I don't even know where to begin with this one.
Ms. Digby's simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit "Umbrella" has been featured on MTV's program "The Hills" and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records label declared: "Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marié Digby Signs With Hollywood Records."
What the release failed to mention is that Hollywood Records signed Ms. Digby in 2005, 18 months before she became a YouTube phenomenon. Hollywood Records helped devise her Internet strategy, consulted with her on the type of songs she chose to post, and distributed a high-quality studio recording of "Umbrella" to iTunes and radio stations.
"No one's going to be searching for Marié Digby, because no one knows who she is," Mr. Bunt, the Hollywood Records senior vice president, reasoned. So she posted covers of hits by Nelly Furtado and Maroon 5, among others, so that users searching for those artists' songs would stumble on hers instead. Her version of Rihanna's "Umbrella" proved a nearly instant hit.
As Ms. Digby's star rose, other media outlets played along. When Los Angeles adult-contemporary station KYSR-FM, which calls itself "Star 98.7," interviewed Ms. Digby in July, she and the disc jockey discussed her surprising success. "We kind of found her on YouTube," the DJ, known as Valentine, said. Playing the lucky nobody, Ms. Digby said: "I'm usually the listener calling in, you know, just hoping that I'm going to be the one to get that last ticket to the Star Lounge with [pop star] John Mayer!" The station's programming executives now acknowledge they had booked Ms. Digby's appearance through Hollywood Records, and were soon collaborating with the label to sell "Umbrella" as a single on iTunes.
So we've gotten to the point where the major labels' plan of attack is to encourage their artists to appear to be diy and not actually associate themselves with the majors. Is this what Rubin's "word-of-mouth department" would devise?