The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. The greatest trick Shone ever pulled was instilling a faint, ever-growing hope that Shone was a long-awaited Brand New album, a Brand New side project, a Brand New single, a Brand New anything. And, like the suckers we all are, we (as a community) fell for it, and we fell for it hard.
We were asked to “Be Patient,” and we were. Look who was warning us to be patient: Vinnie Caruana. Kevin Devine. Manchester Orchestra. Balance & Composure. Thrice. We didn’t know what we were being patient for. Heck, all Shone gave us to ponder was a minute-long clip of a creaking windmill, Rorschach blotch monsters, and unintelligible whispers. But just look over the list of bands that stamped their approval on the project. We were hooked, even before rumors of involvement from the oft-dormant Brand New front.
The rumor mill started clanking away when we saw Brian Lane, longtime Brand New collaborator Mike Sapone, and guitar-slinger Vin Accardi’s kid brother, Andrew, remind us to “Be Patient.” The c-c-controversy hit a fever pitch; Shone sold out a February concert — a venue capped at 250 concertgoers — before a single band member was announced, and on the strength of a song and a half (clocking in at a hair over two minutes, “Defender 237” is an interlude and nothing else). So how did such a well-structured viral campaign flame out as quickly and spectacularly as Shone did? Why the heck did Heat Thing cool off so rapidly?
Flame out might be the wrong way to phrase it. The AbsolutePunk thread dedicated to unraveling Shone’s mystery is the site’s biggest news thread of all time, sprawling out over 18,000 comments (and counting). The campaign itself was planned down to a science — generate social media buzz, release a steady stream of videos, and divulge information slowly and deliberately from an off-kilter source: ghostly puppet-master Levi Gudmundson. And yes: word puzzle sleuths figured out pretty darn quickly that descrambling the name gives you both “Devil” and “God.” Raging Inside Me sold separately. Heck, an unknown vandal scrawled the name “Levi” in black spray paint under the band’s iconic graffiti on the brick wall of a Long Island bowling alley.
Rallying around Gudmundson, the part-time detectives, full-time Shone fanatics fostered a community dedicated to solving clues and piecing together the mystery. The campaign did brilliantly to involve its followers — fans on Shone’s mailing list received letters to follow coordinates and trek out on a scavenger hunt for flash drives loaded with the band’s first song. Shone did a heck of a lot of things right: Matthew Reid’s art design captivated, Gudmundson’s enigmatic tweets teased, and the band’s fans stayed patient. At least, most were patient before the campaign took a nosedive in a hurry.
So, where did the wheels start falling off? Well, for the longest time, no one knew who Shone was. The mystery died quickly when “Piano Wire Number 12” leaked its way onto virtually every file-sharing site. Before hearing the pseudo-single, fans were still saying rosaries that Shone was Brand New related. And why wouldn’t they? Innocent until proven guilty, Brand New until proven otherwise. Before the song dropped, expectations for the project’s music were tantamount: save for possibly The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, Part 2, not much would live up to them. Especially not a melodramatic romp laden with fuzzy, industrial guitar work, which, like it or not, was what fans got from “Piano Wire.” It sounded nothing like any of the bands that tweeted about Heat Thing, and even less like Brand New. Astute fans pinpointed the vocalist as Andrew Accardi, and all signs pointed to an already rumored Brian Lane/Andrew Accardi collaboration.
Okay, so “Piano Wire Number 12” isn’t what a lot of fans were hoping for. And neither was heavily-distorted instrumental track “Defender 237.” But there were still reasons to hold out hope, to keep watching, to be patient. Some desperate fans pointed to a two-second clip from “Piano Wire,” swearing that Jesse Lacey contributed backing screams. And if Brian Lane was in the band with the younger Accardi brother, maybe that meant more Brand New members pitched in — at least Mike Sapone’s sleek production fingerprints were all over the track. On January 1, Shone’s debut album, Heat Thing, was announced for a February 5 release date. A day later, Shone released “Baby Shakes.”
It’s hard to point at one moment in time of the campaign and say, “Yep, that’s where it fell apart.” Nonetheless, if “Piano Wire Number 12,” campy theatrics and all, were in the same neighborhood as Brand New, “Baby Shakes” drove fifteen exits past Brand New’s already tough-to-place sound. Accardi’s Robert-Smith-meets-David-Byrne histrionics, and a throaty chorus of “earthquake, milkshake,” divided the same community that Shone fostered in the first place. Denial faded; anger stepped in. Kevin Devine, Vinnie Caruana, Manchester Orchestra and Balance and Composure reminded us to be patient for this?
The Heat Thing campaign started out as a clinic on patience. Be patient, and eventually you’ll find things out. That repeating mantra builds hype, builds tension, and builds a community of patient fans. But those patient fans all expect a payoff: it’s a basic rule of storytelling that the bigger the build-up, the bigger the payoff must be. While it was a masterstroke for Shone to release tickets for its first show while the excitement was still a kind of hysteria, the campaign simply overplayed its hand. Instead of leveling with fans after “Piano Wire Number 12” with a press release naming names, Shone kept the lineup close to its chest for too long.
The campaign still had a fighting chance after “Piano Wire Number 12.” Shone should’ve come right out and announced its members, a release date, and the album’s name. Instead, they gambled, releasing a snoozer (“Defender 237) and an almost universally hated single (“Baby Shakes”), more pseudo-cryptic bullshit, and kept teasing fans, especially with a vinyl release on Brand New’s Procrastinate! Music Traitors record label. Had fans known Shone featured Andrew and Vin Accardi, Brian Lane, Brand New techs Ben Homola and Joe Cannetti, and Mike Standberg of Kevin Devine’s Goddamn Band fame right after “Piano Wire,” most would’ve settled. Fine, it’s not Brand New, but at least we know whom we’re dealing with.
Instead, Shone kept notching up the buildup until it hit a level that the project just wouldn’t live up to the hype. Wearing short term lenses, the Shone campaign was enormously successful — it garnered massive buzz in a short span of time, sold out a concert that otherwise wouldn’t have been likely to, and grew an enthusiastic, if fickle, fan base. From a long-term perspective though, Shone flopped, and it flopped big time. The air of mystery that drew in fans eventually felt forced, patience ran thin, and the band couldn’t deliver on a huge payoff. The biggest news to come out of the band’s first show was Jesse Lacey telling a fan at the bar that Brand New is working on something for tentatively this summer: there’s a problem if your big ole’ campaign gets upstaged that easily.
So what lesson can viral marketeers take away from the meteoric rise and fall of Shone? Make your fans be patient, just don’t make them have to be patient for too long. And if you’re promising something huge, you’d better damn well do better than a flimsy nine-song full-length and a few shows.
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- mrbriancomputer said: Don’t understand why everyone is so mad that it’s not Brand New. I thoroughly enjoyed Andrew’s weird, psychotic love ramblings throughout heatthing.
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- unpackyrbags said: I thought the show was actually a lot of fun and it was really entertaining. If people just stop expecting so much from other people, they won’t get so disapointed when it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted it to.
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