Dot-Coms Turn Miami Into Sound Machine

MIAMI (03/28/2000) - After midnight, the ordered line of deeply tanned, scantily clad club kids waiting to get into Groove Jet has turned into a pushy mob. But what the bouncers haven't told them is that inside this hot spot on the fringe of Miami Beach's frenetic club district, there is barely room for one more soul. Tonight's performers include underground stars like Blackalicious and DJs Mark Farina, DJ Krust, Kid Loco and Groove Armada.

They're here for Winter Music Conference 2000, where the world's top dance DJs gather for five days of seminars with artists, producers, executives and lawyers that somehow get sandwiched between a party schedule that begins at noon and doesn't stop until 5 a.m. The Miami confab is part of the music-industry machine that discovers talent and creates stars.

The dot-coms have infiltrated this process by using unlimited bandwidth and low overhead to broadcast and promote new artists. "The great dance music that comes out for the summer starts here," says Dave Sanford, director of programming for Los Angeles-based SpikeRadio.com. "Whatever is going to blow up this summer is going to blow up tonight and tomorrow." If it blows up on the Groove Jet stage tonight, the performance and interviews with the newly minted music star will be instantly available on SpikeRadio, and downloads of the new track will already be for sale at Emusic.com. Both are sponsors of the Groove Jet party, along with Los Angeles-based underground music magazine Urb.

The performances also are simulcast on the club's Web site, GrooveJet.com, which club owner Greg Brier is relaunching at a party Tuesday night as a "lifestyle portal with music, fashion, travel, design and club culture." At the back of the club, Sanford mans a digital camera for SpikeRadio while Spike IJ (Internet jockey) Thomas Golubic interviews the artists. Meanwhile, marketing minions from Spike and Emusic are passing out freebies like caps and stickers to live up to music sites' growing reputation as endless fonts of free stuff.

Launched in August 1999, SpikeRadio is a subsidiary of an Australian computer services company, Spike Networks Limited. It broadcasts an eclectic mix of electronica, alternative rock and underground hip-hop 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sanford says he lets some good mainstream artists into the mix but usually those with a subversive bent like, say, a DJ's unreleased Hungarian remix of Beck's "Sexx Laws." "On Spike, you'll hear the hipper mainstream artists, but instead of also hearing Limp Bizkit or something from the '80s, you'll also hear the next Chemical Brothers or the next Fat Boy Slim," Sanford says.

Before joining SpikeRadio, Sanford ran his own music-promotions company and was music director of a pirate radio station, KBLT, that he ran for three years out of his home near Hollywood. At the station's apex, the Red Hot Chili Peppers played a live set in his living room, there were stories in Jane and Rolling Stone, and incriminating KBLT bumper stickers cropped up on cars all over Hollywood. "Naturally, it came to an end because it got out of control," Sanford says.

KBLT was shut down in December 1999. Sanford attributes the pirate-radio phenomenon to consolidation in commercial radio. "People just got fed up," he says. "Now a lot of those people are on the Web." Unlike commercial radio, IJs generally aren't decades older than their audience. "They live the culture," Sanford says, "not like some 40-year-olds who paid their dues in Arkansas."

Every year, the big question for the Winter Music faithful is who will be the next dance music star. Add to that an underlying question that might soon have an answer: Who will be the first star born, or "broken," on the Internet? One contender is the Supreme Beings of Leisure, an L.A. band that played an afternoon party sponsored by the L.A. nightclub Bossanova and Sputnik7.com.

The band's site, Sbleisure.com, has served 5,000 song downloads in two weeks, and record sales are moving at a respectable clip of 2,000 a week. All this for a band that has never toured and never received any major radio station play.

"If we go huge, can you say we were broken on the Internet? Maybe, maybe not," says band manager John Babbitt. "You could at least say it was the biggest piece yet." The site was created by the band's vocalist, Geri Soriano-Lightwood. "I think it's our greatest asset at the moment," she says.

"We have a 12-year-old girl signed up in Kansas and a 45-year-old man in Saudi Arabia. It's a promising start."

Because they collect information from users in exchange for downloads, the band knows where its fans are and can notify them of concert dates when they do go on tour. This will prove especially useful for the "Feed the Band" promotion that Soriano-Lightwood devised to sustain the Supreme Beings on a low-budget tour. "Send us a menu. If we like it, we will come to your house and eat with you."

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