Thursday, May 25, 2006


Simulataneous emails - literally simulataneous - arrive from Karl T and Mike S to bring this morning's Guardian Technology feature on online music to our attention.

Guess what? The Arctic Monkeys didn't use MySpace:

Yes, there is an Arctic Monkeys page on MySpace, set up last August. But as the disclaimer makes clear, it is a fan site, unconnected to the band or management.

According to Johnny Bradshaw, the Monkeys' product manager at Domino, the band didn't even know what MySpace was until three months ago.

"There's so much confusion about how the Arctic Monkeys got their music out there in the first place," he says. "They handed out 50 CD-Rs at the early shows to a small group of fans. As the fans started file sharing them, that's how it spread over the internet. It was word of mouth."

The MySpace connection is, he says, media-derived. "Nobody can genuinely get their heads round it when a phenomenon [like the Arctic Monkeys] happens every 10 years, so people try and over-analyse it and find more erudite reasons as to why this thing happened.

But what about Sandi Thom, the famous girl who got a record deal because she streamed gigs from her basement over the web? Surely that's a heartwarming story about how the web can make small acts international heroes overnight?

From 60 people attracted to her first show, the audience grew to around 60,000 and she was signed for £1m by Sony BMG imprint RCA on April 4. RCA is promoting Thom's current single, titled I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker, as from "the singer who webcast to the world from her Tooting basement".

Following a small feature in The Sunday Times on March 5, this story spread rapidly. But it also ignited a furore among bloggers. This was no struggling artist, they claimed; rather, she had a publishing deal with Windswept/Pacific Music (home of Beyonce Knowles and Craig David) and had employed expensive technology specialists Streaming Tank to manage the webcasts. There was also no evidence, certainly prior to March 5, of any internet buzz surrounding her name - least of all on Thom's MySpace site."

Thom's manager, Ian Brown, denies these accusations. He says the gigs were attractive because they were free, the audiences were significant, Streaming Tank were friends of friends and absorbed the bandwidth charges, while information about the gigs was spread by email and not via web forums, meaning they would leave no trace on search engines. And ultimately, his overall aim was to sign a major record deal and sell music.

In other words: who cares where the truth is, the story sold records.

The heartbreaking truth of this for the oodilions of bands who signed up to MySpace in the wake of the Monkeys' success: nice try, but if you're interested in selling through HMV to the Top 40 market, you're still going to have to hope an A&R man from a big label is still sober enough when he sees you to get your mobile number.