Waking Rothko, a band that's been together only since January, has devised one of the most innovative marketing tactics I've seen since Potcheen's booze cruise. Last week, Rothko delivered copies of its debut platter, ep1, to everyone in the Westword office except me, with this note attached: "The music editors get all the free CDs. So we thought we'd even the score." It didn't really dawn on me how shrewd this maneuver was until I had three people stop by my door to ask if I'd received the disc -- and I hadn't, of course. One of those folks was our resident foodie, Jason Sheehan, an intriguing choice. What band would send a CD to him? That kid knows about as much about music as I know about foie gras.
"Well, basically, the strategy of this band is that whatever we used to do, or whatever the common industry wisdom is, we're going to do the opposite of that," explains Rothko frontman Aaron Digman. "It's like that episode of Seinfeld where George gets all these hot ladies by saying and doing all the things he shouldn't."
Unlike George Costanza's serendipitous womanizing scheme, though, Rothko's unconventional approach is strategic and multi-faceted. Rather than selling its music, for instance, Rothko is giving it away and -- taking a cue from Where's George?!, the website devoted to tracking random sawbucks as they make their way across the country -- has hand-numbered each disc and set up a website to trail the album's whereabouts. "Put me in your iPod, then leave me on a plane, train, bus or coffee table," a missive on the disc implores.
"We wanted to get people to listen to the disc before they come to see us live," Digman explains, "but we didn't want to have to produce eight million CDs to have a few people sign up for a list. So we figured if we give 'em away and encourage people to travel 'em, it gets them participating, and one disc might see five people. Then, instead of costing a dollar, it costs me twenty cents to get five people excited about the group. We were just trying to be as clever as possible to build that initial core base."
To that end, Waking Rothko has committed to playing mostly private shows for the first 500 people who sign up on their website. The first was last month, at a house party in Highlands Ranch. Once the group can guarantee its draw, Digman says it will make the transition to clubs.
"My hope is not to go to the clubs until I can say that we're going to walk in with 100 to 150 people, guaranteed," he reveals. "I'd love to have the leverage to control things, like making sure there's great sound and the right mix of other bands -- things that you're not able to control when you're begging and pleading for a thirty-minute opener. Rather than playing for people who've never heard your shit or begging record labels to take you on before you're ready, we're trying to approach things from a completely opposite direction."
Ultimately, though, as much as I admire Digman and company's business acumen, great music is about more than marketing. And Waking Rothko -- whose sound recalls Toad the Wet Sprocket, of all bands -- has a ways to go before its songwriting stands up to its promotional savvy. But hats off for the ingenious ploy. (To obtain a free copy of Waking Rothko's traveling CD, contact [email protected].)
I stumbled onto another ingenious idea while listening to Drag the River's latest effort, It's Crazy. While listening to the album -- which is strong enough to stand on its own, without attention-grabbing ploys -- I noticed that the entire record repeats at the conclusion of the last song. Visions of eBay dancing in my head, I figured I'd happened upon some rare manufacturing fluke. Before attempting to demand a king's ransom for this fortuitous discovery, though, I checked another copy -- and got the same results. Mystified, I phoned Virgil Dickerson, who runs Suburban Home Records, the act's current label, to find out what the hizzell was going on.
As it turns out, the duplicity was no mistake. This way, Dickerson points out, when fans select the cut on a jukebox, they end up getting to listen to the entire record. And Drag the River did the same thing with its previous release, Hey Buddies. One word: Genius.
Upbeats and beatdowns: I caught the Black Crowes at Red Rocks this past Saturday, where I overheard a number of guys talking about "the secret bathroom" just beneath the venue's southeast ramp. The first rule of the secret bathroom, apparently, is that there is no secret bathroom. "Only tell your close friends," one dude commented, as if he'd discovered a Jägermeister drinking fountain or something. As he made his way down the stairs, another guy glanced over at the sizable line by the bathroom next to the concession stand and contemptuously muttered, "Rookies!"
Okay, not to be master of the obvious here or anything, but y'all realize that you're getting worked up over a room filled with urinals, right? Save the hyperventilation for something that truly warrants it -- like the criminally abridged set by Drive-By Truckers. Because I hate to piss on your parade here, fellas, but those lower-level bathrooms really aren't that big a secret. I mean, it doesn't take a forensic scientist to figure out where all the dicks will be hanging out.
Finally, Gnarls Barkley is officially played out. For whatever reason, KOSI 101 -- one of the few FM signals in town that hasn't put the Fray on its playlist -- has added "Crazy" to rotation. Next thing you know, the station will be streaming the new OkGo video on its website.