SXSW festival showcases Indie artists
As CD duplication has become cheap and widespread, thanks to home computers, and Internet marketing has made it possible to do worldwide promotion campaigns with essentially only the investment of time and creativity, bands and singers-songwriters have found that they don't need to get signed to Sony Music, Warner Brothers or MCA/Universal to get their songs "out there."
There are a flurry of small boutique record labels catering to niche market acts, and thousands of acts form their own labels to self-release their material. These bands can range from neighborhood garage acts to "heavyweight" major label artists like Prince and Aimee Mann.
Mann, who has scored hits both as a solo artist and with her '80s band 'Til Tuesday, is currently releasing her own music via United Musicians, a label she formed with her husband and fellow artist Michael Penn.
But what indie labels lack is the money and distribution reach that the major labels have. They can't press 100,000 copies of a CD and have it available in every retail store, and have to rely on "guerrilla marketing" tactics to get their music in the hands of new fans.
One of the best investments a band or artist can make, if they are serious about promoting their work, is to attend the annual South (By Southwest) Music Conference and Festival in Austin, Texas. The conference draws a music industry melting pot of up-and-coming acts, and representatives from all levels of the music industry, from club owners, radio programmers and music critics to record label scouts and CD duplication and T-shirt printing companies.
Panels of experts advise bands on how to market and promote themselves during the day, while at night, bands perform showcases for indie and major label representatives alike. The next conference will be held March 12-16, and the deadline for bands to apply to perform a showcase during the conference is coming up fast — entries must be postmarked by Monday.
Bands that want to head to Austin to strut their stuff before thousands of industry types next March need to send an application, CD or cassette of original material, photo, biography, press kit and processing fee.
The SXSW conference is also a great vacation opportunity for music lovers; for four nights, conference attendees (who don't HAVE to be involved in the industry) can walk in and out of 50 local music venues, and see showcase performances by both brand new and mid-level "name" bands (last year They Might Be Giants and the Smithereens' Pat Dinizio played, as well as Chicago's OK Go, who are now getting Q101 airplay for their debut CD). Check the Web site for more information on performing at or attending the conference: www.sxsw.com.
Indie rock, which has SXSW as its networking "home," has thrived for decades thanks to small "vanity" press companies that would print up a few hundred copies of a 45 single, cassette or more recently, a CD. Often the quality of these releases is on par with the music put out by the mega-labels, and is both more adventurous and innovative. So it's worth it for music lovers to do a little seeking sometimes, to root out indie bands that have a sound that has more appeal to them than the latest Kid Rock or BBMAK or Britney CDs. Even if you can't attend SXSW, you can find hundreds of bands via the Internet that are making exciting, challenging music for small dedicated fan bases. Following are some indie releases that have crossed my desk over the past few weeks:
Gilli Moon, Woman.
Gilli Moon's Temperamental Angel disc, released on her own Warrior Girl
Music label ranked as one of my top albums of the year in 2000 and her followup
album, Woman is now out on the same label. Woman offers both introspective
"girl and a piano" songs like its intro, "Real" where she asks "why do I need
a man to make me feel like a woman?" as well as dancehall-ready remixes like
the Cher-influenced "Woman," and the throbbing synth come-on "Naked" (a track
revamped from her last disc). There's the unstoppably coy "Do Ya Wanna?" and
my favorite track, the stomping, tribal "Bop to the Rhythm." There's a sinuous
funky grind in "I'm Calling You" and an almost dirge-slow run-through of INXS'
"Need You Tonight." There's a punchy guitar driven treatise of affirmation in
"Organic" and the delicate big ballad "To Be With You." Will a variety of moods
and attacks, the album is almost too expansive at 18 tracks, but there's definitely
something here for everyone. Gilli Moon offers one of the best examples of just
how good indie releases can be. For info and sonic samples, check her web site
Gene is a perfect example of how indie labels can sustain the life of a
band that has fans, but maybe not quite enough fans to keep releasing albums
on giant label conglomerates. The band released its first album on an indie
label in 1995, graduated to the big leagues to release a couple discs on
Polydor, and these days is back to an indie (iMusic) for its sixth release.
Libertine is a fine example of distinctive British guitar rock, somewhere
between The Smiths, Pulp and Oasis. For more information and song samples,
check their web site at www.genemusic.com.
JW-Jones Blues Band,
Bogart's Bounce. I love to see a blues band live,
but I'm not one to put on blues albums in my living room. Bogart's
Bounce, on the small Northern Blues label, is an exception to that
rule. Opening with the infectious jump-blues instrumental "Flatline,"
the disc continues through 14 upbeat blues and classic R&B and "Shake,
Rattle & Roll"-influenced tracks. The band trades off vocals throughout,
and has a couple guests stop in at the mic (including Fabulous Thunderbird
Kim Wilson). None of them will win any competitions in the "best vocalist"
category, but it's all solid stuff backed by Jones' saucy guitar work,
with doses of humor ("Sweet Sugar Mama"), "pop" blues ("Time To Move On,")
walkin' blues ("Bogart's Bounce") and more. Influences abound, from Booker
T. & The MGs soul to B.B. King twang to '50s swing-jazz. This is just
a fun disc to play. For more information see the web site at www.northernblues.com.
Fight. Fans of '80s metal may remember Doro Pesch
as the lead singer of Warlock. In the '90s, she released a string
of solo albums on Phonogram/Mercury. While she's outlasted her easiest
comparison - fellow female hard rocker Lita Ford - the bottom of the
metal market dropped out years ago, and these days she's releasing discs
through indie label SPV. The title track to her latest disc shows the
singer with no signs of slowing down; "Fight" is a fist-raising anthem
that leads off a disc of head-banging guitar rock. The album's centerpiece
is a slow-growing "lighter" ballad, "Undying," which begins with a piano-backed
verse and moves into a treatise on lost, but undying love that eventually
explodes with guitar solos. For more info, check her site at www.doropesch.com.
There are plenty of Chicago area bands who release discs on their own
labels. Park Forest native Dave Rudolf has been doing it for years,
offering both kids albums and offbeat musical comedy. His latest folk-rock
treatise is a two-CD set that ranges from classic bop rock ("It's So
Simple") to string and piano-imbued folk fare ("The Ball") to back porch
crooning ("Will Remember You"). He even manages a Jimmy Buffet style
ballad in "Island Getaway." This one won't blow you away with innovation,
but it's a decent background listen. For samples, check his web site