[MUSIC] More Bands Finding Venues on the Web
- More bands finding venues on the Web
Not desiring -- or willing to wait for -- a major record deal, more
artists are distributing their music online.
By Alana Semuels, Times Staff Writer
Like many aspiring musicians, Sebu Simonian longed for the day when
he would sign a contract with a major record label, giving him at
least a shot at rock stardom.
But the 28-year-old lead singer of Los Angeles band Aviatic said he
recently ended discussions with several record companies, including a
major label, that had expressed interest in working with his band.
They couldn't agree on the terms of a contract, he said, so Aviatic
opted to become an "e-band," peddling its music online.
"Most musicians, when they start out, think you've got to get signed
in order to succeed," Simonian said. "But now that the Internet has
developed to become a really powerful tool to sell yourself, it's not
It's nice to have the deep pockets and clout of a major record
company. Without them, the guest shot on "The Late Show with David
Letterman," the music video, the spot on a radio playlist and the
headlining concert remain longshot dreams for most artists.
Nonetheless, the Web is turning into a viable alternative with which
bands can develop a following and earn some money while still
pursuing fame and fortune. Such popular groups as Britain's Arctic
Monkeys used the Web extensively before getting a break. Indeed,
music companies are embracing the Internet as a convenient way to
scout new talent.
"Labels will start to treat e-labels as farm clubs," said Aram
Sinnreich, managing partner at Radar Research, a media consulting
firm based in Los Angeles. "The Internet is going to become a market
Bands like Aviatic know it's risky to depend only on the Internet and
concerts to promote their music. But as more Web services provide
artists a venue to make a name for themselves online, bands are
realizing that signing with a label is no longer a make-or-break
"It used to be that a record label was the only way you could go,"
said Jay Frank, head of programming and label relations at Internet
giant Yahoo Inc.
Opportunities are ample at such sites as Yahoo Music and at digital
distributors like Tune Core, Orchard and Digital Rights Agency.
Social networking site MySpace, which hosts 3 million bands online,
recently partnered with Snocap Inc., a company that helps artists
sell their music online.
"Artists are increasingly being offered a broader set of tools to
distribute their music online," said Alex Rofman, director of
business development at Snocap.
Portland, Ore.-based CD Baby features the work of more than 155,000
artists who earn a combined $35 million a year through the service.
The independent distributor takes a $4 fee per album sold on its
site, giving artists a bigger cut of their record sales than they
would get through a label.
"Now, artists can give the finger to the labels and just do it
themselves until the situation is really right," said Derek Sivers,
president of the company.
Some artists say they like using CD Baby because they don't have to
sign away the rights to their music. Others don't like feeling as if
they are the property of a label.
"I am trying to make records that I'll be proud of for a long time,"
said Michael Andrews, a 38-year-old Glendale-based artist.
Andrews has worked on albums released by labels as a session musician
and producer. But when he made his own album, "Hand on String," this
year, he decided to release it over the Internet. Doing so, he said,
gave him more creative freedom.
With a label "you have to moderate your music in a way that's going
to be deemed acceptable to the mainstream," said Radar's
Sinnreich. "It's very difficult for an artist to feel like they're
doing something innovative that also has a fair shot at getting
stocked on the shelves of Wal-Mart."
Not that it's an easy road. A band that sells exclusively over the
Internet has to be responsible for promoting its own music,
developing a fan base and booking its concert schedule. Aviatic's
Simonian spends half of his time working on the band's music and the
rest dealing with logistics.
"Most artists don't have that type of work ethic," Yahoo's Frank
said. "Most artists like to play music and party."
But self-promotion also helps some artists develop a more loyal fan
base. Rather than buying an album because they hear about it on the
radio, listeners purchase because of word of mouth. Sites such as
Yahoo Music and CD Baby make this possible by recommending music to
listeners based on their tastes and interests, allowing a band with
an eclectic sound to develop a following of a few thousand fans.
Jim Guerinot, who manages independent band Social Distortion along
with such big-name acts as Gwen Stefani, No Doubt, Nine Inch Nails
and the Offspring, said talented artists ultimately had to decide
whether they were content to remain in an online niche market or
would rather trade some of their independence for a shot at stardom.
Guerinot, a former senior executive at A&M Records, said that
although an increasing number of artists were opting to stay small
and make a sufficient living from online sales, those who desired
more still had to go through a major label. Barely any bands New
York-based Clap Your Hands Say Yeah being an exception are able to
generate much buzz without a label, he said.
George White, Warner Music Group Corp.'s senior vice president of
strategy and product development, said labels offered promotion and
marketing capabilities that far surpassed those available to
independent artists. They include lucrative opportunities such as
selling an artist's songs as mobile phone ring tones, which make up
half of Warner's digital revenue worldwide.
Although self-distributing artists may make more money per album
sold, labels can help sell more albums by getting them on the shelves
of big retailers, generating more income for the artists in the long
run. Labels also are usually crucial in developing bands into
successful touring acts.
Still, growing via the Web has appealed to the Manchester Orchestra,
an Atlanta-based band that is selling music on its MySpace page
"Sometimes it takes time for a band to develop and turn people onto
them in an organic way, instead of jamming it down their throats with
some marketing tool," band manager Jay Wilson said. "That's the whole
power of MySpace people find music and they tell their friends
The labels are at least watching Web bands, using musicians' sites to
nab artists who are building momentum.
"If we were to remain the kind of company that record companies have
historically been, this might hurt us," Warner Music's White
said. "But we have either completely reinvented how we're structured
or are in the process of changing it."
Even some independent artists agree that the Web alternative has its
limits. Gary Jules, a musician who, with Michael Andrews, wrote the
song "Mad World" on the soundtrack of the cult movie "Donnie Darko,"
knows the business from both the label and Net perspective.
Jules worked with A&M Records on his first album, released in 1998,
and Universal Music Group on his second, in 2001. He is selling his
third CD, a self-titled album released in August, on CD Baby.
"It's shifting so that unknowns can make it, but it isn't there yet,"
The 37-year-old artist recently moved from Los Angeles to North
Carolina, where he plans to raise his family on the "decent living"
Internet sales generate. Since August, he's sold about 5,000 records
over CD Baby. He earned $10 for each album, generating the same
amount of money he earned from his first record contract.
"I figured out I was happiest when I was working small," he said.
Even for Aviatic's Simonian, the Web hopefully is a temporary
stopping point where the band can establish its footprint. Right now
he sees himself in a music purgatory in which he's achieved some
success but not enough to have labels knocking on his door. And
despite the freedom of the Web, he said, an eventual label deal still
"If there's big money being offered by a label," he said, "I don't
think there's anybody who will refuse that."