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OnlineRock Guest Column  

15 Minutes of Fame May Be Just A Web Site Away

By Bruce Shutan
© 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 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 group’s lead singer is no stranger to drawing free publicity. He’s also a media consultant. Ironically, so little is known about the Tabloids that "none of the group’s songs have yet even made it onto Napster," smirks The Wall Street Journal. But all that may be about to change: Not surprisingly, includes a link to the Tabloids’ own Web site (

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 doesn’t 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 big splash.

"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, 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 there’s 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 Clinton’s book from a few years ago, Robinson gets global: "If we could figure out a way to do so, we’d like to adopt a village of impoverished children and feed them for a month or so."

About 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 Monica’s chic Third Street Promenad.

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