Thursday, August 02, 2007

Considerable Sounds: Independent's Day part 1

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By DC Music Editor Benjamin New


General Custer and his aide were behind the walls of the fort.
The aide said, "General, I don't like the sound of those drums."
From behind the hill a voice yells, " Hey, he's not our regular drummer."

The concept of the "record album" originated from the fact that 78 RPM Phonograph disc recordings were kept together in a book that resembled a photo album. The first collection of records to be called an "album" was Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite, released in April 1909 as a four-disc set by Odeon Records. ( It retailed for 16 shillings which would be US $120, 88 Euros, 1,320 Mexican Pesos, or 14,251 Japanese Yen in today’s currency.) The recording artists became dependent on companies with capital because it was too expensive for an artist to produce and distribute an album themselves. Before the advent of the phonograph in the late 19th century, the music industry was dominated by the publishers of sheet music. With the start of the 20th century the importance of recorded sound grew in the business, and at about the end of the first World War, records supplanted sheet music as the largest player in music business. Thus, the modern music industry began it’s line of descent.


There is a fundamental tension between the artists and the “industry” of music, they have been in an uneasy symbiotic / parasitic relationship ever since the beginning. On the upside, there have been many people attracted to the business because they genuinely love music, musicians, or the recording arts and sciences. Their contributions are immeasurable. During the 1890s, Fred Gaisberg ran the first recording studio and provided the closest approximation of production by guiding an opera singer closer or further away from a gramophone's horn to approximate the dynamics of the score.

Within the first half of the 20th century, the record producer's role was comparable to that of a film producer, in that the record producer organized and supervised recording sessions, paid technicians, musicians and arrangers, and sometimes chose material for the artist. In the mid-1950s a new category emerged, that of the independent record producer.

Prior to those incipient days, the various stages of the recording and marketing process had been carried out by different professionals within the industry -- A&R managers found potential new artists and signed them to their labels; professional songwriters created new material; publishing agents sold these songs to the A&R people; staff engineers carried out the task of making the recordings in company-owned studios.

Freed from this traditional system by the advent of independent commercial studios, a new generation of entrepreneurial producers -- many of whom were former record company employees themselves -- were able to create and occupy a new niche in the industry, taking on a more commanding and complex role in the musical process. This development in music was mirrored in the TV industry by the concurrent development of videotape recording and the consequent emergence of independent TV production companies like Desilu. These producers now typically carried out most or all of these various tasks themselves, including selecting and arranging songs, overseeing sessions (and often engineering the recordings) and even writing the material. Independent music production companies rapidly gained a significant foothold in popular music and soon became the main intermediary between artist and record label, signing new artists to production contracts, producing the recordings and then licensing the finished product to record labels for pressing, promotion and sale. (This was a novel innovation in the popular music field, although a broadly similar system had long been in place in many countries for the production of content for broadcast radio.)

Jerry Leiber & Mark Stoller = trailblazers

Among the most prolific early independent producers are the famed songwriting-production duo Jerry Leiber & Mark Stoller, ( "Young Blood", "Searchin" "Yakety Yak," which was a huge mainstream hit, as was the follow-up, "Charlie Brown." This was followed by "Along Came Jones," "Poison Ivy," "Shoppin' for Clothes," and "Little Egypt" "Stand By Me" (with Ben E. King) "Jailhouse Rock" "Love Potion No. 9" "Searchin'" "Young Blood", "Is That All There Is?" "I'm A Woman", "Leader of the Pack","Chapel of Love." And the perennial Stealers Wheel recording of Bob Dylan’s “Stuck In The Middle With You”.) When they wrote and produced “There Goes My Baby” for The Drifters in 1959, they introduced the use of strings playing saxophone-like riffs and lavished production values into the already powerful “black” sound, laying the ground work for the soul music that would follow. Donald Fagen of Steely Dan even paid his respects by covering “Ruby Baby” on his album “The Nightfly”.

