Find 'em . . . eventually

There was a time when Best Buy aggressively pushed obscure artists destined for major popularity in all of their stores. With their "Find 'Em First" campaign in '99, artists like Remy Zero, Rufus Wainwright, David Garza, Kelly Willis and Mary Cutrufello were given some nice exposure. In addition to commercials that played in the store on a loop, Best Buy Radio played a couple of tracks from each artist every hour on the hour. I couldn't avoid these guys as I worked in the media department and frequently walked by the TV department. With the tagline of "You don't know now me now, but you will," I wonder how much of a help this was for these folks. I am by no means a big fan of any of the aforementioned artists, but I think it's interesting to revisit them, especially since one of them is currently featured all over a certain TV commercial.

At the time of the Best Buy promotion, Remy Zero was supporting their critically-acclaimed sophomore album, Villa Elaine. Though I never picked up the record, I saw them play live with Semisonic in Austin at Liberty Lunch. I thought the show was great and kept my ear open for what the band did next. Turns out, I would hear their material for the next few years because of a certain TV show. With "Save Me" used as the theme song for the WB's Smallville and having a roommate that watched the show every week, I couldn't avoid the song. No matter how many times I heard it, I rarely got tired of hearing the song's big chorus. The accompanying album, The Golden Hum, was pretty worthwhile and their biggest-selling album. As far as what the band is up to now: they're broken up.

Austin's David (pronounced 'da-veed') Garza is still going. His Atlantic album This Euphoria didn't break him as a mainstream act, but according to his website, he still touring and recording. I believe his most recent release was a box set called A Strange Mess of Flowers. He's on tour with Fiona Apple and Damien Rice this summer.

According to her website, Mary Cutrufello is still active with playing live, but she hasn't released a record since '01. Rufus Wainwright has kept a very visible profile with a number of critically-acclaimed albums, including his most recent double album, Want. As far as Kelly Willis, this is where matters get a little weird.

Currently, Willis and her husband Bruce Robison are featured in a commercial for prescription nasal drug, Claritin-D. According to this article, Robison and Willis are actual users and they were asked to be spokespeople. Now I don't know if this represents a nadir of either performer's career, but I don't know of many artists that are on-screen endorsers of a prescription drug. The ad campaign must be working as the commercial (complete with a jingle written by Robison) airs very often on TV. Even with the small amounts of time I actively watch TV, I see this commercial everywhere.

Feed Your Habit has a nice post on this and has a great point: what's one to do with a country singer with clear nasal passages? Here's a snippet:

Now I’m more used to Kelly Willis singing songs of heartbreak in that nasal twang so beloved of country artists.

All funniness aside, is this the best way to promote one's music? Instead of knowing Willis or Robison for their songs, you know them because of a sales pitch. Whatever it takes to get one's name out, I guess.

Best Buy no longer does their "Find 'Em First" promotion. As a matter of fact, I think they retired it about five years ago. Since then, they have done a promotion involving special divider cards that suggest lesser-known artists with well-known ones (ie, "If you like Taking Back Sunday, try Hawthorne Heights"). I argue that kind of promotion is like saying, "If you like Coca-Cola, try Tab." This kind of recommendation may work for some bands, but it doesn't guarantee that they'll be thought of in their own unique light.

I gotta credit Best Buy for actually trying to present not-so mainstream acts for a mainstream audience, but as the current status of all of its "Find 'Em First" artists show, promotion does not mean mainstream acceptance. But for those that aren't awaiting mainstream recognition, they just do what they want to do.


Josh said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Josh said…
Remy Zero was pretty much one of the favorite bands amongst my circle of friends, and one of the bands most responsible for opening my eyes and ears to the fact that most good music wasn't found on the radio anymore.

I miss them and still listen to their records.

As to "Save Me" - I got sick of it the same way I think fans of Paula Cole wanted to scratch their eyes out any time Dawson's Creek came on.