U2 Can Be A Publicity Nuisance!

When it comes to staging street performances, there’s a fine line between building buzz and buzzkill.

Ever heard of Imperial Stars? If you Google the band name in proximity to search terms such as stupid band tricks” or idiots 101,” you’ll probably find a rash of news reports regarding the Orange County, CA band’s recent publicity grab. (Make that act of altruism to raise awareness for homelessness, as the band inexplicably explains.) They held a Los Angeles freeway full of rush hour commuters hostage this month and forced the captive audience to endure their crummy music.

Imperial Stars positioned a truck to block three lanes of southbound 101 freeway traffic near the Sunset Boulevard exit, hopped on top and began playing their single “Traffic Jam 101.” California Highway Patrol and morning commuters were less than pleased. Three band members were arrested and each was released on $10,000 bail that day. They’re scheduled for a Nov. 3rd hearing.

Welcome to the latest ill-conceived music marketing ploy. Luckily, no one got shot in a fit of road rage. Bands engage in less-than-epic fails all the time, of course, which is why groups like Imperial Stars occasionally try to break the idiot barrier for publicity.

Don’t get me wrong”I’m all for creative uses of music marketing. By all means, bands should build a better mousetrap and take advantages of opportunities to go public. Remember when music stunts were fun, goofy and harmless? I’m sure even my square parents heard about the animal-eating antics of Ozzy Osbourne and Alice Cooper at PTA meetings when I was a tot, but those artists weren’t taking their stage acts to middle America’s living rooms. These tales of entrails were exaggerated urban legends anyway passed along by kids in a game of rock telephone. Now that’s marketing!

Rule of thumb when it comes to intrusive publicity stunts: Bands, like consumer brands, must tow the line or they will pay a fine. Either in hard cold cash or hearts and minds.

On the brand front, Nike, Nintendo, Sony, Snapple, IBM and others have tried to attain street cred by literally taking their brands to the street. Many failed by breaking the etiquette of street stunts, and have paid in fines and negative publicity. Most everyone remembers the Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force Boston bomb scare of 2007, in which ad units resembling Lite Brites were mistaken for terrorist tools.

Some agencies work fees and fines into their brand budgets so that the inevitable tickets and cleaning costs are covered, though we doubt IBM was able to justify that $100,000 fine it had to pay the city of San Francisco in 2001 for going to town on sidewalks and embellishing them with Linux logos. Those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it: A few years after the IBM stunt, NBC stenciled teasers for a TV show called 4400 on sidewalks across the city. Residents of SF didn’t get glad”they got mad. Fines alone for a first-time graffiti vandal in San Francisco run $100 to $300 per site.

Sorry to be so direct, but a friend gives it to you straight. Until your band is on a Let It Be Beatles level, it probably has no business filming a midday performance on a London rooftop as bobbies and shopkeepers look on. And when you’ve released something on par with The Joshua Tree, we suggest only then that you, too, might (carefully) consider scaling a downtown L.A. building for a surprise concert as U2 did in its video for Where the Streets Have No Name.

Sorry to be so direct, but a friend gives it to you straight. Until your band is on a Let It Beatles level, it probably has no business filming a midday performance on a London rooftop as bobbies and shopkeepers look on. And when you’ve released something on par with The Joshua Tree, we suggest only then that you, too, might (carefully) consider scaling a downtown L.A. building for a surprise concert like U2 gave the public in its video for Where the Streets Have No Name.

Until then, you can always hustle and busker a la Atomic Tom. As far as we know, that’s not technically illegal and only mildly pisses the public off. Earlier this month, the Brooklyn group taped itself performing its song Take Me Out on a subway using iPhones as instruments. The carefully crafted stunt has gotten flack from music fans and writers, who find the noise pollution, dubiously excellent sound quality and/or indie spirit of the marketing ploy offensive (a title card claims the band’s instruments were stolen; Atomic Tom is signed to Universal Republic). Band members claim there was zero label or pr involvement.

