.Music to Slay to

How a gamer used his celebrity in World of Warcraft to launch a music career.

There are those who will stop at nothing to build the best twink. To them, a pendulum of doom, a lumbering ogre axe, and Naxx shoulders are objects of utmost importance. Rogues, priests, warlocks, and warriors alike, they roam the continents of Azeroth completing endless quests and participating in multiplayer tournaments. It takes a rare man to achieve infamy in a fantasy world like this, but that’s just what San Leandro resident Michael Bailey, known to his fellow gamers as Fony, accomplished in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Yet even he couldn’t have predicted that one day his cyber-world celebrity would bring his real-world electronic music group hundreds of digital download sales and a burgeoning international fanbase.

“The character I created became e-famous,” said Bailey. “It’s totally nerdy, but it really was an e-fame thing. Even after a year, people would still talk about Fony.” Fony was known as a rogue twink — rogue being its character class and twink being a term derived from the word tweak that refers to maxing out the attributes of a low-level character, like souping up an RC car — that Bailey created a couple of years ago. By playing World of Warcraft smartly (and casually, he insists: only a few hours a week) and developing his Fony character, Bailey birthed a legend in the twink community whose reputation endures today.

“Hey fony i used to play and u inspired me,” commented one fan on a YouTube video Bailey posted last October of his latest gaming exploits. The thirty-minute clip, titled “Greatest Twink Video Ever IV,” represents the intersection of Bailey’s past and present: Fony, the character he used to be known for; and Negative pH, the band he hopes to be known for next. Although they exist in entirely different worlds, Bailey has discovered that the two are not mutually exclusive. Mixed among YouTube comments about Fony’s World of Warcraft pedigree are notes from other gamers about the video’s soundtrack, which includes samples from Negative pH’s new album. “Really good music mate,” one wrote. “I have been looking for something like this for a long time and I’m loving it.” And another: “Love the music. Got to look into negative PH. Are they friends of you or somthing? Or just a fan like Im gonna be?”

To an extent, the cross-pollination has been a happy accident. Blazing along at tempos as fast as 190 bpm, Negative pH’s high-octane electronica is just the stuff to psych up gamers for hand-to-hand combat and multiplayer melees. Many of the group’s songs adorn drum ‘n’ bass beats with industrial tones and heavy-metal riffs, bending hard rock’s structured aggression to the sustained energy of up-tempo electronica. It’s perfect fuel for hour-long journeys across World of Warcraft‘s virtual plains.

But the accident ends there. Bailey and bandmate Joshua Fanene, who lives in Oakland, were on the verge of completing their second full-length record when Bailey had the idea of using an instructional World of Warcraft video to promote the album. “I wanna make this video and kinda cash in on this fan base that I’ve developed,” he told Fanene at the time. Duly encouraged, he set out to create a new video that would document the outfitting of two new twinks. He recorded footage over about three months of gameplay, then edited it down and added music, including a pair of Negative pH songs. When it was complete, Fanene and Bailey refrained from releasing the video until their album was also ready for public consumption.

Both hit the net within a week of each other, and thanks to Bailey’s prominence as a gamer and Warcraft video producer, the response was immediate. Since October, “Greatest Twink Video Ever IV” has amassed 116,000 downloads at WarcraftMovies.com, making it the most downloaded twink video on the site. On YouTube, the video’s four parts have received a cumulative 93,000 views. And every single one of those views has been accompanied by exposure to Negative pH’s music.

The way Bailey did it is simple, but ingenious: dispersed among a soundtrack featuring James Brown, Jamiroquai, Nine Inch Nails, the Chemical Brothers, and Frank Sinatra are two new Negative pH tracks. The songs by the major artists are familiar enough to draw viewers into the audio, while Bailey’s music video-style editing pairs on-screen moods and transitions with parallel moments in the music. All this fosters an ideal launching platform for Negative pH’s songs, where viewers become voluntarily invested in music they’ve never heard before.

Bailey paired this contextual approach with more overt cues. While the video is playing, narrative captions occasionally appear on-screen. Some are wonky, as in “I am seriously throwing out a dot curse and canceling it with tongues … lawl baddie” (a justification aimed at nitpicking gamers, he admits: “pretty nerdy”), but others reference the soundtrack. The tag “Shameless self promotion: Song is SOS by Negative pH” appears a couple minutes into “SOS,” a new song that runs for four-and-a-half minutes. This is followed by an on-screen link to a YouTube video of Bailey and Fanene demoing the song on a pair of keyboards. Later, while an edited version of “SN” plays, another tag gives the name of the new album and directs viewers to Negative pH’s web site for DRM-free downloads. OVRMND‘s front cover provides the video’s closing shot.

The ploy worked. Fanene says that over the last six or so months, Negative pH has sold a few hundred digital downloads directly through its web site — a figure any fledging independent band would be proud to claim, and one that already surpasses sales to date of the duo’s 2004 debut. The band also sells about eight downloads a day through CDBaby.com and even more through iTunes, Napster, and Payloadz. All this comes without any marketing or promotion beyond the video. Fanene says that for every sale the band makes, he searches for the buyer’s name on MySpace or Facebook and often comes up with a World of Warcraft handle or other evidence of online multiplayer gaming. The customers also happen to be almost entirely male.

“The fans that we’ve gained from it is awesome,” said Bailey. “It was definitely a way to pick up fans in that genre.” This success has given him and Fanene the confidence to take their music to the next step — namely, a broader audience. This will involve learning how to perform their programmed songs live, which they are now close to mastering.

“The boost in online sales has given us more urge to get our music out of the studio doors and onto the stage,” said Fanene. “While we are keeping a keen eye out for the next major game, we also recognize the importance of establishing a solid local fan base that will give our music the longevity we hope for. Where this takes us is anybody’s guess.” Bailey, for his part, doesn’t want to saturate the online role-playing game market and is already on the lookout for another angle. In the meantime, his fellow twinkers will reign supreme.


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