The Tangled Web
The Web's most intriguing music-related destinations. This week: Indie-rock community/retailer Insound, Radiohead, and Jewel.Keeping you up to date on the Web's most intriguing music-related happenings and destinations.
THE IN-CROWD: Online music retailer Insound.com, now in its fourth year of operation, has emerged as one of the premiere indie-rock communities and CD stores on the Web. The site even comes complete with its own self-described "cranky sales guy," a fixture at most indie stores across the country and immortalized on film by Jack Black in "High Fidelity." Submit your three favorite bands to the site, and the "cranky sales guy" will respond with links to similar-sounding obscure indie bands, as well as a 10% discount "for risking your pride."
"We used to have really poor customer service," says Insound co-founder Matt Wishnow. "When we began improving it, I intended that service to be a joke making fun of how bad it used to be."
Wishnow runs Insound with Ari Sass. The two started the site when they were in their mid-20s, and survived the dot.com bust by keeping overhead low. "We eventually decided we needed to stop trying to be the coolest Web site and focus on being the best record store," Wishnow says. "If we did that, and provided great service, by definition we'd be the coolest Web site. So we stayed away from adding a lot of bells and whistles."
While maintaining a relatively simple design, the site continues to find ways to engage its audience. What was once a message board has been transformed into Insound's "regulars" section. Once signed up for the free service, users can paste a picture of themselves and a brief bio on the site. Regulars are encouraged to list their favorite bands, and the site provides instant links so others can purchase the albums.
"There's an element of it where people can meet each other, but we're not looking to be like [dating sites] Nerve or Makeoutclub," Wishnow says. "Our goal is to have people meet each other over conversations about music and based on musical interests. Then hopefully they'll buy something."
Those who do can take advantage of Insound's credit-back program. Each purchase of less than $250 gives users a 3% discount on future buys. Additionally, Insound's regulars also earn credit on purchases by their friends. The site sends its customers a coupon compiling the amount of credit earned twice a year. That has become an important step in improving what was once suspect customer service.
But Insound's most impressive feature is its deep fanzine catalog. The site not only offers about 150 'zines to buy, it also provides excerpts and article examples from each.
"A very core part of our business was to set up relationships with fanzines, especially 'zines that didn't have Web sites," Wishnow says. "They were able to tell their readers that if they wanted to read something online, go to Insound. We became the default Web site for a lot of 'zines. Initially, Ari and I were typing excerpts from these 'zines until 3 a.m. every night, or copying and pasting from Word files. It took months. But now, thankfully, we've built tools where we allow the 'zines to paste in their own excerpts."
TV HEAD: U.K. experimental rock act Radiohead is trying out a variety of interesting online promotions for its upcoming sixth studio album, "Hail to the Thief" (Capitol). To that end, a new Web site was unveiled yesterday (May 26) at Radiohead.tv.
As of this writing, the site was only streaming a preview teaser of what is to come, in either Windows Media, QuickTime, or RealPlayer formats. But over the coming weeks, it's intended to be a display case for a number of multimedia Radiohead goodies, including footage from the band's recording sessions and live performances, promotional music videos, streaming audio of songs from the new album, video games, and an interactive Q&A Web board for fans to submit questions to the band.
Fans are also being encouraged to contribute to the new TV "station" by sending in their own version of Radiohead videos, meaning some sort of visual footage/art set to Radiohead music. The submissions will be sorted by the band and aired on the site.
Meanwhile, listeners itching to get a taste of the new record -- which will be released June 10 in the U.S. - -- can go to Capitol Records' site for the Radiohead player, where streaming versions of new album tracks are available, as is the video clip for first single "There There."
JEWEL IN THE ROUGH: Atlantic Records is providing a strong incentive for Jewel fans to buy her forthcoming album "0304" during its first week of release (the album is set to hit stores June 3). For only one week following the release date, anyone who buys the album will be able to download two previously unreleased live tracks from the Web.
Each copy in the first run of "0304" will include a download card with a unique PIN number allowing access to a secure site from which users can download solo live MP3 versions of "The New Wild West" and "Life Uncommon." The bonus site will also allow access to streaming in-studio footage of the artist, tour clips, and live performance videos culled from her last tour. The streams will be available past June 9.