We’ve been hearing about how the Internet would revolutionize the way music is found, distributed and promoted for ten years. Until recently that wasn’t the case – at least with the majors – who have just now been dragged kicking and screaming into digital music sales over the Internet, and been forced by economics to curtail radio “payola” and huge promotional budgets. People are finally turning to the Internet to find talent as well:
- Joe Berman looks for new bands. Typically, that means hanging out in dive bars, enduring hours of unlistenable music by groups whose rock-and-roll dreams far exceed their talent, praying for the occasional act that shows promise.
About 16 months ago, however, the Los Angeles-based talent-finder sat at home scouting the globe for groups. He typed “New Zealand indie rock bands” into his computer search engine and found Steriogram, five lads from the town of Whangarei in New Zealand. They had a song and a video posted on a Web site but no record contract.
Excited by what he heard, Berman e-mailed Steriogram frontman Brad Carter asking for more music, sparking a swift chain of events. Carter mailed a demo CD of about five songs. Berman played the songs for Dan McCarroll, senior creative director for EMI Publishing. Impressed, McCarroll played the music for a friend, who happened to be the president of Capitol Records.
Two weeks later, Steriogram had a five-album deal with Capitol, home of the Beatles and Garth Brooks. Now, the band is touring the United States and has a video on MTV.
“It’s really interesting the way a lot of people are looking for new bands,” McCarroll said. “It would be a real Cinderella story if five kids from New Zealand that no one knew made it.”
It may be a Cinderella story today, but it could be the norm in coming years. Beset by a drop of more than 30 percent in music sales over the past three years, ongoing piracy, industry consolidation, thousands of layoffs and bottom-line losses in the multimillions of dollars, the music business is searching for novel — and cheaper — ways to find and nurture talent.
….About six months after Steriogram was signed, lead singer Carter faxed Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs, telling the computer-maker of the band’s affinity for Apple products. They used a PowerBook G4 laptop and Logic Pro software to record and edit their songs and iMovie software to make a tour video. Carter branded his group “a geek band.”
A week later, Jobs, whose iTunes Web site is the Internet’s most popular online music store, called Carter and promised to help promote the band. Recently, Apple’s Web site posted a lengthy feature on Steriogram.
Meanwhile, once signed, the group began to reap the rewards of the industry’s traditional personal network as well. The group’s first video, “Walkie Talkie Man,” a piece of fanciful animation, was made by Michel Gondry, whose critical hit, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” is in theaters now. Gondry directed the video because he was asked to by his friend — the president of Capitol Records. E-mailing from the band’s tour van last week, somewhere between Englewood, Colo., and Omaha, Carter wrote: “We are all stoked cause we just heard our song Walkie Talkie Man on the radio for the first time in the US.”
….Even if a band is found by an A&R guy hanging out in a club, as with emerging alt-rockers stellastarr*, new technologies let labels and artists end-run traditional promotion channels, such as commercial radio.
New York-based stellastarr*was signed to a five-album deal in May 2003 by RCA Records. But five months earlier, deejay Billy Zero broke the band on satellite radio after he got hold of stellastarr*’s sole CD, recorded on the cheap in New York.
Zero works at XM Satellite Radio in Northeast Washington. For about $10 per month, the pay-radio service beams more than 100 channels of music, news, sports and talk to special receivers in cars and homes. Zero runs XM’s “Unsigned Bands” channel, which exclusively plays bands that do not have record contracts. He left Washington’s WHFS (99.1 FM) for XM in February 2000, after growing frustrated that the Infinity Radio station would not play enough unsigned bands to suit his tastes.
….Sanders and others in the industry have come to realize that XM and Sirius, both of which have teetered near bankruptcy, now combine to reach a national audience of more than 2 million listeners.
“It took us a minute to say, ‘Wow. Okay. There really is something here,” Sanders said. “None of us knew what [satellite radio] was other than a couple of dishes floating around in the universe. Now, it’s ‘Wow — they have an impact on sales.’ ”
….In the past, record labels would spend thousands of dollars to get a new song on big radio stations, paying independent promoters, or “indies,” who gave much of that money to a radio station’s promotion budget in exchange for, they hoped, putting the label’s new song in the station’s airplay rotation. Critics call the system legalized payola.
“The big radio promotion budgets of yesteryear are gone,” said Bill Burrs, vice president of rock music for RCA, the man in charge of getting the label’s artists, such as stellastarr*, on radio. “Before, you could just load the gun and shoot. But no one’s spending $200,000 or $300,000 to blow out a single anymore.”
Some such promotion still goes on, but record companies no longer have as much money to throw around, and radio stations are more reluctant to play songs from artists who are not proven hit-makers, because their research shows that listeners mainly want to hear artists they know. Unfamiliar artists cause most listeners to switch stations, and each lost rating point at a radio station translates into lost advertising revenue. [Washington Post]
Now that the ice has been broken I think you will see new media have a great impact on the entertainment business.