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Grooving in Greenbacks

303Infinity proves that there's money to be made in MP3s

There are a couple of good explanations for Mikel Fair's success. Just over the past six months, the electronic artist, who's commonly known as 303Infinity, has earned nearly $80,000 from MP3.com as part of the Internet music provider's Payback for Playback program. In an environment where MP3 artists are rewarded for every Web surfer who listens to a song, much like how royalties work in traditional record sales, the biggest artists have turned out to be the ones who can draw surfers to their catalog and, more importantly, keep them there. This is a not-too-complicated technique Fair has mastered. These days, composing trance tracks takes up most of his time, now that he has quit his $36,000-per-year job at Compaq. Orchestrating marketing and advertising campaigns takes up the rest.

Music wasn't Fair's true love -- or at least in the way some musicians explain "love," sleeping with their guitars or spending entire days practicing. The son of an army soldier, Fair was born in Germany and graduated from high school there. After earning a degree from the Citadel in 1996, he moved to Miami and began work for a rental car company, then the computer maker. Though he had studied piano and trumpet as a youngster, Fair saw his interest in making music wane as a young adult, mostly because of the increasing predictability and triteness of commercial radio. Electronic music was probably the most subversive thing a self-described "big critic of radio" could have done. Once he graduated college, Fair and a friend began tinkering around with a music program on their computer. The duo made cassette tapes of dance tunes for pals. Once Fair started renting studio time to perfect his tracks, he realized he had been bitten by the music bug. Deejaying nightclubs around Miami was the next logical step.

This is the response people get when they ask Mikel Fair (a.k.a. 303Infinity) just how big his wallet is thanks to MP3.com.
This is the response people get when they ask Mikel Fair (a.k.a. 303Infinity) just how big his wallet is thanks to MP3.com.

In the underground, good word of mouth is equivalent to a Super Bowl halftime commercial. A job promotion earned Fair a transfer to Houston in October, and a couple of months later, he began putting up songs on MP3.com. He soon realized the hard part still lay ahead. In a world of faceless, history-less bands, an artist has to separate himself from the rest. Somehow. Fair went about addressing the conundrum from every angle. His artwork, handled by Chris Spicks, would be uniform and engaging. His manner, whether dealing with customers or talking to other artists, would be polite and courteous. And his Web site, designed by a friend in Miami named Puter Girl, would be up to date and easy to navigate. Hopefully, with all those facets tied into making 303Infinity a top-notch outfit, people would recognize Fair's name as easily as Britney's.

All this promotion doesn't mean shit unless the music's solid. "The analogy I use is a restaurant," says an MP3.com exec. "If you go in and have a bad experience, I don't care what you say, you're not going back."

Fair is now big time. A handful of his songs have shot to the No. 1 spot on MP3.com's Top Ten list, where, like on the site itself, electronica is huge. At one point Fair's albums occupied four different positions on the Web site's Top Ten album sales, including the top spot. MP3.com took out a full-page ad in the July 8 edition of Billboard, boasting Fair as a success story. Construction on a production room and sound booth has just begun in the artist's modest Heights house. He has incorporated a label, Ewax Records, and is bringing in a marquee vocalist to record an upcoming song or two. Fair won't say who the artist is but says she "has a gold record." Everything in Mikel Fair's career, it seems, is unfolding like a made-for-TV movie. "Working for myself, it's like in The Matrix, when the guy pulls that thing out of his mouth and discovers this whole new world," he says. "When I discovered what working for yourself is, I realized the establishment has you hooked on your paycheck like cocaine….It feels so good to rip away from that structure."

Humping harder than the other guy is how Fair describes it; really, it's just doing what you love -- and boasting about it. Fair has taken out ads in high-circulation dance mags such as BPM Culture, Ink 19, D'Vox, Muzik and Urb,the largest dance publication in America with a circulation of 70,000. He spams approximately 11,000 people on his e-mail list. And he has distributed flyers everywhere, in club parking lots, at raves and even into New York City through a DJ friend who works there. On average, Fair says, he spends about $5,000 per month on advertising.

Says Fusion, owner-operator of Atomic Music, the only brick-and-mortar retail outlet that carries Fair's CDs, including the MP3.com hits, TRANCEnding Reality, Audio Fantasy and Music for Your Mind (volumes one and two): "He's doing a great job. He's one of the firsts. There aren't a lot of producers making music actually. The ones that are aren't really savvy. [Fair's] a good marketer. He makes every alliance with every person he can. And it seems to be working."

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