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Have Talent? Will Match! As Show Biz Becomes Web Biz in Seattle, We Go Backstage at TalentMatch with CEO Duane Dahl

As 100 new performers begin limbering up their vocal chords to once again compete for the national spotlight on American Idol 2 in Hollywood, a brand new online community, aptly titled TalentMatch.com, is raising the curtain on thousands of other accomplished and aspiring actors, models, bands, and singers a few hundred miles to the north. Unlike American Idol, these performers have come together from more than 75 countries, all with the aim of spotlighting their talent wares online, 24/7/365. And while they all hope to appeal to a global audience of booking agents, casting directors, and other artists from whom they can learn, there are no judges in this contest other than the general public — people like you!

The show business limelight in this case emanates not from Hollywood or the marquees of Broadway, but from the pixels of a computer screen and a Web browser, piped-in live and online, directly from the Pacific Northwest. TalentMatch.com is a hustling, bustling new online venue that has set out to do for entertainers in the new millennium what vaudeville, radio and television have done in all the decades leading up to it, namely provide a showcase and a forum for performers to be seen and heard — in this case on the Internet. Since the Website began its first “casting call” seven weeks ago, it has signed-up artists from every state in the U.S. and from as far away as the Czech Republic, Indonesia, and Uruguay. Yesterday, TalentMatch.com went live for public viewing.

TalentMatch can lay claim to being the most comprehensive venue ever developed for artists to display photos, audio, videos, resumes and all the other relevant information that talent agencies and entertainment venues need to evaluate and book artists. What’s more, like its TV brethren, the Website is also a form of entertainment itself, letting the general public view artist profiles, vote on the rise of tomorrow’s superstars, chat with and send email to their favorite artists, and track an artist’s next gig or project. Members who have already signed up at TalentMatch.com include several Sundance directors, an Emmy-nominated singer/songwriter, a veteran comedian who has appeared on “The Tonight Show” 12 times, an actor who has been in popular shows such as “The Sopranos” and “Law & Order SVU” as well as an actress who appeared with Al Pacino in the blockbuster movie “Any Given Sunday.”

Seattle24x7 sat down with TalentMatch founder and CEO, Duane Dahl, a man who has seen the power of community marketing up-close and personal, as when he presided over another Seattle success story known as Kiss.com. Here’s your inside look at what is making Seattle the new virtual hub of the entertainment world.

Seattle24x7: Let us start back at Kiss.com, Duane. Did you have the inspiration for TalentMatch at that time?
Dahl: We’d actually been thinking of developing a community for artists, one that would target entertainment, for some time. As we looked at the changing landscape, one of the most rewarding opportunities we saw out there was the concept of helping individuals who were really battling against all odds, with an artist-like site. As we started to take a look around at what was going on, not only here in the states with American Idol but also in Europe with Fame Academy which was similar to Big Brother, based on artists all living in a house together, we started going country by country and it was unbelievable how massive the search is for aspiring and even accomplished artists to make it and get exposure. The more history that we dug up on the concept, the more fascinated we were.

Seattle24x7: Your timing seems perfect with the incredible surge of interest in discovering talent through these new reality-based televised auditions?
Dahl: When we first started putting this together, some of the historical facts we stumbled across were amazing, like the Major Bowles Amateur Hour. This was back in 1938. When they rolled the thing out they literally had 30,000 folks line up for the auditions. Historically speaking, if you look at how things have evolved from vaudeville in the 1800’s to the 1900’s and into the era of television today, this is the natural progression. It just seemed obvious to us to develop a community where the talent would have an opportunity not only to gain more exposure, but to have an opportunity to collaborate with other artists like themselves from all over the world.

And the site is not just about refined, accomplished talent. One of the things that we’re really going to focus on is driving amateur talent to the site and really encouraging them to communicate with the more refined talent in the industry and really learn what’s important, learn how to hone their craft, and learn how to appreciate what to do. Another one of the most interesting and important things about the site is the opportunity get direct feedback from the public at large about the talent.

Seattle24x7: Speaking of timing, your initial casting call occurred during the same week that Kevin Spacey’s TriggerStreet.com Web address debuted as a submission site for aspiring writers. Spacey, like others, has talked about a need for exposure and opportunity that was not being met by the existing infrastructure. Do you consider Hollywood to be elitist or exclusionary and are you providing an opportunity that you feel is not being made available in the status quo?
Dahl: To a certain extent, yes. There’s a great barrier to entry in Hollywood. Whether we’re talking about actors, or musicians, or bands, it’s very, very difficult to break in. There are writers out there who have been writing their whole lives and who have never sold a piece. They have work stacking up in a corner, never to be enjoyed by anybody. Now, how many of those writers have excellent work but have never gotten a break or didn’t know somebody, or lived in Duluth, Minnesota? What we’re really trying to do is create a site that is not about who you know, it’s simply about talent.

On our site whether you’re an accomplished actor, or a student musician, we’re going to give you a forum to share your talents. It’s simple. You go to the site. You select a category, select your genre, upload your materials and share your work. The opportunity is to get direct feedback from industry types, from artists in the same category, or from the general public. If I were an actor, or a band, or if I represented them, I would tell them,
“Hey, we need to get you exposure at every turn, on every possible site, just like in the old days, on every single telephone pole and bulletin board.” The same thing applies here. If there’s an opportunity for exposure, the artist needs to take advantage of it.

