Zoo Banking On Enhanced CD For Dogstar
by Carolyn Horwitz
New York -- The staff at Zoo Entertainment want to do the right thing. They'd like to treat Dogstar, a three-piece pop band from Los Angeles, like they would any other new signing. But it's tough to do so when the bass player is an international movie star, and as a result, some unusual marketing tactics come into play.
Dogstar's debut release, Quattro [Formaggi], represents Zoo's initial foray into enhanced CDs. A four-track EP released July 16, "Quattro [Formaggi]" is meant to serve as a precursor to the band's full-length album, Our Little Visionary, due Aug. 27.
It would be difficult for Zoo to deny allegations that it is using a visual medium solely to capitalize on the famous face of Dogstar bassist Keanu Reeves. Jeff Dodes, senior director of marketing and A&R at Zoo, admits as much: "We're not necessarily focusing on Keanu Reeves as the hingepoint in this band, but clearly, his name and reputation precede him. With him being a visual artist as it is, it really does make sense for the first project to introduce him to be in a visual medium."
The enhanced portion of Quattro [Formaggi] was produced and funded by San Diego-based nu.millennia inc. According to Don Doerfler, VP of creative development, the company initially approached Zoo with the idea of creating an enhanced CD for label artist Matthew Sweet. But, Doerfler says, "the timing wasn't right," and the label suggested that the project be transferred to Dogstar.
Some sort of visual venture had always been in the plans for Dogstar. Freelance video producer/director Joe Charbanic -- a longtime friend of the band members whose credits include work on videos by Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, George Michael, and Amy Grant -- was paid $20,000 by the band to film its late-1995 tour. Charbanic says, "I was hanging out with them, helping them with their gear, just to go to parties and meet girls . . . When (Dogstar) started getting big, everyone needed a position. They wanted me to go (on the tour), but they couldn't figure out what I could do, so they said, "Why don't you make a documentary?" "
When the band returned from the tour, it signed with Zoo, which bought the rights to Charbanic's video footage without having a specific use for it in mind. When nu.millennia brought up the idea of an enhanced CD, Zoo offered the use of the existing footage. Thus, instead of Charbanic's plans to use it for "a Truth Or Dare thing" a la Madonna, the footage became the basis for the enhanced portion of Quattro [Formaggi].
The enhanced CD follows Dogstar to Seattle, New York, Australia, Los Angeles, Mount Rushmore, S.D., and Tucson, Ariz. Each site is represented by a screen that contains a collage of appropriate landmarks, scenery, and indigenous objects. When the user clicks on the various random hotspots, Charbanic's gritty, black-and-white footage of the band appears: on the tour bus, at the airport, backstage, surfing, discussing bodily functions. Clicking on hidden pieces of cheese elicits full-length live performance videos of the songs on the EP, the quattro [formaggi], or four cheeses.
Zoo is distributing Quattro [Formaggi] to music retail channels, and nu.millennia is distributing it to computer software channels in exchange for a percentage of profits. Nu.millennia's production costs for the enhanced portion of the CD were $65,000-$80,000, according to Doerfler.
Zoo is not looking for Quattro [Formaggi], which retails for $9.98, as a vehicle to break Dogstar or reap huge financial rewards for the label. Dodes says, "We're not looking at this enhanced CD as a profit center or a place where we're going to make a lot of money . . . enhanced CDs in general in the U.S. aren't doing that well. That's not a big concern; we want this thing to sell because we want people to see the band, get to know them, and hopefully decide that it's a band they want to know more about and will buy the full length when it comes out."
The band members feel that the disc's videoclips offer a fair representation of their respective personalities. Reeves says, "You see me banging the camera a lot, and there are brief moments when I'm smiling into it, and that's me."
Vocalist/guitarist Bret Domrose adds, "It was just (shot) for fun, and that's what makes this project really cool. There are a lot of private things, no inhibitions on the part of the band members, because we thought it was just going to be for our own use, for memories of the tour.
"It was very representative of everything that went on, personality-wise, and all the moods are captured really well. I feel like you get to know each of the band members."
Reeves, Domrose, and drummer Rob Mailhouse are, for the most part, represented equally on the enhanced CD, but Charbanic admits that when his initial 40 hours of tour footage were edited for use on the disc, Reeves' presence was played up slightly. "I obviously know that that's what sells tickets. And Zoo doesn't admit they want that, but of course, they want that," Charbanic says.
Reeves' celebrity factor truly is a Catch-22 for the label. Dodes says, "I don't want this to be all about Keanu Reeves, but by the same token, we're not trying to hide it or downplay it, because it's a big factor."
Despite the inclusion on the enhanced CD of self-mocking footage of Reeves repeatedly slapping his hand over the camera lens, the bassist is well aware of the importance of such publicity to the success of Dogstar. Of his participation in the marketing of the band, he says, "Originally, I just wanted to be in a band and play music . . . but if someone offers to sign you, and you say yes, then you have a certain responsibility."
Domrose and Mailhouse say that Reeves' fame is both a blessing and a curse for Dogstar. While they appreciate the advantages that Reeves' celebrity brings, such as the opportunity to create the enhanced CD, they are forced to plan tours around Reeves' busy film-shooting schedule and were scrutinized by the press early in their careers, before they felt their playing was up to speed. Mailhouse says, "It's always going to happen (that people will focus on Reeves). I mean, he's an international film star . . . But I guess it's all about the music--if the music is good, and we're writing decent songs, I'm happy. The rest of the stuff we have no control over."
Domrose adds, "We wanted to keep this about the music and not a freak show exploiting one member of the band more than another. That's a really tough obstacle to overcome, but we're doing it pretty successfully so far."
The object of all this attention is modest when asked about the possibility of his celebrity status overshadowing Dogstar as a band. "I don't really consider myself that famous, so I don't have anything to worry about," Reeves says. "The three of us come together, we play in this band, and I'm just trying to play the music, and hopefully, people will hear it and dig it."