Heather is looking rather skeptical in this shot.
What’s for homework today? Get magazines on a phishing hook for a music track. Earlier today, a large number of music and culture publications received an email from Biz3 that purported to contain a new track by the band Salem. The press release was of a variety received in the hundreds daily by all of these publications. It included a quote from Jack Donoghue, one of the band members, describing the process behind writing this song: “We wanted to do something new on this tour, so we made it a ritual every night after a show to work on one song. This is what came from that. It’s all about the drag environment of being incredibly tired, in a dream-state, wasted or on something, and forcing something creative from the mutual confused experience.”
The track itself was slow molasses, dragged lyrics and lacked any puncture or excitement points, the latter usually a defining characteristic of a Salem track. At best, this was low level material for them, but this was somewhat supported by the quote in the press release, mentioning this was recorded and mixed after playing a show and spending time in the city of the day on the Salem tour. It would be an excusable, ‘we were tired recording’, something you keep to yourself and come back to with energy later.
The track was posted with the quote alongside it, and it was listened to by many ears. However, Salem soon sent out notes to their friends and fans: “There is a song going around called “Nite Daze” that someone is trying to pass off as ours… WE HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THAT SONG or the quote that’s going along with it : (“. They noted later that their publicist was impersonated by an avatar.
We were wary of the original email because the person who signed the email wasn’t anyone that we knew from Biz3 and in these relationships, even if one sided 90 percent of the time, we always know the names of the people, their particular language and the styles that they represent. I decided to take a closer look, and found that the email domain that sent the email was close but not quite biz3.net, instead it was biz3pr.info. I did a lookup on the WhoIs database that keeps a list of all registrants of domains and found the key to the puzzle. The domain was registered on April 5th, 2011 to one Abigail _____, her email was listed there as well. Looking her name up in Google brought another peace of unexpected info, she was an intern for Pendu, the culture magazine that put on the first Salem show in NY. She would know the “relevancy” of the name, I reasoned, and I started working on the theory that this was a self-promotion project. Note, I confirmed that Todd Pendu had no knowledge of this and did not participate in any way, he was one of the first to fall for it though.
Thus far all I had was of course speculation, so I sent a quick email to the person who registered the site:
An email impersonating a Biz3 publicist has been sent from your domain biz3pr.info. It contained some information that was shortly proven to be false. I was wondering if you know anything about this?”
Very quickly a reply arrived:
Sorry, it was a social experiment. The explanation email that I sent follows–
Sorry for punking all of you. This was a culture jamming assignment for my NYU class, Digital Art with Brad Troemel. We were asked to intervene into society using the internet. I was mimicking the work of Eva and Franco Mattes, who turned a lolcat into a fake sculpture by Maurizio Cattelan (http://rhizome.org/discuss/view/47989/), where it was positively received. But here I was questioning “what is music” rather than “what is art” – would something made in 20 minutes be received positively if given a name to back it? It also was meant to be a demonstration of internet hype and the speed of the blogosphere, especially with buzz bands.
Stepping back to the idea… during the mastering of my LP with my band (that is not witch house at all), we opened the title track and Pro Tools misread the sampling rate, so it played at half the tempo and pitched down. I thought that if I added snares, and generated lyrics off of the Witch House Name Generator (chillwitchnamemagic.com), add some flanger/reverb plugins, I could get away with fooling a couple of small blogs. The song took 20 minutes to doctor. Afterwards I bought the domain “biz3pr.info” to sound like “biz3.net” and made a fake email, did some HTML work to look like a real release.
I apologize for ruffling feathers, I didn’t expect this to get as big as it did.. It was an interesting social experiment.
The original track is attached if you’d like to hear it, to round everything up. “Endless Days” by Dream Affair. Our debut LP is out digitally in May and on vinyl in July… brings new meaning to the term ‘publicity stunt’ huh.
NYU, now taking over our internet waves, man.
The end goal of a publicist is to generate the golden buzz for their client, usually, not by the means of a hoax. An established agency can’t risk taking false information and turning it into a positive bottom line, but those waiting on the sidelines are free from considering the implications of breaking trust with the recipients of their communicaes. That is the trove of an interesting hoax, a good impersonation of a trusted entity combined with a message that the public desires. The Nigerian scam only works as far as it’s believable combined with the gullibility of the recipient. And of course we still remember the Cartoon Network neon signs in Boston that elevated the terror alert to red in that city, never mind the I Hate You Sarah Marshall stuff, that was annoying when it turned corporate. Thankfully, in this case, it was the work of a guerilla, a small group that did this really as an experiment under the watchful eye of an NYU professor, not as an abuse of our visual and auditory space for the means of selling more bad candy while enriching the few.
If I had to grade the execution of this assignment on a very strict scale, I would give it a B. The registration of the domain should have been made private, it’s an added expense, but with a private registration, the sleuthing we did wouldn’t have brought results so quickly. The information was left out in the open, including the registrant’s phone number. Also the use of font wasn’t exact, in fact the use of color purple (instead of plain black) was mentioned explicitly by Kathryn Frazier of Biz3. Otherwise, on a more lenient scale, it’s a solid A; the track got on a good amount of major music blogs, those who intimately know Salem tracks and whose readers expect to post new releases.
There is only one higher level of success: make a better track.
PS. The image distributed with the original email is from the Salem show at S!CK in NYC, the one we so lovingly put together, and I swear I can see my face somewhere in the blur of the background watching this band perform live, completely in awe.