The world's wastebaskets are filled with tattered bar-naps scribbled over with big ideas that never got off the ground—product concepts, book titles, and fragments of movie scripts. But when Knoxville's Jonathan Sexton ran into former Whiskey Scars bandmate Matt Urmy at a house party last year, the ideas they scrawled on a rumpled napkin not only safely survived the night, they turned into a million-dollar-plus software platform the duo are now marketing as a veritable how-to kit for up-and-coming artists.
"It's a career-management tool for artists," says Sexton of the software platform, which is called Artist Growth. More than just another app, Artist Growth is available by subscription, and works across all systems—phone, PC, tablet, etc.
"AG combines all the tools you need for the nuts and bolts of the business," Sexton says. "The financial tools, scheduling, task management, personal organizers. But it also combines features that teach and educate artists on industry protocol.
"There's a million musicians out there and they all want to be rock stars. But the magic of it is not when someone comes and signs you to a big record deal. Now it's being able to turn what you do into a way to make money. You have to answer questions like, how much money are you spending? How much merchandise are you selling? What's your data look like?"
To do all that, AG has applications for scheduling and record-keeping specifically designed with the working musician in mind. It also has a contacts database already loaded with 30,000 press and radio outlets.
"We're trying to make it easy for people who are intimidated by business-speak," Sexton says. "We tried to make Artist Growth as easy as a video game, and almost as fun."
But what really sets AG apart, says Sexton, are the educational tools. One of those is Artist Growth Television, or AGTV, a video-content portal.
"We go all over the place and interview A-list publicists, producers, label execs, ask them questions in their areas of expertise, like how to get a good kick-drum sound, or what to put in a press release."
The other educational feature of AG is something called the Action Pack, which consists of a prefab to-do list, compiled by consulting industry experts, designed to accomplish any number of goals. Action Packs are available on how to record an album, for example, or how to write song or book a show.
The Action Pack breaks the task at hand into small, achievable steps, then automatically integrates those steps appropriately into the user's AG schedule, according to a standard industry timeline.
"If you have 15 shows to promote, it puts on your schedule when you need to send out press releases, when you need to Facebook, when you need to call friends," Sexton says. "It helps keep you from getting underwater."
The cost of a subscription is $4.99 per month, and 99 cents to sign up. The cost entitles users to one AGTV station and one Action Pack. Additional stations and additional Action Packs are 99 cents each.
Sexton says the impetus for creating AG was the fact that, while there were "some cool programs out there [for working musicians], none of them really met our needs." Apparently, plenty of people agreed. Investors fell in line quickly, as he and Urmy drummed up more than $1 million in private investments by June 2011—including several of the industry experts tapped for AGTV. Sexton says that though they gave some of their interest away, he and Urmy still own about 60 percent of AG.
Their launch party drew a crowd of nearly 500 to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, including luminaries such as Vince Gill and Steve Winwood. The mayor of Nashville spoke. "They're pushing entrepreneurship in Nashville right now," Sexton says. "So the city was really cheering us on."
In the meantime, Sexton has given interviews to Billboard and MTV, and Rolling Stone requested photos from the launch party. The next step? Sexton, Urmy, and their investors are already looking to adapt AG's comprehensive approach to other realms of endeavor.
"We're about to start a second round of capital funding so we can get started bringing other verticals to life," Sexton says. "Fitness, athletics, health care, education."