If the Music Won't Come to
By refusing to wait around to be
discoveredand, instead, taking the dissemination of their music into
their own handsOR joins the legions of DIY mini-moguls putting out
their own CDs. Herewith, some hints on how toyepdo it
There are several ways to go about
making your own CD. You can do as much of it as you can on your own, which
means overseeing the different steps of production for the disc itself, designing
the artwork, printing the covers and inlay cards, purchasing and assembling
the plastic cases, etc. Or, you can go with a company that will assemble
the whole shebang for you. Many companies specialize in this; DiscMakers
is among the most reputable. Another company, CRT, located near Nashville
(not surprisingly, Nashville has many music manufacturers who are willing
to work on small jobs, offers the following: "From start to finish, or anywhere
in between, CRT will manufacture your compact disc, cassettes, CD ROMs, and
also print all related graphics that you will need." You will pay a premium
to use a company like this, however.
For extremely low runs of a CD, you
might even consider hooking up a CD-R to a computer and burning your own
one-offs. The advantage to this is that the music on each disc can be
personalized. If all you wanted on Earth was to be signed by a record label,
you could sing a personal love song to Mr. Geffen on one disc, add a howdy-do
to Mr. Sony on another, and include bonus-tracked alt.country anthems on
the CD you send to Bloodshot.
Which method of duplication is best
for you depends on your budget and how much of a control freak you are. A
good way to research CD replication places is on the Internet. The Nerd World
site has links to manufacturers of compact discs at
The smaller the run of CDs, the more
they'll cost per disc, and the less chance you'll have of recouping the money
invested in the disc. For a first CD on your own label, even if the band
has huge commercial potential, the best you can hope for is to recoup. The
Internet newsgroup alt.music.independent usually has updated news on distributors
going under, and if you post a question about which are the most reputable,
you're likely to get an honest, helpful response with contact information
from others who are a little bit farther ahead in the small label game.
Most stores and distributors nowadays
want you to have bar codes. To get your own bar code (recommended if you'll
have regularly scheduled releases) assigned by the Uniform Code Council,
call for an application kit. Or, if you've researched the situation and decided
to use the Cortical Foundation, a low-cost replicator who specializes in
small runs, they charge $550 for pressing up 500 discs, and charge $200 extra
to master it, which is a pretty great price.
For more detailed advice, you should
check out Simple Machines Records' infamous DIY bible "The Mechanic's Guide
To Putting Out Records." It details every step of the process, from pressing
to artwork to distribution and copyrighting information. They even provide
rough cost estimates and tons of contact names, addresses, and phone numbers.
Plus, they're always updating it, so you'll be on top of the game.
Not every self-released record loses
money. And some little labels go on to sell themselves to a major label and
make their owners' millions of bucks. When in school, I knew the people who
ran Matador records. They struggled to build things up with investment money
from one of the principals' parents. There were days when they got locked
out of their offices because they hadn't paid the rent, choosing instead
to press the first Pavement LP. Luckily for them, that record and others
sold really well. They currently don't have to worry about paying the rent
or whether or not to buy a Land Rover or an Infiniti. They can just buy both.
If you're starting a label because you believe in the music you're putting
outwhether it's your own music, your friends', or some band that plays
in the bar down the street that you just think is just the greatestif
you're doing it because you really believe in the music, then you'll be satisfied
to just make the music available to people. Just don't expect to make any
money, and concentrate on recouping by keeping detailed records of everything
and on top of anybody who owes you money. That way, if you do make money,
it's totally icing on the cake. And perhaps you'll decide to put the money
back into a second releasethen you'll have your own label! I
Uniform Code Council:
Cortical Foundation: 310-317-4262,
or e-mail [email protected]
For the most recent edition of "The
Mechanic's Guide To Putting Out Records," send $4 to: Simple Machines, P.O.
Box 10290, Arlington, VA, 22210-1290
The music of OR has thrived in
a vacuum; how will it fare on the international post-rock scene?
by Mike McGonigal
"In hindsight, Krautrock was not remotely
'hippy' in its modern post-punk definition. It was soaringly idealistic and
hard as nails. This Kosmische Musik was played by painted freaks and longhairs
whose attitude had never left the idealism or the communes/collectives of
the mid-1960s. Krautrock's heart was still in the MC5's guitars and the White
Panthers' civil insurrection of 1969 Detroit, and the sheer moment of Andy
Warhol's 1966 Exploding Plastic Inevitable...If I had been a young German
in the 1960s, I would have played Krautrock or died. No way could I have
lived with the knowledge that my parents' generation had had dealings in
a crime beyond Biblical proportions...Krautrock transcended this and more.
