June 21, 2004 4:00 AM PDT

Indie music riding the digital surge

Having learned a thing or two about the guitar and songwriting, Geoff Byrd is practicing another instrument that could prove even more important to his musical career: the Internet.

News.context

What's new:
Independent musicians are augmenting traditional promotional methods such as touring, word of mouth, fan clubs and posters with Web sites, e-mail lists and blogs. Listener recommendations, online preview clips and samples, shared playlists and other grassroots Web tools are also changing the music landscape.

Bottom line:
The trend could one day reduce the percentage of music sales currently controlled by a handful of heavily promoted acts and boost recognition for a greater number of less-popular artists.

More stories on this topic

Byrd's music has consistently ranked among the top listings on GarageBand.com, a Web site that allows independent musicians to review one another's songs. For the next few weeks, the Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter's tunes are going into Internet radio's version of heavy rotation, due to a deal announced Wednesday between GarageBand and the Live365 network of stations.

The new Net radio promotion is just one in a series of offers Byrd says is finally adding up to a powerful set of tools for independent musicians online. Largely through Internet promotions over the last year, he's sold thousands of CDs, won opening slots in several large concerts and drawn calls from major label scouts.

"Everybody is the product of what works for them personally and practically," Byrd said about his online experiences. "But every connection helps. The way I look at it, any exposure is beneficial to artists."

Independent musicians have long turned to the Internet in their struggle for recognition outside traditional industry channels such as radio and MTV. Now, in the wake of the dot-com bust, many are discovering that savvy online marketing may never catapult them to stardom--but it can give their careers an important lift.

For all its promise, the Net has not yet created any overnight sensations. That power, for now, appears firmly locked to television, where popular contest shows such as "American Idol" have put unknowns at the top of the pops with ease. By contrast, the Internet is proving its worth to independent musicians primarily as a complement to traditional marketing efforts known to generations of road-weary rockers. Touring, word of mouth, fan clubs and posters are now being augmented with Web sites, e-mail lists and blogs.

Still, signs of the Internet's growing influence are beginning to be felt in a variety of ways, musicians say. Listener recommendations, online preview clips and samples, shared playlists and other grassroots tools are bringing more knowledge and choice to consumers than ever before. That trend could one day reduce the percentage of music sales currently controlled by a handful of heavily promoted acts and boost recognition for a greater number of less-popular artists.

Many say it's about time. Independent musicians and labels counted for about 25 percent of the $32 billion global music market in 2003, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

Early digital music boosters predicted that the Net could help increase that market share. Independent labels and artists have traditionally struggled with distribution, and the Net--in theory--allows any artist to reach a global fan base, they reasoned.

In practice, the Internet hasn't proven to be a magic bullet.

A handful of established artists have attempted to move outside the major label system by going online, trading on their offline popularity to draw Web audiences. Most prominently, Prince maintained his own Web store throughout much of his self-imposed exile from major label distribution. Although he's now back with Sony Music, his latest album is still available for download on his site.

Indie rock band Wilco temporarily distributed its 2002 album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" on its own Web site after being dropped by its record label, only to be picked up by a related label a few months later.

Some underground artists have found fleeting success. DJ Danger Mouse's recent "Grey Album," a mash-up mixing Jay-Z's "Black Album" with The Beatles' "White Album," was distributed widely through blogs and Web sites after record label EMI Group blocked its commercial release, for example.

But the most popular artists in today's download services, and on the biggest Internet radio stations, are still Britney Spears, Outkast and other superstars from the offline world.

"The Internet is certainly a way of showcasing music in a larger venue," said Jupiter Research analyst Michael Gartenberg. "The question is getting it heard and getting people to pay for it."

To iTunes and beyond
Independent labels and artists are beginning to play an increasingly visible role in download services such as Apple Computer's iTunes Music Store, where bragging rights to the largest collections of tracks--including obscure independent songs--are a critical selling point.

In large part, this growing indie presence is due to the services of a set of aggregators that serve as middlemen between the labels and the big online services such as iTunes and Napster. These companies, such as the Digital Rights Agency and the Independent Online Distribution Alliance, help small labels place their albums inside the music services, even helping them negotiate royalty rates that might otherwise be impossible.

"It's still a struggle in most cases to get rates that are competitive with the majors," said Tuhin Roy, the founder of the Digital Rights Agency. "It's only through the collective bargaining power of organizations like ours that we're getting close."

CD Baby, an online CD distributor for labelless artists, also helps its musicians place songs in iTunes and other services. Loudeye, a company that digitizes music for the major labels, offers a similar service to independents that helps them win a spot in download catalogues.

The digital download market is much broader than iTunes and its direct rivals, however. A handful of independent labels are beginning to create their own stores. Warp Records, a prominent electronic music label, recently launched its Bleep.com, offering downloads of ordinary MP3s from several independent labels, without copy protection, for about $1.35 a song.

