One of my early Rockonomics posts was about my first impressions of the Supersuckers website and how I felt it needed a makeover. I had also mentioned that people involved with the operations were fans. I felt this was tantamount to the bands success. We had a few web Guru’s during my days, but something about “Hal the Web Guy” stands out.
With Hal’s help we were able to transform the band’s site from it’s humble beginnings into one that was easy to use and chockfull of useful and updated content (including press photo’s, music, video’s, and fan club information). We added a personal touch from the band members, and a real community evolved on the message board. Fans were even encouraged to submit photo’s to be included on the site, and share their own stories.
When I started the Rockonomics site, I turned to a few people for their opinion and obviously Hal was on the list. I wanted to write about past experiences but most importantly, I wanted fans and other bands to find it entertaining and insightful. A subscription service seemed a bit over the top, so I decided to do donations along with giveaways. I had no idea it would be this fun and successful, leading me to consulting work and even a speaking engagement in Washington DC. Thanks everyone for your support! And so it continues…
Below is my Q & A with my pal, Hal.
Q: With social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and website templates such as wordpress, I would suspect that the demand for custom sites has decreased. What changes have you noticed in the past few years?
A: Yeah absolutely. And there are even more solutions out there now. But I think it’s great. It allows anyone who needs a web-presence to be able to easily “roll their own” without having to spend an arm and a leg or learn the nitty-gritty of html coding. And have their web-presence look really good. I can’t tell you how many smaller jobs I’ve talked my way out of just because I know the budget will be small and I can pass on some info for the client to do it themselves. But when it comes to my bigger clients, they still need a lot of custom content, hands-on support and a large team of web guys.
Q: You’ve done countless sites for a lot of Fortune 500 companies so how did you become the “Web Guy” for the Supersuckers?
A: I have a good friend who worked at MusicToday (the SSKs online merchandise company), and you must have put the word out that the band was looking for a new guy. She, knowing I was a huge fan, contacted me and said, “hey, get in touch with them.” So I remember calling you and I think you were in the van on tour (as always). You asked me who my favorite bands were. So I just rattled a few off and I think you said, “OK, you’re hired!” [laughs] Well not exactly, but you seemed generally interested. And we started working together pretty soon thereafter.
Anyhow, I’ve always said that the jobs that were most fun and creative, were the low-paying gigs. So as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to mix in a few fun gigs while also “Working for the Man!”
While I knew the SSKS gig wouldn’t make me a rich man, I just was so stoked to work with this band I had been listening to and seen live for many years. And you sporadically sweetened the deal when a package would mysteriously arrive with some really cool swag. Guys like Doug, Bartley, Brian and myself always appreciated that you seemed to really care about us minions.
As for the moniker, “Hal the Web Guy,” I just thought that doing the geek work wasn’t so cool, so I just stole a bit of your persona to make my title seem a bit more hip. [laughs]
Q: What was your favorite Supersuckers web promotion?
A: I only came in on the tail end of the Paid EP, so I guess Get it Together. I thought it was an interesting idea to put all the gold-top members names in the CD jacket. While the album wasn’t really what the public seemed to want, it’s certainly a well produced piece and has a few gems. Also the 20th anniversary show, CD and DVD was great. Really the whole Fan Club (P.I.T.) was brilliant while it lasted.
A: The main focus was how to keep people coming back to the site — keeping it fresh. The initial re-design was to keep it clean, simple and easy to navigate. When the web-store was run by MusicToday (MT), we had that “Merch Item of the Day” feature. It was a cool idea and a way to keep the home page fresh. Back when we first did it, there were so many different items in the store like shirts, caps, flasks, lighters, girl’s knickers, skateboards, iPods, etc. –a huge variety. Not many bands at the SSKs level had such an inventory.
What I really wanted to do was link this feature directly to the MT database, have a “merch window” for every item in the store and serve them up in a more logical fashion. Even have a back-end interface so you could promote specific goods that you wanted to clear out or put on “special.” Also, if an item went out of stock, it would just not show anymore. This is something we do on all of my bigger sites. But I couldn’t get MT to figure out a way to make it work. And there wasn’t a decent budget that I could hire out to an engineer to build it. So we did it manually, and so many times you’d call me up (from the van most likely) and say “hey man, that T-Shirt showing on the site today has been out of stock for 2 weeks.” [laughs] So I’d have to quickly swap it out. After a couple years, the stock was really dwindling, and we barely had any items to sell. We’d be rotating maybe 5-6 items for weeks. Eventually I just took the feature down.
Also, I remember when Eddie decided to answer the fans questions via a video blog, which I thought was a great way to interact with the fans from the band’s message-board. But he only did it once, which was a bit disappointing. If fans knew that every week or so they could log onto the site and maybe have their question answered via video, that it would have been a big hit.
Q: What did you take away from your experience with the bands site?
A: I really had a great time with it. It was great to connect with the fans. Early on with the fan club photo page, I’d be getting photos from people everyday to post. Eddie was a great sport going out there after the shows and throwing the horns with one arm around all these people, posing for their cameras. They’d email them to me and were so jacked to see these up on the page. While I mostly interacted with you, it was nice to get to know the band as well.
It’s been over a year since I stepped down from my post. I was and still am a huge fan of the music. I’m really glad you and I have stayed in touch. One of these days I’ll get my ass out to the “holy land” and meet the rest of the Neal clan.
Q: What are listening to these days?
A: I’ve not picked up a ton of new music, but some of recent ones I did get and liked were recent CDs from Danko Jones, Motorhead, the Backyard Babies, Nicke Royale’s new band Imperial State Electric, the new Michael Monroe (Hanoi Rocks/Demolition 23), and Alberta Cross. The newer Drive-by Truckers is decent, but not as good as when Jason Isbell was in the band. As you said, he’s the “secret weapon.”
Otherwise I tend to pick up a lot of older stuff I’ve either lost or never had.
Q: What are reading these days?
A: I read a bunch, albeit somewhat slow. Right now I’m in the middle of War by Sebastian Junger. It’s a real account of an embedded reporter in a remote US military post in Afghanistan. Really intense.
My brother-in-law gave me Bob Mould’s autobiography which I look forward to reading. I’ve been a huge fan of Bob and his bands for many years. I also enjoyed Keith Richard’s book Life. I know we discussed it many times.
Stig Larsson’s Millennium trilogy was great (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Girl Who Played with Fire, and Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest.). Each book got better the one before. Probably my favorite piece of fiction was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s all of 950 pages so it takes a while, but one page in and you’ll have a hard time putting it down. While it’s fiction, it’s based off the author’s real life events. Lots of action. Pick it up!