Free Them Vultures


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I'm constantly fascinated by how the world of online content and social media allows organizations of all types to communicate effectively. It doesn't matter what industry you're in-B2B information, consumer ecommerce, music, nonprofit, or government-we can all learn from the smart marketing happening all around us.

But how about a product launch? Well, let's look at rock bands. Everyone knows the rules: You spend months in the studio cutting a killer album with a major record label. You set a release date and, prior to release, you get your friends in the rock media (such as Rolling Stone magazine) to review it. Your management company and label figure out what single to release and you get radio airplay and do a music video. After the record has been out for a few months, you do a multicity tour based on the success of the album.

Everyone knows that's the way, right? Well, everyone is wrong.

When I was at the Lollapalooza festival in August, the biggest buzz was not from any of the 150 or so bands that took to the six stages over 3 days. The most anticipated show was a "secret" late night club gig by Them Crooked Vultures, the band's first-ever public performance, and it was the talk of Chicago. Alas, with a teenage daughter in tow, we didn't meet the age requirement for the club, so we didn't even try to get in.
Them Crooked Vultures formed in Los Angeles this year. This band has got quite a lineup: drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana), vocalist and guitarist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist and keyboardist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin). Sweet.

After the club gig during Lollapalooza weekend, the band travelled to Europe for a club show at Amsterdam's Melkweg, followed by several U.K. festival-related gigs.

The band's official website is, to be polite about it, limited. It's got four pages, and one of them doesn't work. However, a link from the site goes to an active forum where passionate people can discuss the band. I'm intrigued by a new band that runs an official site that is really nothing more than jumping off point to a place where fans can congregate.

The band has a Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/crookedvultures) and a MySpace page. The other official online content is the band's YouTube channel, but again, Them Crooked Vultures has taken a highly unconventional approach. The channel offers a few videos produced by the band, including some studio rehearsals, but the majority are amateur videos shot at the band's live shows.

Remember, this is a band that does not yet have an album. You can't buy the music. Yet instead of crying "copyright infringement" and calling the lawyers to get YouTube to remove the clips, the band encourages fan videos of its original and unreleased songs, and it even put the best ones on the official YouTube channel.

Damn-I love it. The traditional major label guys must be going into convulsions at what is completely foreign to their way of thinking.

As people enjoyed the videos, the band announced a small number of additional club dates in the fall in North America and Europe. When tickets went on sale, they sold out in, like, 2 seconds. (Yes, I scored a pair for the Boston gig and will take my daughter to the all-ages club).

While I was in Australia in September, there were rumors flying around about some dates Down Under. Clues were a cryptic rock poster titled "Follow What's Heard" with a URL that led to a countdown clock. Savvy fans figured out what it likely meant and were filled with anticipation for the possibility of Aussie dates being announced.

Imagine what's next for Them Crooked Vultures. The band plays the dozen or so small club shows in North America, Europe, and Australia. Tickets are scalped for big bucks. Lucky fans who get in are ecstatic. The forums are abuzz. The YouTube videos are smoking. There are a bunch of tweets and blog posts. Rock reporters from the newspapers in each city where there is a club date will write a glowing feature. That's what I call a worldwide rave.

Then, quite a bit later, an album comes out that, because of all the prebuzz, debuts near the top of the Billboard charts. An arena tour follows. A mega band is born.

Sure beats what everyone knows is the way to launch a band. And it sure beats the worn out path that you're likely taking to launch your products too.