Buzz in the Biz

Who are the biggest tastemakers in local music? A decade ago the answer might have been clearer--a radio DJ, a newspaper writer, a person who booked for any given concert venue in town. But with the proliferation of Internet bulletin boards, podcasts, MP3 blogs, webzines and other cheap, easy means of talking about local bands, that answer is harder to come by.

Of course, if Business Week had to answer the question, they'd probably go with one word: "Tom."

The national weekly magazine analyzes the changing world of musical promotion in their December 12 cover story, "The MySpace Generation," which is on newsstands now. But strangely the story's focus isn't on Tom Anderson, the Santa Monica, California, resident whose Web site, MySpace, has grown so huge that it was recently acquired by News Corp. Sure, his creation gets plenty of attention in BW and deservedly so--even the Dallas Observer makes near-weekly mentions of the site's music section, which allows any musician (including hundreds of locals) to post MP3s, blogs and concert calendars for fans to listen to and comment on.

But the story doesn't start with Tom. It starts with Amanda.

Amanda Adams is a University of North Texas student and a fan of Dallas' Burden Brothers since high school, and BW opens the article by explaining how she discovered the band through Buzz-Oven, a local promotions group headed by Aden Holt. What's interesting is that, as far as BW's concerned, the biggest center for American teen-music promotion isn't New York, Chicago or Los Angeles--it's right here. Somehow, that's not music to Holt's ears.

"First off, I did not start Buzz-Oven as a 'promotion company,'" he says. "When I started, my mission was to connect teenagers with all these cool bands that were playing [in Dallas]."

Holt thinks back to the days when he lived with BB lead singer Vaden Lewis: During his roommate's tenure with platinum-sellers the Toadies, Holt noticed a change in the band's local concerts before and after the single "Possum Kingdom" became huge. Soon, teens that never showed up at age-restricted Deep Ellum concerts were filling up Toadies shows like mad.

"These kids had no idea the Toadies even existed before being on the radio," Holt says. "How can I get these kids in front of the bands without having to get them signed and have a huge radio single?"

His answer was Buzz-Oven, which encouraged teens across the metroplex to give out free sampler CDs of bands that would play Buzz-Oven concerts; in addition, these "Buzzers" spread the word, whether at high schools, through flyers or on the Internet, of future B-O Battle of the Bands shows.

This community was among the first--and biggest--street teams of the 21st century, but what really makes it unique is Dallas' layout as a major music market compared to New York, Los Angeles and the other biggies. Dallas' suburban sprawl and lack of a dominant college scene mean the target audience--rock-loving teens--can't be reached just by slapping posters around a downtown music district. Frisco, Plano, Garland, oh my--without Buzz-Oven networking distant kids together through music for the past five years, where would bands from the series' 15 volumes be?

Surprisingly, BW missed this point entirely, but the Burden Brothers sure didn't--only days after the article printed, the band invited a dozen of the group's most dedicated street team members to Dallas' Bass Propulsion Labs studio to chip in gang vocals on a song, "Goodnight From Chicago," from their forthcoming record. The kids, mostly in high school and college, got to hang out, chat and crack jokes with the entire band between takes.

And that, above all, is an element of local music that BW loses sight of while diving through corporate mumbo-jumbo. The networking aspect of services like MySpace and Buzz-Oven isn't just a way to show logos, slogans and banner advertisements to a target audience--it's the way to turn teens from casual radio listeners to die-hard music fans. Look--when I was 18 and finally started seeing local concerts on a weekly basis, I was face-to-face with musicians and other fans, and that's what changed local music for me.

At that point, I became a tastemaker, and as more kids are hipped to local music by high school friends, MySpace, Buzz-Oven, whatever, they become the tastemakers too.

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sam Machkovech