Cover Story

TAKING CARE OF BUZZ-INESS: MEET ALTERNATIVE ROCK'S BEST FRIEND

THE BUZZ BIN HAS BEEN MAKING STARS FASTER THAN YOU CAN SAY MTV

Andy Schuon is the most powerful man in the music business. An overstatement? Perhaps. But consider the evidence. Each week, he and a committee of 20 MTV employees choose which videos will go into the Buzz Bin-MTV's name for the heavy rotation of selected alternative or cutting-edge clips. Roughly 75 percent of songs in the Bin will push their respective albums to gold or platinum. In a matter of weeks. It's called instant stardom, and it's happening with astonishing regularity. Moreover, it is happening with bands that no one would have considered contenders for mainstream success five years ago. Acts like Nirvana, Arrested Development, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have all leaped to the top of the pop charts since the Buzz Bin's inception. ''It's an incredible vehicle for instant recognition and sales,'' says Gary Kurfirst, chief of Radioactive Records. ''Let's call it a rocket.'' Or a well-oiled machine, at any rate. Videos added to the Bin get played between 12 and 30 times a week, staying for as long as 15 weeks. In addition, MTV, which reaches 58 million homes in the U.S., puts all of its considerable muscle behind it, profiling the bands on news shows, using their music for promotional clips, and instructing VJs to talk the bands up when introducing the clips. ''The Buzz Bin is our way of saying 'Of all the things on MTV, here's what you should pay attention to,''' says Schuon, 30, senior vice president of music and programming. MTV officials even meet with label reps to talk about marketing strategy-a troubling collaboration to some because it almost makes the channel an extension of the labels. But MTV says it's interested only in making sure that all parties are prepared for the image boost a Buzz clip brings. ''It's hard to fathom,'' says Gavin Rossdale, lead singer of the British band Bush. ''MTV made (our success) happen so quick.'' Bush is in fine company-a rarefied enclave of handpicked acts that includes Live, Dig, Lisa Loeb, Oasis, Counting Crows, and Green Day, the latter two being prime examples of the Buzz Bin's extraordinary power. After Crows' ''Mr. Jones'' was added, its August and Everything After album moved from No. 70 to No. 10 in just four weeks. And Green Day's Dookie has now sold 6 million copies (5 million more than Jimmy Page and Robert Plant's No Quarter), thanks in large part to heavy rotation of three clips. Such clout would seemingly make Schuon and his crew all-knowing, all- seeing, and all-powerful. But labels point out that while the Buzz Bin does break bands into the mainstream, the channel rarely goes out on a limb. Before MTV added them, Bush's ''Everything Zen'' was a hit on L.A.'s influential KROQ radio station, and Veruca Salt's ''Seether'' and Beck's ''Loser'' had been the talk of the music industry. ''The Buzz Bin's important, but it's partly because then you have a better shot at convincing radio to play your song,'' says Tina Dunn, a video promoter for Island, who helped the Cranberries get two Buzz Bin videos. ''Then you can go from radio to sales.'' Yet while the power of radio is distributed among hundreds of different programmers, all of the Buzz Bin's is consolidated in one committee. ''Record- label lobbying can get pretty intense,'' admits Schuon, who considers 50 or 60 submissions per week. MTV has never been accused of accepting bribes or gifts to put a clip in the Bin, but does its video monopoly concern the industry? Hardly. Labels welcome it, if only because the channel is as committed to their product as they are. ''MTV sticks with something for the long haul,'' says Peter Baron, head of video promotion at Geffen Records. ''(Having a Buzz Bin clip) is a very coveted thing-more important even than the number of spins a video gets. In fact, if (labels) had enough notice, they'd put a Buzz Bin sticker on CDs.'' *

Originally posted Mar 17, 1995 Published in issue #266 Mar 17, 1995 Order article reprints
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