If it weren't for British impresario Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols might have been just another forgotten, working-class punk band. But as their manager, McLaren knew how to market the Sex Pistols' apocalyptic message; he molded them into everything young kids wanted to see and everything their parents dreaded.
More than 25 years later, marketing mainstream music has been refined into a science — and arguably has become more important than the songs themselves. Music marketing orchestrated Britney Spears' transformation from schoolgirl virgin to 20-year-old temptress that even sent Bob Dole's heart aflutter in a Pepsi commercial. At its highest level, marketing goes beyond mere promotion: It is about manufacturing an image and timing its release — which explains the mass cloning of Fabian in the early '60s; the lemming-like following of country-pop (America, Poco, even the Starland Vocal Band) in the '70s; hair bands such as Poison, Warrant, and Winger in the '80s; Nirvana in the mid-'90s; and the NSync/Backstreet Boys phenomenon that greeted us at the turn of the century. If you're looking for further evidence that music marketing has succeeded, see how punk rock has become as commercialized as the Eagles.
Yet, particularly with the advent of the Internet, marketing remains an integral part of a band's success. The underground scene, although not as well-funded nor as efficient at tinkering with the marketing machine as its mainstream counterparts, still needs to promote itself. For example, the Youth of Today and Earth Crisis pronounced themselves as straight-edge bands, immediately earning them a crowd of teetotalling, drug-free, vegan punk rock fans; in the '70s and '80s, SST, through word-of-mouth and fanzines, broke groups such as Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, and the Minutemen. (Then in a marketing disaster, the label lost its focus, branched into avant-jazz and poetry, and dropped off the map.)
In San Antonio, and thousands of other cities, local bands constantly hit artistic and business barriers because they don't have the money or the marketing machine behind them. Marketing music requires money for advertising, promotional tours, and studio time to record demo tracks, which in turn are distributed to fans, deejays, record labels, stores, promoters, and clubs.
To develop outlets for local musicians to promote their music, last fall, a group of UTSA students who love music and share a common interest in pursuing careers in the music industry formed a group, the Musician's Organization for Business — known on campus as the M.O.B.
This semester there are 16 M.O.B.sters studying music and marketing and taking the theories they learn in the classroom, and applying them to the streets. The pinnacle of their experience happens with the annual Rhythm Rumble — a competition between local bands. Founding M.O.B. member and president Brenda Reynosa stresses that the event focuses on "giving local original bands exposure — a chance to get some publicity and get some practice — just like us. We're musicians also, and we want to help anyone thriving in that industry."
Last year's competition, which featured nine bands, was held at the Laboratory (recently renamed Berryhill at the Lab). This semester, the M.O.B. moved the event from the Laboratory to Sam's Burger Joint so that fans of all ages could attend. Representatives from local media will judge the seven bands battling for prizes. The lineup includes pop-rock band JFJ; hard rock group Humdrum and Ology; rhythm and blues/reggae/soul Family Jewels; classic rock outfit Soul Factor; jam band All the Same; and Christian rockers Fairhaven.
Reynosa explains that Mo Canales, general manager of Sam's, avidly books local talent at the club; when she pitched the idea of a local battle of the bands he immediately expressed enthusiasm in the project. Sam's is sponsoring the event for free. "I'm really looking forward to it," says Canales. "It's going to be a blast. It's a great experience for local kids and local bands; and it's going to benefit the M.O.B., help raise money to keep the group going."
It is ironic that the door proceeds go to M.O.B. and not the bands — who need money as much as the group, but Reynosa explains that the M.O.B. considers itself a full-fledged marketing company, with bills to pay as well. M.O.B. organizes fundraisers to send students to national music conferences, like South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, and the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) in Anaheim, California. With the proceeds earned from last year's events, Reynosa and other students attended SXSW with full-access passes that allowed them to learn more about the music business at the industry workshops.
M.O.B. provides public relations work for other UTSA programs, such as Opera to Go. M.O.B. also markets the musical theater to retirement homes that hire the students to perform short opera sets. Reynosa explains: "M.O.B. doesn't get anything in exchange, just a chance to help the music division and gain experience in the business."
At the Rhythm Rumble, the competition will be fierce with valuable prizes at stake: The first-place winner will be awarded $600 (Hermes added $300 to an initial $300 to double the prize), the band in second place receives studio time donated by Salmon Peak; and both winners will share Internet promotion services sponsored by Entertainment by Elmo. The M.O.B. also offers a second annual raffle later in the evening where participants can win an electric guitar giveaway, courtesy of House of Guitars, or an acoustic guitar from Krazy Kat Music.
So come out, win a guitar, and support local music.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Rhythm Rumble II: Battle of the Bands
Friday, April 12
$5 adults, $7 minors
Sam's Burger Joint
330 E. Grayson