The Real Story Of How They're Not The First Unsigned Band
To Have a Top 40 Single

It was hailed by many leading publications as "chart history" and signalled for some as a true sign that the digital age was truly with us. But was this a real victory for the underground and unsigned bands or little more than an elaborate PR stunt by those alchemists that made Sandi Thom an overnight star.

Koopa have been around for a long time and "Blag Steal & Borrow" is not their first bid at chart success. Last summer they released the World Cup Song "Stand Up 4 England" through Fullfill, a distribution company which also trades as Artful Records and has previously worked major releases by Ray Charles, Gary Numan and last years Mercury Music Prize nominated album "Beloved One" by Lou Rhodes as well as Koopa's debut single "No Trend" in Nov 2005.

When the two singles failed to chart they turned to Quite Great PR who had previously broke the Sandi Thom story of alleged webcasts from a dingy basement in Tooting, something that bloggers were able to dispute by the fact that web tracking services such as Technorati showing there was little interest in her website until the story broke nationally. According to Koopa's official website the next release after taking on Quite Great PR, the "Three In A Bed With Bobby George" EP sold 3000 copies in over two weeks.

With Official Chart Rules changing to allow downloads releases to be included in the charts without a physical release a flurry of back catalogue releases were expected to chart but only Snow Patrol, Gnarls Barkley and The Automatic re-entered the UK Top 40 in the first week of 2007. With no real story to grab on to - I mean where were the 20 Beatles singles or Elvis heading to number one the general public had been lead to believe would happen with these new rules - it's easy to see why the media were so keen to latch onto the "first UK unsigned band to benefit from the new chart rules" story after Koopa entered the midweek charts at number 17. By the time a handful of websites had run the story, syndicated it to a few hundred more, it was the talk of national radio and tv chat shows as well as respected news sources, even though figures throughout the week suggested the release was in danger of dropping off the chart all together.

(Pic: The Dualers - the first unsigned band to score a top 40 single)

However every news report forgot to mention one simple fact - they weren't the first unsigned band to have a top 40 single!

Although debate about what is signed and what is unsigned is up for debate with many industry insiders suggesting New Order were never truly signed to Factory, or that recent releases by Forward Russia and Sway are technically unsigned as they're releasing through their own labels, many point to the Dualers "Kiss On The Lips" in October 2004 as the first top 40 hit by anunsigned band. Their single ended up debuting at number 21 in the charts. (Note: Although it's widely reported that Bis were the first unsigned band to play on Top Of The Pops, they released the single on Chemikal Underground Records so were therefore technically signed)

One half of the Dualers Simon Cranstoun had this to say "We were absolutely disgusted with them...I mean what a cheap dirty trick...Koopa have always been greatly respected by us for being a quality act ...but this goes way below the belt. It's clear to us that they're looking for angles to build on for their publicity...bullsh*tting is one thing but TOTAL BULLSH*TTING at the expense of a rival band is cold man f***ing cold. Our market at the time (way back in 2004 when indie bands were in) was a market of physical buyers we weren't after soft releases...back then downloads were a cop out". The Dualers second single "Truly Madly Deeply" charted a year later in Nov 2005 at number 23 and the band are still a going concern playing sold out gigs across London. They released their debut album "The Melting Pot" in June last year.

Music producer Jon King added "Many bands and artistes first "charted" on their own imprint. Once you press up vinyl or CD's or make downloads available for purchase, you're "signed". Just because the label isn't owned by anyone we've ever heard of doesn't make it less of a label. Father Abraphart and the Smurps charted at 58 in 1978 on flexi disc alone. Not only was it "unsigned", it was "unpressed.

I'd never heard of Koopa before this story hit the national press. It will set a precedent, but not because of Koopa. Many have had the same idea and done the same thing in preparation for the chart change. The problem is - the chart is so unimportant now. We need powerful, popular radio and TV (which could be online) to expose great music"

It's reported that Koopa built up a following through the networking tool Myspace and at the time of going to press Koopa have 33430 friends listed on their profile. Although exact figures have not been released to press its widely expected the band sold in the region 2-3000 downloads, which were in turn made up of 4 different versions of the same song. As well as the national coverage the band received through press and radio, websites such as UKbands.net took it as their personal crusade with slogans such as "Keep it independent, keep it real and do your little bit to fight the corporate monsters who are controlling most of YOU with the crap we see on TV" and encouraged over 120,000 members to download the song to make chart history as "first ever unsigned band to have a TOP 40".

The Koopa story you read in the national media is just that...an interesting story. But the truth behind Koopa's chart entry leaves many questions unanswered such as how much they spend on PR versus revenue from download sales? why (if we ignore the fact of multiple downloads and people supporting the band because they believed they were making history) did less then 10% of their myspace friends pay for a download? Could an unsigned band have done it without a PR company? And how many times will the media fall for yet another Sandi Thom?

Words: Alex McCann

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by Manilla PR

We have been working with Koopa for 2 months and the initial interest was created entirely by the band with their sheer hard work and constant gigs. The press interest started when it became obvious that the band would chart and momentum built from regional media to national media such as Radio 1, The Sun, etc.

Obviously as a PR agency we will say press interest is the most important factor and you should employ a press agent...especially Manilla PR! Seriously, a band cannot make it to the higher levels with having media contacts. I laughed recently at a quote from a Middlesbrough band who said the PR was just about putting CD's in envelopes...if that was the case then we would close tomorrow. The whole process is much more involved, time consuming and pain staking working your way up the media ladder. Unless you employ someone with media contacts the national press aren't going to take notice as you are unable to follow up and capitalize on every aspect. We focus on specific area's depending on the genre of the band, once we have achieved some exposure our job is then to capitalize on that an ensure further coverage, gradually moving up the media ladder.

I think major labels have been slow to respond to website coverage and how powerful it is. For us it's the most important element as we regard the digital media as being far more in touch with cutting edge music and sites like Glasswerk can help shape a bands overall campaign and ultimate exposure. Disregard digital media at your peril!

Obviously the music has to stand up quality wise. You can have all the media contacts in the world, if your song is poor it will soon get found out. However, some bands seem to think it's a case of producing a song, getting it to a few people and watch a media frenzy start, that may happen to 1 band in every 1000 but for the rest it's about creating a profile, doing the gigs to get the press, having press friendly images and creating a story that the media can pick up on rather than just being another band with another release. A review on page 37 of a magazine is great but it's what you do afterwards to capitalize.

For more information visit www.manillapr.com

Tony McDonagh, Manilla Pr

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