Because it had to."
Musician/author Julian Cope, from his fact-crammed
KRAUTROCKSAMPLER (Head Heritage,1996).
The post-rock musicians (i.e., Tortoise, Red Red Meat, Rex, Him, Unwound,
Gastr del Sol, Labradford, Spectrum, Mouse on Mars, Aerial-M, and Turn-On)
are a generation of post-grunge artists who question the validity, the whole
pretense, of "exposing their innermost thoughts and ideas" through music.
Unlike punk rock and hippy music, post-rock doesn't propose strict judgments,
opinions, or values. The music is in between rock and not-rock, structured
and unstructured music, exploring the tensions in these in-between places.
The music of these post-rockers is first and foremost influenced by the discovery
of "Krautrock," from the perspective of having first been raised on "classic"
FM rock in the '70s. In the '80s, these musicians' ears were opened to
alternatives by indie-rock groups like the Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Black
Flag, Sun City Girls, Uzi, and the Meat Puppets. Krautrock encompasses the
psychedelia-inspired sounds created by a handful of forward-thinking German
rock bands during the late '60s and early '70s: Can's funky ethno-trance,
Faust's dadaistic collage-happy soundscapes, and Kraftwerk's rigid, fast-
car-driving, early electro, Teutonic micro-groove. This incredibly exciting
sound is characterized by music that is by turns heavy, visceral, and spacily
ethereal. The ideal Krautrock effortlessly achieves all at once. A
trance-inducing use of repetition helps root rhythms in the body. The use
of droning keyboard, jet engine guitar, Teutonic folk violin, experimental
flute-playing, transcendental singing, and otherworldly, electronic oscillations
help guide the music steadily toward the astral plain.
Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express is the bridge from utopian Krautrock
to dystopian industrial music, where machines are seen in a less liberating
way. Fueled by the fires of punk rock in the '70s and early '80s, the envelope
of acceptable sound was pushed much farther towards pure noise. Several chief
exponents of this were Lou Reed's feedback composition Metal Machine
Music, the advanced British group Throbbing Gristle, and later the
supra-cacophonous German ensemble Einsturzende Neubauten. The uncompromising
music of these musicians still makes Trent Reznor sound like the Bowie-wannabe
he is, playing in a sandbox of half-baked, recycled musical ideas.
Which brings us back to OR...sounding like a crazy super-psychedelic whirling
dervish rock outfit one minute, they can come on like delicate sound-scientists
the next. What they're doing is fundamentally vital and really clued in to
the international "post-rock" (a dumb term if ever there was one, but I didn't
come up with it so don't blame me) movement. OR's music is a strong counterpart
to this vital, exciting, intentionally messed-up sound. Like other interesting,
savvy rock-based groups today, OR builds samples of sounds they create
themselves, looping and playing them towards infinity. This group has thrived
in the abject disregard of Knoxville's music scene. But Knoxville's finest,
who gig for free regularly, will likely no longer be a secret, because, with
funding from an anonymous backer, they've put together 10 tracks which they
will have pressed up and sold as their first CD.
"What's good about Knoxville is obviousif you suck, no one's there
to see you suck," says guitarist/vocalist Scott Key.
"Well, 30 people are there to see us suck, on average," sampler Martin Beeler
says. Thirty? "It's 30, yeah!"
But there was that show at Mercury...
"That was definitely less than 30," drummer John Talbird answers. "We cleared
the place out," Beeler explains. "We looked up at the end and it was
eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee (makes a flat-line noise)."
"As far as Knoxville, it's just where I live," Talbird says. "I don't feel
'good' or 'bad' about it. I like Knoxville as a small college town, but I
don't think it's really beneficial for an experimental band as far as people's
acceptance. I think that there's a nice, small group of people that appreciate
experimental or nontraditional music forms, but I don't think there's a lot
of people interested in coming to see it."
"We could be living in Chicago and we would have the same overall percentage
of music-goers at our shows," Key explains. "It would be more people coming,
but it would still be the same group of hipster/nerds. I would be just more
miserable. I lived in Chicago to go to the Art Institute and didn't like
it at all; there was no real socialization there. When it comes to certain
kinds of art, it doesn't matter where you're creating it. We could be in
Lenoir City once we had the thing down. You could be any kind of band in
Knoxville, and people don't show up. It's different only if you've got hype
associated with you, which usually involves having gone somewhere, gotten
a contract, and returned as the conquering heroes."
