Bring up the subject of MySpace, and Mike Barsch gushes.
It's not a wholly unexpected response; the social networking Web site has changed the way that Barsch, the man behind Soda Jerk Presents and The Black Sheep, runs his business.
Gone are the days when Barsch, who, through Soda Jerk, books bands to venues throughout the Front Range, would scour press packet after press packet to find a band that could fill a bill. Now, he simply logs on to the Internet and surfs through a list of MySpace links.
"We use it all the time," he says. "It's pretty much gotten to the point where people send us packages of CDs and they just go into a pile."
It's a pile that Barsch rarely, if ever, reviews. MySpace pages, after all, essentially serve as online press kits. In a single profile, Barsch and his colleagues can listen to a band, see its list of venues played and bills shared, and gauge its popularity.
Beyond that, The Black Sheep and seemingly every other small venue in town (George's Union Station, theElement, even the newly opened Rocket Room) use MySpace pages to advertise upcoming shows.
For Soda Jerk Presents and other concert-promoting agencies, MySpace has become an irreplaceable asset.
"It's just a really good gauge," says Geoff Brent, general manager of The Black Sheep. "It's a good way to research what kind of numbers [a band] is pulling."
Unless, that is, those numbers aren't wholly accurate.
'Don't miss out'
Recently, a Web site called mysocialmarketing.com popped up on the Internet, offering bands a way to potentially mislead the people visiting their pages. For a substantial fee (which this week ranged between $149.50 and $749.50), the site promises increased profile views and song plays for bands looking to attract the attention of booking agents and label representatives.
In the highest-end package, Mysocial Marketing will, over a span of 30 days, add 100,000 profile views and song plays to any act's MySpace page. The site also offers similar services for increased friend requests and even YouTube clip views.
"It's quickly becoming common knowledge that many major labels will not consider a band on myspace [sic] unless they have atleast [sic] 25'000 [sic] profile views," reads one of mysocialmarketing.com's pages. "Don't miss out on that oppourtunity [sic] simply because of a technicality."
When reached for comment, the site's Webmaster, who identified himself only as Chris, declined to comment for this story.
Taking a chance
Does Mysocial Marketing's mission seem shady? Definitely.
But does it work? Perhaps.
An irresponsible booking agency could certainly be duped by these practices, especially in today's MySpace-driven music culture.
When discussing MySpace, Barsch is quick to tell his company's proudest success story with the site.
Two years ago, while searching for a band to fill an empty date on his schedule, Barsch was contacted by an independent pop-punk act from Kent, Wash., called Daphne Loves Derby. At that point, the band had neither put out an album nor received a deal from a label. But Daphne Loves Derby had accomplished another impressive feat its MySpace profile had amassed more than a million page views.
Barsch was impressed and, he says, he decided to "take a chance on them."
"I pretty much booked them off MySpace," he says. "For me, it was an experiment. Let's go for it and see what happens."
The test was successful. Behind minimal marketing, almost 350 tickets were sold for Daphne Loves Derby's first Denver performance. Those are good numbers for any touring band coming through the region for the first time. For a relative unknown, those figures were downright impressive.
"For me," Barch says, "that was kind of the real proof that there's been a real paradigm shift in how to market your band."
Things have since worked out for the band, too. Not long after that first Soda Jerk show, Daphne Loves Derby was signed to Outlook Records. In the past two years, it has released two full-length albums. The band's MySpace numbers have also ballooned; its page now boasts more than 1.8 million page views and more than 4.7 million song plays.
"We never could have guessed the success we've had from getting online," says Daphne Loves Derby's lead guitarist, Spencer Abbott. "Most of the kids that come to our shows tell us about finding us on MySpace."
Brent admits he first looks for page views and song plays when visiting a new band's MySpace page. But he says there are ways to see through manipulation from a site like Mysocial Marketing.
"There's a lot of stuff that will embed [MySpace friends] for you," he says. "But you can tell what is real. If you really want to research [a band], you can see how many of their friends are actual people and how many are porn stars."
Abbott, meanwhile, swears that Daphne Loves Derby's "friends" are actual people.
"No e-prostitutes," he says, laughing.
Brent, however, isn't as proud. As soon as he's asked, he concedes that his own band, the local circus-fare-inspired Abracastabya, isn't very judicious in its MySpace friend selection. Anything to boost the numbers, Brent says.
Most agencies can't afford to spend too much time scouring a band's friends list to verify their reality, Brent adds, speaking from experience.
"Generally," he says, "we don't really look that deeply into it."
And by the way...
Colorado Springs has a new live music venue.
On May 19, The Rocket Room opened its doors at 230 Pueblo Ave., the former location of Prime Time Tavern, southeast of downtown.
The venue, which holds between 150 and 200 patrons, may soon host live music each Friday and Saturday. Owner Shalonda Cantrell says audiences can expect to hear original tunes from Front Range artists, and she and husband/co-owner Dave Cantrell also hope to bring in national acts.
Oh, and you may recognize a few of the faces behind the operation: Dave's the lead singer for local rock outfit Hussy and former frontman for Cobra Kai; Shalonda used to tend bar at Tony's; and past Independent Best Of winner Betty Morris (formerly of Benny's) is the Cantrells' head barkeep. PF