Making Music: November 1999

Going live

Online TV claims its website can lift bands from dark London venues to the glamour of an international fanbase. Sean McManus logs on.

Bands securing gigs at two London venues can now have their performance broadcast worldwide on the internet. Online TV has formed a partnership with London's 12 Bar Club in Soho and the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town, a venue well-known for its support of fresh talent. Shows are broadcast live and archived for playback on demand to website visitors from (so far) 103 countries. The website uses standard technology such as communications software ICQ and Microsoft's Windows Media Player for streaming the video.

"If you're in London you shouldn't be sat at home of an evening watching Online TV," says Online TV founder Rick Siegel, "you should be at the Bull & Gate. But the site enables people who live in Scotland or other countries to see what's going on there. We get 2 million visitors a month and since we're doubling our content we expect to get about another million. 67% of our audience is in the US and Canada, which is a huge potential market for a band." Of these visitors, Siegel concedes only 27% access the streaming video. "We've been talking to other sites and wondering why not everyone gets on to the streams. Perhaps they don't have the software. But they're the people who aren't talking to us," says Siegel.

If it's only $1 a song and they know the artist is getting 70%, listeners won't steal the song

Following the launch of the UK coverage, the site expects to attract a lot more British visitors and the introduction of high speed domestic internet access at a flat rate (such as by cable modem) is expected to grow the market further. Better and faster internet access will also improve the image and sound quality possible. Sound is not yet up to FM radio quality and Siegel claims the 170 by 162 pixel video windows achieve 6 frames a second running on a standard 28.8 modem. Using ADSL, it will be possible to receive TV-quality updates and images as large as 320 by 240 pixels, still only a small portion of the screen.

The website offers bands the chance to sell their music online and reap 70% royalties. It sells digital downloads, saving bands the investment required in manufacturing and shipping. "It's much easier for fans to pick the songs they like and support the artist," says Siegel. "If it's only $1 a song and they know the artist is getting 70%, listeners won't steal the song".

Online TV has flexible contracts and is happy for artists signed to its virtual record label to join a major label if the opportunity arises. "We don't mind if they can make more money by going to a major label and want to do that," says Siegel. "We like to ensure that they want to come back after getting messed around by the label. Some contracts hold the artist, strangle them. Some major labels will lock the album in a room and not even promote it. In future, digital distribution is going to be more important and we want artists to remember who was fair to them and come back."

One of the problems bands face in distributing music online is standing out from a vast catalogue of music. "A lot of places where MP3s are found, there are 60-70,000 bands to go through. How can you find something new? If you go to mp3.com, they're promoting major label acts on their homepage like Alanis Morissette," says Riegel. "The new bands are hidden behind that. The only way for a band to get some (chart) activity is to download their own songs."

Online TV's solution is to push bands on the homepage in rotation and to mount special campaigns to tie in with any band activity. "When Motorbaby's album came out, we put an extra four pages online and gave people links to the archive concerts."

To get a gig on Online TV, UK bands will need to first secure a slot at the 12 Bar Club or the Bull & Gate. The website concentrates on broadcasting concerts from Thursday to Saturday, pointing out that bands need to work their way up to playing the weekend gigs and Online TV is selective about content it broadcasts. The station is interested in most genres (rock, pop, blues, r&b) that appeal to the 13-35 year old market.

A new venue is planned to open next in Chicago and Siegel hopes the network will continue to expand. "Online TV will be the leading site for entertainment in the world," he says when asked about the site's future, "with gigs in all major cities, empowering the artist of the future."

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