Little Tybee and the art of commerce
Folk-pop visionaries get creative with indie marketing
A 50-year-old General Electric transistor radio was nothing more than a curious relic when Brock Scott inherited it from his father. Scott, the singer/songwriter for Little Tybee, was packing for a biking trip on the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain when he became intrigued by the radio's symbolic potential. He was inspired by the image of his father listening to it as he traveled around the world as a navigator for the transatlantic shipping industry.
Scott filmed the radio at different points along the scenic trail, playing songs from Little Tybee's forthcoming self-titled album. Afterward, he saw something bigger taking shape. "When you think about things that go viral on the internet, they often have something to do with world travel," Scott says.
Little Tybee's music shares a similar globe-trotting sensibility with the new album's visual aesthetic. Brock and bandmates guitarist Josh Martin, violinist Nirvana Kelly, drummer Pat Brooks, keyboard player Chris Case, and bass player Ryan Donald revel in pastoral folk pop. The band's songwriting is complex, preferring brisk changes in time and rhythm, but every member's abilities serve the band's signature blissful harmonies and melodies.
Scott wanted to create something more than the gimmick of a selfie or GoPro video taken at every stop, something that would pick up traction on the internet.
By day, Scott builds props for movie sets. He enlisted help from Myron Lo, a business partner who specializes in electrical engineering, to expand his transistor radio idea. They bought several radios on eBay and turned each one into a listening device for Little Tybee's forthcoming album, complete with an LED visualizer that lights up with the music. "Our intention was to create something that was open source and easy to tweak," Lo says. "You can actually change the colors on the visualizers so the radios can be personalized in that way."
Scott sent radios to friends around the world, eventually using social media to recruit videographers to film them while following a few simple rules: The video has to be shot in one take while it plays a song from Little Tybee's self-titled record. Any kind of camera is acceptable. Nearly 200 submissions have come in so far. Scott plans to cut it off at 400, and will edit the shorts into a series of YouTube videos. In the meantime, Little Tybee's website features a small sampling of these videos: Radios are flanked by misty mountains, curious monkeys, and towering pagodas.
Little Tybee's success as a group is partially due to embracing the creative potential of self-promotion. In 2011, the group raised $11,131 through Kickstarter to fund a puppet-themed video for the song "Boxcar Fair," featuring a visual collaboration between Scott and artist Tom Haney. The band similarly used Kickstarter to fund recording its upcoming record, raising more than $20,000 by offering rewards such as a custom USB drive, styled like the transistor radios, containing the album.
"For a band to survive today you need to understand that you are a business and the marketing strategies that you apply are the same you would with any business," Scott says. "There's a lot of marketing power bands have that they don't realize."
Crowdsourcing projects such as these paved the way for the group to remain financially viable without relying on press from national outlets such as Pitchfork, or a major label's budget.
"There's a misconception of success in the music industry: If you're not written about by these blogs then you're not a valid act," Scott says. "Bands that stick out the most to me are the bands that go against that notion and create their own path."
Scott drew inspiration from the role coin-operated viewfinders play in shaping people's experiences and memories to promote Little Tybee's 2013 album, For Distant Viewing. The transistor radio is a similar thematic centerpiece for the upcoming album. Placing radios around the world evokes a sense of unity and music's ability to transcend cultures.
Scott announced in January that Little Tybee was parting ways with its label Paper Garden Records to self-produce. The decision came naturally after years of resourcefully finding ways to connect with audiences without industry funds. He launched On the Grid Creative, a label and management entity to house his creative works under one moniker. "There are creative and genuine ways to approach marketing," Scott says. "I look at it the same way I would the creation of our music."
Eventually he wants to integrate circuitry from the radios into sculptures to stream new Little Tybee songs from various objects. These "Tybee devices," as he calls them, would provide a consistent means of engaging with the band as opposed to the traditional ebb and flow of content where artists make music, tour, and disappear from public view until another album cycle begins.
"We want to come up with a flow that doesn't have that arc but is just consistent input," he says. "That's how you stay relevant and become a successful, creative entity."
Little Tybee builds a bomb
A brief history of the folk-pop outfit’s road to independence
Building a Bomb
Little Tybee’s first CD established the band’s twin threads of self-reliance and DIY marketing. For the 2009 debut, Brock Scott and Co. hand-designed individual CD covers resembling antique childhood pop-up books. The process was painfully meticulous as 500 CD sleeves were individually glued, cut, and folded so that every cover became its own piece of art.
Humorous to Bees
|For 2011’s Humorous to Bees, Little Tybee signed to Paper Garden Records. CDs were pressed but they took a backseat to small, pop-out bee sculptures with QR codes attached and hidden at various tour stops. The bees’ locations were teased with clues posted to Twitter and Facebook. Those who found the bees and scanned the code were treated to a video of Scott’s grandmother in a bee costume proclaiming, “Congratulations, you found the secret bee, click the link below to get the album for free.”|
In fall 2011, Scott and kinetic sculptor Tom Haney began a Kickstarter campaign to fund a short film involving Haney’s puppetry and Little Tybee’s song “Boxcar Fair.” In just two months backers pledged $11,131. The seeds for self-reliance were planted.
For Distant Viewing
Little Tybee flexed its hashtag muscle to promote its third album. For Distant Viewing hinges on a coin-operated viewfinder used as the centerpiece of the band’s social media campaign. Fans were invited to take a picture of any viewfinder they discovered and tag it with #ForDistantViewing to build hype and craft an aesthetic.
In January 2016, Scott announced that Little Tybee had parted ways with Paper Garden Records. He launched On the Grid Creative, a self-run management/label entity to encompass all of his creative works. The band started a Kickstarter campaign to fund its self-titled fourth album, and by March backers had pledged a staggering $21,272.