Without going into detail consider the impact of Sam Phillips, Phil Spector, British studio pioneer Joe Meek, Glyn Johns, Don Kirshner, George Martin, Tony Visconti, John Feldmann, Eddie Kramer, Brian Wilson, Phil Ramone, Nile Rodgers, Todd Rundgren, and Brian Eno.


Recording session, at Sam Phillip's Sun Studio, Memphis

How do you get a record company executive out of a tree? …Cut the rope!

The music business today is far more business than music.
The company's are run by people who are not interested in art or artists.

On the down side, there have also always been an inordinate number of ignominious scam artists, opprobrious leeches, and dishonorable freeloaders who have done immeasurable harm. (John Fogerty’s troubles with Saul Zaentz, Billy Joel’s numerous financial management ills, etc. History is littered with these examples as well.

The excellent English band XTC had to go on strike for 7 years against Virgin Records, just to get released from a contract that kept them impoverished throughout their entire career. Ironically, they gave their new music away to fans during this time, yet had to support themselves with delivery work. The R&B group TLC is the best-selling female band in recording history. However, in 1995 they had to file bankruptcy; even when their album was number one on the charts, sold 11 million copies, and had three hit singles. Before TLC, The Supremes had the honor of being the best-selling female band of all time; yet Florence Wilson, a founding member, could not support herself , dying at the age of 46 on welfare.

Artists once treasured , are now strangled by an uncaring
ill conceived class of executives that can't be bothered with projects
that aren't likely to generate mega million dollar windfalls.

In 1987, when Warner Brothers Records had one of its highest-grossing years ever, it celebrated by retiring the contracts of Bonnie Raitt, Van Morrison, and Loudon Wainwright III (father of Rufus Wainwright), among other very accomplished musicians. These artists were certainly of high caliber and Bonnie Raitt alone went on to win 7 Grammies 3 years later. The list goes on and on.

While some artists simply make bad business decisions, most artists left in poverty are victims of ruthless contractual scams. Of particular note are the hundreds of Blues and R&B artists who labored in the mid twentieth century under contracts so draconian that many were forced to leave music altogether in order to survive. This problem is so pandemic that there is actually a charity just for these musicians ( Most musicians just want to be able to support themselves by doing what they love, perhaps raise a family, and hopefully have enough money to keep themselves and their family secure. When you duly consider the value their music adds to the world, these artists should expect no less than the decency offered dogs in the humane society. Yet so often this is not the case. Why even Austin, Texas with it’s thriving music scene has a poverty problem among musicians.

Around the U.S. venues where musicians practiced their craft
are disappearing at an alarming rate.
Wages for most musicians are actually less now than in the 1970s
not taking into account inflation.
Music has become a far less viable career than it once was.
Many talented musicians don't even bother to pursue a professional career in music and take some other metal health degrading path instead. Wasting away in silent desperation.

Austin's music industry generates $616 million in economic activity each year. It provides 11,200 jobs and rakes in millions of dollars and thousands of visitors for the annual South By Southwest and Austin City Limits Festival. But the people behind it all - Austin musicians - who give the city the title of "Live Music Capital of the World," are sometimes dirt poor and without health care.

"Most musicians are at the poverty level," said Ray Benson, leader of Austin-based band Asleep at the Wheel. "The next superstar is playing for tips tonight. ... Musicians just can't afford health insurance." Benson is a board member for the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, which offers low-cost primary care, dental coverage and mental-health counseling to musicians. It seems Austin at least has a measure of decency. (And certainly so does Ray Benson.)

Asleep At The Wheel's Ray Benson is one of Western Swing's Finest!

We, the true lovers of music and musicians, expect that too. We don’t want the artists that we love having no control over their creative output, We don’t want them legally not permitted to perform their own music. As in John Fogerty’s case: Fantasy Records executives even litigated against him claiming his new music sounded like his work with Credence which they owned, so they should be given a percentage of the profits from the new recordings. This battle went all the way to the supreme court. Where John finally won. But how many musicians would be willing or able to invest the time, effort and money in defending themselves like this?

