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Sandi Thom Stole My Story. The Implications To The Unsigned Artist.

Sunday, 25 June 2006 Written by Stereoboard.com
ImageEXCLUSIVE - Sandi Thom may be riding high in the singles and album charts, and on the surface at least, Thom is a real Internet success story. But if you dare to peel away a few layers from this "success story" what you will find lying beneath the surface is much more than just a cunning hoax, far worse than most media commentators had originally suggested, involving bribes, theft and consumer explotation.

This is the story that hasn't yet been told, something far more sinister with far reaching consequences for the unsigned artist and music consumer.

Sandi Thom's 'official' story goes something like this: As a penniless and struggling but talented unsigned artist, Sandi's car breaks down while driving back from a sparsely attended gig in South Wales during February 2006. After this ordeal on a deserted country road, somewhere in the Welsh countryside, on a freezing winters night, Thom had the inspiration to turn to the Internet to get her music out there. Besides that she could no longer afford the petrol.

The next day Thom setup a live webcast dubbed '21 Nights from Tooting', where audiences rose from 70 to an estimated 70,000 people during the virtual tour from her apparently groggy basement flat in London. Those attending during the tour included a top executive from RCA/SonyBMG, who promptly signed Thom to a five-album deal worth £1 Million.

But one has to wonder where this 'inspiration' actually came from considering that it appears to have been a porky. The '21 Nights From Tooting' had already been professionally arranged with a leading streaming media company well in advance, even before the York and Narbeth gigs took place, which reportedly saw the already desperately skint Thom over £300 out of pocket. A posting on her myspace even announced the webcasts prior to the Narbeth gig in South West Wales.

What's worse is the press comparisons to the online success of Arctic Monkeys. The teenage Sheffield band used the Internet as a tool to generate a fanbase, and went on to create a stir of excitement which eventually resulted in a record deal. Now though the tides have changed and the implications of a success story in the future hangs in the balance with Internet rumours suggesting that Thom had already agreed a deal with RCA/SonyBMG long before she started her webcasts.

The Guardian first picked up on the hoax last month, "Since Thom's story first appeared in the Sunday Times in March, an army of bloggers have chipped away at press claims that she was a penniless, desperate singer who turned to the Internet after her car broke down on the way back from yet another sparsely attended gig."

"They pointed to her publishing deal with Windswept Pacific Music (home of Beyonce Knowles), her collaborations with well-known songwriters, her professionally produced website and the track record of her manager Ian Brown in promoting a number of other unlikely success stories."

"They also reproduced statistics from web tracking services such as Technorati showing there was little interest in her website until the first stories appeared in the London Evening Standard and the Sunday Times."

We dig a little deeper and we wonder where this online following actually originated from, if it even existed in the first place. One indication is Sandi Thom's official website message board, which has received just a few hundred members since being setup two months ago.

Despite attaining a reported peak of 182,000 viewers to her '21 Nights from Tooting' webcast, a Number 1 hit single and Number 1 album for 'Smile... It Confuses People', only 533 fans have taken the time to sign up to her official website. Something smells rotten.

On May 31st, a story by The Times Online exposed allegations of chart rigging, "The Times has discovered that Thom’s PR agency offered thousands of fans free copies of her album in return for their sending messages encouraging people to listen to the single through the social networking website, MySpace.com."

"Fans admitted buying multiple copies of the single, as iTunes downloads and CDs, all of which counted to the song’s 32,720 chart sales last week."

Then there were the allegations of rigging her online presence at MySpace by bribing people with free albums, which would have counted towards the official UK charts.

RCA/SonyBMG label boss Craig Logan insisted, "Street teams were not used to increase her MySpace figures with bribes of free copies of the album."

"The only guerilla marketing tactics employed were when the flyer was sent out to over one million email addresses, which is hardly revolutionary."

Which begs the question, if as reported these emails went out to promote the webcasts, how does a struggling unsigned artist afford to market her webcasts to one million opt-in email addresses without the help of a major record label?

Logan also added, "Fact: Sandi tried the old way of building a community and it didn't quite work for her. The new way has. Sandi Thom is a great artist, which is why RCA signed her."

Now though there are even more allegations that Thom, and her PR company Quite Great, actually stole parts of her story, the meaty background before the webcasts, from another struggling unsigned singer-songwriter who also hails from Scotland, actually a small village in the Scottish Highlands with a population of just 1000.

Image David Lockhart was already generating interest from national tabloids and major record labels around the world for his own interesting and unique story back in early 2005, way before Sandi Thom had even been heard of.

Lockhart accuses Thom's representatives of scattering parts of his own freely available story in various press releases to hype Sandi Thom, despite the obvious flaws in the background to her story.