Niche sites offering sales only of punk rock, jazz or Christian music have sprung up. A company called Weed lets people trade and buy independent musicians' songs using a private peer-to-peer network.

Finding a sympathetic ear
Despite all the new distribution capability, independent musicians still face their oldest problem, however: How to get noticed in a market where potential listeners now have as many as 700,000 songs at their iTunes-browsing fingertips.

GarageBand, a boom-era company that was recently rescued and refinanced by current Chief Executive Officer Ali Partovi, has one answer to that question. Independent artists like Byrd can post their songs online, but they must first review other artists' music. The top-rated songs are prominently displayed on the site, and have, at least in Byrd's case, drawn contacts from top industry managers and label employees.

CNET News.com publisher CNET Networks offers its own site where independent musicians can host and promote their music, Music.download.com.

Internet radio stations can provide some similar exposure. Live365, which lets independent DJs run their own Webcasts, has its top songs show up on charts in industry magazines Radio & Records and CMJ, both of which are closely watched by big labels and broadcast radio stations.

In the end, artists say the new tools for independent musicians are coming into their own. But at least today, they remain complements to the traditional modes of incessant touring and offline self-promotion.

Byrd said that he's had his songs reviewed by radio promotion consultants, and they picked the same potential singles that GarageBand.com reviewers liked. He's now taking those songs to broadcast radio stations.

For his own plans, the feedback from Internet radio and his CD Baby sales has been invaluable, the songwriter said.

"I'm selling a ton of CDs in Connecticut and Pennsylvania," Byrd said. "It helps me figure out where I want to tour."

7 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Weed works with any public network
Hi,

Weed is a powerful tool for independent music promotion, and its main strength is that it works with any distribution method you care to use -- P2P, FTP, WWW, CD, DVD, whatever. No private network is required.

Weed files can be played 3 times for free. If you buy a Weed file and share it with someone else who buys it, you receive a 20% commission on the sale.

Weed is based on the idea that sharing music freely is a good thing and it should be encouraged -- as long as artists get paid in the process.

The Weed system makes it easy for anyone to start selling music on the Web ... you can sell your own music, or anybody else's music.

Here's a guide to some of the biggest Weed sites:

weedshare.com/web/musicguide.html

Your mom was right ... sharing is good.

John Beezer
beezer@weedshare.com
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Weedfiles spread like weeds across the internet
96decibels has embraced Shared Media Licensing's Weedfile distribution system. The Weedshare program has allowed 96decibels.com, an online music collaboration site, to provide its independent artists with a method to not only get their music heard by a much wider audience but make some money in the process.

Musicians around the world were making music a long time before there was a "music industry", the internet helps independent artist let the public decide if they like their music, not some fatcat Record Label Exec. It is the independent that is pioneering new methodologies and we applaude their efforts and their innovation.

96decibels.com is a pioneer in a phenomenon known as internet music collaboration. Musicians that have never met and are spread across the globe are creating absolutely GREAT music.

How does it work? The 96decibels online music collaboration module allows for a musician with a song idea to create a project and upload a scratch track (we call them "seed tracks") for other musicians to listen to and contribute additional tracks. The collaborating artist will download the seed track, add his/her rough mix to the seed track and reupload to the project folder. If the project manager, (producer)likes the "audition" he/she will request the artist to upload their unmixed track to the "solo tracks" folder.

The process continues with additional tracks being added until the project is deemed "complete". At that point, 96decibels an ICP of Shared Media Licensing ensures that all rightsholders have provided the proper paperwork necessary and then begins the weedification process.

Once the new song is Weedified it is made available for other Weedshare sites to share with their visitors. 96decibels with 800 plus members currently has over 1500 weedified songs in their Music Catalog and is adding more on a daily basis.

It may not be SONY but it is a distribution channel and a chance that was never available before. We salute those musicians that are leaders in bringing internet created music to the world.

Here's a sample of our latest Weedified tune by the Progressive Rock band Azureth - a virtual internet band creating music via online music collaboration.

Searching - <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.96decibels.lunarpages.com/weedfiles/-weed-Azureth-Searching.wma" target="_newWindow">http://www.96decibels.lunarpages.com/weedfiles/-weed-Azureth-Searching.wma</a>

Here's a sample of a tune that hasn't quite completed the final mix process by the 96decibels family of collaborating musicians. This tune is not yet weedified - but we'll give you a sneek preview anyway.

