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‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúWe were the company that started carrying rock tees, and then everyone else joined the bandwagon, like JCPenney and Wal-Mart,‚Äù said Tampa Bay district manager Kelli Artley, who organizes the events. ‚ÄúWe said, ‚ÄòWhere is our niche in the music business, because everybody is carrying these rock tees?‚Äô"
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‚Äôs an unwritten rule that all sales stop during the half-hour sets, because customers are intimidated to shop in the crowded, noisy space.
‚ÄúOther mall merchants complain because of the noise level, but other than that everyone is really receptive,‚Äù 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.
‚ÄúWe don‚Äôt get much out of it,‚Äù Artley said. But, she added, ‚ÄúIt is very cool to us to see the experience for the band and to connect with them.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúHot Topic puts local bands in touch with what is pretty much the best demographic local bands could be in touch with ‚Äî namely, younger folks who just really like music but who otherwise might not have the opportunity to be exposed to locals,‚Äù Tailgunner Joe‚Äôs frontman, Travis Hearne, told tbt* in February.
But even with its emphasis on up-and-comers, Hot Topic remains committed to the mainstream scene.
‚ÄúWe 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,‚Äù Artley said. ‚ÄúHow cool is it to be able to go through the mall on a Tuesday night and hear live music?‚Äù
Hot Topic in-store concerts
All shows start at 7 p.m. and are free for all ages. Here‚Äôs the schedule of upcoming performances.
Maegan Grace @ Westfield Countryside, Clearwater
Tailgunner Joe @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey
Gladiator @ University Mall, Tampa (unconfirmed)
John Gold @ Gulf View Square Mall, Port Richey
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
Maegan Grace @ the Shops at Wiregrass, Wesley Chapel
Tailgunner Joe @ Westfield Countryside, Clearwater
John Gold @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Pete
Gladiator @ Westfield Sarasota Square, Sarasota (unconfirmed)
Redliners @ Tyrone Square Mall, St. Pete
John Gold @ Westfield Brandon, Brandon
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.]