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Gavin's Underground

The Rock Salt

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-01-01 - Websites that focus on the local music scene tend to come and go frequently. The average show attendee can name you five right off the top of their heads that started strong and fell short in under a year.

But within the past decade of online coverage, The Rock Salt has managed to maintain both its dedication to local culture as well as thrive as an online community. Now with most of its inspiring predecessors gone it remains as a testament to the last rise of the scene and a continuing stomping ground forum for those helping it grow once again. I got a chance to chat with Steve Babcock (AKA: SonnyTwoJackets) about how the site came to be, changes and incarnations, thoughts on local music and radio, and a few other topics that came up.

Steve Babcock
SteveBabcock.jpg
http://therocksalt.com/

Gavin: Hey Steve, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Steve: I wish I had an exciting answer for this. But the truth is, I'm just your typical father of two. While I used to be a self-proclaimed staple in the local music scene, I now spend my spare time debating the effectiveness of lawn fertilizer. After nearly ten years in the Salt Lake area, I uprooted and relocated my family to beautiful Colorado where I currently work in the advertising industry. That's about it.

Gavin: What first got you interested in local music?

Steve: I moved to Salt Lake City in 1998. Having spent times in bands before, I was very interested in forming a new one. After some searching, a band came together known as Hudson River School. Naturally, being part of the local music scene spawned my interest in the whole.

Gavin: How was your time spent in your bands when you were still active?

Steve: Back in my Idaho days, my time was spent playing flat bed trailers for keggers out in the middle of nowhere. More recently, the time spent with Hudson River School was overwhelmingly business related. We spent most of our time doing showcases for various labels, working out contracts, recording singles, etc.

Gavin: Where did the idea come from to start up The Rock Salt?

Steve: The whole thing was pretty simple. At the time there wasn't a really functional online community for the local scene. There were a couple other sites as I recall. Utahbands.com and a service called “The Salt”. They would basically go to your shows and film them and then post them on their site. They probably had some more functionality but I can't remember. Utahbands.com was simple. An events engine and a message board. However, the board format was pretty bad. Watching both of these sites struggle to take off, I got the idea of making a very simple, user friendly community. And most importantly, a community that didn't feel moderated, controlled, or financially motivated.

Gavin: How did you go about setting everything up?

Steve: I shared the idea with one of my best friends, Ponyboy, and he used his interweb wizardry and got everything online. That was about it. I probably spammed the other message boards to jump start traffic and from there we just watched it grow naturally.

Gavin: What was it like online after first starting up, and what was the early community like?

Steve: At first, TRS was more editorial. We had a CD reviews section. If I recall correctly, the idea behind the CD reviews section was actually pretty weird. We were going to take CD players down to Pioneer Park and have homeless people review the music. Seriously, how sad is that? I guess at the time we thought it was unique and clever. We ended up getting some guest reviewers instead. We used to post monthly MP3s from local bands as well as random photos from events and shows. We also had an events calender. But most importantly, we had a pretty easy to use forum. That was the kingpin.

Gavin: Did you expect it to become as popular as it had, or did you think it would just become a passing thing?

Steve: I don't think either Ponyboy or myself expected anything really. I wanted it to be successful because I truly felt the scene could benefit from it. I saw what the other sites failed to do and felt we had a better approach. I remember being surprised at how fast it caught on despite not running any advertising.

Gavin: How does it feel being viewed as one of the epicenters of the local music scene?

Steve: I certainly don't believe that statement to be true, first of all. I think "contributer" is more accurate. About four years ago, when the scene was experiencing one of its healthiest eras, I will admit to having a sense of pride. I was proud of TRS and what it had become. I was proud that bands and fans were able to cross pollinate. It felt like TRS was actually accomplishing something in a very tangible way. These days, however, I feel quite distant from the actual music scene. I couldn't tell you what band is what and who is who. I simply use TRS as my way of keeping in contact with a scene I truly love. My wife asked me why I keep the site going considering my band isn't really active anymore and I don't even live in Utah. I guess I'm still clinging on to some of that pride. Plus, the community has become a part of my life. I can't imagine life without TRS. It's like a really great TV series. That was a weird analogy. But it makes sense to me. So I'm just going to go with it.

Gavin: Where did the ideas to start the Arbitrations and Classifieds sections come from?

Steve: That was Ponyboy. Throughout the years, we honed and crafted the forums. We always wanted to keep them simple. But as the site traffic grew, he saw a need to expand a little in the sake of organization. We used to have a forum called The Fight Club. It was where all the nasty threads went. But, eventually, after we discontinued anonymous posting, that forum tanked hard. The site will always be an evolution. It will always cater to the real, simple needs. Right now, the entire TRS has been boiled down to just the forum. And it feels pretty good. Anything more seems like a lot of work. Not just for Ponyboy and myself but for all the TRSers. I think we all like the simplicity of just being able to be a part of the community. I do think we could use a righteous events engine, though. One of these days we'll find someone to make one for us.

