Caught In The Net
What do you do when you're a multiplatinum rapper routinely cited as one of the best lyricists of all time — not just from the South, but in hip-hop history, period — and crafting new beats and rhymes just doesn't have the same appeal it used to?
Easy. If you're Scarface, you do the same thing thousands of other retirees (or soon-to-be retirees) do — play a lot of golf and spend a whole lot of time on the Internet.
But Scarface isn't sitting around surfing porn sites or checking stock quotes at CNBC.com. He's the owner of and principal investor in www.heregomydemo.com, a new Web site that allows musicians — of any genre, not just rappers, he stresses — to upload MP3s, videos, photos, blogs and bios for free, and sample the wares of the site's other members. Scarface ran Def Jam South for a while earlier this decade, and started heregomydemo to give aspiring artists another way to get their music heard besides passing people like him their demos and hoping they took the time to listen.
"Everywhere I go in this country, somebody has a CD they want me to listen to, and I'm pretty sure every other artist has the same thing going on," he says. "[Now] rather than waiting on Godzilla to get to town, you can just put it up on Scarface's Web page and Godzilla will eventually hear it."
That's the idea, anyway. At the moment, heregomydemo is practically a demo itself. "I haven't really went super public with it," admits Scarface, who says this fall's Rap-a-Lot CD Emeritus will be his last one.
The site currently has about 500 members and about that many MP3s, but its purpose is obscured by a bunch of generic graphics and, when someone signs up, questions like "looking for male or female?" that make it seem more like an online-dating site than a resource for up-and-coming musicians. (It was created with Dolphin, social-networking software in fact also used to create online-dating sites.)
Puzzlingly, beyond an MP3 of "Never Seen a Man Cry," there's nothing on heregomydemo that even alludes to Scarface's involvement. This surprised Scarface a little when Noise pointed it out, but it is at least partially by design, he says.
"I want the music community to network between each other rather than depending on me — I'd much rather them be down with each other."
Heregomydemo is still very much under construction, and has a long way to go before becoming as user-friendly as established sites like MySpace and Facebook. Seeking a musician's perspective, Noise drafted Steven Garcia, singer/guitarist for Houston garage-punks Something Fierce, to take the site for a test drive.
Though he had no trouble with load times on the site, Garcia thinks heregomydemo is too cluttered with stock images and nonmusical distractions to be effective. Retooling artists' profiles to more closely resemble the electronic press kits (EPKs) on Web sites like Sonicbids.com might be a way to help Scarface's site stand out, he offers.
"Then it could cover the angle of EPKs artists can use to link to one another, comment on each other's profiles and photos and share events," he says. "Sonicbids has a nice setup, but you can't favorite, add, message or link to other EPKs. Heregomydemo could bridge that gap."
Although it seems as if sites like Scarface's can only help up-and-coming musicians — once all the kinks are worked out, of course — there is a downside to employing the Internet as your chief means of promotion. The fact is, the Internet has made bands and musicians lazy about promoting themselves, especially since social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook have grown so dominant.
Many artists seem to think that it's enough to post a few photos, MP3s and upcoming show dates, and the accolades from Pitchfork and Brooklyn Vegan, invitations to play SXSW and Coachella, and record-deal offers from Sub Pop, Merge or Rap-a-Lot will magically start pouring in.
"There is such a thing as overexposure, and it's very easy as a musician to abuse the Internet," offers Garcia. "Although it gives you access to millions of people worldwide, it has devalued what made finding new music so special for listeners. You have to be discerning and clever, or else you may find yourself simply annoying your target audience."
And forget about any of the old-fashioned promotional avenues — making flyers and posters, putting them up around town and passing them out at other shows, mailing CDs to club owners, the paper and local college radio stations, stuff like that. What is this, 1989?
It doesn't quite work like that. Make no mistake, those Web sites do make it much easier to get acquainted with artists — especially from a media perspective — but just like some things are perfectly fine to buy at a convenience store, sometimes you have to break down and go to the supermarket.
Carrying that metaphor out a bit further, you could even say MySpace and Facebook have become the Walmart and Target of the online world, and have had a similar effect on mom-and-pop retail; i.e., the artists' personal Web sites. These days many bands and musicians don't even bother to maintain a separate Web site apart from MySpace or Facebook.
"It used to be [with] every band, you had a Web site and then you made a MySpace profile," says John Dunnock Woolford V, who books the Mink. "More and more, I'm seeing there's no Web site at all."
"It's kind of a bummer, because you're really limited when it comes to creativity with a MySpace profile," he continues. "You can change the background color and image, but I've always liked interactive Web sites — like Jenny Westbury's was a xylophone where you pointed at the keys."
One of the most successful local shows of the past few months was the Mink's Twotenanny July 26, which drew a packed house. Although Internet promotion was key to its success, that was because it went far beyond a MySpace event invitation. It was hyped heavily on local music Web site the Skyline Network — as well it should have been, as owner Ryan Clark, who operates Skyline under the alias "adr," was one of Twotenanny's organizers — but the promoters also put several posters up at key spots around town and talked it up on local radio. The sheer volume of musicians involved didn't hurt either, Woolford notes.
"Twotenanny was major Internet promotion, but shows like that really promote themselves," he allows. "You get that many people involved in it and that many people excited about a show — you know, ten bands — that's easily 40 people that are involved in the show and have a reason to want to get people there."
It may be a little unfair to single out musicians. The Internet has made us all lazier — as shoppers, as consumers, as students, even as friends. But musicians' livelihoods depend directly on how much and how well they're able to get their names and their music out there, and as omnipresent as it is, relying on the Internet alone just isn't enough.
In today's Babel-like mediascape, they have to exhaust every possible avenue to rise above the fray. So don't take down those MySpace and Facebook pages just yet (but keep up your own Web site all the same), and post those demos wherever you can, especially if it's free — but go ahead and spring for ten or 15 posters and a couple hundred flyers from Kinko's or Copy.com too.
Just to be safe.
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