How the Internet has changed the way local musicians do business
“I’ve never even considered realistically trying to go look for a label to support what we do,” says Joshua Lowe of local acoustic American roots band, the Juncos. “If you asked me this 10 years ago I may have had a different answer, but ... almost all the bands that I know have their own labels. They do it themselves and they make the most money out of it.”
Local musicians seeking audiences outside of the Santa Cruz bubble cite live shows, community support, and grassroots outreach as the most successful means of promotion available. With the availability of online sale venues, musicians across the genres are taking on a more do-it-yourself attitude when it comes to promotion.
“I think the record industry is dying because for the last 30-plus years, forever actually, it’s been all about making money,” says Lowe. “Now that there are all of these other avenues to get your music out and self promote, the industry is going to continue to die.”
It is no news flash that the music world of today little resembles the pre-Internet world of 10 or 15 years ago. Artists of all sounds, style, and stature have at their fingertips the tools that record labels once monopolized. Social networking sites, as well as the individual website, make self-promotion viable; while music sale websites like the online iTunes music store and Bandcamp.com provide venues for individual sale.
Several months ago, local band Audiafauna turned down a signing offer from a record label in the Berkeley area because the offer proposed gave few benefits to the band. “We didn’t really have much incentive to go with this offer they made us,” says Krikor Andonian, Audiafauna’s guitarist/keyboardist. “When we first got an offer it was like, ‘F*ck yeah, we got an offer from the record company, that’s exactly what we want!”
Audiafauna soon discovered the label offered a rotten deal. The band would not be provided free recording time, but rather owe the label roughly $15,000. “We wouldn’t have to pay them right away, it was like debt,” says Andonian. “Then after we paid them off, we would have to buy our records from them. We’d be giving them a lot, but we’d be receiving maybe some promotion; maybe they’d put us on the radio ... we decided to keep our own publishing rights, our own rights to our music.”
Andonian notes that the Internet at large makes it possible for artists like Audiafauna to get out there, label or not, though it is still not an easy process.
Audiafauna raised more than $8,000 by way of Kickstarter.com, an online pledge site that sets up a space for artists to reach into their communities and generate donations for specific projects.
Originally, Audiafauna planned to use their Kickstarter revenue to record their upcoming album, Roots, in a studio. They decided instead to self-record and put the money toward future promotion.
Andonian says the decision to self-record has pushed back the album release date, but freed up the creative process. “The songs are now evolving because of our approach,” says Andonian. “Time is money in a studio. ... Because we’re doing it at home we can really assess; we can go, ‘let’s think about the tones, and the song structure and everything.’ In a studio you don’t have that luxury.”
However, not all label-free artists decide to self-record. Lauren Shera is a folk musician from Santa Cruz who, with the help of a publicist, has shared stages with the likes of Phil Lesh, Ray LaMontagne, Jason Mraz, Billy Bragg, Joan Osborne and played for the crowds of the High Sierra Music Festival, Sausalito Music & Arts Festival, Monterey Music Summit, South By Southwest, and more.
Shera recorded her two existing albums with local Andy Zenczak at his Gadgetbox Recording Studio, located on the Westside of Santa Cruz. “Andy has wonderful insight and instinct in the studio when it comes to the arrangement of a song, and knowing how to embellish the right parts and bring out this or that in order to make the song as tasteful and well rounded as possible,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”
While Shera’s parents helped to financially support her first two albums, she says she will probably dip into Kickstarter.com for the first time this year.
In his 15-year career, Zenczak has worked with more than 300 musicians and recorded more than 1,000 songs. While the record label may be fading out of trend, Zenczak says the recording studio and producer remains a viable option for musicians.
“One of the original roles of the producer is someone to be that fifth Beatle—someone to be the sounding board for the elusive creative process, which can and should run wild,” says Zenczak. “It’s not up to the musicians to self edit all the time. It’s up to the musicians to create and not judge, so the producer can act as the individual who helps channel those creative ideas into an ideally framed picture that showcases the band’s musical uniqueness.
“The Internet makes the pond as big as you want it to be but it still doesn’t give you the boat to get across the pond,” Zenczak adds. “Make a record you can be proud of. A lot of times that means working with a studio engineer that knows the way to encourage your creativity to support the artistic idea of your music and can help bring out the best in you as an artist. That will never be relegated to a dinosaur like fate like the record label might.”
Shera says the most important way to promote your music is to stick to what you love, and share that with your audiences. “Audiences can sense honesty,” she says.
Although their Santa Cruz beginnings provide local musicians with an accessible supportive community base, many are looking to expand their audiences.
“We’re actively trying to not play in Santa Cruz too much,” says Andonian of Audiafauna. “You’re a successful band if you’re successful in California, New York, San Francisco, L.A., but if you’re successful in Santa Cruz it’s not much—it’s a small town.”
The Juncos are also reaching out to the surrounding areas for shows. Lowe says there is no promotional replacement for word of mouth appreciation. “My philosophy is just play,” he says. “Play music, keep playing music, and people will take interest.”
Photo caption: THE FIFTH BEATLE Gadgetbox Recording Studio owner Andy Zenczak says that while musicians may not rely on record labels very often these days, producers and recording studios remain strongholds in the music business.
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