Man of the House by Brian White, John Wooten, Donald &#38; Bernadette Bly

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://96decibels.lunarpages.com/music/Man_Of_The_House_final_mix_438.WMA" target="_newWindow">http://96decibels.lunarpages.com/music/Man_Of_The_House_final_mix_438.WMA</a>

Come join us at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.96decibels.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.96decibels.com</a> and see what all the buzz is about!
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
No They Don't
i like the concept. but i went to the website, watched as a file that interested me downloaded, then found that my "play" button was greyed out. i'll be honest: as much as i'd like to support indy artists (i refuse to listen to or buy riaa music), i don't have time for this nonsense. it has to work right the first time. i've got better things to do.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
CNET gets it wrong on Weed
One day CNET will use the Weed concept. As soon as it figures out what it is. :-)

Anyhow, Weed is not a p2p service. Weed is not a service at all. Weed is a format.

Weed is just a DRM format that allows people to legally share and distribute music. All the information is easily accessible from any Weed music site.

Wake up CNET, and smell the Weed. :-)


Kenny Lee

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.weedtunes.com" target="_newWindow">http://www.weedtunes.com</a>
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Weed files: 3 free plays free and consumer commissions changes everything
As someone who's been giving my music away online since
1994, from Hyperreal.org to MP3.com to other services, I can tell
you that not many people go out of their way to find free music.

When I heard about <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://weedshare.com/," target="_newWindow">http://weedshare.com/,</a> I realized it was
something different. It turns file sharing on its head. Instead of
prosecuting people who love the music enough to copy it and
share it, Weed rewards them with commissions. Also, instead of
a 30 second snippet of a song as a preview, or a low quality
steam, Weed lets you download it and listen to it 3 times, at your
leisure. If you want to listen to it more, then you have to pay for
it, but you get the bonus of being able to give the song that you
buy away to anyone you want, through any file distribution
method, and if anyone buys it, you get commissions from that
sale, and from two more resales of the file.

Musicians always get 50%, then 20%, 10%, and 5% go to those
consumer commissions. This said to me that if a musician and
their fan base exists within some community (real or virtual)
then 85% of the entertainment dollar stays in that community,
with weed. It just makes sense, and everyone I talk to agrees
that it's fair.

I founded and designed <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://ShareNewYork.com/" target="_newWindow">http://ShareNewYork.com/</a> to
encourage this kind of sharing by creating a locally focused (but
not exclusive!) site that makes it very easy for anyone to share
weed files, as well as create blogs, participate in forums, and
review music, as well as the venues and all other aspects of
making, performing, and distributing music.

We only allow weed files to be distributed on SharenewYork.com,
because they are verifiably legal to share in this way. Any other
unlocked file format (like mp3 files) cannot be verified legal, and
of course the vast majority of the trading going on in MP3s is
not sanctioned by the musician (and their producers). Weed is
always legal to share, and you always gets 3 free listens before
having to decide whether to buy or not. For music that people
don't know, it's the only way to give it a fair hearing. The vast
majority of people buying music at iTunes and online music
stores already heard the music they buy somewhere else.

And Weed really is the "cake you can have and eat" since you can
buy it, keep it to listen to forever, yet you can give it away to
anyone you want, and get commissions if anyone who receives it
decides to keep it. How many things can you buy for about a
buck, and then sell an unlimited number of times! Remember,
with a 20% commission, only 5 people have to buy the song
you're giving away for you to make your money back.

Weed is also an ideal tool for small record labels. Without weed
files, many sites selling CDs feel they can't give previews of all
the songs on the CD, because that would essentially be giving
away the music, and the incentive to buy the song is limited to
either a moral conviction, or sound quality. With weed files, a
musician can offer a preview of all the songs, but if a consumer
only like one or two songs, they can buy them directly. Of
course, fter previewing the songs, the consumer is can decide
they like the whole CD, and buy it, instead of buying the weed
files. Either way, the consumer gets better options, and the
musician/producer/record label get paid a fair price.

Many ICPs, Independent Content Providers, who are authorized
to create Weed files, do so for commissions only, without any
up-front costs to the musician. In many cases, including <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://" target="_newWindow">http://</a>
ShareNewYork.com/ the ICP also doesn't charge for hosting the
file which they "weedify".

Weed changed how I think about "owning" music. It pays
consumers for sharing. Isn't this what the record companies
should be doing? Rewarding people who love the music enough
to share it, rather than trying to sue them and put them in jail??
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Amazed
I'm amazed at how many indie music artists don't take advantage of the resources available online to promote their music. How easy is it for a musician to upload an mp3 to a podcast or web radio site? Just 5 minutes out of their day? And yet so many don't even bother doing something so simple.

Anonym97
<a href="http://www.ashradio.com">Indie Music Radio</a>
Posted by froppo (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Indie

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://myspace.com/kodeblackmusic" target="_newWindow">http://myspace.com/kodeblackmusic</a>
Posted by KodeBlackMusic (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.