Feb 25, 2008

A big idea from a big headed guy


The past week saw us working Beantown for a show with one Todd Mohr and his long-time band mates, known to keepers of the flame as Big Head Todd & The Monsters. The setting: the dingy and dark Paradise Lounge on the Back Bay.

What we had there was a fine group of gentleman playing some excellent rock & roll before a large and appreciative audience on a Thursday evening; it's as simple as that. BHT&M, to these ears at least, are one of the great under-appreciated bands of the American Rock Era - but the music business is not a fair game, not by any means. While Carrie Underwood is selling out the TU Center; artists with 10x the talent are drawing 75 paids down at Red Square. But that long-running age of industry-forced noise pollution may be nearing the end of its life cycle.

The dynamics of The Monsters' career goes something like this: during the early 90's, they were one of the reigning big shots (along with The Samples, who are due in Albany June 7th at LobsterPalooza in Washington Park) of the college-rock scene. But that environment, at that time, was known as the hotbed for the jam band scene. So, event though BHT&M were playing straight ahead rock, they were being tagged as a jam band. The result was they were left in a sort of no-man's land when it came to airplay, and never got to the big-stars level that many had predicted. But fret not for these lads; they make a good living playing to the faithful night after night, year after year. No sellouts here.

So it was with interest that we caught a dood deal of national press buzz on the band over the last three weeks. It had nothing to do with their tour, for that is a normal part of the routine. Nor did it have anything to do with any kind of "VH1 Behind the Music" gossip fodder, thank goodness.

Instead, it is the chosen distribution method of their new album release that is garnering the media noise. That distribution method? Give the goddam thing away for FREE! Yes, FREE!!!

That's right--hit their website and download the whole thing for nada. Physical copies (aka CDs) are available in select markets for free as well, courtesy of sponsoring radio stations or corporate underwriters. One can also order a CD online, and just pay a $5 charge to cover the shipping.

This is , of course, a variation -- a large variation at that -- on the highly publicized move by Radiohead to offer their latest release as a "pay whatever you want" offering. Yes, I'd say "here; have it for free" is a radical extension, wouldn't you?

So, what's this all about, you ask? Have the millions of road miles finally caught up to these longtime rock warriors? Ummm, no -- ther's actually something pretty smart going on here.

What you have is a 'past their prime" rock band in need of an adrenaline rush to extend their careers. They make most of their money playing live shows, not from the CD/download sales. So why not look at the recorded music portion of their business model as 'promotion' as opposed to the traditional 'revenue' outlook? Interesting...

500,000 copies will get into people's PC's or CD players. Now, these won't be just shotgun giveaways, mind you--they are going to the right people. People such as Relix Magazine subscribers and BHT&M Fan Club opt-in's and radio listeners in markets where they are about to perform.

The goal: get them on-board (or back on-board) the Monster train. Translation: go to one of their shows at $25 a pop next time they roll thru town. After all, that's where the New Reality of the music business points to the green stuff.

Monster's management told us that the math models are saying "1 in 30 in 18" -- meaning it needs one person out of each thirty recipients of the freebie album to hit one of their live shows in the next 18 months for this experiment to break-even.

As the industry struggles to find its place in this Brave New World, we'll watch this one closely.

In the meantime, go get your own copy. It's on us.


Anonymous said...

interesting---it's much like the open source movement in software.

i can just see a broadcast guy or a major label exec reading this and shaking their heads.

they don't have a clue; and it's thinking like this group's thinking that is leaving these barbarians in the dust.

and guess what: I never hear of this band, but I just downloaded the free album and I think it's great. their promo has gained a new fan it would not have other wise gained.

who knows, I might now dive into their back catalog and buy somehting from their heyday. or maybe even see them play sometime.

well done story.

Anonymous said...

Me and my buds were into these guys in school, back in the day. Glad to hear that they are still out there. It's also good to hear that they have some original ideas in their heads. Maybe that's why Todd's head is so big?

Now we know.