of Fame May Be Just A Web Site Away
© 2000 Bruce Shutan. All rights reserved
Andy Warhol would have loved the Internet.
With the right message, virtually anyone with a Web site can parlay
their cause into 15 minutes of fame a handy strategy for musicians
to get noticed and hope the public digs their material long past the
time it takes to land that First Big Break.
Consider the bold move of a heretofore
anonymous Oakland rock band called the Tabloids, whose StopNapster.com
campaign advocates sabotaging the highly controversial music-sharing
service by urging people to mislabel songs that are posted on the
Napster site. The group is certainly living up to its moniker: Such
aggressive tactics are enough to make even the most jaded trashy tabloid
editor shriek with pride.
Michael Robinson, the groups
lead singer is no stranger to drawing free publicity. Hes also
a media consultant. Ironically, so little is known about the Tabloids
that "none of the groups songs have yet even made it onto
Napster," smirks The Wall Street Journal. But all that may be
about to change: Not surprisingly, StopNapster.com includes a link
to the Tabloids own Web site (www.thetabloids.com).
The larger lesson for other fledgling
bands is that the Net may be able to jump-start your career if all
else fails. It certainly doesnt require the same kind of heavy
lifting as plugging away on the small-club circuit, compiling a mailing
list full of fair-weather fans or holding out hope that the next neighborhood
bar showcase lands you a record deal.
The key to success, of course, is to
be able to convey a provocative message that will command attention.
Best of all is when those efforts translate into unbridled passion
for a good cause, especially one that on the surface seeks to protect
the interests of musicians everywhere.
In timely fashion, the Tabloids have
tapped into some serious anger over a fiery subject that even divides
the music community (note to VH1 execs: Metallica vs. Limp Bizkit
would be a great Celebrity Death Match). The music pirating cause
is a natural for the band, whose tunes are chock full of social commentary.
But the saga very much unfolds like a cautionary tale for others who
are considering everything and anything under the sun to make an equally
"Obviously, the StopNapster site
has thrust the Tabloids into the center of
nationally important story," observes Robinson, who strongly
supports MP3 music on the Internet. But he says the publicity cuts
both ways, noting that among the millions of people who now know about
his band are unlikely to "take the time to listen to our music
and judge our lyrical messages
We've taken quite a bit of heat:
angry denunciations, e-mail flames, hacker threats and a mail bomb
that delivered 615 garbled e-mails to our server."
To date, about 40,000 people are thought
to have visited StopNapter.com, which insists it "is not associated
with the Recording Industry Association of America, nor with any other
major record label or industry trade group."
For most up-and-coming bands, the consensus
may be that theres no such thing as bad publicity. The Tabloids
certainly have ridden a tidal wave of attention that spans the globe.
Apart from appearing in The Wall Street Journal, the band has helped
generate copy in the Indianapolis Star News, as well as newspapers
from New Orleans, La., to Haifa, Israel. Other media outlets that
have covered the story include CNET, ZDTV, Yahoo News, Digital Bytes,
Inside Music, Digital Music Weekly, Streaming Audio Magazine and TV
shows broadcast in Israel, the Philippines and Singapore.
"We felt it was important to speak
out on this issue because Napster represents the greatest attack on
intellectual property and creative freedom in the history of the United
States," Robinson says. "If left to stand, Napster would
mean the beginning of a world in which we have no artistic rights.
Movie studios could use your songs without permission or compensation,
corporate advertisers could do the same, other bands could sample
your music with impunity and patents will be meaningless as will scientific
discoveries of any kind."
Robinson has some advice for other
bands that are seeking a higher level of publicity. "Whatever
someone does outside of local promotion for gigs and CDs," he
says, "it should fit their core values as an artist." He
notes that the Tabloids held a charity benefit that fed 300 poor people
at Christmas, an accurate reflection of what the band stands for.
"After my nephew died a few years
back," he continues, "I became a believer in helping children
and would be willing to do shows for any benefit along those lines
if asked." Then, in taking a page from first lady Hilary Clintons
book from a few years ago, Robinson gets global: "If we could
figure out a way to do so, wed like to adopt a village of impoverished
children and feed them for a month or so."
the Author: Bruce Shutan, an L.A.-based freelance writer, has been
playing the drums since 1970. He has performed and recorded in numerous
bands and occasionally pounds his cast-aluminum, Egyptian dumbek along
Santa Monicas chic Third Street Promenad. firstname.lastname@example.org