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Wednesday, 17 January 2007 00:00

In your Internet ear

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Just before Christmas, singer/songwriter Ashley Chambliss of Sylva got an email from the online music site where her music is available for download. She would be receiving a deposit into her bank account.

 

One of her songs, “A Little More of You,” had caught on, and customer downloads being routed from the Apple iTunes site had resulted in more than $800 in sales. On one day alone, there were 422 purchases.

“While I’m trying to make ends meet, suddenly my rent is paid,” Chambliss said.

This past Wednesday, it happened again.

“The mystery is I have no idea who’s buying,” she said, laughing. “It crosses my mind that there’s a crazy person out there trying to support my career.”

Looking at the time span since the album was made, the money isn’t really all that much. The song is from Chambliss’ album Naked Songs — aptly titled for the stripped down solo work by the pianist and vocalist. Often compared to Rickie Lee Jones, Chambliss’ voice on “A Little More of You,” cuts through with the raw, tenderness of a personal performance.

“It’s a pretty universal sort of love song,” she says.

But money aside, the downloads have been a boost to Chambliss’ musical ego. After years of playing in clubs from Chapel Hill to Atlanta, Chambliss finally decided to put her music on the back burner with the intent of studying veterinary medicine. Now, with ever-improving exposure, she has the confidence to go on.

“It motivates me to kind of keep my feet in the water and keep working at it because maybe it’s still there,” she says of the potential for success.

Like so many artists it takes word of mouth from the listeners to build a following. It’s the buzz that attracts the talent scouts to a show. But the Internet is changing how that buzz registers.

Popular songs can be uploaded, downloaded and traded amongst avid fans who may find themselves on the same page musically, but geographically worlds apart, said Don Connelly, an associate professor in the department of communication, theater and dance at Western Carolina University.

“It’s a great thing for niche music,” he said.

Taking the concept even further, Internet radio stations that specialize in one genre of music or another also help to create networks of listeners who like a particular style and may in turn discover a new artist, further spreading their exposure. It’s a way for a North Carolina musician to gain fans in Japan without having to make an expensive trip overseas to play a concert there.

“These communities of people can form on a world wide basis,” Connelly said.

Also, the Internet is one of the last places — at least in America — for unsigned artists like Chambliss to get their music heard. As radio stations are bought up by the media conglomerates, the airtime for local favorites gets eaten up by the more commercially viable artists with more consumer popularity. Local, unsigned artists often are lucky to get a spin on a featured program like Local Color on WNCW.

“Until a record company decides to promote you, the problem that you have is distribution,” Connelly said.

Granted, Internet radio isn’t heard as much as regular radio — a 2006 survey by Arbitron Inc. and Edison Media Research indicated an estimated 30 million Americans listen to Internet radio stations each week. Meanwhile, about 94 percent of the American population — or 280 million people — listen to regular radio.

For the most part, the technology just isn’t there to make Internet radio more popular. You can buy a $10 radio at any store and pick up whatever’s on your local air waves for free. Or you can shell out hundreds of dollars for a computer, an Internet connection, and a device to take the music with you when you go. A device is on the market now that makes listening to Internet radio a wireless affair, but again it costs hundreds of dollars and requires a wireless signal to work.

Regardless, being featured on John Anderson’s Internet radio show On The Horizon opened doors for the local group Stone Black. Since their music hit the air, they’ve gotten emails from interested listeners from various locations. And having a broader audience is a good thing, said lead vocalist and guitarist Shannon Clark.

“We would all four love to have our stuff heard,” he said.

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