The Net is the Independent Artist's Radio

By Richard Menta 8/10/05

I caught the Gin Blossoms this Monday night at BB King's on 42nd street in Manhattan. It was part of their reunion tour, the return of a band whose decade old tunes still garner heavy airplay on FM radio. The show was standing room only that night and what we got was a strong performance in a great venue that gouges you for $8.00 drafts.

We were in the seating area during the encore when an individual came down the aisles passing out blue sheets of paper. On the page it said this:

The Archos AV 400 is available on Amazon

If you like the Gin Blossoms
Check out
The Longshadows
Robin Wilson
(singer with the Blossoms)
& some guy you never heard of

The sheet ended with the URL of the Longshadows' site. Of course, the next morning I checked them out.

The other "guy you've never heard of" is Steve French, formerly of the Brit band The Star-Club who struck up a friendship with Wilson during the Blossom's peak. The two decided to collaborate. The result is an excellent collection of pop tunes, music whose quality I would have been blissfully unaware of had it not been for the Internet and my ability to sample the four tunes they posted on their site.

They just completed mastering the album and as their single To Saione streamed over my speakers I made my decision - when it is released I am going to buy it.

This is not the first time I purchased the CD of a Robin Wilson project after sampling music online. A few years back I purchased the great Gas Giants album based on a free acoustic download of their single Quitter that they released on the now extinct Atomic Pop site. That album did not get much radio exposure despite the popularity of his former band, the strength of the single, and the fact that Robin's distinctive voice was immediately recognizable.

The Longshadows' talent will likewise have a tough time making it to FM. With payola alive and well, getting on the radio is frequently tied to what bankroll an artist does or does not have behind them. The most effective medium for artist exposure is today a lockdown of tight targeted playlists that demonstrate more interest in older hits and high marketed acts than providing a venue to explore new music.

But as the likes of Clear Channel Communications turn the airwaves into Stepford radio, bored music lovers are tuning to alternatives. These alternatives include Net radio, Satellite radio, podcasting, artist websites and, of course, the file sharing applications that are so reviled by the major labels. All of these mediums offer promotion potential for those locked out of the traditional ways of garnering an audience beyond touring.

My brother said that night that the Gin Blossom's marketing is their name. He's not wrong, today's radio seems overly attached to the proven and to the familiar for the new albums they post in their rotation. It doesn't matter that the music the Blossoms played last night from their yet-to-be-released album sounds great. What matters is that they are a safe bet as far as the specific target markets FM stations cater to these days. Today's way of doing business will benefit them.

Even with that there is no guarantee that their new release will be played, let alone ride up the charts. There are other factors involved to skew the Billboard charts and the Blossoms need to be on the receiving end of their labels efforts. The name generates that effort. If the Gin Blossoms new album went under another band name - same artists, same music - chances are the radio execs would ignore them.

This corporate myopia is what thrills me about the potential of the Net, a potential that every day puts more power into the hands of the artist and of the fan. The RIAA sues hundreds of music lovers each month for file sharing, but more people than ever trade. Furthermore, recent research shows file traders buy almost five times more music online than non-traders, incentive to cater to, rather than attack, this audience. Putting your album on a P2P application could offer the best promotion for the buck. Even if the Blossoms and the Longshadows themselves are against their music flowing for free on KaZaa and eDonkey there are other alternatives. More and more bands are seeking these alternatives.

Getting My Records Someplace Else

The last several CDs I purchased were not bought at the local Barnes and Noble for $18.99 a pop. They were all bought for $10 each at local shows from artists who passed in my area and whose performances gave me very ample reason to give them my hard earned dollars.

These purchases include two CDs from Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers who I caught last month in Manayunk, PA (the Peacemakers are the best touring band I have seen in years, ones who embody the rock-is-a-revival spirit of the Jersey shore bands I grew up with). They also include the Wonderstuff's latest release Escape From Rubbish Island that I purchased after their excellent April show at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ and Peter Himmelman's Imperfect World bought after his show at the Saint, also in Asbury Park.

I like buying CDs after the show. The ticket to see Roger Clyne cost me $10 and the savings I made on the two CDs more than covered the price of the show. I also like the fact that the money goes directly into the hands of the band.

My brother discovered the Peacemakers on the Web and became an immediate fan. The end result is that he is catching them again when they come in September to BB Kings. Had it not been for other plans I would join him.

No one has yet come up with the magic business plan that will allow independent artists to stand out among those artists signed and heavily promoted by the major record labels, but a model for profitable effect is slowly evolving. Artists are using eBay to sell their CDs. Podcasters are eschewing major label acts for independents to completely sidestep concerns the major labels might sue them like they did Internet radio. In the end, if a quickly typed blue piece of paper can lead me to a site where I can discover band like the Longshadows, then something is working. It's going to get better.

Now go to the Longshadows' site, listen and support this evolution. It's the best thing for all of us.

One more note, after the Peacemaker's show I asked the roadie selling the CDs and T-shirts why the previous night the band played at such a tiny venue like the Saint and not a larger venue like the Stone Pony. "The Pony is a Clear Channel place" said the roadie. "We would love to play there".

His tone implied Clear Channel meant exclusion. Enough said.

3/10/2006 - The Longshadow's CD "Simple Minded Way" is now available at CD Baby -- editor


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