A reluctant rock band leapt straight to the top of the charts on Sunday, propelled to unexpected stardom by a DIY marketing campaign on the Internet.
An army of young devotees has latched on to the Arctic Monkeys — Alex Turner, Matt Helders, Andy Nicholson, all 19, and Jamie Cook, 20 — a “grot rock” group who sing about not getting into nightclubs.
To music promoters they are the proof of two troubling new phenomena — acts successfully promoting themselves to the big time via a website and fans swapping their songs on Internet forums.
On Sunday night the Arctic Monkeys’ debut single, I Bet You Look Good on The Dancefloor, knocked one of Britain’s more heavily promoted girl bands, the Sugababes, from the number one slot.
They have only recently signed up to a record label and regard their growing success as something of an accident. The lead singer, Alex Turner, told The Times that he had never intended to be in a band but, three years ago, he and his friend Jamie Cook were both given guitars for Christmas by their parents and “the band sort of formed itself”.
No one else wanted to sing so, Turner claims, he reluctantly tried his voice. Critics regard him as the key to the band’s success: he turned out to be a hugely charismatic frontman and an adept lyricist.
Like Sheffield’s other major musical export, Jarvis Cocker, Turner writes feisty street-smart lyrics and delivers them in a strong Yorkshire accent.
One number, Fake Tales from San Francisco, pours scorn on British musicians who make it in the US and come back warbling with American accents. “I’d love to tell you all my problem/You’re not from New York — you’re from Rotherham,” Turner sings.
The Arctic Monkeys began their accidental trip to the top when they decided to put their songs on their website. “It wasn’t for political reasons,” Turner said. “There was no masterplan.”
The tracks were copied and shared by a burgeoning fan base on websites such as MySpace.com. By one estimate, there were 142 versions of their songs, some recorded by fans at concerts, being distributed on the web.
Band members kept up a dialogue with fans via their website. It was the same tactic used by Pete Doherty, the former Libertines frontman and founder of Babyshambles, who is regarded as the pioneer of DIY music promotion.
“Pete Doherty played in people’s bedrooms,” said Priya Elan, a reviewer for the music paper NME. “He bridged the gap between the star and the fan. He had charisma. He was part of an East London scene; his fans feel very protective of him.”
The strategy paid off handsomely for the Arctic Monkeys when they arrived at the Reading Festival in the summer. Crowds of fans sang the words of all of the songs back to the group on stage.
Subsequent concerts sold out. One in London had to be moved to a larger venue before the group had even released a single. A limited edition of Fake Tales from San Francisco helped further to titillate fans; copies were soon selling on eBay for £200.
The Arctic Monkeys’ first album, expected in January, is predicted to be one of the fastest selling records of 2006.
Now music PRs are adjusting themselves to a brave new world where emerging bands can market their product successfully before choosing a record label.
Many promoters are already taking advantage of the new media marketing channels to talk to fans and some old hands are also reaping the benefits. In a recent interview with Business Week, ex-Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan said sites such as Myspace.com had created “a new paradigm”. He said that he spent an hour a day on the site interacting with fans.
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