Economic Slump May Help Independent Musicians

Posted on Friday, January 30, 2009, under: Radio, Human Interest

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The economic slump could bump up business for independent music artists. People tend to swipe their credit cards at Web sites that offer one-of-a-kind melodies, instead of buy mass-marketed compact discs that may offer a few hit tunes. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario spoke with a Southern California artist who’s trying to break into the biz and make a few extra bucks. Sixty-year-old Bill Wood is a self-taught audio engineer. His passion for sound has inspired him to make music.

Patricia Nazario: Race cars circling the track, cats tip-toeing down a dark alley – if it makes a sound, Bill Wood likes it. He uses his imagination and his personal CD collection of standard loops to make music.

Bill Wood: Here’s the loop. [music loop plays] It’ll go on like that forever, if you want it to. But I wanted it to sound a little different. So, I just added… [beats added to music]

Nazario: He hasn’t named this song yet. But he recently finished his first 13-track CD. He calls it Genesis Green. All Wood’s songs originate from his collection of loops: Synchro-Funk, Deep House Funk, Latin Percussion, and Electronica.

Wood: That’s my favorite. It starts to make sense when you take it apart and you put it where you want it.

Nazario: The music loops don’t deliver royalties, so Wood’s aiming to at least mix a one-hit wonder. The retired local TV news producer set up a recording studio in a spare bedroom at his Los Angeles home. The space would probably just fit his granddaughter’s crib and some toys.

Wood: My goal would be, out of six-and-a-half-billion people in the world, if I could find maybe 10-, 15,000 who like my music and come and buy a track from me, that’s cool. I’d be overjoyed if that happens.

Nazario: In the age of iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and MySpace – it could happen.

Jai Manselle: There are people who get on MySpace and literally they just look for new bands, or they look for new producers, or they look for new artists.

Nazario: That’s Jai Manselle. He established a Web site five years ago for his Virginia-based media marketing and branding firm. That’s where this music comes from. Manselle represents about 100 clients. They’re independent artists, like Bill Wood, looking to plug into the music business. Manselle says the time is right.

Manselle: I think that’s part of the reason why you see so many of the big record labels pull people out of obscurity now, because they had a lot of hits on MySpace. You know, they used to say keeping your ear to the street to find the new underground or the new independent artists. Now, they keep their ear to the Internet.

Nazario: A classic example is the Oklahoma band Hanson. The three brothers are best known for their hit song “MMMBop” about a dozen years back. A merger eliminated their label, Mercury Records, and the brothers eventually walked away.

After their departure, Hanson set up a Web site to keep in touch with fans. Producer Jai Manselle says it worked. Almost six years ago, the group established an independent record label called 3CG Records.

It stands for “Three Car Garage,” the name of Hanson’s current recording studio. The brothers’ first album in years topped the Billboard independent chart.

Nazario: Most musicians without the Hansons’ boy-band cachet need extra help to get noticed.

[Nazario (interviewing salesman): “And what are we talking about for somebody to set up a home studio?”]

Nazario: I stopped by the Sherman Oaks Guitar Center Music Store to find out what it takes for independent musicians to record in their garages or spare bedrooms. Salesman Jonathan Floyd:

Jonathan Floyd: An audio interface somewhere between $199 and a couple thousand dollars, you can record a suitable, ready-for-retail quality CD right in your own.

Nazario: Are you a musician?

Floyd: Yes, I am. And I recorded my own CD right in my own house and it’s a beautiful thing!

Nazario: Floyd says that in the five years he’s been a salesman at the San Fernando Valley music store, he’s seen technological advances enable people to record themselves and reach an audience – even if they don’t have much money or talent.

Norman Hajjar: It’s not a fad. It’s a revolution and it’s nothing but good for us.

Nazario: Guitar Center executive Norman Hajjar says the national chain sponsors contests and includes profiles in its monthly buyers’ guides to help unknown artists launch their careers.

Hajjar: We wanna make the customer the hero. We wanna shine a light on them when we can. Make their achievements something more broadly noted.

Nazario: Hajjar says hooking up independent artists with the tools they need to succeed – mixing boards, software, microphones – is increasingly central to Guitar Center’s mission. But the sweet spot is the Internet. It’s wresting power away from the major record labels and transferring it into the hands of artists and the fans who find them online.

Wood: It’s still up to me to find the audience and let them know those tracks exist and where they can go get them.

Nazario: At his home studio, Bill Wood says he’s willing to do that. He and Jai Manselle are collaborating on a project they can sell to advertisers. They hope it’ll become a one-stop-shop for listeners anywhere in the world who crave hard-to-find music from independent producers.


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