Digital Highway paved the road to Woodstock
Sticky Pistil used edgy marketing tactic
By Antonio Lopez
for The New Mexican, Pasatiempo sept 3-9th, 1999

By the time they got to Woodstock, the road had been paved by the digital highway. The Taos funk-rock group Sticky Pistil used leading-edge marketing tactics on the Internet to promote itself and garner a gig at this year's Woodstock music festival.

Sticky Pistil, which plays a kind of music the band describes as "funkinmental," formed in 1997. Three members formerly were in a group called Sonic Bloom but had to change the band's name due to a conflict with a same-named company that makes music for plants.

After adding bass player Shawn Perry, Sticky Pistil's brain trust led by singer Mark Hershiser worked on a plan to promote the band.

Scott Kesson, left, Mark Hershiser, Shawn Perry and Mike Caron
"'We started working on our show and playing around here," said Hershiser, a California native who moved to Taos five years ago. "When we were Sonic Bloom, I had purchased recording equipment. I was fully convinced the way to go as a band was to get inexpensive stuff, since it's the digital age, and make our own CD."

Hershiser previously had successfully launched an herb company, Native Essence, so he knew the value of creating a business plan to promote the group.

"Pretty much right away, I thought we should work on a package with a CD and a Web site to create the perception of a full-on band," he said.

After getting Perry up to speed with material already developed in Sonic Bloom, Sticky Pistil was off and running, performing its first gig at the Taos Solar Music Festival in 1997, opening for Spearhead, a national act (actually the 1997 Taos Solar Music Festival was Sonic Bloom's first gig not Sticky Pistil).

Confident Sticky Pistil's live act would propel the group, Hershiser set out to get an edge on the normal working-band process of playing low-paying gigs and touring.

"All we were looking for was a marketing outlet for what we can do - be a rock 'n' roll band and go out there and play," Hershiser said. "My theory from a business or marketing standpoint is that of every band I've been in or known, I don't know anyone who's made it. The conventional thing is to go out and get the exposure, play the little clubs, hope some guy sees you, and build your fan base.

"The theory is that you are going to get discovered. When that happens then you jump into the other level. I see so much of that as (being) a lottery. I think my luck would be better if I bought a lottery ticket."

Hershiser is well aware the Internet would not be a magic bullet. The band still would have to play hard and perform well but perhaps it could circumvent New Mexico's isolation through online technology.

First, the band built a Web site that offers information about the group, reviews, press clips and its CD for sale.

But if it's ' true technological innovation starts revolutions, the development of the MP3 compression format has created an insurrection in the traditional music business.

Simply put, compression allows an artist to post a digital file of recorded music, which until recently was too large for standard online downloads. Bands now can post songs or entire CDs on Web pages. Consumers then can retrieve the music through the Internet to listen to on computers or special audio players.

While several compression formats are available, MP3 has surfaced as the clearest and most accessible. Originally developed in '87, the Moving Pictures Expert Group (MPEG) approved MP3 technology through the International Organization of Standardization in '92.

The MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3, shortened to MP3, since has become the compression of choice for a number of artists wanting to bypass the traditional music industry.

A virtual cottage industry of Web sites devoted to MP3 has enabled musicians to offer new songs and remixes for free on the Net. Many established artists have gotten into the act, offering out takes and alternative cuts over those Web sites.

In one extreme example, rap group Public Enemy decided to release the album, There's a poison goin' on.. . only on the Web after the album was killed when the band's label, Def Jam, was dropped by the label's parent company.

A major music-industry trade association, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), opposed the MP3 format and sought to block the release of the Rio MP3 player manufactured by Diamond Multimedia, in fear the compression technology would promote piracy.

The Rio player is a portable device, Other players can be downloaded for playback on personal computers.

Most libertarian Netizens don't care about the piracy issue but artists wanting to protect copyrighted material have recourse.

"Water marking" has been developed so material can be traced to its source, encryption allows companies to restrict material to proprietary players, and "use-by" codes can prevent files from Working after certain dates.

Piracy hardly is an issue affecting Sticky Pistil. If anything, MP3 has caused a different problem: a glut of material on the Net.

"On the Internet," Hershiser said, "one can find 50,000 bands and that's growing by the thousands daily. It opens up things. It changes the playing field but it's still just as hard. If you are someone looking for a band and you pull up 300 genres, you'll get 3,000 bands (per genre).

'Natural selection is taking place; certain things are rising to the top. But a lot of it is aggressiveness, as it always was - playing clubs, building a solid base anyway."

As an early proponent of the Internet Hershiser has found the instantaneous feedback afforded by the Net a major bonus.

"The Internet is just as hard but you can get something out there, send it out and see your review on a site," he said.

"Minimal as it may seem, you can put your package together," he said. "We get hundreds of e-mails from people who love our songs. People are not going to send you a postcard but e-mail gives you a press kit. You can go out there and get the ball rolling.'

It was through a contest that Sticky Pistil earned its trip to Woodstock. The Web site established a contest to select 12 artists for the Emerging Artists stage at Woodstock. Winners were determined by download popularity and a video, of the band's live performance, submitted to contest organizers.

Sticky Pistil made the grade, a spectacular achievement considering the band is based in a rural community far away from the music industry's epicenters of New York and L.A.

Sticky Pistil has songs posted on, which pays the band $.05 per download.

Ultimately using the Web allows Sticky Pistil to balance art with making a living.

"I looked at this as a business," Hershiser said. "I wanted to take a product that I like, not to make something that sold.

"There is a market for anything. That was part of my belief, that I could make a business out of the band - playing music, being successful."

1999 The New Mexican

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