to build out the app to be capable of hosting a ‘Round 2’ for the top ranked performers to move on to a live talent show broadcast through something like Facebook Live, where people can watch each contestant perform while the judges make their remarks. Ashby called it a ‘Poor Man’s American Idol.’
Ashby hopes to keep the charity model part of MicTurn’s rollout as well. When someone at Tek Mountain passed along information about Meals for Heroes, he knew it was a good place to start.
“After we looked into it, we loved this idea of helping two different people in need at once: restaurant workers and medical workers on the front lines, to leverage each … There are so many who need help right now. Kennon and I have full-time jobs and are still working, so we thought, ‘We’re rolling this thing out anyway, let’s help some people while we can do it,'” Ashby said.
Although they are still exploring how much musicians would be willing to pay to enter future contests or how often to run them, Ashby said one thing is certain.
“The app itself will always be free,” he said.
Send tips and comments to the reporter at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com, @markdarrough on Twitter, or (970) 413-3815.