WELL-CONNECTED:

THE COOL PEOPLE'S NETWORK

By Tim Roberts

Poor Sisyphus. In Greek mythology, he was the King of Corinth who openly suspected Zeus of kidnapping his daughter. For his insolence, his eternal punishment in some smelly cavern in Hades was to roll a boulder up a hill. It must've seemed easy at first. But once he would get it to the top, its weight would always cause it roll back and chase him down the hill.

Some musicians have the same kind of luck, but without any apparent Olympian intervention. They rehearse, perform, hook into the cool vibe of being on stage in a public place, finance studio time with day-job cash, lay down some tracks (straining a little now against the boulder's weight and hill's grade), work to get a sound they may or may not be satisfied with, perform some more, make promises to their audiences about an upcoming CD, find a friend-of-a-friend to do some artwork, send the master recording to the duplicator, sweat cannonballs while waiting for the finished products to arrive (almost there. . .just one more good push), consign copies of the CD to stores and send out promo copies, have a release party (can't hold it. . .), visit the stores to find the same number of CD copies they had left there weeks ago. . .

Cool People, from left: Sam Gray, Randy Robinson, Brent Thurman, Brian King, Billy Bartley and Tom Florian

. . .and the boulder chases them down the hill. So they pause, catch their breaths, go play a little more often during the week, promote the CD when possible, then turn around to begin rolling the boulder up the hill. Just one more time.

In Louisville there are a few notable exceptions where do-it-yourself projects have succeeded (where boulders have been rolled to the top, and sometimes over), but some have been at a cost financial, emotional, time, or a combination of the three that leaves performers exhausted and bitter. Even those who had a home on a national label found themselves under-promoted and eventually tossed away like table scraps.

Three music entrepreneurs in Louisville hope to change that. Tom Florian of 52media.com, Randy Robinson of 24-7newmusic.com and Brent Thurman of Nativetongue Productions have formed an interdependent network that covers virtually all the business aspects of being in music, from publishing and contracts, to recording, mastering, duplicating, and promoting on the Internet. It works through contacts the three have among themselves and with others in the industry.

This loose consortium is unofficially called The Cool Peoples Network, according to Tom Florian.

Florian (who calls himself Flo) put it succinctly. "It's a way to connect cool people together. Our unit," he said of his portion of the triad, "is always thinking of new ways to utilize the Internet." Flo's site, 52media.com (soon to be called 52TV.com) is a multimedia buffet of videos and MP3 files (for downloads and streaming) from acts in Louisville and across the nation. Its auspicious debut occurred last year when Flo partnered with Chaz Rough's Primitive Entertainment and Microsoft to provide a webcast of the entire 1999 Harvest Showcase.

"What we're using the Internet for is to promote bands," Flo said. "One of our mottoes is that if the bands aren't given an opportunity to make money and build their own business, we're not doing our job."

Flo credits the rapid rise of the MP3 audio format as the reason his site has grown. "I've been on the Internet since 1991," he said. "It's funny 'cause before I heard about the whole MP3 movement, I probably met five people in those eight years. Since I learned about MP3, I've met 15 thousand plus. It's why all of us [in the network] are here today."

While Flo can help promote an act's end product via the Internet, some business must be tended to at the outset. That's where Randy Robinson brings in his expertise. As proprietor of 24-7newmusic.com, Robinson knows that song-publishing savvy is what can keep an act successful. "Publishing is the core of the intellectual property," he said. "Our function is to create alliances within the music community to insure their ability to maintain and own the majority of their property."

Robinson, a former guitarist in one iteration of Black Oak Arkansas and currently with the Kingpins, can assist performers with creating a catalog of their published work and appropriately administering it.

"There are countless stories about artists that didn't have anything to show until recently for their entire catalog. They give it all away, the labels take it and once their five years of fame is through, they have nothing to show. [The catalogs] are all owned by the major labels.

"Now people are a little more savvy. They're doing more homework, they're investigating their opportunities and now that the genie's out of the bottle with the Internet, people are not taking any conventional avenues. We're encouraging everyone to set up their own publishing company and we're acting on their behalf as an administrator to help them get sync licenses with television and film."

24-7's connections to the music world are vast enough that it can offer a guarantee.

"We believe we can do what we say we're going to do," Robinson said. "And if not, the full rights will revert back to the artist. We give them a way out."

"What artist is going to say no to that?" Flo said with a laugh.

Brent Thurman completes the triad by offering his studio, Nativetongue Productions, for recording and more. "I wanted to take it a step further," he said, "and offer graphic design and CD duplication, in runs of 50 to 200. Bands can get a little more professional and use them for demos, to get airplay, to get jobs. And when bands come in who are not on my label, I can send them to Randy to get professional, to trademark the band's name and set up their publishing with ASCAP. Then I can send them to [Flo] to get videos and audio on his website."

The network also extends to include photographers who can take pictures for the artists and local media relations people who can develop press kits. As Thurman put it, "We're trying to get as many people together as we can so the artist can have one-stop-shopping."

The Cool Peoples Network and Superstore (florist and video rental to be added later) is already at work for a variety of this city's bands, including Absolute Hickory, Aqua Jones, and slackshop, and in a broad range of genres, including hip-hop.

"By being broad," Robinson said, "it helps attract more attention to this market. So when the film industry says it's looking for metal, hip-hop, or country, we can go to the catalog and fill the order."

24-7 administers the catalog for Strong World Music and Strong World Entertainment, a pair of local publishing and promotion companies headed by a man named Twelv, who can use Thurman's services in the network. Thurman can, in turn, use Twelv's connections.

"Twelv can come to me for some short-run CD duplications," Thurman explained, "for promos and airplay for his artists. In return, he's got connections in Detroit so he's going to promote Aqua Jones and slackshop to anybody he comes in contact with. He'll also promote 52media. We help him. He helps us. And that's what I like about the whole project."

Overall, the network is a festival of back-scratching an ongoing orgy of quid pro quo necessary for all of its components to be successful. The vibe from that success can be infectious. Just listen to satisfied customer William Bartley, lead singer and songwriter of slackshop and head of microdot recordings.

"Randy has been able to tap into a level of marketing that no one in this area has been able to do for anyone other than themselves," Bartley said. "So has [Flo]. That's one of the reasons I feel so good about getting involved with these guys. Randy has introduced me to some people and has shown me what he can do as far as publishing. We've needed that for this area as one that is thick in talent and thin in administration. We need people who can market things in a tangible way. Both 52 and 24-7 have been able to do that. And it feels good to have it based in the home town."

The hometown base will soon have its own headquarters: a renovated shotgun house on Barrett Avenue, one house down from Ramcat Studios, that will contain a small recording studio for demos, offices, a room to duplicate CDs and produce artwork, and a front deck that eventually might be used for impromptu sidewalk performances by bands using any component of the network.

This loose consortium of a webmaster, a publisher, a producer and all their peripheral connections, appears dedicated and juiced about the possibilities of what it can do, how it can help musicians roll more boulders up and over hills every time. "Everyone's success or failure has everything to do with all of us," Robinson said. "No one is going to let any personal contact fall. Where we can look out for one another is extremely important. Everybody's on the take in the music business. Part of the reason we're in this is because we've been musicians and have been taken advantage of. We don't want to see that go down again.

"We're not wealthy. We're just trying."