Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Street teams… the grassroots movement of the music industry

photo by Amy Willard
Loyal fans brave the barricade at last year's Shamrock Fest in Washington DC.

by Amy Willard

Catch a show at the 9:30 Club in Washington DC on any given night, and you will probably find yourself exiting to a street filled with local teenagers and twenty-somethings handing out boxes of demos, stickers, and flyers.

Some of us look at them asking ourselves, “Why are these crazy kids pestering me after a show?” Or , “I don’t even like this kind of music, stop trying to sell it to me,” and what most of us end up doing is taking the slips of paper and tossing them away soon after.

What you may not realize is that those people passing out stickers and flyers are fans like yourself. They are not there to be a nuisance; they are just trying to introduce people to new artists. In this effort they have become a vital part of the grassroots movement in the music industry. They are street teamers.

Street teams are a popular means of promoting music these days. Yes, we have MTV and the radio, but groups of committed fans really bring a personal touch to music promotion because most of these organizations are self established—ya know, “the official, unofficial.”

Search around MySpace.com for a few moments and you are bound to stumble across them. There are pages upon pages dedicated to promoting bands, and they all come from a group of diverse individuals that entitle themselves as “loyal fans.” They make their own icons, Photoshop their own banners, and probably send out a couple hundred random friend requests a day, all in hopes that someone will like and listen to the band that they love.

Not all street teams are as underground as the self declared MySpace pages. Some bands put together their own teams, and reward dedicated fans. Yellowcard, a popular band from California, has its organization known as the “Underdogs.” Fans sign up for the site, create user names, and submit documentation of promotion. Users then accumulate points to which they can trade in for CDs, downloads, and sometimes even gain access to shows.

Other bands, like Caroline/EMI Record’s Cinder Road generated a street team with loyal fans in a combined effort. As lead vocalist, Mike Ruocco, tells me, “having a street team and being active [with them] is essential for success in the music business today.”

Like Yellowcard, Cinder Road also awards fans for their dedication to the street team. “We run a bunch of different contests where the prizes are hanging out with the band, an acoustic show, prize packages—stuff like that, anything to keep the people involved,” explains Ruocco.

Although some teams are not directly affiliated with artists, the efforts are still important. It seems as though in the music industry the expression, “every bit counts,” holds true.

“The street team is the driving force behind all radio and street promotion, which up and coming bands cannot go without,” concludes Ruocco.

So the next time you are at a show and you happen to see a crowd of street teamers, read their flyers and take a moment to check out the band they love so much that they are willing to stand in the rain and cold for—you might just be surprised by what you hear.