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Food for thought from Geneva Internet band

A Geneva-based pop group has decided to plough its budget for promoting its new album into buying food for developing countries. Not surprising when you learn that the band members work for international humanitarian organisations.

The Bliss comprises Scottish vocalist Angela Higney and Italian keyboard player and computer programmer, Piero Calvi. Angela works for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, while Piero's day job is at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Over the past couple of years they have enjoyed worldwide success with their Jazz Funk compositions, topping the charts on MP3.com, the world's biggest music website. Their songs have been downloaded more than 35,000 times in MP3 format to date.

It is all the more remarkable considering they are not full-time musicians, they only have their own independent label and sell their CDs exclusively through e-commerce. They became an Internet band out of necessity.

"We found it very difficult to carve a space for ourselves, so we approached record companies and distributors here in Switzerland. Invariably they said they liked our music, but wouldn't sign us," Piero told Swiss Radio International. "Hence we were forced to take the independent philosophy to the extreme and go entirely on the web."

While they recognise that they have a niche market, thanks to the web, that market stretches all over the globe. Angela Higney believes buying music over the Internet is far preferable than going into a shop.

"This is the future. How many times have you gone into a music shop, bought a CD and found when you got it home that you didn't really like it. Through the Internet we have the possibility to hear a track over and over again, and if we decide we want a better audio quality, then we can buy the CD," she says

And accessing music is clearly a massive growth area. Some 50 million files are exchanged on MP3.com everyday. That compares to 900,000 CDs sold worldwide in 1999. Many bands also like the fact that it gives them more independence, cutting out the middleman.

Given their professional background, it is not surprising to learn that Angela and Piero have decided to promote their new album, For Real, by spending the 15,000-dollar promotional budget on sponsoring the Hunger Site, the US-based non-profit organisations which sells Internet banner advertisements and turns over all of its profits to the UN's World Food Programme.

"Our motivation was humanitarian values," says Piero. "We wanted to raise money for the WFP, encourage people to visit our site, and perhaps even buy our CD."

"Anyone visiting the Hunger Site can donate two and a quarter cups of staple food to the WFP, simply by visiting the site. For every visitor, the sponsors are charged a tiny amount. The Hunger Site currently receives 400,000 hits a day - which amounts to 50 tonnes donated every day," he adds.

The Bliss believe that their campaign, which runs until May 7, will attract a million people to their website.

"We think people will appreciate our creative, Internet-based approach, and the fact that we don't charge people with our humanitarian values. We don't ask people to buy our CD so they will contribute to aid operations. Our label has put the sponsorship money upfront, and sales will follow only if people enjoy the music," Piero says.

by Roy Probert


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