British band's breakthrough another online victory

Viral marketing works well for punk-rock trio Koopa as band breaks into the top 40 on the British charts.

A little-known band reaching No. 31 on the British charts is not normally the stuff of headlines.

But Koopa's breakthrough into the prestigious top 40 this week is another landmark in an Internet revolution sweeping the music industry.

The punk-rock trio from Essex, east England, has literally played to one man and his dog, so modest is the group's background.

"At one point the man left for 10 minutes, but the dog, he weren't going nowhere," Joe Murphy, guitarist and singer, said in his distinctive Essex slang.

"He loved it, tail wagging," the 26-year-old added during an interview in a rundown studio on a bleak industrial estate where the band has been rehearsing and recording for years.

Koopa is the first unsigned band to land a top 40 single, "Blag, Steal & Borrow," that is available only via Internet download. The breakthrough followed changes to the chart this month that mean no physical version of a record is required for the track to qualify.

Record executives believe the change will level the playing field in music making, allowing new acts to land hits and old favorites to get a fresh lease of life.

Paving the way?
While unlikely to have the big record labels quaking in their boots, Koopa's success is the latest example of a fundamental change to the business that is allowing bands to break through via viral hype alone, with no outside backing.

Music executives admit the industry has been slow to capitalize on the phenomenon. Having focused much of its attention on cracking down on illegal file sharing, labels have missed an opportunity to make money from downloads to compensate for falling CD sales.

Global digital music sales more than doubled in the first half of 2006, year-over-year industry figures show, but the overall market fell 4 percent.

Koopa is not the first act to harness the Internet--the Arctic Monkeys in Britain won a huge online following before securing a record-label deal, and went on to have the fastest-selling debut album in the country's history.

But they are unlikely to be the last, argues Murphy.

"We've played with many good bands who could definitely make it and I hope they do now," he said, flanked by brothers Stu and Ollie Cooper, drummer and guitarist/vocalist, respectively.

"They're the kind of bands that record labels wouldn't touch normally, but now either record labels are going to have to touch them or they are going to do it themselves."

The band was critical of big record companies and what they said was a tendency to change bands' style and music. Ollie, 19, recalled one unsuccessful meeting with a major label.

"It was going well, this little meeting we had, and then they said 'What would you do if we told you what to do?' And I told them to get lost and we left."

Murphy said Koopa had received several phone calls from record labels--both major and independent--since their recent success, and the band was not averse to signing a deal.

"It's almost like the boot's on the other foot and we're saying to the record labels: 'Well, you've got to come to us and impress us and make us want to sign to your label' rather than us going to them."

The band may be going to the United States to record for a label there, and its members believe they have a secret weapon to crack that key market, which many British groups have failed to conquer.

When Stu, 25, turns his head to one side, his spiked hair is a spitting image of the Statue of Liberty's pointed crown.

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