“That jump-started the thinking,” Ronnie says. And by late 2014, the Wrights were ready to flip the switch on DittyTV, an Americana and roots music streaming network. It’s available for free— on its website and as an app for mobile and streaming devices, like those for Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV — and the Wrights estimate that it reaches about 5 million people each month. That’s without making marketing or PR much of a priority, says Amy, whose second job now is as Ditty’s chief operating officer, with Ronnie as CEO. They’ve focused instead on plugging into an ecosystem of musicians, labels and venues that they hope to amplify.
“We’re not Viacom, we’re not VC-funded,” Amy says. “It’s just Ronnie and me as far as funding goes,” along with a purposely small clutch of advertisers. This approach has its challenges — “You don’t want to see the bandwidth bill,” Ronnie says — but for now it has allowed them to create a network that is a little bit golden-age MTV, a little bit rockumentary and a little bit fairy-god-network to musicians living spark to spark, hoping to catch fire.
Most of the 12 one-hour programs DittyTV runs daily feature new music videos from the vast tent of Americana, which might mean something twangy, bluesy, full-throated or funky — or all of those bent and braided into one. Shows include “Earth Tones,” which pulls from the folk and bluegrass traditions; “The Soul Side”; and “Eleven,” a show the network describes as “the middle finger of Americana.” “When we realized the quality of the [video] content that even the smallest of artists — especially in this realm — were making, and they were falling over themselves [for airtime], that was a big lightbulb,” Ronnie says.
The centerpiece, though, both in production and ethos, is an in-studio concert series that’s hosted hundreds of rockers and pickers, including Grammy winners and nominees like traditionalist Dom Flemons, bluesman Bobby Rush and roots-rock sister act Larkin Poe — as well as evergreen itinerants, up-and-comers and big-names-elsewhere, like Canadian folk foursome the Dead South, country troubadour Charley Crockett and Memphis rocker Liz Brasher. The sessions are mixed live by Doug Easley, whose studio, among other bona fides, recorded Wilco’s first album and the White Stripes’ breakout “White Blood Cells.” And all of that audio and video is shared with the musicians condition-free.
“That’s probably at least $10,000 worth of work right there,” Easley says of the production files Ditty hands back to the bands. “It’s sort of a no-brainer, and then you get put on the network and played endlessly.”
Artists like John Oates (of Hall & Oates) and the British duo Ida Mae have released tracks recorded for the channel on their albums. For many more musicians, it’s a rare bit of polished promotional material. “I don’t know anything like it. It’s really cool that they’re doing it,” says Grayson Capps, a seasoned Alabama musician and songwriter who has seven videos from his 2018 Ditty session on his website, and has sent them to clubs and festivals to secure gigs. “I don’t know what they’re getting out of it,” he says with a laugh, “other than ‘patrons of the arts, pillars of the community.’ ”
That seems to be the idea, for now anyway. “We didn’t do this to make money,” Ronnie says — and they’re not. “We didn’t do it to lose money indefinitely, either.” The Wrights want to support this music — the folks that create it, the stages they play on, the studios and labels that record them — which in turn continues to fuel Ditty. And as long as that feedback loop is working, they want to see how far it can go and whether there are palatable ways to make it self-sustaining. The couple spent last year feeling out possible expansions into satellite radio, TV and podcasting, and opened a retail shop next door, called Vibe & Dime. Starting this month, they’re planning to open some of the in-studio performances to audiences, and by summer they expect to break ground on a second studio and retail shop in Alabama.
There’s pride in what they’ve built — the millions watching, the hundreds of studio sessions, 50,000 newsletter subscribers, more than 100 videos broadcast per day — but a sense of success, at this moment, seems harder to grasp. “Nowadays I’m getting sort of numb to numbers,” Ronnie says. “It’s almost like noise to me now. They don’t seem very meaningful.”
Instead, the Wrights find themselves reveling in more transient measures: the email from Denmark about musicians who want to be on the network; the odd run-in with a Ditty sticker on an unknown car. And they’re now navigating decisions about how to grow, whom to sell advertising to, whom to partner with — questions about the junction of identity and ambition that are well worn by the people on their own stage.
“This is not some widget to Amy and I. It’s not something that we have to do,” Ronnie says. “It’s something that’s been terribly expensive and terribly difficult. It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, for sure. … So we have a lot into this emotionally, and in every other angle. It’s great because now we’re to the point where I think there’s some momentum. I think we’re in control of everything, in a good way. We can build on that.”
Danny Freedman is a writer in Memphis.