Seattle24x7: So you would applaud other sites like TriggerStreet that have a similar mission?
Dahl: They did an excellent job on the TriggerStreet.com site. We’re going to be supportive of all of the sites like this because we believe it’s important for aspiring and accomplished artists to get exposure. At the same time, one of the differences between our site vs. a site like TriggerStreet is that TriggerStreet is a site that when you submit your work, you’re also agreeing to giving an option for the company to buy your work or produce your work. On the one hand, it’s terrific to have that opportunity. But on the other hand, you’re really in a situation where just by uploading your work you’re granting first right of refusal to a third party to the work. TalentMatch.com is not in the business of developing work, or representing talent or anything else. We’re in the business of developing a community of artists for artists.

Seattle24x7: What is the business model for TalentMatch? Where is your revenue coming from?
Dahl: First of all, the site is subscription-based for some of the premium benefits. And there will certainly be some targeted advertising opportunities. But we’ve really worked hard to develop a team and to be able to manage this thing without spending millions and millions of dollars. One of the important reasons to do that is consistent with what we were doing with the [Kiss.com] personal services. We want to make sure that there’s an opportunity on our site for everybody to enjoy the basic services for free.

Seattle24x7: One of the criticisms that has been leveled at Hollywood from people both inside and outside of the industry is that the show business guilds (the Writers’ Guild, Actors’ Guid, Electricians’ Guild, etc.) do not help their members find work. On the one hand, there’s the old “Catch-22” that you can’t work in Hollywood unless you’re a member of a guild, but then once you are a member, they do little if anything to find work for their membership. Are you going to work with these Hollywood associations as well?
Dahl: We think that that the industry at large hasn’t taken advantage of the Internet and used it as a tool to develop your younger talent and your aspiring talent. We’re also in the beginning of a 3-4 month process of reaching out to all of the various entertainment industry communities and trying to educate them on what we’re doing and reinforce the fact that we’re not a threat in any way. By building a community, we’re really in support of what you’re doing. Much as we’ve heard from people like Kevin Spacey and others, everyone realizes that we need to take advantage of the Internet. We’ve had recent successes with our year long promotional commitment with Variety – where we will be promoting our members within the publication. (Such as the ad seen here. – Ed.)

Seattle24x7: One of the issues if you’re a SAG (Screen Actors Guild) or AFTRA (American Federation of Theatrical Recording Artists) member, or if you are are hired by producers who pay SAG-AFTRA dues, is the requirement to comply with certain union rules and wage and scale minimums and so on. What’s your position on those union associations?
Dahl: We actually ask all of the talent in all of the categories when they sign up to identify any associations that they belong to. In one category that I’m specifically familiar with, 45% of the individuals who have signed up as an actor have identified themselves as a SAG member. We’re very pleased about that. So not only are we asking the questions but I think that being a community where you’re really showcasing what you’re doing, you’re going to have galleries, you’re going to have video up on the site, audio, your resume and bio, I think that will manage itself.

The other thing that we’re doing as a part of the outreach is assembling an advisory panel of individuals who will work with us in continually updating the site and improving the site, and making sure that content specific to various categories is appropriate, engaging and of interest.

We’ll be announcing as we get into the new year, some of the individuals who are going to be participating on that Advisory Panel. We’ve already got an individual who works at one of the largest management companies with band, we’ve got casting director who was in the throes of the Legally Blonde Two project. We’ve really been encouraged at how well this has been accepted. One of the things we were concerned about is that we roll this thing out and individuals in Los Angeles and New York and Nashville and Detroit and they look at it and say, what is this development team from Seattle, what do they know? But what’s happening is that they’re taking a look at the site, they’re seeing the work that went into it, and they’re seeing that we’re doing everything that we can possibly do to reach out. We’re the experts in building online community, you’re the experts in your field. Let’s work together to make sure that this is as positive of an experience as possible.

Seattle24x7: Has anyone felt like you are presenting them with competition?
One of the conversations that I had recently was with a talent agency that sent me an Email saying that they had read a little blip on the site and they were concerned that this was going to be the beginning of what effectively has happened to travel agents. We communicated back to them that, in this case, it’s completely different. In this case, there’s now an opportunity, especially for that independent talent manager, to leverage our technology to get their artists more exposure.

And that’s the beauty of it. If you represent a band or bands in Detroit, Michigan, and you don’t have a significant development budget to have sites, with media, for all these bands, you can sign up on the site, have a portfolio and a direct Web address for each of your talents. You can post five full songs, two videos, bio, resume, everything, and you’re in business. We’re really becoming another arm of the massive support network that’s supposed to be out there working for these individuals.

Now in fact – I estimate15% of our artists have representation. With the site launching, tey have seen how committed we are to promoting our own members on and off-line

Seattle24x7: TalentMatch.com wants to be a force for positive change in the talent industry?
Dahl: One of the big stories out of Southern California these last several months has been the Actor’s Workshop stories where seemingly actors are having to pay for auditions under the guise of their being Workshops. It’s such a big deal that the state is actually passing legislation preventing Hollywood from holding workshops targeting actors to audition for pay. Something’s wrong with that.

At the end of the day whether you aspire to conquer the world or you’re simply an artist or poet or a band working out of a garage, with TalentMatch.com you have an opportunity to post your talent on the site and really have the ability to have somebody across borders and oceans both hear it and enjoy it! [24×7]

Larry Sivitz is the Managing Editor of Seattle24x7.


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