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Q&A: How the iPhone Put NYC Band on the Map

Thanks to the iPhone and a little help from YouTube, Brooklyn-based quartet Atomic Tom has catapulted from obscurity into an overnight phenomenon.
/ Source: TechNewsDaily

Thanks to the iPhone and a little help from YouTube, Brooklyn-based quartet Atomic Tom has catapulted from obscurity into an overnight phenomenon.

Last Friday, the band posted a video of themselves riding the B subway train in New York City while playing their Apple iPhones as instruments after their actual instruments had been stolen (or so the clip tells us). Each band member – singer Luke White, guitarist Eric Espiritu, bassist Philip Galitzine and Tobias Smith – used various iPhones music apps to play their single "Take Me Out."

The video received a million hits in just three days and over two million in less than a week. The band, which formed in 2006, has since made its way onto the Top 100 iTunes single chart for "Take Me Out."

Bassist Galitzine spoke with TechNewsDaily about how they used the iPhone to win over the hearts of Internet surfers everywhere and how they’re a bunch of tech nerds deep down.

First, what happened to your instruments? Were they really stolen?

Okay, no, our instruments weren’t actually stolen -- they're perfectly safe and sound. Sometimes we create a funny or completely made-up premise for our YouTube videos that we think serves it well. We did one called "The Fabulous Life of Atomic Tom," where we made a joke about our "lavish lifestyles," which are actually anything but lavish! With the subway video, we wanted to come up with a more interesting premise than just "here’s something cool we did." We settled on the stolen instruments storyline. We just never dreamed so many people would see it.

It went viral pretty fast!

It's been unbelievable. We thought we'd be lucky to get a few thousand views in a month like our other videos. We released it last Friday and then by Sunday it had over a million hits. The crazy thing is that we did this all on our own — we kept the video a secret from Apple, our record label — Universal Republic Records — our manager, friends and families. Needless to say, everyone was shocked when it started blowing up on the Internet. The support has been incredible though. People are not just watching the video and then moving on — they're actually going to iTunes to buy the whole record.

So how did you guys come up with the idea for the video?

It was actually the brainchild of Eric's brother, Benjamin. He came up with the idea and carried it through to its final form. We also all had iPhones — Eric has a iPhone 4 and the rest of us have an iPhone 3GS. The whole video was shot on iPhone 4 too.

Did it take you guys awhile to learn how to play your iPhone instruments?

It was a pretty fast process. We already knew the song on our own instruments and since the apps all had fretboards or other kinds of musical interfaces, we easily translated it. So learning the song on the iPhone only took a few hours, and then we practiced it for a few days before hitting the subway. We also had a few dress rehearsals on the subway too – we had to figure out amplification and other issues we came across during filming.

Was having real-life instrument experience a huge help?

Oh, definitely. Knowing our way around our instruments was a big advantage. Anyone could do it though – we just happened to take it really seriously.

Now that the video has given the band more exposure, will you be playing your iPhones at live shows?

We love the video and had a blast making it. I'm sure we'll always be linked to the video in people's minds but we aren't trying to become an "iPhone band." We're always happy to play the iPhone version of the song, but it probably won't become a live show feature.

As for other technology, we've used Apple's Logic and MainStage in our live shows for a long time now. If we think of something else fun, we'll definitely put it out there.

It sounds like you're all pretty tech-savvy. Are you and your bandmates tech geeks?

Yes, some of us are more than others though. Luke has had a number of computer programming jobs in the past and Philip was a proud owner of the first iPod — the 5-gig model with the physical click wheel in 2001. We're all Apple fans. In our minds, they were the first in the industry to understand that form and how a gadget or computer "feels" matters as much as function. Some people out there think our video was actually an Apple stunt. It definitely wasn't though; we think they're as surprised as we are about the outcome.