We don’t want them to live in poverty, and we want them to be decently rewarded for all that they have given us. Free market practices have been applied to the music business and what happened? The thousands of companies in business partnerships with artists were gobbled up by larger predators until now there are only 4 major corporations in control of what the public is marketed in ALL media. And they don’t know any more about music than they do about the toasters they make in 3rd world sweat shops.

The consolidation of media into only 4 or 5 corporate entities has destroyed the partnerships that once fostered recording artists and their producers.


How many supply side economists does it take to roof a house?
That depends on how thin you slice them.

We live in an age where the dogma of the “free market” seems to be championed like some warrior emperor returning from defeating a dragon who threatened to devour all of humanity. In truth that emperor has no clothes. The honest observer can see he is poorly endowed, and has nasty pimples on his bottom. The dragon he defeated was decent behavior. Free marketers are nothing new, their rallying cry led the U.S. economy directly into the great depression. The malfeasance by bankers and industrialists combined with incompetence and collusion by government officials caused unprecedented hardship and misery on common people throughout the world. (Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon advised President Hoover shock treatment would be the best response:

"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate.... That will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more moral life. Values will be adjusted, and enterprising people will pick up the wrecks from less competent people."

Hoover did not believe government should directly aid the people, and insisted instead on "voluntary cooperation" from business to solve the problem. “Prosperity is just around the corner!” Of course history smiles not on Mr. Hoover or his wisdom. The dire economic circumstances caused political reactions in most countries, either shifting drastically right or drastically left. Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini all rose to power as a direct result of the failures and iniquities of an unrestrained free market.

If you are lucky enough to have relatives still here who lived through those times, talk to them about it. Do you perceive that there is an essential dignity in your work? Are working people deserving of some as semblance of self-esteem? Those who witnessed the crash of 1929 watched the devastation endured by all but the wealthiest as the Great Depression caused worldwide upheaval . Studs Terkel once asked Alan Greenspan “what happened that caused the great depression?” “I Don’t know” was the reply.

Unfettered Capitalism is a merely a misleading synonym for unrestrained greed . Eventually, just like in the music business, all the capital ends up in the hands of the very few while the majority are relegated to serfdom. ( In fact, in the record business; the term used to describe the common practice of signing starry-eyed youths and awarding them fat advances. Then inflating their costs to recoup the production and marketing of their first album, leaving the artist broke and enslaved is called “sharecropping“).

Sharecropping was a form of feudalism
practiced after slavery was outlawed in the U.S.

Mankind’s architecture speaks volumes about the values of civilization. The highest buildings reflect our highest aspirations. At one time, in any city in the world cathedrals and spiritual places were the tallest structures. Then it was the government related buildings. Of course now we bestow that honor on the multinational corporate entities.

God ,it seems, has been replaced by corporate excess and gluttony. Of course the old Alchemist’s adage “as below, so above” seems to apply. (what we observe in the microcosm will also be observed in the macrocosm).

Mammon is the God of choice
in the today's materialistic world
of conspicuous consumption.


Today, technology has brought us to a point where it is affordable for an artist to produce and distribute an album without the assistance of a label. Ironically, this same technology is available to consumers who can easily reproduce the music. This makes it increasingly difficult for an artist to make a living from selling recordings. Internet technology allows artists to introduce their music to a potentially large audience at low cost without necessarily affiliating with a major recording label. The design of digital file sharing software encourages the discovery of new music. Sites with larger libraries of songs are the most successful. This, in turn, creates many opportunities for independent bands. Royalties from such digital services could prove to be an important source of income. If an artist has already paid to record, manufacture, and promote their album, there is little additional cost for independent artists to distribute their music online. Digital services offer the opportunity of exposure to new fans and the possibility of increased sales through online retailers. The downside my friends is that musicians are not necessarily audio engineers, producers in the classic independent sense, or marketing strategists.

