March 20, 2010 / 1:21 AM / 7 years ago

Bands explore promo potential of Chatroulette

DENVER (Billboard) - In the promotional run-up to the April 13 release of its new album, Ohio experimental rock group Foxy Shazam tapped a curious outlet to promote the release: Chatroulette.

The Russia-based online chat site connects users around the world for one-on-one video sessions. The connections are random, so there's no way to select a specific partner. And a "next" button enables users to skip to the next selection.

Foxy Shazam previewed its entire self-titled Warner Bros. album March 8-13 on Chatroulette. The feed, which ran in a loop over a webcam, consisted of a stream of the album and the set's cover art with a text overlay of the release date.

It doesn't sound like the most efficient way to promote new music, and Warner Bros. senior vice president of new media Jeremy Welt agrees. But efficiency, he says, wasn't the point. Foxy Shazam wanted to be part of a buzzworthy venue in order to introduce itself to new fans, he says.

Launched in November, Chatroulette has quickly become an Internet sensation. Unique U.S. visitors to the site surged to 960,000 in February from 109,000 in January, according to comScore.

"It's a meme right now," Welt says. "It fits in with who these guys are. It's kind of wild and crazy. It's very rock 'n' roll when they want to go do stuff like this ... It's not always about practicality."

Foxy Shazam isn't the only band that feels this way. On March 12, Toronto group Holy F--k used Chatroulette to announce the May 11 release of its new album, "Latin." The first single streamed over an image of a placard listing the band's name, the title of the song and album and a link to its Web site.

Portland, Oregon, indie outfit the Nurses performed live on Chatroulette earlier in the month, setting up 15 webcams to increase the likelihood that users would happen upon their performance.

GETTING NOTICED

At this stage, the biggest upside for artists using Chatroulette is the press coverage it generates. Welt declines to reveal the number of users that tuned in to the Foxy Shazam stream, or for how long each user stayed on, but he was quick to mention a dozen blog posts written about the stunt.

"It got them exposure, so it feels like it's been a cool thing for them," he says.

But the need for interesting content on Chatroulette does offer the opportunity for something more. Its relatively large user base offers artists using the service to promote their music the chance to capture the attention of new fans.

Adding a content filter so users could direct their random connections within a shared interest would make that even easier. Improvements to the site could be on the way: Chatroulette's 17-year-old founder, Andrey Ternovskiy, told Germany's Spiegel Online that he has received 200 e-mails from Silicon Valley venture capitalists who want to invest in the fledgling service.

Although U.S. venture capitalist sources tell Billboard they aren't aware of any investors with serious interest in Chatroulette, an initial funding round could quickly elevate Ternovskiy's hobby to a potential business.

Or it could just prove to be another flash in the pan. For label executives like Welt, the difference between the two will determine whether it's a one-off PR gimmick or a sustainable platform.

"I don't think we'll do it forever, and I don't think that based on this one test we'll start doing it for every band," he says. "But as long as there continues to be a cool buzz around it, there's more things that can be done with it."

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