Published Feb 01, 2000Many independent artists are rejoicing in the boon of possibilities that MP3 technology offered the budding musician. While the multi-million dollar labels fret over best how to contain the dubious MP3 files as a means of protecting their investments, every wannabe rock star and their younger sister have been making recordings and posting them - free for the taking - on countless web sites.
Smaller indie labels such as Phil Klygo's Teenage USA Recordings are not worried. In fact, the co-owner of the Toronto-based label sees the latest advancements in music distribution as another avenue of exposure rather than an anarchistic infection threatening to disembowel the record industry.
"It's a lot like email," Klygo opined. "Some people have it and use it while others don't." To that affect, Teenage USA has released what they've dubbed the first digital seven-inch single in Canada on their web site (www.teenageusarecordings.com). Two of the label's more prominent artists, Lonnie James (of Superfriendz fame) and Kid Lunch, each offer a free single for net junkies seeking a free MP3 download.
In reality, Teenage USA is offering what virtually every other indie band's web page offers: Free MP3s. They allow curious music surfers the opportunity to taste test James' and Kid Lunch's latest offerings, Klygo admits, in the hope that it will translate into an album sale later on.
But thousands of indie bands worldwide are taking the initiative to launch their own digital singles without any label affiliation whatsoever. Artists are foregoing submitting demo material to the wealth-laden labels potentially putting the record industry even further out of touch with innovation.
But MP3s, for all their promise, still present the indie artist with an age-old problem: How to reach one's projected audience effectively. "It's okay to have a generic web site that offers thousands of free MP3 downloads, but who is going to surf through each and every one searching for their preferred taste?" Klygo asks. "Just because you have a few MP3 files posted online doesn't mean a lot of people are going to listen."
The economic advantages involved with developing and posting MP3s far outweigh those of producing physical discs - that is, if MP3s are considered an end in themselves. For Calgary's Domesticated Horrors - a one man ambient/drum & bass outfit - MP3s have done the unimaginable: he's made a full-length album without the overhead costs of manufacturing and distributing CDs.
"It's fantastic, it certainly helped," said Johnny Murrin, aka Domesticated Horrors. "Provided you have the necessary software to burn your own disc, it's by far cheaper. The other advantage is you can completely develop two different fan bases - one locally with a CD release and the other over the net."
How can a project like mine get listened to? It's virtually impossible.
Murrin said his ten song albumPatterns , free via a generic MP3 web site (www.mp3.com/domestic), goes a lot farther in assisting the aspiring artist than the establishment ever could. "How is an unheard of project like mine, that in no way will ever enter the Top 40 on commercial radio, ever get listened to? It's virtually impossible," he says. "The cost of producing a physical disc is beyond my means at the moment."
Used as a promotional tool, MP3s can help sell an album, but musicians still need to eat. In Murrin's case, used as a sole means of self expression and distribution, the financial returns on MP3s are all but non-existent.
But from Murrin's perspective and true to artistic form, MP3s have less to do with making money and more to do with sharing his creativity. "[Record companies] are not completely useless yet. I'm sure they will find a way to harness the technology and make millions from it - of that I have no doubt."