Hall & Oates’ music and videos ruled the '80s, and the Grammy-winning duo’s music is still everywhere—from American Idol to an entire album of H&O covers by The Bird & The Bee in 2010. In late December, two enterprising tech startup types even built a web-powered phone hotline ("Callin’ Oates," 719-266-2837) that allowed callers to choose from a list of streaming H&O hits and instantly satisfy cravings for, say, "Maneater." ("Those guys got something like 23,000 calls in the first day alone," says Hall’s manager Jonathan Wolfson. "But it’s just another example of the momentum from this recent renaissance of the Hall & Oates brand.")
For his part, Daryl Hall has pushed deeply into music’s (and video’s) new decentralized digital domain with his successful web series, Live From Daryl’s House (LFDH). The monthly music show is free, critically acclaimed, and has grown since its humble launch four years ago into an archive of around 50 episodes and about 200,000 visitors per episode. Things really picked up after the series won the 2010 Webby Award for Best Variety Show and a 2011 MTV O Award. Even old media took note—a syndicated TV version of LFDH airs in at least 62 outlets around the U.S.A.
The show is basically Hall and his house band jamming with a guest list of old and new artists. Naturally, John Oates has joined him for sessions. Hall’s old Philly pal Todd Rundgren sat in for two episodes. Nick Lowe, K.T. Tunstall, Smokey Robinson, The Doors’ Robby Krieger, and Ray Manzarek have all done the show. And so have newer artists such as Fitz & the Tantrums, Gym Class Heroes’ Travis McCoy, Chromeo, country singer Jimmy Wayne, Diane Birch, and Sharon Jones (sans Dap Kings).
Now Hall, whose online broadcast shook up the formula for concerts, TV, and concerts on TV (especially among his generational peers) by inviting musical guests and viewers into his house with the click of a mouse, is flipping the script again.
"We’re actually going to be doing two Live From Daryl’s House concerts," Hall tells Fast Company, "one with Todd [Rundgren], and one with Fitz & the Tantrums. And I continue to do Hall & Oates touring. So I’ve got plenty of stuff going on." Hall also released his latest album, Laughing Down Crying, primarily through iTunes. (A conventional, physical CD is also available from his site).
At least one pal of Hall’s says the only reason the typically nomadic musician stayed put long enough to launch the web series was Lyme disease—Hall had to cancel shows in 2005 after being diagnosed with it, and he suffered bouts of headaches, tremors, and fatigue on and off for months.
Hall insists he’s had his eye on the web for years, though.
"I had the idea of Live From Daryl’s House way before I contracted Lyme disease," Hall says. "If you look back in my history, the Live at the Apollo show with Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin was the very first LFDH. Now technology, with the advent of the Internet, makes it possible to do this type of integration. This show had to start as a web series, [since] television (at the time) wouldn’t allow the flexibility, as well as the organic fan-build, needed for the show to properly evolve. LFDH is the first music series of its kind on the web. Some of my ideas actually came from television; the initial idea of this show came from Survivor Man. I figured that if he can put out a show in the middle of a jungle, then I could put out one from my barn."
Initially, Hall’s production values in that barn were necessarily lean, largely because the show was launched with his own capital investment.
"I sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into it before I had any backing," Hall says. "It was a real risk, but I’ve never done anything artistically with a monetary inspiration. I am an artist, and this is something that I really wanted to do."
Hall recalls that his initial programs were shot on nothing more than Sony Handycams, operated by his friends and road crew.
"That went on for a few episodes, and then I realized that I really couldn’t afford to do this. You can’t give stuff away like that. Plus, in the topsy-turvy world of the Internet, the more people that watch the more it costs you to stream it. So it’s not very conducive to working on your own. I also realized early on that I needed a director, because I wanted somebody to help me out, be objective about it, and sort of edit it and put it all together. That all costs money, too."
Hall soon realized that if he wanted to keep the production values high—the show now boasts top-quality sound mixes and multiple camera-angle shoots in HD—he would need some capital investors. Fortunately for him, a silent partner "who doesn’t like to be talked about" came in to underwrite the entire operation.
"I couldn’t do it without that person," Hall insists. "So we’ve been lucky there, and I can focus on my vision for the series and getting the guests. A lot of this started with me getting on the phone and calling people and saying 'Hey you wanna join in? I’ve been in this business a long time, and I know a lot of people! And I think, uniquely, I have the ear of a lot of young musicians and the ear of people that have been around longer than me, who I’ve followed. Art is a continuum. You learn from people you love and then people that love you learn from you too. That’s how it works. To be in the middle of that, generationally, is really an amazing feeling."
Could this ever amount to an actual revenue stream for Hall, or is the web program mostly a self-fulfilling platform to promote new products and tours?
"In regard to it being a revenue stream, we’re being viewed in over 83% of the country and it’s going to take some time to build, like all grass roots/word-of-mouth shows. The transition that has made the most impact on me was when it jumped to TV. It’s an incredible feeling to build something from scratch and have it viewed on two significant media."
As for social media outreach, Hall has the usual suspects covered, there’s an LFDH Facebook page and a Twitter feed, but he insists that the best connection is the show itself, delivered to the laptops and iPads of his fans around the web.
"I feel as though that the pure nature of the show, which is bringing people into the place I live, does more for fan interaction than a social media site. What’s more intimate than inviting people to see my life in my house? I was always hoping to make an impact on the Internet. I’m a pioneer and I’m doing something that needs to be done, bring true entertainment to the Internet and not just gossip and games."