A typical on line indie CD retailer offers 14 year old Biff Riff’s crayon inscribed 1st CD he ever recorded that wasn’t a drink coaster alongside the CD that a dedicated musician staked their years salary and blood, sweat, and tears in creating. This can be a daunting marketplace for the uninitiated but the rewards are worth the effort.

On the upside, in the case of digital distribution, an artist lends a company the right to distribute their music. The contract is non-exclusive, and the rights to the music continue to belong with the artist. Online retailers include:

CD Baby with over 150,000 artists, a great place to hear new music and safely purchase a CD if you like. Everyone loves CD Baby.

Cds From The Artist

Music Forte

Indie Cds (Australia)

Download Sites:, a direct-to-consumer mobile entertainment store, provides access to a more limited catalog of CD Baby albums, and offers ringtones of the recordings.

Apple iTunes - Downloadable program for Mac and Windows.

Arvato German-based website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on both independent and major label music. Arvato's services are available worldwide.

AudioLunchbox One of the first all-independent music download sites.

Bitmunk multiple reseller downloads.

BuyMusic A la carte downloads for 79 cents for anyone with Windows IE browser.

Chondo Site that specializes in black music worldwide including Jazz, Blues, Hip Hop, Urban/R&B, Gospel, etc.

Daiki (Music Online Corp) Daiki Sound is one of the largest Japanese online retailers of independent music.

DestraMusic is an Australian corportation that provides DRM music services to a variety of retailers in their network.

DigitalKiosk DKT places digital kiosks in independent music stores in Indianapolis. Users can purchase tracks from the kiosk and then create a CD with those tracks (soon customers will be able to export songs to portable devices).

Emusic Website for Mac, Windows, Linux where members can download up to 40 tracks per month of high-quality MP3 files.

GreatIndieMusic Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music. Great Indie Music's services are available worldwide, and they also sell music through eBay.

HearMusic Hear Music provides kiosks for Starbucks. Starbucks customers can preview music and burn CDs on demand through these kiosks.

Inprodicon is the licensing agent and technology provider for the majority of online music retail sites in the Nordic region.

Interia Polish service that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on both independent and major label music. Interia's services are available worldwide. is an online digital music store that specializes exclusively in Pacific Island Music and music of all genres by Pacific Artists.

Liquid Digital Media Liquid exclusively provides music for Wal-Mart's digital download store.

Loudeye exclusively provides music for some select retail outlets, including Cingular's mMode service, BurnLounge, and OD2.

Mouzika Site that specializes in independent World music.

MP3-Extension The one and only music download site that pays its members for downloading music.

MP3tunes Online music store that allows purchase of regular MP3 files, for maximum compatibility with all computers and players.

Mperia Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music. Mperia's services are available worldwide.

MSN Music Microsoft's music store is integrated into Windows Media Player, so people who use Windows Media Player can purchase music from their desktop.

MusicIsHere Site that offers a la carte downloads - based in Latvia.

MusicMatch Audio jukebox program for Windows. No longer accepting any new content, as they were purchased by Yahoo.

MusicNet provides music for Yahoo! Music, FYE, Urge, iMesh, Music Gremlin, Synacor and Virgin's download services.

MusicNow Website that offers a la carte downloads. MusicNow plans to launch a streaming service and also provide music services for other retail companies.

Muze provides music for AT&T/Cingular Wireless, eLegal Arts, and Gibson.

MyKidsTunes Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on children's music. My Kids Tunes' services are available in the U.S. and Canada.

Napster Downloadable program for Windows. Yes it's now legal and paying.

NextRadio-powered WebTunes is a BellSouth-branded online music service for BellSouth's internet customers. WebTunes is the exclusive online music service for BellSouth's portal.

Nifty is one of the leading Internet Service Providers in Japan, and controls it's own music store called MOOCS. MOOCS is an SD-Card based music download service that sells independent and major label downloads which can be transferred to SD-cards. Nifty also offers a streaming service.

NTT is one of the most popular wireless carriers in Japan. Users of their service can purchase permanent downloads from their phones and portable devices.