Gavin: Do you believe the site has become the new social network for Utah like Lower Lights once was, or do you believe its become something completely different?

Steve: I'm not familiar with Lower Lights, so I'm afraid I can't speak to that. But, as the site has progressed, I think the truest reason for it has shown through. As soon as the site began to take on a social life beyond online, that's when I knew it was becoming something I had never even imagined. I recall early days where TRSers would get together for street tacos during lunch. Or when TRSers would host TRS food themed parties. We began to host concerts such as the TRS Family Reunion and the Salt Lake Showcase series. Online personas became real life personas. It was at this point that the site became real. The site stopped being an online tool and became a conduit of connectedness. IN REAL LIFE! (Inside TRS joke.)


Gavin: What do you foresee the future of the site becoming?

Steve: Good question. Ponyboy got married and I think the last time he even posted on the forum was probably a good six months ago. My life and career continue to become ever hectic. But, thanks to believers like TURBO, the site is now hosted on his server and can continue to live regardless of financial obligations. When TURBO stepped in and offered this, it lifted a big burden off of my shoulders and has allowed TRS to continue. Huge thanks to him for doing this. I will continue to participate in TRS for a long, long, long time. But, I think the thing about TRS is that it has never really had any agendas, you know? It has always just been. And as long as there is a need for it to simply be, it'll be around. Now if that wasn't the most profound thing you've heard all week, I don't know what is.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it better than it is today?

Steve: Oh I'm sure there are tons of things. Probably a lot of bells and whistles. But I'm not entirely convinced that any of those things would truly make it "better." It is what it is. And I'm pretty content with that. I do wish we had a better spambot filter, however. That would certainly make it better. I think the honest answer to this question is for new people to continue finding TRS.

Gavin: A little state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Steve: I wish I had an answer for this. But the fact of the matter is, I've grown out of the music scene. I used to know all the bands. I knew who was who and what was what. These days, I am not sure I could tell you much of anything. But this brings up an interesting point regarding the evolution of TRS. The site was initially designed to facilitate a community within the local music scene. Today, it's transcended far beyond that. Today, it's become a genuine community of people. Sure, the local scene may be a common thread among them, but it's more about the people than music.

Gavin: If you had to guess, who would you say are the best acts in our scene now?

Steve: I would have to consult TRS on this. This is actually a popular reoccurring thread topic. It would be interesting to find this thread from every year for the past seven or so years and see how the list has changed.

Gavin: What do you think about local labels, and do you believe they help or hinder musicians?

Steve: Our first label was a local label. We didn't really have any distribution or anything, but it helped us get our first record out and duplicated. So, in that sense, it helped. I think local labels are just as important as local bands. It all depends on the motives of the label, I guess. The fine print tells all.

Gavin: KRCL and X96 have their own shows going on where local artists are getting radio airplay. Do you believe they're helping the scene, or do you believe it's making it feel more excluded?

Steve: I gotta say, after spending nearly two years here in Colorado, X96 has a LOT to learn. There is a radio station here in Denver called Area 93. They are so amazingly involved and devoted to the local scene, it's crazy. And the fruits of their labors are evident. They have been responsible for so many local Colorado bands getting signed and advancing. And it's simply because they care. Actually, half the time it feels like they care about the local scene more than the national. X96 says they care and to show it they devote two hours on Sunday night (the least listened to time slot) to local music - most of which is severely outdated. It really doesn't even serve a purpose, in my opinion. It's pathetic at best. I honestly believe the key to a thriving local music scene is a mainstream radio station that gets involved to the level that Area 93 does. Now, I can't speak for KRCL. I think they've always had the heart and have always done the right thing. But they have the limitations of not being mainstream. They will continue to do the best they can. But as long as a station as popular as X96 continues to drop the ball, the local scene will never see its explosive potential. If you took the intent of KRCL and gave it the power of X96, the Salt Lake music scene would be a whole different story.

Gavin: Do you wish there were more shows or even stations who did this, or do think things are fine the way they are at the moment?

Steve: The more the merrier. But more importantly that quantity is quality. It seems like it's pretty common for stations to host a local music show. But those will always fail in my opinion because they quarantine the local music into a "local" space. Instead, the key would be to integrate local music onto the national stage. If you believe in local music, you'll give it the prime time space it deserves. The day some 14 year old kid hears Tolchock Trio's latest song right after a Weezer track while driving home from school with his mom will be a good day indeed.

Gavin: What can we expect from you and The Rock Salt over the next year?

Steve: Hopefully another year. I can't remember how many years TRS has existed now. I think seven. So hopefully an eighth. And to all those out there reading this who have never heard of TRS, give it a try. Hopefully it'll have an impact on you. Hopefully it'll become something more than a website for you. Hopefully it'll introduce you to some new friends, some new bands and some new cuss words.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Steve: T to the R to the mother grabbin' S, y'all.
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