"Tastemaker retailers tend to understand their role in developing an artist. They don't need to be told when it's a career act."
——Nadine Gelineau, head of Marketing at Palm


Developing Acts Cross The Pond: Tom McRae, Cousteau
This is the first in a series of stories on artist development. For more information, or to sucker us into writing about your act, e-mail David Simutis.

Ask your friends in the business who they're listening to lately, and they'll most likely name at least one baby band. Developing artists are supposed to be the stars of the future and the so-called life's blood for the industry. How do these baby bands grow up? What does it take to get a foothold without MTV or substantial radio play? What tools are labels using when the budgets are smaller? How are they building the foundation for career artists? Hey, that's what we'd like to know.

Priming an act from the U.K. to make an impact on this side of the pond has its own set of special challenges. Artists frequently aren't prepared for the size and scope of the effort it takes to break in America, including the extent of touring, marketing and promotion required. Without the benefit of major format airplay, labels and artists have to be creative in marketing and promotion, and it often comes down to the quality of the music. Imagine that.

Tom McRae—Intense Songs, Charming Personality
Based on the quality of his self-titled debut, Arista's Tom McRae is a singer-songwriter who should have a career built on writing incisive and substantive songs. Unfortunately, McRae's first single, "End of the World News," had a title that met with unfortunate timing, causing it to lose momentum at radio. Though McRae has received spins on influential stations KCRW Los Angeles and WOXY Cincinnati, it will take a larger grassroots following before mainstream radio will get involved.

Arista expects the McRae story to be a long one, with the first chapter written at retail. The record, released Aug. 21, is out at a developing-artist price, but more importantly, as part of what Arista calls the "Turn on a Friend" CD, the full-length comes with a sampler in a cardboard slip case shrink-wrapped to it. The cardboard-encased disc contains two full tracks and three snippets. The idea is for people to buy the record and give the sampler to a friend, thus turning them on to McRae and hopefully getting them to buy the full disc.

McRae's gregariousness has been utilized as another way of building a grass-roots buzz. Back in July, McRae did a 12-market promo tour with the label buying out 200-seat clubs and giving away tickets to retailers, radio people and other tastemakers. During the day, the singer did instores and lunches with retailers.

Says Deborah Gilbert, Director of Alternative Sales Marketing: "Tom's a young guy and very personable. His record is fairly intense, but he isn't. After he visits a market, distribution people call and say how charming he is."

Product Manager Mark Sudack, noting that it took a combination of luck and persistence for the label to break Dido, mentions that he has two key concepts: patience and passion. "Tom wants as many people as possible to hear his music, whether he breaks on this album or the next album."

*Arista has bought into listening stations, with Los Angeles-area LINCS (Local Independent Network of CD Stores) retailers.

*Print ads in weekly papers touted the sampler package.

*The Internet marketing team went into action four months before the album's release.

*Press response has been consistently praising, building on the U.K. press story.

*The label solicited music supervisors for TV/film inclusion and sent a VIP mailing to actors to build a buzz in that community.

*He performed on Conan Oct. 5.

Cousteau—Inspected at Radio
Palm Records' Cousteau is building its buzz through a small radio story. WXRT Chicago, KINK Portland, KBAC Santa Fe and KCRW are all spinning the downtempo, orchestral group's "Last Good Day of the Year." Palm boss and industry legend Chris Blackwell made a personal visit to KFOG San Francisco to get an add for the track. Nic Harcourt of KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic is such a fan that he has had Cousteau on twice, once as a live remote, with the band in New York City and Harcourt in Santa Monica—something the show had never done.

"Tastemaker retailers tend to understand their role in developing an artist. They don't need to be told when it's a career act," says Nadine Gelineau, head of Marketing at Palm. "This is a band that has a future in front of them. And we're patient, we don't expect a critical mass right at the start. We'll be working this for at least a year."

*The album was released domestically April 20, and the group came over for a showcase in N.Y.C. in June—a preview/teaser show that got people talking, sparking sales and interest in the group's self-titled debut.

*The current tour is made up of low-dough shows.

*The album has received stellar British press and a growing stack of clips from American outlets.

*Palm hired lifestyle-marketing companies in N.Y.C. and L.A. to get the attention of trendsetters in order to spread awareness beyond hard-core music fans.

*Three-song samplers were sent to buyers and trendsetters, because, says Gelineau, "The music speaks for itself."

*The record is on listening posts at Anglophile outlets such as Virgin and HMV, as well as CIMS (Coalition of Independent Music Stores) locations, Tower and Borders. The retailers, who were familiar with the band through the glowing reviews the record had generated, took the enthusiasm and ran with it.

*Cousteau is part of Cafe Music Network's in-store play at 400 cafes/coffehouses.