Saturday, October 31, 2009

New Kid in Town

Recently, someone at Clay Aiken’s official fan club posted a question. What would you like to see Decca Records to do for Clay as we wait for his album promised in the first half of 2010? It’s an interesting question and it’s perhaps too simple of an answer to say, everything.

But I’ve actually been watching how Decca treats some of its other pop/crossover artists. They have some household names like Sting, Rufus Wainwright and Andrea Bocelli. They have other artists that are pretty well known in their genre or region like Morrissey. They are releasing an interesting B side album to help promote his tour, despite having a new album released earlier this year. A great, simple idea to get his fans excited and informed of his next big thing. They have people I’ve never heard of like Gary Go but it seems that they have developed specific promotional opportunities that try to play to his strengths or unique talents.

I already knew that Decca would work the social media outlets well; their parents at Universal Music Group seems to be on the forefront of that promotional path. Just the fact that someone is working Clay’s Twitter account (albeit at a low level) is something new.

What I am hoping for in the marketing plan is something that isn’t cookie cutter yet still well planned and deliberately integrated rather than feeling thrown together with just the basics covered. (Exhibits A and B-the last two album promotion cycles for Clay.)

I’ve watched the recent promotion of Sting’s new holiday album called If on a Winter’s Night. There has been traditional promotion along with other articles popping up in different places. I love the fact that there is a performance DVD being offered as a companion product. A concert DVD of Clay has always been a dream of mine. (As an aside, it’s also been a dream of mine for Sting and Clay to present together at some music award show. They are both former teachers, both known for their philanthropy and both recognized by one name. Clay did a beautiful version of Sting’s Fields of Gold at his 2004 concert.)

So what does this mean for what I hope to see for Clay? At this point, I’d take news of any kind. The natives are getting a bit restless. But I’ve developed enough marketing plans to know that they have their own timeline and while they can be fluid based on the dynamics of the industry, they also require structure. (But a little strategic tweet wouldn’t be blowing the whole thing, would it?)

But, this is my blog so I can fill it with a bunch of I wants , right?

I want a press release that screams respect and pride that Clay is a Decca artist. One that is well written (you’d think that would be a given but alas…) where natural sound bites can be pulled by a lazy media.

I want to be jealous of the person who created such a well planned promotional strategy, not one filled with second tier television where he doesn’t even sing.

I want a single that isn’t a ballad. His previous label missed the mark every single time after Invisible. (Hey,did you like how that word worked in two different ways..Every SINGLE time. Oh shut up, that sounded funnier in my head.)

I want an album with the eclectic sounds of the wonderful and barely promoted On My Way Here, which had something for everyone in terms of genre and tempo. If you ask my preference (and even if you don’t) I’d prefer no covers but if you must please avoid someone else’s signature song. He deserves his own.

I want Decca to capture his strengths which are many, but also to push him a little out of his comfort zone. He’s that good. The last time someone did that, we got the lyrical gem of Lover All Alone. I hope you can tease, coax, nag, pay him to write more.

The fact that this voice hasn’t graced a soundtrack is criminal. And that’s all I am going to say about that.

I would also say to Decca-Engage the fans. Keep us informed, when we get news we process it, discuss it from 17 different angles and then move on. We don’t do well with silence. Despite a reputation mostly created by the media; the Clay Nation is smart, technically savvy and will act like a well trained army. Give us direction and a task and stand back. Yeah, we have some over the top fans but what musician or sports team doesn’t?

As an aside, please don’t use the word Claymate in any official press or on any of the sites. Half the fandom dislikes the name and it doesn’t really sound very welcoming to a casual adult fan or a male fan. I know that the media loves it but please let’s not feed the beast, ya know?

He was “discovered” on TV and he reaches his best and widest audience that way. It seems like forever since he has performed on prime time TV. He is a double threat in that he can act as well so there are plenty of opportunities for him to get exposure just for “brand awareness” as well as specific music promotion.

Clay is very capable of a water cooler moment. He stole the press cycle after the finales of AI2, AI5 and AI8. I think an unexpected acting turn that shows his darker side would do the trick. He would be hilarious returning as Kenneth’s cousin on 30Rock but I kind of hope for deliciously evil turn on Lie to Me as well.

Please do the same type of live performance DVD that Sting is offering right now and that Rufus Wainwright released in September. Most of the public, even those who consider themselves fans, know the great voice. They don’t know the bawdy, sarcastic, frighteningly quick witted consummate concert entertainer. Show the world the total Clay Aiken, the one that probably prompted you to sign him in the first place.

