Legendary surf-style guitarist Dick Dale being interviewed on-camera, seemingly after a gig by an amateur music journalist, presents his advice to today’s smart up-and-coming musicians. Forget about all that buncome about getting instant fame and fortune by signing with a major label. Get smart and stay indie, stay the hell away from the labels.

This is so awesome and so right on. I’ve been saying some of this same stuff for a while, but I haven’t the voice or the experience to back it up, only what I’ve picked up secondhand from artists who’ve been there. That this message continues to gain momentum is one of the most important aspects of the sea change going on right now in the music business.

The “industry” is largely crooked and record labels as most of us know them are fast becoming obsolete. Personally, I think the little indie labels will abide, inasmuch as they represent a group of artists banding together to increase their collective profile. What’s made the indie successful is how it connects brand with a piece of aesthetic territory – if you like one or two bands on such-and-such label, there’s a good chance you’ll dig a good chunk of the others. Today’s and tomorrow’s smart indie label will work to maximize this coherence and creatively harness the power of the Internet and of computerized data processing in general.

With that, here’s a quickie little business idea I had for selling mp3 singles online independently: rather than wait for a label or anyone else to promote your new song or album in the legacy media, go directly to the fans on your band’s email list, the very minute you put the new song out there. (I’m thinking of taking this approach with individual songs, a la the single model. It’s been said that the album era is over, and I’m inclined to think there’s something to that; on the other hand, not necessarily. But that’s a topic for another post, perhaps.)

Anyway, the way I’m thinking is this: A fan of your group could get your new song on a file-sharing network, or just directly copy the file from a friend; but the sooner you tell them you’ve got a new song out there, the less likely that their friends already have it, and the less widespread it will be on the file-sharing networks, and in any case, it’s additional effort to go searching the net and/or their friends for the song; time and effort that many would pay around a dollar to save. The minute that mp3 gets upload, get that email out there to your list, with a link in it that goes straight to where they can get the song right now. Convenience, baby – it’s what allows gas stations to sell grocery items for well above what they go for at the grocery store. And as society gets increasingly networked, why wait for them to sit down at a computer and check their email? Text-message their iPhone, or whatever.

I think this should be the principal way that an indie band should put their recordings out these days, and it actually makes a virtue out of dispensing with DRM crap. Build a following by playing gigs and hustle them a little bit to get on that mailing list, then take advantage of that list. Email the whole list when your new song comes out, before you do any other kind of promotion for it. With any luck, a few people pay the nominal price for the song and hopefully like it so much they give copies to their friends. Stick your website address in an ID3 tag so those friends know where to go to find more about you, and right on the front page slip in a form where they can sign up to the list too.

The band mailing list is a time-honored practice, but in my opinion bands still fail in so many ways to properly exploit that data. I’ve got a lot of ideas on how that can be remedied and I’m working on ways to pull them off using this magical machine called the computer.

Charlie Schiz

Charlie Schiz
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. I've been weird all my life. It's my time to shine.

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