Bandzoogle is celebrating its 15th year!! We literally wouldn’t have gotten here without our wonderful members. We love and appreciate each of them, but the first one will always hold a special place for us, and they’re still an active member! The first member who signed up to a paid plan is like framing our first dollar in a brick and mortar store.
When we started, we knew our website builder would make it easy for musicians and hoped it would catch on. Thankfully it did. It began with Montreal musician, Daniel Ghattas, clicking the Get Started button. Daniel was gracious enough to journey with us to the beginning with this throwback interview.
Tell us a little about yourself, what you do and how you got started in music.
It started with piano lessons when I was a child. In my early teens, I would compose music and write poems which became my first songs. One day, as a teenager, while helping my parents clean the basement, I came across an old classical guitar in its vinyl case. My mother had briefly taken guitar lessons in her younger years. I took it out of its case and spent the next few days figuring out how to hold it properly and play basic chords. I didn’t have a guitar pick so I used a tiny bread clip, the thin piece of plastic that comes with bags of bread and seals them.
Eventually my friends and I decided to start a band and I was to be the lead singer and guitarist. After saving up money for months, I bought my first guitar: a sunburst Fender Stratocaster and played it all summer. I would sing along to Oasis, Radiohead, Blur, Our Lady Peace, Silverchair, Matthew Good Band and all the popular bands in the early 2000s.
My bandmates and I would jam for hours at a time in our drummer’s basement and we eventually recorded an album and played concerts in Montreal and surrounding areas. A few years later, we disbanded, as we each had to go our separate ways for university. I continued writing and recording songs on my own, building a small fanbase, and haven’t stopped since.
Do you do anything else artistic besides sing and play guitar?
I espouse the DIY philosophy, so when a song idea happens, I play all instruments, from guitar, to bass, to keyboards, and I program the drums using my digital piano. It’s not always the easiest process but it’s the best way to translate my ideas into real sounds. I’ve always recorded, sound engineered and produced local artists and bands, from prog-rock to R&B and pop. Having singers let me into their world and help shape their songs into recordings that they’re proud of is like a musical vacation from my songwriting world.
Outside of music, I’ve recently taken interest in photography and video production. Storyboarding is like songwriting, and the process is similar to recording music. It’s all about capturing a moment in time and emotion, and immortalizing it.
How would you describe the Montreal music scene?
When I started out in it, it was quite polarized: heavy rock and punk bands on one end and pop singers on the other. I was heavily influenced by pop/punk, emo and rock, but never felt like I fit in because my stuff wasn’t heavy enough for the hard rock crowd and was too hard for the folk and pop crowd. Now, the scene is much more eclectic. French (Québec) music has undergone a massive transformation in terms of production quality, songwriting and innovation.
Do you have a memorable tour or studio story?
Lots of weird little incidents like playing a show to a drunken rowdy audience in a small club and an airborne bra landing on my microphone while I was singing. Or the time I was minutes away from stepping on stage and the bar’s sound engineer had a nervous breakdown because his girlfriend had just broken up with him. I had to comfort him quickly and offered him a pint of Guinness (which may not have been the best decision!) and he was able to start the show…only to go completely missing halfway through the set.
Recording wise, I was mixing music for a band on a Neve console in a Montreal studio and couldn’t help but notice how well it sonically glued instruments together. The studio assistant later revealed that the console had been used to record Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”. It had made its way from a studio in New York and ended up in Montreal. The special feeling we got from using Madonna’s mixing board lasted about 3 seconds.
How did you hear about Bandzoogle?
In the early 2000s my band played a few concerts with an up-and-coming Montreal band called Rubberman whose lead singer was Jonas Tomalty. They were the cool cats around town, signed to a record label with songs on the radio and music videos on TV, and a lot of young bands wanted to be like them.
Although I was friendly with everyone in their band, their bassist Chris and I hit it off and would often talk about life and business outside of music. One day he told me about his startup company Bandzoogle, and it sounded like it could easily solve my problem of coding changes to my website in HTML, which was tedious. I didn’t want to be responsible for the technical aspects of my website and email newsletter and Bandzoogle was so easy to use that it allowed me to spend more time on making music.
How many times have you changed your website theme over the years?
I’ve lost count, maybe 5 or 6 times. It’s so easy, you just press a few buttons, and everything is responsive on desktop and mobile. I try to change it every once in a while, to keep things fresh.
Favorite website feature (or features) then and now?
Back in the day, it was the ability to create an online store in minutes to sell CDs and t-shirts. I don’t sell merch at this point, but I love how easy it is to preview and change themes with the Theme Editor.
Build a professional website in just a few clicks where you can sell music and merch commission-free! Sign up free with Bandzoogle now.
Do you use email marketing? If so, can you talk a bit about the importance of newsletters?
Email marketing is tricky because it can be overused and burn out a fan base. But it’s a must, even in a social media world, because people still view their inbox as their digital personal space. I let my subscribers know about new song releases and what’s coming up. But most importantly, I write my emails from the heart. For example, I often share the story behind a song or what happened while I was recording it, to let listeners in. And I try to keep emails focused on one topic and one call-to-action.
How do you use your website to help build your fan base?
My website is my calling card and I integrate Facebook on certain pages to enhance the site’s social aspect. One of my favourite Bandzoogle features is the ability to ask for an email address from fans in exchange of a song download. It’s helped me grow my subscriber base into the thousands. My website is focused on music only, I don’t sell merchandise like most artists.
Looking back when you first started your career, what would you go back and tell your younger self?
When you’re young, you see your favourite bands on TV and hear songs on the radio that are just as good as yours and think: I can do this, I want to do this. But after receiving attention from managers and record labels and getting involved in the music industry, you realize that if you make music your full-time job, it becomes work, with all the good and bad. There are suddenly other people involved in the creative process and how you present yourself, and their agendas don’t always fit with yours as an artist.
When it’s a hobby, music is a secret place that you can go to escape. There’s no one to tell you how long your song should be, how it should sound, what your haircut and clothes should look like. You can take a break from it anytime you want to get inspired. I would tell my younger self to better trust my instincts when writing, while taking opinions from music industry folks with a grain of salt. When you’re young, you assume that record label execs and managers know better, but with life experience it becomes obvious that their opinions are just as subjective as anyone else’s.
One thing you’re looking to accomplish in your career?
As a songwriter: write a song (whether mine or with another artist) that ends up changing someone’s life in a permanent and tangible way for the better.
How do you feel about being the first ever Bandzoogle member?
Special! I’m not surprised that the company became so successful. The idea solves a real pain point, and everything has been built to be easy to use.
Wow, we couldn’t have asked for a better interview, or better first Bandzoogle member. Thanks Daniel!
Oh the memories! We remember just starting out. It’s was both nerve wracking and exciting. We were thrilled to get our first member. Then the next one and the next, and now the Bandzoogle family is 36,000+ members strong. We’re so happy we took the opportunity to create a website platform for musicians. It’s allowed us to play a small part in the careers of so many musicians and bands!
If you’re a long time Bandzoogle member, we’d love to hear your Bandzoogle stories too. If you aren’t a member, tell us… What were you doing in 2003?
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