The snark has been offset by 1.3 million YouTube hits since the clip was posted Oct. 15, and Take Me Out has jumped to No. 86 on the iTunes singles chart. In a true Cinderella of Rock story, Atomic Tom was approached by Apple and a partnership is being discussed. The Moment, the band’s debut album, got prime placement on the iTunes Store home page and hit No. 11 on its albums chart.

At the risk of overstating the obvious, there is a season (turn, turn, turn…). It’s time to put away childish things. Pulling dumb shit without pulling proper permits in a post-9/11 world is asking for a world of hurt. Forcing people to hear your music under an underpass while stressing that their boss is going to can them won’t endear your band to anyone.

Charges and fines may be the least of the Imperial Stars’ problems”they’ve damaged their musical brand. While they define themselves as hardcore hip hop, they’ll go down as pariahs in a recording industry that has made room for Kevin Federline (who?) and Paris Hilton. That is, if anyone remembers them at all.

By Becky Ebenkamp

Becky Ebenkamp is a Pop Cultural anthropologist and former West Coast Bureau Chief for Adweek Media. Becky has a radio show called Bubblegum & Other Delights that airs 7 to 9 p.m. PST every other Tuesday on www.killradio.org

Scavenger Hunts Killed the Bonus Track Star

If you’re an ingenious indie band, your wallet doesn’t have to be stuffed with Golden Tickets to play Willy Wonka. Hidden and/or free stuff can be a smart and inexpensive way to get a message out and bond with fans, who dig exclusive insider content, merchandise or info as a reward for loyalty.

These kinds of engagement programs can be traced back to the surprise bonus track. The most legendary? Train in Vain, that unaccounted for secret number that closed The Clash’s legendary 1979 LP London Calling. With nary a mention on the record’s jacket or label, punk fans started looking for hidden messages in music a la Paul is Dead: The Sequel. Flash forward a few years and the mystery bonus track is so common it appears to be a required CD marketing gimmick.

Available now through DJShadow.com

Scavenger hunts are the new surprise hidden bonus track.  They range from extravagant international searches to one-zip-code contests. The latest? DJ Shadow. This month, NME reports he’s stashed two new vinyl tracks, “Def Surrounds Us” and “I’ve Been Trying” in random shops across Europe and the US while on tour. He’s dubbed the give-a-ways “shop-placing” as opposed to shoplifting, and it serves as a kind of anti- downloading statement. DJ Shadow seems to have cribbed the idea from guerrilla artist Banksy, who snuck into 48 music stores and switched 500 copies of Paris Hilton’s CD with his own remixes in 2006.

With Facebook and Twitter, artists often have thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions in some cases of fans looking for communication, sneak peeks and direction from their favorite artists. When done right, these fan armies can be an extremely effective online street team and can pass messages to exponential numbers of people, suggested Sam Ewen, CEO of New York-based experiential marketing agency Interference Inc. (Vespa and HBO are clients.) The price is nice, too.

Eminem uses Twitter  to give out tickets to his concerts. (Ok… First 20 of you to Undftd. in Silverlake get a pair of passes to tonight’s Activision gig at Staples Center. I’ll be there. Go!”  or First 50 fans in NYC that want to come TOMORROW night for my performance on LETTERMAN email: [redacted] Must be 25 yrs w/ID.) Not only does this tactic cause a frenzy with his million-plus followers, it gets media play and proves that brand EMINEM is a creative powerhouse.

By Becky Ebenkamp

Becky Ebenkamp is a pop cultural anthropologist and former West Coast Bureau Chief for Adweek Media. Becky has a radio show called “Bubblegum & Other Delights” that airs 7 to 9 PM PST every other Tuesday on www.killradio.org


It takes a village to promote a band. So, now that you’ve grown your online fan community, it’s time to hit the streets.

