now playing: poco, “sometimes we are all we got”
well, folks, it looks like going indie has officially been “mainstreamed”…this article appeared on the cnn website today, picked up from the associated press wire.
fellow musicians, our secret is out.
Music acts ‘go it alone’
Growing number of artists are going independent
NEW YORK (AP) — In 2000, the Churchills thought they had it made.
The New York-based pop band had landed a major-label record deal and were fixed up with producer Mark Hart, former keyboardist with the seminal Australian band Crowded House.
Hart and the band booked a posh recording studio and the label, Universal, gave them a near-limitless budget. They recorded with only the finest guitars and ate gourmet lunches — all charged to the album expense account.
Three months later, they had spent $270,000 and the record was finished. But strangely, nothing seemed to be happening.
“It felt like we were nobody’s priority,” said Churchills bassist-vocalist Bart Schoudel. “We would stop by the label’s marketing department, and they would say, ‘Oh, you guys made a great record and I think the critics are going to love it.”‘
Countless other bands have found themselves in a similar quandary: Signed to a major label, with promises of widespread distribution and big promotional budgets, yet going nowhere. They are casualties of an industry increasingly geared toward acts who can reliably sell millions of albums at a time.
As a result, a growing number of artists who do not fit that paradigm are going independent — financing their own records and tours, securing distribution deals and serving as their own publicists.
For these so-called Do It Yourself artists, securing a major-label deal is no longer the object of their aspirations. They have either become disillusioned with the majors based on past mishaps or never saw a place for themselves within the establishment to begin with. Their efforts have been facilitated by home recording and the Internet.
The Churchills have released two albums since leaving Universal in 2001. And Christopher Dallman, a 26-year-old singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles, got private financing to record his first album, “Race the Light,” two years ago. He shopped it around to small labels when it was finished, eventually piquing the interest of New Jersey-based Treasure Records.
He’s since signed with a booking agent and will tour Ireland and North America this summer. He supplements his schedule by booking scattershot shows on his own, makes his own fliers and maintains his own Web site, all without the help of a manager or publicist.
“Most important are your songs, your live show, your album,” Dallman said. “But it’s a major mistake to think that your work ends there. I am on my computer all day long, making contacts, sending e-mails, researching different ways of getting my stuff out there. So time-consuming, but really worth it.”
This allows him to maintain control over his own creative output. Major labels often exert pressure on artists to record material that is radio-friendly; a famous recent example is Fiona Apple, whose third album was rejected by her label allegedly for not being commercial enough and has since been leaked on the Internet.
“I can’t imagine being creative with restrictions,” Dallman said.
Since the 1970s, major labels have increasingly viewed musicians more in terms of their marketability than their talent, said Steven Zuckerman, executive producer of New York City’s annual Global Entertainment Media Summit, a conference for independent artists.
Even by late in that decade, he said, “a business created by passionate music fans had become a business run by accountants and attorneys who treated an art form as nothing different than a box of shoes.” Consolidation has been the major force behind that trend, he said.
The DIY business model has long been prevalent among punk-rockers, who began to record and distribute their own material in the early 1980s. But only recently have other genres begun to adopt DIY practices, inspired by the success of such artists as Aimee Mann and Ani DiFranco.
DiFranco is the unofficial DIY hero. She founded her own label, Righteous Babe Records, in 1990 and became famous based on her manic touring and recording schedule. Mann, meanwhile, releases records on her own Superego imprint — though her profile got a big boost when her songs were included on the “Magnolia” soundtrack, released in 1999 on a major label.
The number of people recording music has also skyrocketed as home recording equipment and software have become increasingly affordable. A basic recording program, which can handle about 16 separate tracks, can now be bought for less than $100.
Skilled DIY musicians can learn to record music partially or wholly at home that sounds almost as good as what can be produced in a slick studio. The Churchills’ new album, for example, cost them less than $10,000.
How are all these aspiring musicians marketing their product? The Internet has been a huge boon, because it allows cheap, direct distribution of music to — and communication with — fans. Practically every artist now has an official Web site, most offering free MP3 downloads, and they maintain e-mail lists to promote upcoming shows and releases. Many musicians also sign up with services that license their songs to pay-per-download sites like iTunes.
A growing number of DIY bands have also begun to license their songs to television. The popularity of youth-oriented shows such as “Scrubs,” “Everwood” and “The O.C.” has created a burgeoning demand for music to be used in the background of scenes or over closing credits.
Ron Haney, lead guitarist and vocalist for the Churchills, spends several weeks a year in Los Angeles pitching the band’s songs to television insiders. “TV is the new radio,” Haney said. “Kids don’t listen to radio like they used to. TV is what’s used now to break bands.”
Since 1999, the Churchills have had songs placed in several shows, including all the ones mentioned above. Dallman has had a song placed in MTV’s “The Real World.”
In sum, artists say, the key is self reliance. Among the nine members of The Sharp Things, a New York-based orchestral pop band featuring horns and strings, are a music publicist, a Web designer, a journalist, a marketing professional, two video directors and a music business attorney.
Says lead vocalist Perry Serpa: “We’re a very self-sufficient bunch.”
The band self-released its first album, “Here Comes the Sharp Things,” in 2002; it won favorable reviews and got the band noticed by New Jersey-based indie label Bar/None, which released the follow-up, “Foxes and Hounds,” in May.
Still, the band — like all DIY bands — does not rely on its label to sell it to the public, as have bands of the past. Nor does it hire “outsiders” to do its legwork.
“What’s the point of seeking out certain people who would have half the passion, take twice as long to get the job done and are not as invested?” said Serpa. “We tend to outsource only when it’s completely necessary.”
But if the bottom line becomes irrelevant — or at least de-emphasized — what defines success among artists who choose to do it all themselves?
“The beauty of it is that the ideal of ‘success’ can be defined by each individual artist,” Serpa said. “If you manufacture 1,500 records with the intention of selling them all on the road over two years’ time and you achieve that, then that is success. The deal is that you really no longer need the bottom-liners to define that for you anymore.”
i’m personally quite fond of that last sentiment…the idea of defining success on your own terms, and not letting some asshole with a law degree who sidestepped into a job at a lable tell you what you have to do in order to be considered such.