I am sure that the smart folks at Decca/UMG know all of this but I’m tired of people asking me what Clay is up to these days. I much prefer them to tell me they keep hearing about him or reading about him.

On a more shallow note I will shamelessly beg for a look with longer hair of any color. If I never see another spiked hair on that very smart head, it will be too soon. That casually sexy blond man standing next to David Novik will do just fine.

I’ve got a lot of faith in you Decca, please don’t let me down.


And here's a little Fields of Gold from 2004. Hard to believe this was five and a half years ago. It's a little shaky, the fandom hadn't yet mastered the art of stealth video. It is preceded by a part of Measure of a Man. This was a special concert where Clay had to clear his throat and told us to sing. (I was at this concert.) He wrote in his book that he was overwhelmed at how much his life had changed and how much he felt it at that moment.

But that same beautiful ballad singer can dance and sing rock too, as he did here in Jukebox Tour 2005.

And of course I prefer original music, too bad this never happened back in 2005 before the mandate of love song covers.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Change you can believe in

This weekend I had the privilege of attending the annual charity gala put on by the National Inclusion Project (formerly known as the Bubel/Aiken Foundation). I have been supporting this charity since its inception because of its wonderful vision of providing an environment where all children (those with disabilities and those without) could live, learn and play together. But given my busy schedule of full time work plus house, husband, two teenagers and a crazy half Chihuahua, support for me meant for the most part writing a check a few times a year. I am fortunate to have healthy children, nieces and nephews so I haven’t had to immerse myself in the programs, setbacks, breakthroughs and challenges that those families of children with disabilities must wade through on a daily basis.

I did purchase a copy of a book published by the Project called Our Friend Mikayla to send to our local elementary school a few years ago. The book is written and illustrated by a third grade class and describes how they approached the inclusion of a classmate with a severe disability. It shows that children have an innate way of seeing past the wheelchair or other differences and just finding a way to play. Adults should be so wise. I received a lovely note two days later from the special education teacher who gushed over the book and couldn’t thank me enough. She was immediately putting it into the program for all children, not just her students. She said it was exactly what she had been looking to find for a few years. I thought that maybe this young charity was really on to something here.

Every year for their annual Gala, I would send a donation and listen to the speeches on videotape after the event. But this year friends and I decided to journey to Raleigh, North Carolina and attend for ourselves. It was a big year for the charity; they announced their name change and an aggressive series of goals. They had just received a four star rating from Charity Navigator, the highest ranking given by the largest independent charity watchdog. This makes them the highest rated charity in their field. And just this weekend, the Project received a special donation from The Christie Cookie Company as the leading vote getter in their charity contest.

I was not prepared for what I experienced. I had not realized how progressive their programs were and how they were embraced by other, more well known programs including the Boston University's Camp Shriver program. The Director at Shriver noted that the Project’s camp programs and curriculum were “genius” and they will be adopting their model. I think everyone around our table mouthed “wow”.

They presented Champions Trophies to three deserving groups. The first was presented to two high school cheerleaders who developed a program called The Sparkle Effect which incorporates children of all abilities into their program. They have even developed an online model for other schools. The young women accepting the award were poised, composed and articulate beyond their years. I have a daughter the same age and I think I sat there feeling like a proud mother. I can’t imagine how their mothers feel. Kind of brings a new meaning to “and a child shall lead them”.

The second winner was the corporate award given to Mitsubishi Electric. Their Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation (MEAF) is an integral part of the company and works hard at a number of initiatives important to the Project. It was wonderful to see such a solid corporate partnership.

Finally, a Champion Trophy was presented to a young man named Patrick Henry Hughes, along with his father Patrick John Hughes and Patrick’s band leader at U of Louisville. Patrick Henry was born without eyes along with other physical challenges. He is a musical prodigy and he plays trumpet in the marching band, with his father pushing his wheelchair. I’ve been in a marching band, it’s hard enough to remember the music and the steps, never mind doing it while pushing a wheelchair. We were treated to a few songs on the piano and I was amazed at his musicality and his stage presence. I remarked that Patrick was living proof of what the Project was trying to achieve because you forgot he was blind and you forgot he had other physical challenges. You simply enjoyed the music and laughed at his enthusiasm.

Previous winners include the family who produced Including Samuel, which can be seen on PBS this month.

As someone else said this weekend, it is truly amazing that this charity started as a college assignment for Clay Aiken to complete his degree in Special Education. His and Diane Bubel’s vision is more than a reality. It’s changing the reality of thousands of children.

To learn more, please visit

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