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Hot Topic offers bands free exposure




Hot Topicjust got a little hotter.


The retail chain, which since 1988 has sold music-inspired clothing, accessories and gifts, now holds in-store acoustic concerts. Late last year, the store’s nationwide locations began hosting free shows to spotlight unsigned musicians. A handful of local bands, including rock groups Tailgunner Joe, Select Start and the Woodwork, have taken advantage of the gratis exposure.


Hot Topic offers the concerts, known internally as local statics, to help distinguish itself from the growing number of retailers that sell music-related apparel.


“We were the company that started carrying rock tees, and then everyone else joined the bandwagon, like JCPenney and Wal-Mart,” said Tampa Bay district manager Kelli Artley, who organizes the events. “We said, ‘Where is our niche in the music business, because everybody is carrying these rock tees?’"

Their niche, it turns out, is to feature local artists for 30 minutes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Store managers push back the display fixtures and position the bands so passersby can see them from the shop window. It’s an unwritten rule that all sales stop during the half-hour sets, because customers are intimidated to shop in the crowded, noisy space.

“Other mall merchants complain because of the noise level, but other than that everyone is really receptive,” Artley said. To appease mall neighbors, most Hot Topics insist that musicians perform unplugged. The exception is the Shops at Wiregrass, whose store features full-electric shows Thursdays through the end of May. On March 26, every Hot Topic in the country booked an in-store concerts, and the chain plans to offer three more companywide show dates this year.


At first Artley had to seek out the artists, and most listeners were shoppers who happened to wander in to the store. But now that bands are getting the word out, the talent comes to her, and the audiences stop by specifically for the show.


All genres are welcome; Artley has booked everything from metal to hip-hop, which is all the more welcome since Hot Topic recently began carrying urban gear like Lil Wayne T-shirts and Kanye West-inspired aviator sunglasses.


Neither Hot Topic nor the bands get paid, but the musicians are encouraged to sell and sign CDs and other merch after the performance. The bands keep all proceeds.


“We don’t get much out of it,” Artley said. But, she added, “It is very cool to us to see the experience for the band and to connect with them.”


Interested performers should contact the manager of their local Hot Topic. Bands are required to create a flier about the show, post the concert info on their MySpace page two weeks before the gig and send an e-mail blast a week before. They must be unsigned.


“Hot Topic puts local bands in touch with what is pretty much the best demographic local bands could be in touch with — namely, younger folks who just really like music but who otherwise might not have the opportunity to be exposed to locals,” Tailgunner Joe’s frontman, Travis Hearne, told tbt* in February.


But even with its emphasis on up-and-comers, Hot Topic remains committed to the mainstream scene.

“We still focus on the big money-maker bands. We still carry Led Zeppelin T-shirts and Rolling Stone, but we want to be known for new music,” Artley said. “How cool is it to be able to go through the mall on a Tuesday night and hear live music?”


Hot Topic in-store concerts

All shows start at 7 p.m. and are free for all ages. Here’s the schedule of upcoming performances.

April 14

Maegan Grace @ Westfield Countryside, Clearwater

Tailgunner Joe @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey

April 15

Gladiator @ University Mall, Tampa (unconfirmed)

John Gold @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey

April 16

Claiborne @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Pete

Gladiator @ the Shops at Wiregrass, Wesley Chapel

Maegan Grace @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey

Tailgunner Joe @ Westfield Sarasota Square, Sarasota

Not Tonight Josephine @ International Plaza, Tampa

April 21

Maegan Grace @ the Shops at Wiregrass, Wesley Chapel

Tailgunner Joe @ Westfield Countryside, Clearwater

John Gold @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Pete

April 22

Gladiator @ Westfield Sarasota Square, Sarasota (unconfirmed)

Redliners @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Pete

John Gold @ Westfield Brandon, Brandon

April 23

Not Tonight Josephine @ Westfield Brandon, Brandon

Meagan Grace @ University Mall, Tampa

Redliners @ Westfield Sarasota Square, Sarasota

Actions Speak Louder @ the Shops at Wiregrass, Wesley Chapel

John Gold @ International Plaza, Tampa

Hatchetface @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Petersburg


Maegan Grace @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Petersburg


Gladiator @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey (unconfirmed)


Maegan Grace @ International Plaza, Tampa

211 Clariborne @ University Mall, Tampa

Scottie T and Captiva Key @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Petersburg


-- Dalia Col??n, tbt*

Contributing: Julie Garisto


[Photo by Luis Santana: Matt Ross and Jeffrey Balistreri of The Woodwork play an acoustic set April 9 at the International Plaza Hot Topic.]

[Last modified: Thursday, April 9, 2009 3:13pm]


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