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MTV Aims to Keep It Totally Honest on ‘Total Request Live’

A video appearing on MTV’s “Total Request Live” almost guarantees a big boost in record sales, so record companies would do almost anything these days to get a clip into the daily Top 10 countdown.

Wary of vote manipulation, the folks at MTV are working hard to make sure that they can’t. They want to ensure that a “TRL” breakthrough--which been credited for huge sales by such acts as Christina Aguilera, Kid Rock, Creed and the Backstreet Boys--is legitimately coming from the fans, whose phone calls and e-mails are tallied to determine the chosen videos.

“We go through every precaution,” says Tom Calderone, the music channel’s senior vice president of music and talent.

Voting, he says, is weighted heavily to the phone requests, which are taken each day for only a half-hour period. E-mails count less in the calculations. And “TRL” staff members are regularly looking for signs of anything fishy, such as automated programs to send in multiple e-mail votes, or entries from record company employees.

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“If we see multiple votes from the same e-mail address, for example, we don’t count them,” Calderone says. “Being the jaded one, I always think people are trying to manipulate the system. But I’ve never seen something that made me go, ‘How’d that get on “TRL”?’ If something did get on there that didn’t belong, our ratings would go down and we’d eventually be off the air.”

It’s not so much the left-field entries that figure into the equation, though, but rather the ones that might be close to cracking the Top 10 and just need a little kick. Word around the music business is that just a few thousand calls or e-mails can make the difference between a video that misses the cut and one that makes it into the bottom few slots--and a shot at a sales jackpot. The Top 5 tends to stay fairly constant over the course of a week, but the second five can vary greatly from day to day.

To that end, the strategies that are paying off for record companies are ones that make use of Internet access to fans, who can be bombarded with reminders to cast their votes for their favorites. Every act that offers a free MP3 download is collecting the e-mail addresses of fans, who then can be easily contacted about upcoming events and marshaled into an effective campaign force. “TRL” is the perfect vehicle for that kind of fan participation.

“This is the ‘American Bandstand’ of the late ‘90s,” says Jack Rovner, executive vice president and general manager of RCA Records, which has had great “TRL” success with Aguilera and the Foo Fighters. “There is a hard-core fan base that wants to know about new music and root and vote for their favorite artists, so there is competition between the different fan bases [to have their favorites win].”

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Creed, which built a huge e-mail fan base before releasing its recent “Human Clay” album, has a link on its Web site (https://www.creednet.com) with the “TRL” logo that, with just one click, takes fans straight to the show’s voting page. “TRL” exposure for the band in the weeks before the album’s release is in part credited with its huge first-week sales.

Gary Fisher, vice president of video promotion for Columbia Records, actually thinks that it’s better for record companies in the long run that the process remain untainted. One group he’s working with, Destiny’s Child, has started showing up on “TRL” recent weeks, and he says that the success on the program should direct marketing strategies, not vice versa.

“It’s pure and I hope it stays that way,” he says. “It’s the only honest gauge we have from a video standpoint. We can see what the audience wants to see and what’s working or not. And if requests start coming out of nowhere, we know there’s another audience for an act.” 'CLEAR SAILING: Not long ago it looked as if there wouldn’t be a new album from the band Everclear in 2000. Now there will be two. Frontman Art Alexakis had been working on what was to be his first solo album, with plans to release it in the spring. But recently he reevaluated the material he was putting together and decided that it would sound better as a band project.

The album, “Songs From an American Movie Vol. 1,” will be released in March or April, but before then, Alexakis and Everclear will come together again to record another album, “American Movie Vol. 2.” Though the titles are the same, the difference in the two sets, he says, will be clear from the subtitles--"Learning How to Smile” and “Good Time for a Bad Attitude,” respectively. The first one is lush, with horns and strings ornamentation. The second one, he says, will be harder and “weirder.”

If his solo debut is on hold, Alexakis is making a belated debut as a record company executive. He’d had a position at Capitol, Everclear’s label, as an artists and repertoire executive. But during the two years of the deal, he was never given a green light to sign any acts. So he has now struck a deal for his own label, Popularity Records, which will be distributed by former Mercury chairman Danny Goldberg’s new Artemis Records.


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