In a subterranean Sydney bar on Monday night, Vodafone and Motorola hosted a private gig featuring Sandi Thom -- the Scottish singer who rose to international fame via a series of Webcam-captured basement concerts from the quaintly named suburb of Tooting.
Thom's tech-aided ascent to pop princess status (her platinum-selling I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair) has been in the ARIA singles chart for 18 weeks) has recently been the subject of much speculation on the Web. Several commentators have suggested that the entire heart-warming story is a crock, and that, in a manner reminiscent of YouTube's Lonelygirl15 scandal, Sandi's plight is the well-planned construction of a marketing company.
Whether her claims of DIY promotion are authentic or not, Sandi Thom embodies a swag of issues about the role of the Internet in the making or breaking of musicians. MySpace, YouTube and cheap-as-chips recording hardware have placed the means of production into the hands of your average punter, meaning the days of sending out demos to unsmiling record bosses could be numbered. But is the homemade approach to breaking into the market all it's cracked up to be? Certainly it involves a lot of contradictions, and carries the risk that the loyal fans who build a band up will ditch their heroes once they are snapped up by a commercial label and groomed for superstardom.
Back at the Sandi Thom gig, there were some amusing inconsistencies. In introducing the singer, Motorola's Andrew Volard stressed that she was chosen because she has an understanding of, and appreciation for, the use of technology to showcase music. Thom then played a five-song set, ending on her mega-hit single, which harks back to a more fulfilling time, when computers were scary things, and the media "couldn't buy your soul".
Following the conclusion of the performance, which incidentally was held to celebrate the launch of the Motorola V3xx mobile phone, Thom expressed thanks to the assembled media, and accepted a spanking new phone for her efforts. We knew she liked it, because she had earlier given the crowd an unsolicited rundown on its more impressive technical features.
Sell out or savvy, self-styled musician? The story behind the girl who wants to be a punk rocker remains a mystery; and perhaps that's just the way she (and her management team) like it.
Sandi Thom singing in a garden of Motorola and Vodafone logos