Sandi Thom – not an Internet success story?

I posted a short link the other day – one of my “items that might grow up into blog posts” – about a Scottish singer named Sandi Thom, who decided to just play in her apartment and stream it over the Web instead of touring in an old broken-down van, and how she got 100,000 viewers and was then signed to a multimillion-dollar contract with RCA. Now it turns out that that great story reported by CNN and others may not be quite as clear-cut as it seemed at first.

The first inkling that this might not be quite so incredible a tale came when an old contact from years ago sent an email about it. Adrian du Plessis was a sort of freelance securities investigator when I dealt with him back in the late 1990s, when I was writing about the stock market for the Globe and Mail – he helped dig up some of the more salacious stock scams involving the then-Vancouver Stock Exchange, which was notorious for mining and penny-stock frauds. Anyway, somehow over the intervening years he had gotten into the music business, and he said there was more to the Sandi Thom story. As he put it:

“Contrary to the PR spin, Sandi Thom is an example of old-school PR/marketing dressed up as a viral campaign. Thom is at the centre of a well-conceived and realized marketing campaign, which has used traditional news media (newspapers, radio, tv) to create interest online. And, it’s been spun as happening the other way around. It’s a fascinating study, and, very much like a stock promotion!”

So I looked around on the Web a bit, and came across a post on the music blog Chartreuse, which gave a little more detail (which also apparently came from Adrian). Apparently, Sandi Thom signed a contract with a music publisher last year — a company called Windswept/Pacific Music, which has contracts with artists such as Beyonce Knowles and The Who. And traffic stats from Alexa seem to show that Sandi’s site started to get more traffic around the time press releases and news articles appeared about her playing in her apartment, not before. No signs of her getting 100,000 viewers, in other words.

There are also comments on Chartreuse from the publishing company that indicate Sandi Thom had already been approached by a record label after singing at a regular gig, and that she had already recorded a solo album, as well as being offered the chance to record with other prominent artists – before she started the “playing in my apartment” thing.

Is that fraud? Hardly. Good marketing? Maybe – but still kind of depressing, in a way. There’s more on Adrian’s new blog.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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