June 10, 2006

UK buzz bands say “Don’t believe the hype”

By Brian Garrity

NEW YORK (Billboard) - It's the latest rock 'n' roll
cliche: U.K. buzz band rides wave of Internet hype to claim
Next Big Thing status.

But the rise of blog mania is creating fears of too much
buzz too soon for a growing number of U.K. acts looking to
establish lasting fan bases in the United States. Savvy bands
and their labels, in an attempt to avoid being swept up in an
inadvertent media frenzy, are now taking steps to try to manage
their hype more carefully.

Add Birmingham, England-based Editors -- a
blogosphere-adored rock quartet that draws on influences from
the likes of Joy Division and U2 -- to the list of bands trying
to keep its hype under control. That list also includes the
likes of the Arctic Monkeys, the Streets and Bloc Party.

Internet marketing experts say that while blog buzz is
good, the attention it can draw from the mainstream press can
be problematic. Recently, labels and marketers have been taking
cues from the initial press avalanche for the Arctic Monkeys
earlier this year as a cautionary tale.

"Everyday mainstream media is sourcing stuff off the
Internet and putting it into a different perspective because
their footprint is so large," says Mark Ghuneim, CEO of New
York-based digital marketing agency Wiredset. "The Independent
in the U.K. will do a story on blog buzz about a band like the
Arctic Monkeys, and then the next day Fox News here is putting
it on the 10 p.m. broadcast saying it's the next Beatles. That
doesn't do anybody any favors. Once you get into mass media
news cycles and those types of trends it's like walking into
the undertow. You have no type of control."

The Editors' debut, which has sold 300,000 units worldwide
since its bow on Kitchenware Records last July, is off to a
more modest start in the United States. "The Back Room" has
sold 25,000 copies since March, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
According to the band's U.S. home, Fader Label, that slow start
is all part of the plan.

"It's very important for me that they are not perceived as
a hype band," Fader Label president Jon Cohen says.

To that end, Fader has thus far shunned extensive media
promotion and limited the Editors' U.S. TV exposure to a
handful of appearances on such shows as "Late Night With Conan
O'Brien" and MTV's "Subterranean." Cohen claims the buzz was
strong enough for the band that it turned down other promotion
opportunities, but he declined to name specifics.

The plan is to further drive exposure and awareness in the
same way the act built its U.K. fan base -- through extensive
touring. The band's next U.S. tour kicks off in July.

"That's one thing we wanted to avoid. We didn't want too
much too soon," Editors vocalist Tom Smith says. "We understand
that once things start rolling you can't necessarily control
it. There are decisions to be made early on that can put you in
better stead."

Bloc party successfully used a similar approach last year.
The band's album "Silent Alarm," after a slow build that
focused on heavy touring, has sold 260,000 copies in the United
States. Its Vice Records label is now looking to apply the
strategy with the latest album from the Streets. "The Hardest
Way to Make an Easy Living," which dropped in April, has sold
29,000 units. Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi says labels need to
walk a fine line in building buzz online for bands.

"Things can be overhyped and backfire," Alvi says. "If it's
homogenized blanket coverage and everyone is being offered the
same exposure to the band, then the campaign can die early
because you aren't building loyalty. The way to keep it alive
is by giving unique pieces of coverage and video content to the
key players."

Wiredset's Ghuneim says even small labels that deal in buzz
bands need to have more fully articulated marketing plans and a
global release strategy in place before releasing records now.

He says that album setups need longer lead times than the
typical 12-week window and that, most important, labels need to
establish clear benchmarks of when the next media exposure
trigger happens.

"In an attention economy early attention is important. Then
less is more. You need to go back to focusing on performing and
making sure people have access to the music. I don't know that
a band that just started needs to be on 'Saturday Night Live."'