Philanthropy vs. Marketing

Categories: Up On Sun
Smokescreen
Just received a CD and e-mails from the local band Smokescreen, and I'm torn between two opinions about its marketing strategy. I like the band; it sounds like lush late-'90s alt-rock in the vein of Radiohead or the Pumpkins, but not too clone-esque. Here's the strategy though: the band is only giving away its CD Activate, even paying the postage if you want to order one. Which is an awesome, generous, and smart thing to do, but it also smacks of gimmickry, especially when one reads the press release.

It's entitled, in bold at the top, "An experiment in FREE music," and goes on to announce the band's goals: "to distribute 1 million copies of their album, gain worldwide press, tour the US, and appear live on Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Saturday Night Live WITHOUT the help of a record label..." That's an extraordinarily lofty goal, and unfortunately I really don't think that giving away the CD's for free will get a million discs distributed, not even as Christmas tree ornaments.

There are a few reasons I don't think it'll work. A primary one being that myself and thousands if not tens of thousands of other music critics see free discs cross our paths all the time. And really, it takes a little more than "hey, we're giving these out for free to everyone" to get "worldwide press." Also, the entire album's available for download on the band's website, www.smokescreen.tv, which is cool (and pretty much negates the logic of giving away CD's in the mail), but its been done before and the artists that have done it aren't moving millions. Local revolutionary rapper GRIME, who I profiled here, has his entire debut album, Let Freedom Ring With a Buckshot, available for free on his website, and he gives away the discs at his shows as well. Nationally, Team Love Records (founded by Bright Eyes' Conor Oberst), did the same thing with some of its early releases by Tilly & the Wall, Mars Black, and Willie Mason, allowing full downloads of the albums.

In the end, I wish the best for Smokescreen in its ambitious endeavor. The album is compelling and intricate, and I'm glad that anyone can pick one up for free. The band's press release concludes, "It's a simple idea, people just need to talk about it. 'The band that doesn't want a record label.'" I'm talking about it, we'll see what happens. Here's a couple of songs so you can preview it yourself.

"Parallel": http://media.newtimes.com/id/521163/

"Ca.": http://media.newtimes.com/id/521167/

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