Roger McNamee, singer-guitarist of Moonalice, was invited recently by Yale University to deliver a lecture on how up-and-coming bands can make the most out of emerging technology. During the April 3rd seminar, McNamee shared with students how his indie band got two million people to download their single "It's 4:20 Somewhere," as well as performed on campus.
"There's no magic formula," McNamee told Rolling Stone shortly after the track became the first multi-platinum single to be downloaded directly from a band's own website. "It was an organic thing. People shared it more, obviously, leading up to 4/20."
Besides touring and leading the Yale workshop, McNamee and Moonalice have been conducting a variety of creative online promotions that have helped the band reach national prominence even though they are not currently signed to a label, nor do they employ a manager or publicist. For one, the band has videotaped over 250 live performances, all of which are made viewable easily on their site. Also, the band has created a radio feature on Twitter that posts a random song from their catalogue each hour.
Aside from his work with Moonalice, McNamee is a founder of Elevation Partners, the venture capital firm he founded with Bono that invests in intellectual property in the entertainment industry. He first started in music technology when he helped launch an online merchandise store for the Grateful Dead in 2000. Current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg introduced McNamee to the U2 frontman the morning after "Beautiful Day" won the 2001 Grammys for Song of the Year and Record of the Year.
"Bono knows what it's like to be in a partnership. He's been in one for over 35 years," McNamee said of his colleague. "He plays peacemaker."
McNamee's role in Elevation Partners has given him further insight into what makes a band successful. During his lecture, the Moonalice frontman cited his platinum-selling partner's motto: if you want fans to like the content, make the hardware look great.
"Ever since the beginning of pop music, technology has been a vital aspect of what a band puts out, from the Beatles with the LP record and Pink Floyd with stereo sound," he said. "Now you have the iPhone and the iPad, where bands can create their own products." McNamee cited Björk and Arcade Fire as contemporary artists who are embracing technology to make a product that fans want beyond the standard three-minute single.
Moonalice continues to tour across the country, and McNamee is in the process of finalizing lectures at Dartmouth and USC. He is optimistic about how his act's online experiments can aid the next wave of musicians. "If a band like ours – where the youngest member is 55 – can do what we've done with social media," McNamee said, "imagine what a band of 21-years-olds can accomplish."