PassAlong Website that rewards participation by allowing users to "pass along" recommendations to friends via IM or email and earn free music for helping promote download sales. PassAlong also sells music through eBay.

PayPlay is a download store that focuses on independent music. It's available for Windows users and requires no registration or software download.

PlayIndies Company that offers many services to independent musicians, including a site that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music.

Puretracks Canada-based service that acts both as an online download retailer and a back-end service provider for other retailers, such as Tower Records.

QTRnote Website that offers a la carte downloads.

Rhapsody Downloadable program for Windows, based more towards playing/streaming/listening than downloading. Rhapsody is owned by Real Networks.

Ruckus is a subscription download service designed exclusively for colleges and universities. Participating schools pay a monthly subscription fee to provide their students with all-you-can-eat "tethered" downloads.

RuleRadio Online radio and download store.

SNOCAP offers a way for companies to freely distribute protected mp3 files and allows artists to sell their music from their own websites and MySpace pages.

SonicGarden Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music. SonicGarden's services are available worldwide.

Sonific uses independent music for promotional purposes and sync licensing. Songs that have been signed up for CD Baby's promo program are included.

Sony Connect Sony's new digital download store.

Theta Music is a Japanese company that specializes in music technology for internet and mobile services.

Tradebit Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music. Tradebit's services are available worldwide.

TreeTunes Website that offers a la carte downloads and focuses on independent music. TreeTunes's services are available worldwide.

USEN Corporation USEN is a leader in Japanese media that operates one of the leading Japanese digital music services called OnGen.

Verizon V CAST
V-Cast Music Store is Verizon's digital music service that can be accessed on a PC and on new Verizon phones. V-Cast includes music from the major record labels and independent artists.

Wippit Wippit is one of the leading U.K.-based digital download services.

WrapFactory WrapFactory lets you distribute your music as "wraps" - protected files that include photos and customizable artist info with the audio.

YooPeDoo YouPeDoo is a site based service that offers a la carte downloads from major labels and indies. It is operated by Nareos and does not use peer-to-peer technology.

PeerImpact Peer Impact is a legal and monetized peer-to-peer service that pays artists and rewards customers for promoting their favorite music.

Digipie is a service that offers a la carte downloads and provides incentives to customers that want to promote their favorite music.

Flip Technologies places digital jukeboxes in establishments. Users pay to select songs for play (streaming).

INTENT MediaWorks DRM-wraps files then distributes them through P2P protocols.

iSound Site that offers a la carte downloads and will offer free streaming music at 128 kbps.

Nareos is an online retailer that sells music through its online store and its "peer-to-peer presence platform" which promotes secure & legal sales of music on all P2P networks, including its own service PeerReach.

Tasty Audio is a free service that offers legal music discovery through a web based player and community. The service helps artists identify the geographic and demographic breakdown of their audience. - great free download site started by Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno.

Although this list is not comprehensive. I invite our dear readers to visit these independent music sites and explore. Right now digital distribution is only 5- 10 % of music sales. I imagine that number will grow. As the traditional music industry is floundering, the artists who are truly dedicated to their craft are going to land on their feet. Those who become artists really have no choice in the matter. Artists are driven to create, whether or not the mechanism exists for profits or business partners. Why? because they are going to find a way to support themselves through their art by any means necessary. History definitely suggests this. Many have already been selling their music directly to the public via the Internet. Aimee Mann, Janis Ian, Michael Penn, and Public Enemy are already doing this. Aimee Mann herself has said that she has made more money from the first album she sold on the Internet than all of her previous albums combined.

Next week, in the 2nd part of this article we will be meeting a few independent artists from various backgrounds and locations worth your due consideration. This is one of my main purposes in doing these articles. To draw attention to the genuine creative activities of those musicians that have been laboring a bit out of the public at large’s field of view.

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Duly Consider and Considerable Sounds are TM of this publication and are subject to liabilities thereof

1 comment:

Greger said...

Holy shit thats a good article.
This may be the best I've come across on the subject.

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