January 20, 2006

House of Blues keeps Watch on new talent

By Jill Kipnis

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Recognizing how tough it can be
for developing artists to build a career, concert
promoter/venue operator House of Blues has launched the Ones to
Watch program.

Each quarter, five acts will be profiled online at the HOB
Web site (hob.com/artistfeatures/onestowatch). HOB staffers
pick the artists based on music they love.

The site will feature a free song download and a podcast of
each act being interviewed. The site also will include
biographies, photos and links to purchase full albums.

"The core idea was to expose fans to new sounds," says Jim
Cannella, director of corporate partnerships for HOB. "This is
a 'love of music' program that does not include input from
sponsors, agents and labels. We are not looking to monetize

The inaugural quarter highlights soul artist Vonyse,
alt-country act Shurman, bluesman Willie King, hip-hop group
the Procussions and rootsy Latin band Yerba Buena.


While HOB is not requiring participating artists to sign
any touring deals with them, acts must give up temporary rights
to the downloadable song featured on the HOB Web site.

"The artists give one song to us, and we can use (it
exclusively during the three months) to highlight our other
programs," Cannella says, who notes that a lot of the bands in
the program are not yet signed to labels.

Aaron Beavers, the lead singer/guitarist of featured
quartet Shurman, says participation is a "no-brainer" despite
this stipulation. "I'd give away the whole album if I thought
everyone would hear it," Beavers says. "This is a way to get in
front of people who love music."

Shurman -- which has opened shows for Blues Traveler, the
Jayhawks and Los Lonely Boys -- sold 20,000 copies of its EP
out of the back of its van before signing to Vanguard and
releasing "Jubilee" last year.

Cannella says Ones to Watch was inspired by the company's
Web-based Emerging Artist of the Month program, which focuses
on better-known acts that are still in the early stages of
their careers. Artists featured in that program have included
Kanye West, Coldplay and Linkin Park.

The Ones to Watch program offers much more information
about the highlighted acts.

"We wanted to build a program that highlights artists
before they headline our clubs and amphitheaters," Cannella
says. "We've been throwing around the term internally that this
is an artist incubator."

Featured artist Vonyse says that independent artists "need
to get out there by any means necessary. For a company to get
behind developing artists is exciting. Radio is all about pop
and bumping and grinding all day long, so me, as a black female
artist who is not doing straight R&B, this helps me get out


HOB is not the first promoter/venue operator to delve into
artist development.

In 2004, Clear Channel Entertainment (now Live Nation)
financed the recording of an album from unsigned rock act the
Killingtons and booked and promoted the act's tour dates in
what was called the Artist Development Project. The program did
not continue, and the Killingtons have since disbanded.

HOB's vision is different because it does not involve any
money changing hands. The Killingtons had to hand over album
revenue until CCE recouped its recording costs. CCE would have
received a percentage of the band's earnings if it had signed
to a label.

"This isn't about selling tickets and creating programming
for our venues," Cannella says. "For the most part, these are
artists that can't even headline our venues right now. It's not
worth it to take the risk."