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Building their brands

The Sundance Film Festival is becoming a showcase for bands' marketing efforts.

April 04, 2004|Gina Piccalo

Park City, Utah — The Sundance Film Festival, like other so-called lifestyle events, has become an increasingly popular venue for emerging bands. Performing rights organizations ASCAP and BMI hold showcases here, as do some record labels, in the hopes that their artists will connect with music supervisors -- the people who put music in films, TV shows and commercials.

The New York-based rock band Elefant was among dozens of bands that performed during the festival in January. It signed with the independent Kemado Records a year ago and gradually has established a fan base through good reviews in major music publications and word-of-mouth on weblogs.

"What Kemado decided to do is spend a year developing the artist and a year marketing the artist -- the image, sound and lifestyle that is Elefant," says band manager Brandon Schmidt. "Now we're using that base to market it and take it to the next level."

Elefant used its trip to Park City (via an invitation from Blender magazine) to leverage a little more prestige among industry decision-makers. It seems to have worked. Two weeks later, their song "Misfit" was picked up by radio stations in Boston; Portland, Ore.; Atlanta; Chicago and Los Angeles. They performed on "Last Call with Carson Daly" and were invited to perform at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio in May. Video game companies came calling.

Although credit for those successes goes to the band's entire team -- its record label, management, radio promoters, street marketers and publicists -- a high-profile stage such as Sundance, Schmidt says, "helps you establish what level you're at and helps put it in perspective for people who are trying to distinguish between all these bands.... Everything works together to build the momentum."

Clem Snide's manager, Dan Efram, also accompanied his band to Sundance, distributing business cards printed with a screening schedule of "The Book of Love," a film featuring their songs.

His efforts, and the positive audience response to the film, helped fuel buzz about the band just as EMI Music was preparing to buy the publishing rights to its music.

Like so many others', Clem Snide's career stalled in the late '90s as most record labels started to restructure. The band recorded an album with Sire/Warner Bros. that languished as staff changed and changed again. Finally they lobbied for release from their contract and got it in 2000.

Soon after, their song "Moment in the Sun" was chosen to be included in the music-playing software featured on every Dell computer manufactured in 2001. Then Hear Music put Clem Snide material on three compilation CDs.

The band's big break came in 2002 when "Moment in the Sun" became the theme for the second season of the NBC TV show "Ed," helping to fund the band's songwriter, Eef Barzelay, for two years. Appearances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and the "Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn" followed, as did a big story in Billboard magazine and a tour with Ben Folds.

Today, Clem Snide is signed to indie label spinART Records. For now, Efram says, the band is interested in a major label only "as a marketing partner."

"Let's face it," Efram says. "Building a band is like building a brand."

-- Gina Piccalo

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