"I think our music is really accessible to people from all kinds of music
backgrounds and all kinds of tastes," Talbird says.
Talbird has a lot to do with why OR's sound works. He's got this metronomic
thing going on; he has a style, an easily-recognizable groove that gives
their recorded music a distinct flavor. Talbird describes it: "When the band
was just a duo with Key and me in the beginning, I would change things all
the timechange the tempo a lot, speed it up, slow it down. It was easier
to suddenly change tempo with two people, especially because he might not
always be playing rhythmically. But with the three of us, it's limited what
I could do in that kind of way. I agree, I do get into a groove. And really,
each piece is just one rhythm with variations on it throughout the whole
seven or eight or 15 minutes, whatever the piece is."
Key's guitar tactics are unlike most other guitar players; it's distinctively
droning, holding one note for a long time. He says it's because "I don't
know how to play," but that's humble pie. Key listens to a lot of traditional,
ethnic music from Norway, India, and Japan. "In any other band, I wouldn't
be able to play this way. It's very rhythmic, the way I play. I saw this
thing about Bo Diddley recently, and he said, 'I was always listening to
the drummers; I was trying to do the drum parts on the guitar.' Having always
played with Talbird, I can really respond to what he's doing; there's a total
dialogue going on there." Key will also occasionally use an old, beat-up
Casio keyboard to sample the group's live playing, then play it back through
So what does Beeler do? "Twiddling knobs, buddy!" he says. In a live show,
he sometimes samples pre-recorded tapes of the group playing, while they're
playing. Beeler mixes the sampling with directly playing cassettes, CDs ("Things
I can get a good clear sustained sound out of, like minimalist stuffTerry
Riley, Messaien organ music, film soundtracksI try to make them
unrecognizable, through EQ and delay, and just running it through my crummy
equipment changes it a lot"), a mixer, a keyboard, and a little bit of guitar.
To paraphrase venerable jazz bassist/composer Charles Mingus, when music
strays too far from song and dance, it can really suck. I personally need
my experimental sounds to be tempered by some palatable combination of rhythm
and/or melody; OR feels the same way. As Beeler says, "We're not a noise
band." So what kind of music are they? "There is the old people's music thing,"
Key says, readying himself to launch into a manifesto. They're music for
old people? "No, we're amateur music, old popular music. I think of the band
as being and this is why it doesn't bother me to be in Knoxville but
it would bother me to relocate to like New York City, or to have teeming
millions of fanslike in pre-recording culture. When people made their
own music for other small groups of people to listen to. That doesn't mean
that they were uncritical, but one made music as a creative act, not as an
attempt to foist one's image on the world and to make money."
OR's live sets are organic, flowing from one sound to another. But there's
no compositional score, no set list taped to the stage. At the shows I've
seen, the group started all playing one sound, or along with one basic sound,
and 30 to 40 minutes later ended on another note; the entire group rallied
around it, and they all knew that meant it was the end. "That's the extent
of the structure we set up beforehand, really. It's not a sound so much as
a certain texture or level," Beeler explains. "It's just what we know that
we do together," he continues, "how that'll sound, as a texture. It's just
that we know what it'll be like when I play accordion and Scott plays bowed
guitar. The whole thing about limitation is important. A lot of it just happens
intuitively. At a show, it's about keeping it coherent."
"These kind of boundaries are important," Talbird adds. "It keeps it from
just getting redundant or self-indulgent."
"One time we had a three-hour time limit," Key says.
"And it was self-indulgent!" Beeler quickly adds.
Putting out your first record by yourself is a good way to begin. "You learn
that the gods are against you," Key says.
"The trick to doing everything ourselves is to find people we know or that
somebody we know knows, so that we can do it cheap or for free, from the
recording to the mastering," Beeler explains.
The benefactor behind OR's CD, who doesn't want to be identified, would say
only, "My actions speak for themselvesjust write that an anonymous
patron came through for them."
Typically, Key has "mixed feelings" about the CD, the projected street date
for which is February 1, 1998. "I just don't know how much the recording
aspect of it has to do with OR. I've always looked at it as a performance-based
thing. My main impetus is playing live. I'm unsure about the validity of
it, in a world cluttered with records. At the same time, most of my influences
come from recorded music."
Personally, I'm glad somebody else has stepped in to help these young lads
release their music; I could see it being well-received by writers and
music-lovers around the world. But if OR were left to do it themselves, they'd
probably just have critical discussions together about the "validity" of
it until they were blue in the face.