A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Friday, May 26, 2006

Hypeing up the charts - the Sandi Thom story 

You can tell that older folk (and I don't mean seniors) still don't get the web when stories about bands making it big because of MySpace or through some other internet presence appear in mainstream media and are apparently believed by people that still read them.

How many people really believed that all the Arctics did was wait for a fan's site on MySpace to sell records for them? Not many - especially the band themselves who claim that they only heard of MySpace three months ago. What they did was play lots of gigs and get signed to a label that already had Franz Ferdinand on their books.

Then there's that daft cow Sandi Thom. On the same weekend that The Clash became the first band to get into XFM's hall of fame, there she was, on Top of the Pops singing "I wish I was a punk rocker".

I bet Joe Strummer is still spinning in his grave.

Unfortunately I caught the end of an interview where she was still peddling the line that she got a deal from playing to first 60, then thousands of people using a £48 webcam from her basement flat after her car broke down meaning she couldn't travel to gigs.

Well, Amazon wasn't started in Jeff Bezos's garage and neither did Sandi Thom start in her flat. The difference is that Amazon is actually not bad.

The Guardian among others found out that to get her music on the web (and listened to by anything from 60,000 to 250,00 people at any one time depending on which gullible hack you read) the services of Streaming Tank had been used. Well, using anything more than a couple of hundred simultaneous streams on the web costs a lot of money - so much so that the likes of Sky and the BBC can't afford to do it and instead use peer to peer technology instead.

It's already well known that Ms. Thom was signed by Windswept/Pacific Publishing (who also have small basement bands like The Who and Beyonce on their books) a year ago with blogs like chartreuse publishing the news over six weeks ago, so why does the story still have legs? Because big company PR still works and punters believe what they're told

There are two lessons here - one for us and one for Sandi.

The first is that the web is not yet the force that it will be. If it were, the Sandi Thom story would have been debunked sooner and more prominently.

The other lesson is one that Sandi will learn and that is that a £1m record deal is in effect a loan that is paid back to the record company over the years in the form of their cut. The Clash understood this and squeezed theirs by releasing a great double album and a so-so triple album both priced as single albums with the record company taking the hit. If she really did hit upon the huge audience she claims she had, why didn't she record and sell her music herself?

*Hypeing up the charts- a line from the rather relevant The Clash song Histville UK.
Sandi Thom's Tooting
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