First off, I can't make that fucking little apostrophe thingy over the "e" with out opening up Character Map, so even talking shit about you is a pain in the ass. Anyways, yesterday's WSJ has an article about how Digby isn't this homespun talent that she makes herself out to be. Apparently her sudden and coincidental rise to fame is neither sudden nor coincidental. But rather a carefully crafted 18 month marketing campaign appealing to our sense of relatability. Yes she's hot, yes she's talented... but you know what, so is every other popstar out there. Just own up to being a corporate marketing product, we'll like you as much as Michelle Branch. Copy of the WSJ article after the jump.
Download This: YouTube Phenom Has a Big Secret
By ETHAN SMITH and PETER LATTMAN
September 6, 2007
A 24-year-old singer and guitarist named Marié Digby has been hailed as proof that the Internet is transforming the world of entertainment.
What her legions of fans don't realize, however, is that Ms. Digby's career demonstrates something else: that traditional media conglomerates are going to new lengths to take advantage of the Internet's ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz.
Ms. Digby's simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit "Umbrella" has been featured on MTV's program "The Hills" and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records label declared: "Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marié Digby Signs With Hollywood Records."
What the release failed to mention is that Hollywood Records signed Ms. Digby in 2005, 18 months before she became a YouTube phenomenon. Hollywood Records helped devise her Internet strategy, consulted with her on the type of songs she chose to post, and distributed a high-quality studio recording of "Umbrella" to iTunes and radio stations.
In an Aug. 16 blog posting on her MySpace page, Ms. Digby wrote: "I NEVER in a million years thought that doing my little video of Umbrella in my living room would lead to this . tv shows, itunes, etc !!!"
Ms. Digby's MySpace and YouTube pages don't mention Hollywood Records. Until last week, a box marked "Type of Label" on her MySpace Music page said, "None." After inquiries from The Wall Street Journal, the entry was changed to "Major," though the label still is not named.
The artist and her label say there's nothing untoward about the campaign. In interviews, Ms. Digby and executives at the company describe her three-month string of successes as part of a lengthy process of laying the groundwork for the upcoming release of her debut album.
Ms. Digby says she doesn't mention her record label on her Web sites because "I didn't feel like it was something that was going to make people like me."
Feigning Amateur Status
Ms. Digby certainly isn't the first professional to feign amateur status on YouTube. Last year, "LonelyGirl15" was revealed to be a 19-year-old actress, working with filmmakers represented by the Creative Artists Agency.
The fact that a big company supported Ms. Digby's ruse reflects how dearly media giants want in on the viral revolution that's changing how young consumers learn about new entertainment -- even if it means a tiny bit of sleight-of-hand. It also reflects how difficult it is for new recording artists to get noticed now that young fans are paying more attention to Web sites such as Google Inc.'s YouTube and News Corp.'s MySpace than to traditional media like commercial radio.
"There are significant challenges in breaking new artists now, but there are also amazing opportunities," says Ken Bunt, Hollywood Records' senior vice president for marketing who helped devise Ms. Digby's campaign. "People get so mired in the difficulties they don't say, 'What opportunities does online present?' This is a great example of an opportunity."
Though all involved say that Hollywood Records' role in her online rise has been limited, label executives say they did nothing to discourage Ms. Digby from conveying the impression that she had stumbled into the spotlight. Ms. Digby says she chose the songs. Hollywood Records bought the Apple Inc. laptop computer and software that Ms. Digby -- who lives with her parents in Los Angeles's upscale Brentwood neighborhood -- used to post her YouTube videos. Her version of "Umbrella" that is being sold at Apple's iTunes Store is a high-quality studio recording made in June by Hollywood Records, which also made it available to radio stations.
Ms. Digby, whose exotic looks reflect her Japanese and Irish heritage, began writing songs as a high-school student and set off in search of a music career during her freshman year at the University of California, Berkeley. She says she found herself flying back to Los Angeles almost every week to play solo gigs at open-microphone nights at clubs. At age 19, she left Berkeley and concentrated full-time on music.
While Ms. Digby won regular bookings at nightclubs, things didn't begin to click until a chance encounter with Barry Krost, a music manager whose past clients have included Cat Stevens. He took her on as a client and in early 2005 secured her a publishing deal with Rondor Music, a publisher that is part of Vivendi SA's Universal Music Group.
In late 2005, Ron Moss, Rondor's executive vice president, connected Ms. Digby to a Hollywood Records executive named Allison Hamamura, who was immediately taken with the singer. Before the year was out, Hollywood Records had signed Ms. Digby. Since then, the label has worked with the singer on her debut album of original songs. The album was produced by Tom Rothrock, who also recorded a recent hit record by British singer James Blunt.
Once the album was completed late last year, Ms. Digby and her label began looking for ways to gain visibility. "I was coming out of nowhere," Ms. Digby says. "I wanted to find a way to get some exposure."
That's when the idea of posting simple videos of cover songs came up. "No one's going to be searching for Marié Digby, because no one knows who she is," Mr. Bunt, the Hollywood Records senior vice president, reasoned. So she posted covers of hits by Nelly Furtado and Maroon 5, among others, so that users searching for those artists' songs would stumble on hers instead. Her version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" proved a nearly instant hit.
The Lucky Nobody
As Ms. Digby's star rose, other media outlets played along. When Los Angeles adult-contemporary station KYSR-FM, which calls itself "Star 98.7," interviewed Ms. Digby in July, she and the disc jockey discussed her surprising success. "We kind of found her on YouTube," the DJ, known as Valentine, said. Playing the lucky nobody, Ms. Digby said: "I'm usually the listener calling in, you know, just hoping that I'm going to be the one to get that last ticket to the Star Lounge with [pop star] John Mayer!" The station's programming executives now acknowledge they had booked Ms. Digby's appearance through Hollywood Records, and were soon collaborating with the label to sell "Umbrella" as a single on iTunes.
"We did discover this artist through YouTube," says KYSR Program Director Charese Fruge. The DJ couldn't be reached for comment.
"I don't think we need a television show to find talent in America," crowed NBC late-night talk show host Carson Daly, introducing a performance by Ms. Digby last month. "We have the Internet." Mr. Daly's music booker, Diana Miller, says she booked the singer through Hollywood Records' public-relations department.
At the show's taping, Ms. Digby gave a backstage interview that was posted online by NBC. "I just did this YouTube video two months ago and never, ever imagined that it would actually get me on TV or radio or anything like that," she said. "I just did it in my living room and it blew up first on YouTube and then I guess it got to Star 98.7 and then Carson Daly found me so that's why I'm here."
Most of Ms. Digby's new fans seem pleased to believe that they discovered an underground sensation. A YouTube user posting a message in response to a cover of Linkin Park's "What I've Done" wrote, "you truely have talent! get urself out there...if u really wanted im positive u could land some sick record deals!! id buy a CD 4 sure!"
At a concert last week at a Los Angeles nightclub called the Hotel Cafe, Ms. Digby played to a sold-out crowd of young fans. Even with the club's handful of tables reserved for Hollywood Records executives and their guests, Ms. Digby continued to play the ingénue. Introducing "Umbrella," Ms. Digby told the audience: "I just turned on my little iMovie, and here I am!"