NYC Dollar Vans Are Using Social Media? Just Ask Dollar Van Demos

March 18th, 2010 |


Soaking in the world and spitting it out, one blog post at a time. Consider me the Clark Kent of web stories without the cool glasses, the fancy suit and, well, the muscles.

Brooklyn, New York is a borough that marches to the beat of its own drummer. It’s a musical mix-tape microcosm in its own right with talent always seeping from the seams and, thanks to Joe Revitte, its streets. His lone dollar van is just one in a herd of dozens,  but there is one little difference. As  it makes its way over pot holes and through traffic lights, music artists inside pour their souls out to a film crew, complete with hidden microphones, and the occasional passenger. This is Dollar Van Demos, the brainchild of Joe Revitte and his wife, Iara.

Here I talk to Joe Revitte about Dollar Van Demo’s and the impact social media has had on the production.

SR: For those who don’t know, explain what a dollar van is and how you work with them.

JR:  Dollar Vans provide cheap transportation ($2) to areas under served by public transportation.  They’re basically commuter vans operated by mostly Caribbean immigrants (especially from Jamaica, Haiti and Trinidad and Tobago, but also from several countries in Africa). Since the bus service is slow and the subway reaches only a half-way distance, the dollar vans help transport several thousand passengers per day between their homes to their jobs, shopping, and school.  The vans run only on one route but can stop or pick up riders on any corner. We run with a van on Flatbush Avenue (basically Brooklyn’s “Main Street”) and the dollar vans can be found on other main thoroughfares in Brooklyn and in Queens. We work with a van operated by Black Street Van Lines owned by Winston “Youngblood” Williams, whose company’s vans are legal, insured, and permitted by the Taxi & Limo Commission (TLC) of New York City.  The vans have a deserved reputation of driving at top legal speed, packing the seats full of passengers and pumping great reggae, hip-hop, and soca music from their speakers.

Next to YouTube, what would be your favorite social media site and why?

It’s hard to say, but I like how MySpace allows musicians to completely customize their pages with all of their images and music, I like how Facebook offers smart organization of connections and messages, and I like how Twitter allows instantaneous communication.  We consider every social network to be important to our ever-growing network of connections. One thing I’m really proud of and have a lot of fun doing is re-tweeting and communicating directly with Dollar Van riders on Twitter since some of the messages they send are uniquely hilarious (see our Twitter feed for proof).

How do you go about building such a great fan base on your social media sites?

By working really hard and continuing every moment to work even harder.  We basically make sure we’re continuously contributing to “the feedback loop” where if someone connects to us, leaves a comment, etc. we try to reciprocate with a short, positive reply.

McDonald’s recently borrowed your idea, how did that happen?

After this guy subscribed to our YouTube channel in November, I sent him a message via YouTube thanking him for supporting our channel. He was gob smocked that someone would be thanking a subscriber in such a way and he revealed that he worked for a Chicago advertising agency. He said his client, McDonald’s, was about to launch their new “Dollar Menu at Breakfast” and asked us to collaborate with them. We licensed our concept for two commercials that starting airing nationwide in January starring Joya Bravo and Wordspit. This is proof of the amazing connectivity of the Internet!  The “behind the scenes” footage and the spot starring Joya Bravo can be found here.

What is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?

Just the chance to discover great new music and turn it into a fun music video. Plus the looks on various passengers’ faces when they are presented with the performance (almost universally positive too).

Name your strangest moment in the Dollar Van during production.

Each production have had such surreal and funny things go on, but we always love it when a passenger refuses to get out because they’re enjoying the music so much. An upcoming video by singer Cocoa Sarai will show this happening.

There is a bit of technology involved in producing a Dollar Van Demo, what’s some of your favorite gadgets outside of the van?

One of the coolest things we’ve gotten is a Samsung HMX U10 camcorder which we use to produce our mini-show called “Dollar Van Demos Seen!” (see it on our website where we attend various events and use this pocket-sized HD camera for interviews. This nice gadget came courtesy of Samsung Digital Imaging in exchange for providing regular blog contributions using the camera.

Name any three artists from any time period that you would love to have in the van and what they would perform.

1. Sister Nancy — reggae legend who sings “Bam Bam” – the quintessential dollar van song
2. Bob Marley — the patron saint of dollar van drivers
3. Blackstarr — Mos Def and Talib Kweli because their classic video “Destination” was made in a dollar van
4. Conroy Smith — a lost legend of dancehall reggae who has a beautiful song called “Dollar Van Ride” that screams out for us to make a Demo with!

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into building an internet based entertainment business such as yours?

Establish a uniform name and look across all the social media platforms that appeal to you and continuously contribute  compelling content. Also, we read a couple books that also started us thinking about what we’re doing in a new ways: “33 Million People in the Room” by Juliette Powell and “Crush It” by Gary Vaynerchuck. Both books are very simple to read in a day or two and provide lots of resources to put a concept together.

Finish the line, “Five years from now, Dollar Van Demos will be….”

Hopefully still making the videos but in other cities in countries!  Stay tuned…

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Sunil Ramsamooj
  • 15passengervan

    Right Dollar Van is best for traveling But A 15 15 passenger van is the second option for get van for rent.

  • Canvas Stretching Machine

    is there a problem with it…

    • RV

      there seem to be none hey just like to post about it…

  • seoracer

    Thank you this nice post.

  • seoracer

    Thank you this nice post.

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  • Taleen

    Thanks for this, I really liked it. Can’t wait to read more.I’ve recommended this blog to some of my colleagues. I’m sure they’ll find it is useful as I did.