Having a street team can be incredibly valuable. It eases the burden of promoting your shows alone, and will help you recruit more fans. Street team members can do anything from passing out flyers to promoting contests and, ultimately, getting more bodies to your shows. Sound good? Great”let’s talk about how to build your army.

1. Locate the passion. Who are your most avid fans? They’re the ones who leave the most comments on your profile, the ones who are always at your shows screaming all the lyrics, the ones who constantly want to know what you’re doing. These are the fans most likely to help promote your band.

2. Spread out. If you’re in a touring band, make sure you recruit street team members in cities you know you’ll be hitting. Having all your street team members in one place will result in duplication of effort. Start with two or three members in each city or town you want to target. If the job’s not getting done, go ahead and enlist more help.

3. Put together a sweet marketing packet. When you’ve got your street team assembled, send them a packet of flyers, posters, buttons, stickers, etc. Make sure you’ve got quality materials, and plenty to go around.

4. Decide on one meeting place. Choose a social networking site to communicate with your team, and create a distribution list or database exclusively for them. Send them all your show invites, links to buy your CD, news and so forth so that they can distribute to their friends. By keeping your street team connected through one source, you’ll avoid miscommunications and confusion.

5. Come up with a marketing strategy. Don’t let your team wallpaper the town with posters just for the heck of it. Set some specific goals and work to achieve them. For instance, if you want at least 100 people at your next show, give each member of your street team a realistic quota to reach, i.e. 10 confirmed guests each. If you want people to buy your new CD, have your street team send out an exclusive MP3 to the first 50 people who download the album. Don’t burn your team out by expecting them to do too much. Choose your promotions carefully and make sure the mission is doable.

6. Reward hard work. There’s nothing keeping your street team working for you other than a love of your music. And sometimes, love just ain’t enough. Your street team always needs to feel valued. These aren’t your employees, so don’t treat them as such. Give them easy and clear tasks, and always show your appreciation with a personal email, a CD or free tickets to your shows.

7. Decide on a manager. If you don’t have time to check up on your street team, elect someone to be a manager. This person will make sure that missions are being accomplished. He or she will ask team members to send pictures of posters that they’ve put up, submit names and email addresses for the mailing list, and so on. There’s no use asking someone to do something if you’re not going to follow up.

OK, those are the rules. Now go forth and build yourself a team!


sidecho_media_logo OurStage is pleased to welcome, SideCho Media, the digital distribution sister company of indie label SideCho Records, into our family of Partners. In our ongoing quest to support independent artists, OurStage creates partnerships with like-minded businesses. So we couldn’t be any happier to introduce the OurStage artist community to SideCho.

For the month of June, SideCho is offering a digital distribution dealaccompanied with full service marketing support for a LP releaseto one high-ranking artist competing in the Indie Rock Channel. The lucky recipient will receive services valued at $5,000 including media solicitation, bio composition, marketing plan formulation, booking assistance and promotion of the LP in brick and mortar record stores.

If Indie Rock is not your thing, don’t fret! SideCho Media services all genres of music and is looking for other OurStage artists with a new LP in need of distribution. If you have recently recorded a new album and are looking for an artist-friendly, non-exclusive deal then submit your OurStage EPK to the SideCho “gig” listing in Marketplace (located in the main nav on www.ourstage.com). SideCho will review only material submitted through their Marketplace listing. Be sure to update and complete your EPK prior to submitting.

SideCho Media differs from other digital distribution services because they only work with artists and material they feel passionate about. Their artists receive all the dedication and support that a label affords while still maintaining the freedom that comes from being indie. OurStage is very excited to bring all of you this career-building opportunity.

Past & Present Clients: Ilan Rubin (Nine Inch Nails), Michael Zapruder, K.O. the Legend, Eeenie Meenie Records, Custard Records, Bad Taste Records, Cheap Lullaby Records, Urband & Lazar Music, Cantora Records, End Sounds Records, Five-One Records, and more.

For a complete list of services awarded as well as information on how to enter the Indie Rock music channel contest go here.