The Center of Dell's Web Push: Billy Bob Thornton's Basement

Actor-Musician's At-Home Recording Studio Used to Showcase Computer Giant's Products

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YORK, Pa. -- Billy Bob Thornton moved into the Dell Lounge this week.

Mr. Thornton, a multi-hyphenate in the Variety parlance, just began a yearlong project with technology giant Dell to play a starring role on its interactive community of entertainers and enthusiasts.
Actor-director Billy Bob Thornton considers himself a musician turned thespian, and is sepnding the next year introducing people to his music -- and to Dell products.
Actor-director Billy Bob Thornton considers himself a musician turned thespian, and is sepnding the next year introducing people to his music -- and to Dell products.

Inside the Dell Lounge, Mr. Thornton will post clips of his roots-rock-style of music, discussions and jam sessions with friends such as country star Dwight Yoakam and possibly feature up-and-coming musicians.

The clips will "be like mini-documentaries. We'll get people into the world where we work," said Mr. Thornton, who added that the details of what will happen in the next year are still being worked out. The world he wants to introduce visitors to happens to be inside his home, in his basement recording studio he calls the Cave. There's even a clip on the Dell Lounge website of Mr. Thornton welcoming viewers to the Cave and to the one-year project.

And while Mr. Thornton, who won an Academy Award for his screenplay "Sling Blade," is perhaps best known as an actor and director, he actually began his career as a musician and considers himself a musician-turned-thespian, calling acting his "sideline gig." He recently released his fourth solo album, "Beautiful Door," and is working on another with his "punk rockabilly" band, the Boxmasters, which he also tours with.

Dell found Mr. Thornton through Jeff Skillen, the founder of SkillSet Consulting, an entertainment-marketing and branding firm based in Nashville, Tenn. Mr. Skillen, a former executive with guitar-maker Gibson, was already acquainted with Mr. Thornton and his fellow producers and knew they had begun to use digital equipment, specifically ProTools, to produce their music. (Mr. Thornton is quick to point out, however, that he and his fellow musicians only play vintage equipment and mix their sessions through an old Trident board before getting to the digital equipment.)

Not a typical Dell push
Dell's year-old Lounge project has helped the computer maker connect to the music audience in a much hipper, non-Dell way. The project sponsored the Austin City Limits music festival, resulting in kudos from customers produced some "great interactions," said David Clifton, Dell's director of marketing and communications.

"The idea is to create experiences for our customer -- to be proactive and be a part of the discussion," Mr. Clifton said.

Although at first glance Mr. Thornton and Dell may seem an odd match -- Billy Bob as the archetype of male cool and edgy, and Dell as a bastion of high tech and stereotyped computer geeks -- the symbiotic relationship makes more sense upon further reflection. Mr. Thornton provides a celebrity cool that Dell can't get on its own, and Dell provides Mr. Thornton with access to a wider, more mainstream audience as well as a plethora of cool gear in the studio and on the road.

"We'll reach a different kind of audience -- like a lot of tech people who don't know about us, the 'geeks' as you say," Mr. Thornton said. "But no matter how geeky someone is, people -- and maybe especially guys like that -- really dig getting inside studios and finding out what's going on and how it all happens."

In case you're thinking that he's sold out, fear not. Mr. Thornton, who readily admits he is no good at commercial acting, is simply a passionate musician looking to spread the word.

Madison & Vine: Have you ever done this kind of promotional deal before?

Mr. Thornton: I've had endorsements with Zildjian [a maker of cymbals and drum sticks] and some others like Gibson guitars, and I've done some ads for Klipsch speakers -- some stuff like that, but that's it really. Even in the movie world, well, let me put it this way -- I went on two commercial auditions in my whole life and that was way back in the '80s. I told them I can't hold a tube of Preparation H just the right way and smile a certain way. I just can't do that. So I've never really been much into commercials. ...

I liked the idea of the Dell Lounge, as opposed to a list of songs you can get with a picture of your face if you're the spotlight artist that week. I liked the idea of me welcoming people to the Dell Lounge. Anything with the word "lounge" is just great for me. [He laughs] I'm a big fan of Sinatra and Dean and the whole Rat Pack and that whole era. So we did a trailer for [Dell Lounge] welcoming people to the Cave, which is our studio. And you kind of feel like you are really going somewhere. It's a place not only to hear new songs, but to really experience it. The whole thing just appealed to me -- it's my vibe, and it plays into my theatrical sense.

M&V: So Dell helped outfit your studio. What's your favorite new piece of tech equipment?

Mr. Thornton: I'm the vintage-gear guy around here, so I'm kind of the wrong guy to ask that one. ... I know the stuff, but I know it from a more spiritual place. And what I also know is that with the Dell stuff, we're going to have much more power.

M&V: Did they hook you up with any of their video-gaming equipment?

Mr. Thornton: My son who is 13 lives with me, so I know he'll be into that. We're still getting and setting up a lot of the stuff. ... But one thing that's happened is everybody I know now has said, 'Hey Billy Bob, can you get me a Dell computer?' [He laughs.] I'm the kind of guy who doesn't like to ask for a cheeseburger ... so I'm not going to be asking for Dells.

M&V: What do you hope will happen during this year in music at the Dell Lounge?

Mr. Thornton: I hope that places like the Dell Lounge are really becoming the record store. We can still give people the vibe of going to the record store even though it's digital. I'm hoping through technology we can bring people back to the old spirit of it. Sounds ironic, but that's the hope.
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