By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
By 2003, Locale A.M. had a manager, a lawyer, and an offer for a record deal of $75,000 — which Frederic was advised by his manager and lawyer to turn down and wait for a bigger jackpot. Label interest in the band immediately disappeared, as did its representation. He was hung out to dry. "I felt helpless," he says. "At that point, I thought all you can do with your career is to be on a major label."
Now he thinks differently. He'd rather be broke with total creative control than take a dime from a source he can't trust.
Farther down the wall at PopSmear hangs a glowing review for Facing New York, the funk-rock act Frederic still maintains. The band was only a few months old when it was invited on the Warped Tour in 2004. The members drove straight to New York in 54 hours, only to be told the shows were overbooked. They stayed on the tour anyway, waking up at 7 a.m. to pitch kids waiting in line their EP, Swimming Not Treading, which they played through a Discman. Facing New York sold an average of 250 CDs a day that way. It was an impressive feat for an unknown act. It was also an indication of Frederic's hustling work ethic and his direct-to-fan approach when it comes to marketing his music.
Frederic became wise early to the inner workings of the music world, a world that has recently fallen into financial jeopardy. For the past two years, the industry has been making headlines for continuously tanking. The big labels are fracturing as CD sales plummet. Insiders are scrambling to figure out how anyone makes money on music in an era of rampant free and illegal downloading. The key seems to lie outside record deals, with artists finding the greatest financial reward in concerts and merchandise; or through licensing, which pays for individual songs to be used in commercials, films, and television shows. Little bands no longer really expect $75,000 deals to help lift them out of obscurity. We've entered an era of minivictories, with do-it-yourself measures of success.
Wallpaper. has a label — Los Angeles–based indie Eenie Meenie — but Frederic is primarily focused on online networking to build support. The Bay Area doesn't house a mega music industry, but our social media sites help musicians. When Frederic posts a new remix, as he's done for Massachusetts buzz band Passion Pit and local indie act Music for Animals, his hope is that it'll gain traction by echoing out to established music sites through Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. This past spring, he recorded a remix of "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell," a hilarious single by Brooklyn rappers Das Racist. The song spoofs two friends trying to find one another in a giant maze of fast-food places. Frederic spread the word of his remix through Web blasts and e-mails to two dozen individual tastemakers. "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" spiraled out into hype paydirt a few months after its release. MTV.com and Pitchfork raved about Wallpaper.'s remix, and the song became the most requested single of the summer on Live 105's indie-focused shows.
Frederic continued to strike while he was getting attention, cleverly remixing Jay-Z's "99 Problems" into the rapper's anti–Auto-Tune screed "D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune)", creating a mashup where the megastar performer employs the voice-alteration software he claims to detest. The remix ended up on the front page of Digg for a couple of days, earning Frederic no cash but plenty of cred.
Jonathan Coulton, a Brooklyn songwriter and Internet success story, notes that loyalty from enthusiasts is crucial as the music industry models are being reshaped. "You get support in a number of different ways from fans," he says, "only one of which is money." An active base willing to spread the word about your new material to its friends is a powerful public-relations force to have.
At the PopSmear studio, Frederic glances at his favorite VH-1 reality show, Real Chance of Love, which is playing with the sound off. He says he would love to have Wallpaper.'s music licensed for television placement. To that end, he's fired up about news that the "I Got Soul, I'm So Wasted" video has been entered into the Freshmen, an online contest where viewers vote weekly for new videos to be played on mtvU, the network's college channel.
Days after Frederic pulls an all-nighter in the studio, he'll be pulling all-nighters to vote Wallpaper. on to mtvU. He isn't sure whether people watch videos on MTV anymore. What matters to him is getting on the radar of the suits at the networks, increasing his own real chances at Love.
Wallpaper.'s headquarters are listed as West Oakland — a nod to the East Bay's extensive rap history. But in reality, he lives with four housemates, two of whom are also musicians, in a two-story apartment in San Francisco's Panhandle. At midday on a Monday, none of his housemates seem to have changed out of sweatpants.
It's clear from the aging coffee-colored splatters on the wall and carpet that Frederic does not inhabit the same lush bachelor lifestyle as the one he imagines for Ricky Reed.