Out Of Touch: A True Story Of How MTV Treated One Independent Band

[Photo of Team Robespierre by Sam Horine]

The following is a true story about the trials and tribulations of one hardworking independent band whose efforts to land their low budget video on MTV resulted in the loss of more than just not seeing it aired.

Before starting, for the sake of transparency, I would like to state that I helped release the Team Robespierre debut LP, Everything's Perfect in early 2008 and helped them on various levels for most of the year. That being said, they self-recorded and produced their record and subsequent 7", they have spent much of the last two years touring the world on their own dime and in many cases, booking their own shows. This is the story of the collective efforts of the band and director Allen Cordell to get the video for their single "88th Precinct" aired on MTV.

I guess the best place to start is the beginning. Upon releasing Everything's Perfect, Team Robespierre did a bunch of regional shows to celebrate the release. Arguably the biggest being a warehouse party in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn with Japanther. The place was so packed that inevitably the police shut it down, but not before Team Robespierre played their set and Allen got the footage he needed for the video.

Fast forwarding through the production phase to the finished product and delivery of the video, we were ecstatic when Pitchfork premiered the video and numerous other blogs ran it with the usual array of commentary. Then came the question: Should we send this to television outlets? The reality being that the video was rather low-budget (Allen's time and labor aside) and we didn't see it being something the Viacom execs would be into, but at the same time, there was nothing to lose -- or so we thought.

Despite every place we sent the video asking for it on DVD or Mini-DV, television outlets still ask for it on Beta and Beta SP with closed captioning (you know, for the deaf people who want to watch their favorite music videos), meaning it would cost us roughly the same amount to reproduce it for TV consideration as it did to make the video. But it all seemed to be worth it when we received an acceptance e-mail telling us the video had been chosen to air on MTV2's Subterranean. The video was to air on September 18, 2008. Below is the exact listing as it was sent to us:

Subterranean 9/18/08
1AM on MTV2 (now on Thursdays!)

Cold War Kids "Something Is Not Right with Me" (sub debut)
The Death Set "Negative Thinking"
Cool Kids "Delivery Man" (sub debut)
Sunny Day Sets Fire "Adrenaline"
Radiohead "House of Cards"
Team Robespierre "88th Precinct" (sub debut)
She & Him "Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?"
The Virgins "Rich Girls" (sub debut)
Ladytron "Ghosts"
The Last Shadow Puppets "Standing Next to Me"
Bon Iver "The Wolves (Act I and II)" (sub debut)

High-fives were given all around. Not only would it air, but after Radiohead no less and on the same night as our good friends in The Death Set. E-mails were sent, press releases drafted, viewing parties were planned as the minor victory seemed imminent. Then, that Thursday, September 18, literally 8 hours before it would air and all interested parties had been notified, we got another e-mail saying we needed to make an edit. Apparently someone was giving the finger in the background of one of the crowd scenes and it needed to be blurred out. The edit was easy, re-close captioning and copying it onto 4 tapes as they requested resulted in an additional $400 expense. Not only was this a blow financially, but considering it came on the day it was to air and after our press releases had been sent, it was a double heartbreaking blow and slightly embarrassing.

Needless to say, we made the edit because it was guaranteed to air. Sure, the $400 probably wouldn't be compensated in the amount of viewers it would garner at 1am on MTV2, but we were all excited it would be on TV, so we did it. Upon re-delivering it, re-edited, we were told there was another edit their quality control department overlooked -- there was a girl sticking her tongue through her two fingers -- a reference to cunnilingus that was not suitable for a generation of viewers who grew up watching the wholesome programming on MTV. So tack on an additional $200 (luckily, this time they told us we would only need two tapes and we were spared half the cost).

Yeah, it might have been a month later and nearly $1,000 of money neither the band, label or Allen had (in true partnership fashion, the costs were split evenly between the three), but it was to air, so at this point, we had to do it. I mean, would we rather spend another $200 to get it aired or let all the money that was already spent go to waste? So we made the edits and returned the video with the simple question of, "when can we expect this to air?"

No response.

Second e-mail asking for an air date.

No response.

Third e-mail, sternly asking for a reply.

"Don't have a date at this time, will let you know."

Next month?

"I have no more episodes of Subterranean airing in November, so no."

Then when?

"When I find a week where your video fits and makes sense."

Are you telling me you cannot schedule it at this time after all of the alterations we've made?

"I'm asking you to be patient. I have no air date. When I do you'll know. There's only one more episode of Subterranean with new videos this year and that is on 12/4. The two remaining episodes after that are top ten countdown shows and then we're on hiatus for the holidays until January. In that show I have a couple of video premieres and a couple of big names who need to be played. I haven't solidified the playlist at all yet though, some things will depend on how the videos in the top ten episodes are lining up. I'll look at the Team Robes video for that but no promises. You may be looking at early 2009."

So a year after the record came out, over six months after the video debuted on Pitchfork, three months after it's initially scheduled MTV2 air date and lots of wasted money we were given a "maybe" in early 2009. That was until we got the news that the person we had been dealing with was laid off in December. Now, not only was the status of the video up in the air, but we had no one to talk to about it.

Eventually we get in contact with the new programmer, but there seemed to be some confusion. The new programmer was under the assumption that the video was already featured on Subterranean back in September. Obviously we knew it hadn't aired, so we asked the person to reconsider knowing full well that a video and record over a year old will not be a priority to them. But low and behold the reconsideration worked! Well, not exactly. Last week we get word that the video will be up for "fan voting" (this week) to air on an MTVU show called The Freshmen. Granted, it's not Subterranean and now our fate rests in the hands of "fans" (using quotes because we're not sure how many fans of TR even know there is an MTVU), but better than nothing right?

Well, considering they're up against arguably less indie acts than themselves -- meaning artists on major labels and the misspelled Loney Dear (they list it as Lonely Dear) -- our expectations are low. Only to be lowered by the fact that Team Robespierre was put at the bottom of the bunch and the college kid who was assigned to write about the nominees has a crush on one of them (”Is this boy sexy or what?!”) and lets everyone know that “synth-y beats are “in” right now,” but that ultimately Team Robespierre’s “just not for me.”

As the editor of Impose eloquently put it, while you wrap your head around the decision-making process that nominates bands for a viewer’s poll and then editorializes on them shamelessly after nearly a year of stringing along, MTV can try to wrap their head around why it’s lost touch with real music fans and finds itself in trying times that extend beyond financial means.

I too could implore you to vote and refresh all day for the only artist on the list who made their record and their video without a real budget, but it's probably better to just have you watch it here. At least then we know it's being watched and not lost in some abyss of promises and spent money.

Team Robespierre - "88th Precinct"

Out Of Touch: A True Story Of How MTV Treated One Independent Band