Mad props to Derek Sivers

July 26, 2005

Who’s that? The founder of CD Baby, the single most useful site for independent musicians today. I remember being in bands 10 years ago. You couldn’t sell your CD unless you had a distributor, and you couldn’t get a distributor unless you had a radio promoter, and you couldn’t get a radio promoter unless you had thousands of dollars to spend, and on and on. He describes the whole mess here.

Now, you press the CD, send as many as you like to CD Baby, and they sell them for you. This is how The Long Tail happens in the music biz.

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Ka-ching

July 18, 2005

Paid over $100 for three tickets to the Seattle Beck show on Friday night, and I feel like an idiot. This review is too nice–not only was the show kind of hokey, but it was only an hour and fifteen minutes long. The reviewer doesn’t even mention that about half the songs were incomplete–it was like he started playing, got through the first chorus, didn’t like the audience response, and switched to a new song. Medleys are a cheap way of pleasing lazy reviewers and casual fans, but for those of us who counted ourselves among his real fans and have actually paid good money for all seven of his records….so over.

Le Tigre opened. Their act consists of screaming the kind of lyrics a first year women’s studies major might dream up over heavily sampled beats and rudimentary guitar and bass. I can’t tell if they’re serious or a performance art project, but it was about as much fun as a government rally in a communist dictatorship.

Contrast this with a band I saw in a 50-seat club on Wednesday, Sugar Skulls, consisting of three women (violin, bass, and keyboards) and a male drummer. Absolutely were some of the best musicians I’ve ever seen anywhere–sort of like Mahavishnu meets Knitting Factory jazz–fast and precise, but also organic and beautiful. By shredding the hell out of any guy who took the stage that night, these womyn did more for feminism in 50 minutes than Le Tigre could hope to do in a lifetime of “girls don’t have to try” political rallying.


Watching a band break

July 15, 2005

It does happen: good honest rock and roll bands filled with good honest rock and roll people really do climb the ladder of success.

About three weeks ago, The Purrs, a band that I admire and have written about before (“absolutely so great that I’m stunned that they’re playing an Irish frat pub on a Saturday”) finished their first full-length album. These guys have been together for about four years, with the current lineup for about one and a half, and were stuck pretty much where so many good bands get stuck–no label, shows at good clubs on bad nights and bars on good nights. Although they did get some nice press and a bit of college radio play for their last EP.

The new record, The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of, sounds great, especially given that it was recorded with simple inexpensive microphones (57s and 58s) and a Tascam digital recording unit–the kind of gear you can buy on eBay for under a thousand bucks. Professional mastering probably helped give it a nice loud “radio-ready” sound, but the simple fact of the matter is that great songs and solid performances shouldn’t need a lot of highly involved and expensive studio trickery. I mean, all those groundbreaking Motown and jazz records were recorded with one (or maybe two) boom mics, live in the studio. I appreciate studio geniuses like George Martin and Alan Parsons and Nigel Godrich, but rock and roll is just rock and roll.

So, the band personally sent about 50 copies of the album with accompanying presskit to print outlets and radio stations. A couple days later, the program director for KEXP, which is technically a college radio station but one of the bigger ones with national influence, listened to it. Loved it. Wrote a nice review, started spinning it in light rotation, and last week officially added it to the playlist where it now stands at #3. They’re playing live on the radio station the afternoon of their CD release party. That’s right–their CD hasn’t even been “officially” released yet.

Almost unheard of for an unsigned band. So buy their CD now and you can say you were into them back when.


Digital distribution

July 7, 2005

Today, I received a press release with the grandiose title “New Music Industry Business Model Launches.” It came from a startup called INDIEBURN.com. This company offers musicians digital distribution through their Web site if you agree to let them set the price at $8 for a full album, then take 50% of the sale proceeds.

Compare this with CD Baby, a reputable online store that has been selling CDs from independent artists since 1997. They offer an online distribution deal where they’ll place your songs into online music stores that people have actually heard of, such as Apple’s iTunes Music Store and Microsoft’s MSN Music. The music store generally takes 35%; CDBaby takes 9% of what’s left over. So the musician gets (slightly) more money–about $5.91 for a $10 full-lenth, vs. $4 with INDIEBURN, plus exposure on lots of highly-trafficked Web sites.

CDBaby’s the best deal I’ve seen, but there are others, like the Digital On-Ramp from Digital MusicWorks International, which offers distribution to the major stores for a 15% cut (after the music store’s cut), plus unspecified per-download fees. (DMI also has a virtual digital record label complete with promotional budget, but that’s a different side of the business.)

I e-mailed the INDIEBURN people for more information, and they claim their small size and lack of exclusivity are the main benefits. I don’t understand the first point–wouldn’t you rather be searchable on a huge, heavily trafficked music site like iTunes than buried away on a site with a bunch of other obscure bands? But maybe if they get some promotional budget and create a kick-ass site, it’ll have its own buzz. And I like the fact that they don’t make you sign an exclusive contract.

Then again, any band with any sort of following at all can build (or hire somebody to build) a Web site, then sell downloads (or whole CDs) for whatever price they choose. If you like a particular band, are you more likely to run a Google search for their Web site and see what they have to offer, or turn to some obscuro online music store?