Surf music 

Search the term "Detroit music" on the World Wide Web and you're sure to be amazed what a quick cruise of the results will reveal: KISS cover bands, DJ Denny's Suzi Quatro home page, even a crazy Minneapolis band that appears to have named itself after our fair city. And then there are the usual suspects -- local bands and record labels that have capitalized on or, in some cases, given in to this nouveau haute marketing method. It seems most every band in this city is plugged into the Internet in one way or another. But whether a home page represents the brave new wave of cyber-promotion or an obligation necessary to keep up with the proverbial Joneses depends on whom you ask.

It's no surprise that the Füxa space-rock empire has one of the coolest sites in town (www.fuxa.com). The band has received significant airplay internationally and the cyberworld fits both its atmosphere and its fan base. Füxa guitarist Randall Nieman, who runs his business out of his living room, explains that the site serves to promote not just his band, but other projects, such as his Mind Expansion record label and Mass Transfer magazine. Now, rather than spending all of his rare moments at home on the phone taking orders, he can attend to them as time permits by checking his e-mail. One indicator of his success is the fact that he now forwards all that e-mail to his assistant.

"It's the most general way to get them in," Nieman says of his customers and the Web. The site has received about 9,000 visitors and Nieman says sales are growing as overseas demand for his products is more easily communicated and met.

And there's an added bonus as he makes contacts across the world. "We've always got a place to stay," Nieman says.

Hope Orchestra (www.concentric.net/~hopeorch/) guitarist George Schuster began to dabble on the Web out of curiosity, searching for sites that came up under such terms as "love," "sex," "hate" and "robots." But he stays plugged in due to practicality. It turns out that his band has international appeal, too, garnered not through airplay or touring, but through the music clips featured on his Web site. He sends out a couple of free CDs each month, and lately those go not only to Texas and New Jersey, but to places such as Croatia and Chile as well.

While few of his actual sales occur over the Net, Schuster says his band still benefits from the exposure. Most significantly, perhaps, he notes that a couple of record labels have come calling after checking out the site. It seems record execs are surfing too, looking for the next big whatever.

"You get a lot of people who are just chumps, but some of the people are serious, true industry professionals," Schuster explains. "It's a way to investigate new talent at their leisure."

One problem with cyber-promotion, however, is that maintaining a Web site takes time, something which many musicians prefer to spend rehearsing or gigging. Detroit's Immigrant Suns is one such band. Some observers, including this paper, have expressed surprise that one of Detroit's most eclectic bands maintains a fairly basic site (www.goodfelloweb.com/immigrantsuns). But band member Doug Shimmin says that while he thinks the Web is a great way to communicate with fans across the country, maintenance of a killer Web site takes a back seat to musical concerns.

"We've been so busy on the road playing that we got it (the Web site) down so people can reach us as we come flying through town. We didn't want to spend a lot of money and I've looked at a lot of bands' sites that I think just have a lot of excess crap," Shimmin reasons. "We wanted to get something that was very simple, very basic, not very graphic-heavy because, personally, when I cruise other people's sites, the ones that have heavy graphics take a long time to load up and then, when they do, you're like 'That's it?' It's pretty boring."

Primarily, says Shimmin, he wanted to feature easy access to information that most fans would seek, such as tour dates and sound bites, both of which are featured on the site designed by artist Stephen Goodfellow. A graphic designer himself by day, Shimmin hopes to enhance the site with pictures and information on the wide range of instruments used by the band and audio files containing unreleased material, for instance, but still keep things basic.

Plus 8 records of Windsor (www.plus8.com) represents the flip side of that disc. The house and techno label, which features musicians from across the globe, linked up earlier than most other labels and musicians. Over the past 2-1/2 years, the futuristic, Day-Glo Plus 8 site, which offers a forum to order from the label's entire catalog, has grown to include live chat lines and worldwide simulcasts of house and techno parties.

"We sink a lot of time and a lot of money into developing our site," explains promotions manager Clark Warner. And the investment is paying off. He estimates sales have increased 10 percent since the site was launched.

At least two local operations are available to assist local bands looking to link up to the Web. Both
Detroitmusic.com (www.detroitmusic.com) and TOMB: The Online Music Box (www.motor-city.com/tomb/) provide directories where any band can just point and click to add its name to the roster. TOMB also includes live links and a directory of record labels. Mike Kimsal, Web master for Detroitmusic.com, says he hopes to turn maintenance of his site into his primary avocation and is investigating the idea of adding advertisements to the site to generate revenue.

As with any innovation, the Web will suit some ventures better than others. In the case of Plus 8, for instance, the Web is a natural extension of the music.

"A lot of this music is so computer-based, if you want it to be, that people are already understanding the technology. It's not alien to them," explains Warner. What's more, the techno and house music his label delivers fit with high-tech digital graphics better than do some other genres.

"It would be weird to hear, like, Pearl Jam and watch a virtual movie or something like that," he reasons. "It just doesn't work."

The Immigrant Suns, in particular, with their ethnic roots and traditional instruments, are better suited to old-fashioned human contact. "Basically, we are a better live band," observes Shimmin. "Come to the show and see the whirling dancers. It's hard to do online without a very heavy graphic file that's just going to make you pissed."

But even those bands that may not be best suited to the Web obviously find it makes good business sense to maintain a site. And they must be right, because the visitors keep coming. Hope Orchestra's Schuster thinks the reasons are simple. For one thing, navigating the Web is, for the most part, a piece of cake. And perhaps more importantly, he observes, "It's the trendy thing to do." Kristin Palm is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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