An angry Lockhart clearly feels he has been exploited. He told Stereoboard.com, "I already sang into my computer and put it out to the world via the Internet long before Sandi Thom stole my story. She is not the new idea everyone thinks she is. I even have proof that her record label read my story throughout their company and I also have one high profile person in particular actually replying to my story and how much it was liked early last year, and all this before Sandi Thom was even heard of with her so called unique story in 2006."

"I told SonyBMG early last year that my story had started to get phone calls and emails from well known British newspapers, as well as mainstream media interest. SonyBMG knew that my story was already starting to create a buzz among the press because I told them about it. They also knew I never even had a single released, no record label and no music publisher behind me either, which made it even more intriguing to the power of my story. That's how powerful my story was."

His online community, at friend networking site Myspace.com, is a true sign of his online achievements and popularity with over 3800 friends and over 81,000 listens to his music tracks, not bad for an unsigned artist and in complete contrast to Thom's own Myspace site prior to the webcast stories sweeping the press.

David Lockhart clearly believes the similarities in his story and Thom's are more than mere coincidences though, he continued "I had a reply from SonyBMG in response to my story and them liking it in 2005. I had a SonyBMG A&R person send me a friend request to my music Myspace page last year as well. They already knew how powerful my story was before they stole it to use as their own."

"They knew they were onto a winner as they had seen the results I was achieving without any money. They knew I was penniless and what I had achieved without money. They couldn't lose as they had the money to push on my story, yet push it on as if it was Sandi Thom's."
"Sandi Thom already had her single out once before without any unique story behind it and it flopped in 2005. She then went away to lick her wounds for a while. Yet when she came back this year now armed with my own story and SonyBMG money behind her, she got press and TV coverage because of her so called unique story."

A clearly aggrieved Lockhart continued: "My story put them in a powerful position so they had to take this opportunity to get her to number one in the UK singles chart. If they hadn't they would have lost a lot of potential money on their new artist. My story is now snowballing Sandi Thom and SonyBMG to market her around the world as it becomes more powerful."

"I haven't seen a penny, or a mention, from Sandi Thom or SonyBMG to this day. Sandi Thom has been called a fraud in some news stories, yet she smiles to the public like a true thief. Just because I'm a penniless man from Scotland it doesn't mean you can steal from me and get away with it."

You can read David Lockhart's full inspiring story on his Myspace page below this article.

So what are the implications of these allegations to the independent unsigned artist, those trying to make a future for themselves by promoting their music online?

While the music industry was busy suing young kids for sharing music files, the Internet remained largely unnoticed as a way to promote and propagate any hype or manufactured artist. For the unsigned artist the Internet was the last refuge that existed. The labels already had a monopoly, to a certain extent, on arranging tours and liasing with A&R to get signed, but the Internet was somewhere an unsigned band could be discovered.

For the majority of musicians the Internet was the cheapest method to distribute their music and develop an online community and fan base. With a broadband connection and some basic recording equipment an artist could create an online presence cheaply and quickly. You see, many artists and music lovers considered the Internet a "Demilitarised Zone". Somewhere WE, the music fans, could make our own choices and not be bombarded with advertising, hype and hyperbole. Somewhere we could discover a new artist based on the trusted recommendations of our online peers.

But Sandi Thom, aided by her manager Ian Brown, Quite Great PR and allegedly RCA/SonyBMG, changed all that. This "Demilitarised Zone" was suddenly invaded, viciously and calculated. Since the overnight success of Arctic Monkeys, and to a lesser extent Nizopli, the music industry has been desperately looking for a way to exploit the hype potential of the Internet.

One observer summed up the implications of the Sandi Thom success, "To abuse the reach of the web and the power of the web like this was wrong and unnecessary. The web is the tool for an unsigned artist to get their music to YOU. These artists work so hard to get to where they are."

"They are just regular people who have the inspiration to write and perform - their music is untainted by the corporate machine and written for no financial gain. Eventually some get signed to record labels and by that point they are in a position of strength - able to write what they want, release albums and tour with the backing of a record label."

"However, once the big guns come in signing artists then masquerading them as unsigned indie artists on the web we ALL lose out. Suddenly what happens is that the real indie artist cannot compete with the big labels pushing their "unsigned" artists around the web as undiscovered gems - they just don't have the finance to stream to 70,000 people or buy the equipment that was required to make the broadcasts, or access to a mailing list of 1,000,000 people or access to the major press outlets to publicise the unsigned-ness."

"It then becomes harder and harder for new acts to reach out and get their music to you."

Whether the knock-on effect of these allegations turn out to be true or not only time will tell but Sandi Thom probably sums it up best in her own words, she told The Times on June 15th: "I'm sure people will discover the truth in time. The truth always reveals itself, doesn't it?"

http://icwales.icnetwork.co.uk - Sandi Thom March 2006


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