So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n Roll Star

For almost as long as the Web has been around, musicians, both professi◊onal and amateur, have been discovering ways to harness its power and explosive growth to communicate with and cultivate their fan base, while creating novel ways to market their work amidst an increasingly crowded musical landscape.

Grey Eye Glances, an independent-label, adult-alternative rock band based in Philadelphia, was one of the first bands to recognize the value of a website, way back in 1995. That virtually qualifies them, alongside and Yahoo!, as elder statesmen of the Web! They have utilized the opportunities provided by their use of technology to attain a level of success that has eluded most of their independent peers — and startled many of their major-label brethren.

Founded in 1992 as a progressive folk-rock trio in the vein of Fairport Convention and Renaissance, Grey Eye Glances sold thousands of CDs in the Philadelphia area, before being courted by major labels in 1995. Soon after, they mounted a full-scale tour of Borders Books & Music stores — rather than the traditional in-store appearances — and developed a cult following on the East Coast. Their website, which was not associated with their presence on Mercury Records, followed soon after, and was one of the first to take advantage of secure online credit card ordering. In 1998, they left Mercury and started their own label, Sojourn Hills Records.

The website itself provides a great paradigm into the independent nature of the band’s work. Much more than just a digital business card for the band, the website serves as a glimpse into the future of how music may be bought, sold and further commoditized in a grassroots manner. It contains a complete catalog of their work, alb“um by album. Visitors can peruse the lyrics of every song, and, similar to Amazon and CDnow, they can preview 30-second audio samples in RealAudio, WAV or MP3 format. More significantly, the website serves as their very own PR machine, with frequently updated concert schedules, articles and press kits complete with print-quality pubilicity photos of the band. In addition, people can securely purchase CDs and MP3s of the band’s music directly from the site, including many special collections not available anywhere else. Finally, fans can join the mailing list and participate in the discussion boards to get updates on upcoming releases, shows in their area, special merchandise, or to interact with the band members.v

The Internet, with its easy distribution channels, has helped to democratize the music we hear, although with mixed results. According to Eric O’Dell, bassist for Grey Eye Glances, “Music is so darn accessible...anywhere you turn. Even in elevators, you get today’s hits rather than musack.”

But in a music-saturated world, how do you separate one artist from the milieu?

The answer is simpler than it may seem.

When people find music they enjoy, they tend to enroll their friends and relatives in their discoveries. On the Internet, the receptive audience for sharing interests expands tremendously in chat rooms and message boards, across file-sharing networks and among AOL Instant Messenger buddies. People trade MP3s that they like with their friends, gossip about their musical idols with complete strangers in newsgroups and discussion forums, and contribute their own album reviews and opinions on online shops such as Amazon.

For Grey Eye Glances, the challenge involves identifying and mobilizing that existing fan base. Trading MP3s, participating in band-moderated discussion groups, and joining mailing lists all allow fans to get closer to the band and feel like they have a stake in marketing them. In return for that loyalty, Grey Eye Glances offers web-only specials such as collections of rare tracks and demos, consignment deals on bulk purchases fo,r friends and family, and band-branded merchandise.

Another successful approach is their employment of regional “street teams” of volunteers to spread the word by hosting listening parties, and in some instances special band performances, similar to the concept of the classic Tupperware parties of the 60s and 70s. In this manner, the band interacts directly with existing fans, develops new fans and garners stronger regional buzz in its music.

Internet radio stations provide yet another great cross-marketing opportunity for the band, courtesy of its fan base. For instance, hosts two fan-based, 24-hour stations that stream Grey Eye Glances music over the Net, Grey Eye Gal and Grey Eye Girl. The obvious appeal of is that anybody can start their own station.I

Perhaps Grey Eye Glances’ biggest innovation to date is their formation of The Grey Album, LLC. The Grey Album is a private business offering forged with some 35 of their closest fans — “a band and its fan base”, says Mr. O’Dell — with the express purpose of raising the significant capital required to “produce, manufacture, mÍarket and distribute a music CD.” The investors retain minority ownership in the new recordings along with the band, although the band controls all publishing rights. However, this situation is not for the average garage band looking to start up a record label. It takes a significantly built-up fan base and well-healed following to entice distributors to enter into this arrangement.

The success of The Grey Album, LLC, in conjunction with Sojourn Hills Records and an active fan base, has led to a confluence of rare opportunities for such a tiny record label. The band’s most recent album, “A Little Voodoo”, is being sold nationwide in major music chains and on, and has already garnered Grey Eye Glances national radio airplay, nightclub shows, and in-store appearances.

Check out Grey Eye Glances’ new single, “Big Red Boat”, due to be released nationwide in early January on Sojourn Hills Records. You can find out more information at their website.

Michael Tanenbaum