By Christine Spilka
Nathan Williams, of Wavves
Who says the major labels have to control the music industry? Independent artists do not have to wait in line to be signed, nor do they have to change for a label once they are signed. The music industry used to pay for recordings in exchange for copyright ownership. This has remained fundamentally unaltered since Elvis’s time (Hunter-Tilney 2). With the new age of the Internet and new affordable production software, artists are taking full advantage of the opportunities available. Social networking sites, self-production software, and music distribution websites are allowing independent artists to create, promote, and distribute music on their own, eliminating the need to be signed to a major label. Although this method may not be a viable income for newer musicians, artists have the opportunity to have their music heard by the right ears, while more popular artists can take full ownership over their songs.
Social networking sites and blogging are on the rise, and music artists have the opportunity to present their product to a fan base that will follow them, whether they are close friends, strangers, or important businesses. A recent social media study from Edison Research states that the percentage of Americans maintaining a profile page on one or more social sites doubled from 24% in 2008 to 48% in 2010. Even more astonishing, the actual number of Americans who check their social networking sites multiple times a day is 39 million (Webster 1). Independent artists are taking advantage of these social sites by attracting followers and subscribers to their sites. While Facebook is mostly used for friends and family, anyone can subscribe to an artists’ music page on twitter, including magazines and major news outlets. Many other social networking sites help make do-it-yourself projects possible, including Bandcamp, Tunecore, Cdbaby, Wordpress, and blogging.
Saidthegramophone.com posted one of the tracks from the then-unknown indie act, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on their music blog. Other music blogs quickly picked it up and added to the internet buzz. Less than two months later, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s debut album landed atop Billboard’s Top Independent Albums chart—despite the lack of a label deal or distribution agreement (Bruno 2). Other artists like Clap You Hands Say Yeah have also been discovered online. Colbie Caillat, 22-year-old singer-songwriter, was myspace’s most popular unsigned musician. She was discovered and is now signed to Brushfire, the same label as Jack Johnson (Stewart 2).
While self-production allows artists to create a piece of work that includes self-expression and originality, but there are also many downsides to home recording. Some of the disadvantages to home recording are the cost of the equipment. Anyone familiar with the costs of recording equipment and software would agree that it is not an easy thing to save up for. Although this may be true, an artist does not need to spend thousands of dollars on equipment. The most ideal self-mixing program is Pro Tools. It has professional quality and is used in actual recording studios, but it costs a steep $600 for the newest full version. There are alternative programs one can use though, like Logic Express, which costs $200, or even Garageband, the free Mac software program.
Nathan Williams, under the name Wavves, is a noise pop musician based in San Diego, California. Since he recorded his first LP using Garageband in his mom’s basement in 2008, he has gained notable media attention from Pitchfork, ABC News, and other websites. Currently signed to Fat Possum Records, Williams released his second full-length album, Wavvves, in 2009 and his third album, ‘King of the Beach’, on August 3rd 2010. Both albums received a “Best New Music” rating on Pitchfork, which is ranked as the number one Indie website by Topsite.com. This proves that anyone with any kind of recording equipment can make a record, put it online, and receive attention for it. Pro tools, Logic Express, or Garageband can be a reliable software options for any artist.
The Internet provides ways for musicians to distribute their music on various websites. Mp3.com offers thousands of free downloads of independent artists, giving the artists more opportunities to be discovered (Loden 1). Websites that give artists revenue for releasing their music on such websites include Weedfiles.com, where the artist receives 50% of sales. CDBaby and CDRevolution offer artists 75% of sales on a consignment basis, as well as additional promotion. The desire to self-release music is growing increasingly popular not only with upcoming musicians, but also with those who want flexibility to be more creative with their work.
Radiohead self-released their album In Rainbows online in 2007, telling fans they should pay whatever they thought the music was worth. It was found that the album sold more than 3 million copies worldwide after the hard CD was released. Radiohead would keep all the revenue they raised themselves-and have, for the first time in their career, copyright ownership of their songs (Loden 1). This is ultimately what Radiohead had done by giving fans the option to download the CD for free. Online distribution sites can and should be used, but an upcoming artist should not rely on these sites, for record labels provide practical starts to careers. In the early stages of distribution, these sites can be beneficial for an artist by getting their music recognized by potential fans and/or record labels.
Self-production software, social networking sites, and music distribution websites are allowing independent artists to create, promote, and distribute music on their own, eliminating the need to be signed to a major label. Artists use do-it-yourself methods for various reasons, but whatever the reason may be; they have the resources at-hand to get their name and music out to the public. Through social networking, musicians can create fan-bases and followers that can assist them in sales and promotion when later distributing a product. Self-production can be made possible by affordable software and equipment. Whether an artist wants to create music for their own pleasure or they want to be the next big thing, the tools and resources are available to make that possible.