For nearly nine years now, there's been a slight increase in traffic on 18th Street in downtown Rock Island-- vans mostly, but every now and again, a massive tour bus is parked there just off 3rd Avenue, and then, a couple hours later, the van or bus or car with a trunk packed full of instruments is gone.
Day after day, some of the most acclaimed bands and musicians in the world (and plenty of relative unknowns) have pulled into the Quad Cities, walked through an unmarked door and up some rickety stairs just off the Mighty Mississippi, plugged in, recorded four songs, unplugged, walked back to the street below and left town.
And only one or two people ever know they're here.
"They come up the stairs," Sean Moeller, the founder and co-owner of Daytrotter, told News 8. "Most of them don't know what they're getting themselves into."
Counting Crows. Mumford & Sons. Bush. The Lumineers. Vampire Weekend. The National. Norah Jones. Dawes. Wilco. Aimee Mann. Bon Iver. Tori Amos. Kris Kristofferson. Carly Simon. Macy Gray. Charley Pride. Bob Mould. Colin Hay. Toad the Wet Sprocket. Ani DiFranco. Amos Lee. Spoon.
"I catch some already established stars and I get tons of people before anyone knows who they are, so it's fun going back because I look at Year One and Year Two of who we taped and it's ridiculous," Moeller said, figuring Daytrotter's recorded 4,900 sessions, give or take, and counting. "If people knew in a three month span who was in the Quad Cities, it'd be unbelievable. If they were here for a show, it'd be, "'This is the most amazing concert lineup I've ever seen in my life!" And they were all here and no one knew about it."
Once the artists record a session (typically just four songs), Daytrotter's staff posts it to Daytrotter.com for subscribers to listen to, share, download and read about-- Moeller, a former newspaper reporter, pens reviews-- and tomorrow, it will all repeat itself again, likely with two or three new artists coming in to record.
"When I started, there couldn't [have been] real aspirations of it to become this thing that a lot of people in the world know about," said Moeller, adding, with a humble shrug, "Everybody in the music industry has basically heard of it."
Amidst the Grammy winners and nominees-- the critically acclaimed and commercially successful-- are hundreds of acts looking to grow their audience.
Daytrotter.com has 20,000 visitors each day, most paying $32/year, from all around the world, and in the midst of thousands of music fans are booking agents and record label reps.
"For us, it was a really big deal," said Matt Skinner, in town from Colorado as one of three members of the band Tallgrass. "Our booking agent had been sending emails and we got someone else to send another e-mail and it ended up working out and we were really excited and it was a really good day for us."
"This is a fantastic opportunity to get ourselves in front of as many people as we can," added Tallgrass drummer Adam Morford, "because now in the digital age, everything's just zipping all over the place."
"The great bands that come through here... it's just an honor and a pleasure to be asked to do this, so we're really excited," said Austin Morford, Tallgrass's bassist.
"Everybody's still looking for that leg up," Moeller said. "They're still looking for someone just to help them a little bit to get to that next thing..."
Now with regular studio time in San Francisco, Austin, Nashville and London, along with special session recordings at various music festivals worldwide, Daytrotter and Moeller have been expanding in the Quad Cities as well.
Every Monday night, Moeller brings a surprise act to town to perform at Rozz-Tox at his "Moeller Mondays"-- pay $5 or $10 dollars at the door for an always unique music experience.
Also, when the snow and wind aren't whipping during the Winter months, Moeller and friends have hosted special concert events just north of the Quad Cities at a barn in Maquoketa, Iowa called Codfish Hollow.
"We've done some really memorable things out there and whether it was my doing or not, I think it's one of the best places to see a show in the world," Moeller said. "I think anyone who goes there-- and it sounds crazy to say because it's in Maquoketa, Iowa, but it's the honest to God truth-- I think anyone that goes there is blown away."
Moeller, a Quad City native, is a married father of four, and when asked about ever moving his family, along with Daytrotter's studio and hard-working staff of three, to a bigger market like L.A. or New York, he's quick to stick up for his hometown where he's planning an even bigger future.
"As much as people can't believe it, this is the best place for me to ever do this," he said. "I grew up here so I never really wanted to live anywhere else. We're so close to so many places, it makes it really, really easy to pull this off here and it's so cheap to do here, I just can't imagine doing it anywhere else."
"It's already on everybody's map to come here for a promotional opportunity," Moeller added. "I want it to be on everybody's map to think, "Of course we're playing a show in Davenport," or, "Of course we're playing in Rock Island. Of course-- no doubt about it...""
And that's music to Daytrotter's fans' ears...
On his love of music...
"My dad had a record player and what I thought was an okay size record collection and now looking back, he had like 30 records... I didn't know anyone who had a parent with records and record player. But he built his own speakers..."
"I was watching MTV Raps-- I was just soaking in the MTV thing back when they actually played music."
On the idea for Daytrotter...
"I remember when it hit me, the first sparks of it. I was out for a run. It was winter. I always felt like I got my best ideas when I was running-- that's why I haven't had any good ideas for the past few years."
"But I was running and I'd sort of always had this idea that I wanted to open a record store."
"I was writing for the Times, so I was always checking out who was playing in Iowa City, who was playing here, so I had a good finger on the pulse of what was out there, who was coming through town."
"We just started, really, and it was just one of those things where it was like, "You should just do it.""
"I think the goal was, at least with my original partner, was the goal of having an outlet for me-- "Is there something that can be yours? Is there something that you can take ownership of?"
On the term "Daytrotter" and the session art...
"It doesn't mean too much. I like the idea, the play on like a day trader, trading one band from one day to the other. Originally, the concept was that everyday there would be a new band."
"Our illustrator Johnny came up with the horse, 'Let's have a horse?!' No good reason... He drew a really nice horse and I said we should use it."
On the first artists he recorded...
"It was Captain Shaven and Someone Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsen. I think they drove here six or seven hours to get here for the session."
"It's one of those things that I've become good friends with all those guys in those bands now, and every time we see each other, it's kind of like, "I can't believe that this thing started because of you guys saying yes.""
On the artist he'd give anything to record...
"Absolutely kill to record? Willie Nelson. He's always been #1. I think it'd be incredible, just him and his guitar. As long as... he's getting up there and his hands aren't as good anymore, but I just think it'd be the coolest thing to do to have that voice and that guy, I just think it'd be cool."
Special Surprise for Residents of the QCA: Moeller wants to give music fans in the Quad Cities a gift and is offering a free, no-strings-attached year-long membership at Daytrotter.com.
"We'd like to give one away to as many Quad-City residents as we can over the next few months," he wrote in an e-mail.
To take part, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with "QC" in the subject line. If you have any issues, contact WQAD's Jason Fechner at email@example.com.