Independent musicians are everywhere. For every band that makes it big, there are dozens more that are perfectly happy to play the bar scene and keep their local fans happy. This is about those artists, the ones who work the long hours to record their own music, then go right out and promote and distribute it themselves; those artists who choose to be independent, whether or not they’ve had contracts to turn down.
Finding these artists and more is easy now with Internet technology. Music fans can go to the search page at http://golocal.mp3.com, where there are more than 60 listings in Bloomington for pop rock alone.
Another way to look up and sample local indie music is at record stores around campus. TIS Music, TD’s CDs and LPs, Karma, All Ears, Border’s Books and Music, Barnes and Noble and Tracks all sell local CDs.
Elizabeth Hollingsworth, sales associate at Karma Records, explains how artists can sell their albums locally.
“The artist brings us a CD and we have them sign a consignment contract,” she says. “They bring us ‘x’ number of CDs, and that’s all we’re contracted to sell until they bring more. The artists set their own prices, and they’re usually a lot lower than the prices of best-selling CDs.”
Hollingsworth says the average price for CDs by local artists is about $11.
It’s hard to say exactly how well these CDs sell. Some music sits on the rack for a long time. “Some regional groups sell really well,” Hollingsworth says. “There are always plenty of people who come in and peruse the local music section.”
While there are many bands which make Bloomington their home, here are the stories of three:
Myst is a live band, and the members make no apologies about it. Through frequent performances around the Bloomington scene, Myst members say they have developed a loyal fan following. According to the band’s Web site, the musicians “give the fans a break from their normal lives” two hours at a time.
The band consists of three members: Colby Miller, who sings lead vocals and plays guitar; Benny Appleby, who plays bass guitar; and Rob Herbert, who is featured on drums and percussion. As the band grows, it’s making changes as well.
“We’re in a transitional stage,” Herbert says. “We are considering adding a fourth member, either a new guitarist or a new keyboardist.” Until that happens, the core behind Myst remains the same. Formed in the summer of 2001 as an acoustic group, Myst performs music in the alternative rock, funk, fusion and folk genres, a blend that encompasses many styles and sounds.
Herbert asserts that they are an independent band by choice. “It’s rewarding,” he says, “in that you can trace any success directly back to the efforts you’ve put in.” As rewarding as being an independent artist is, it’s not easy right from the beginning.
“The hardest part,” Herbert notes, “is first having to start out without an established name. Once bar owners are familiar with your name, it gets easier.”
Myst has recently produced a seven-song demo, which the band members sell themselves at shows. Herbert says the band is planning to record a full CD this semester, a project it will try to sell in stores around Bloomington. Several of its songs are available on the band’s Web site.
“In the past, we’ve used a friend’s studio in Kokomo,” says Herbert. “It would be very difficult to get anything recorded without a network of friends with connections. The cost would be too great.”
Salaam is an independent band with eight members attempting to spread the beauty of Middle Eastern music to the world. The group consists of Ron Kadish, Tim Moore, Victor Santoro, Hakan Toker, Dena El Saffar, Megan Weeder, Joe Donnelly and Raja Hanania. Each member of Salaam is well-versed on many instruments, some traditional, others not so. Santoro performs with the ‘oud (a traditional Arab stringed instrument similar to the European lute), while Toker can play the kanun (a stringed instrument similar to a zither or a lap harp).
According to Kadish, there are many things that make being an independent artist rewarding.
“In Salaam, everyone is a great musician,” he says. “We are a band at a high performance level. We have high standards, and we are rewarded by great reactions from audiences, but we’ve had to make sacrifices to keep our autonomy.”
When Kadish speaks of these sacrifices, he speaks of Salaam’s brush with record companies and the band’s choice to remain independent in order to keep its musical freedom. He says indie artists can record music that is just as good or better than that of big-name artists.
“The talent is out there,” he says. “It’s just a matter of finding the right equipment.”
Salaam has released three full-length original CDs, as well as a compilation featuring favorites from all three. Though they’ve used recording studios — primarily Bloomington’s Farm Fresh Studios — the band members do most of their production themselves. The biggest job is promoting the product when the album is done.
“We play good gigs, we make the money we need and the CDs pay for themselves, so the promotions are successful in my mind,” Kadish says. “We sell albums on the Internet and at shows, and it isn’t really a lot of extra effort.”
The band plans to continue performing its Middle-Eastern blend around the region, culminating this spring with a performance at the fifth annual Middle Eastern Gala.
“We’ve stayed together as a band for 10 years,” Kadish says, “and we’ve gotten bigger and better, lasting through all our membership changes. Being in this band is a full time job, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Bentframe is an odd sort of success story. Started in Chicago in 1999 as a chance for friends Jason Brannon and Chris Crawford to get together and freestyle, it was pretty much just two crazy guys, not much more.
The duo later relocated to Bloomington to complete their college careers, and Brannon and Crawford soon found themselves uploading some of their freestyles to a relatively small site called mp3.com. Other things had happened as well, things that changed the course of the group and led to its success. They began mixing their freestyling with comedy, and Bentframe was born.
Talk with fans about Bentframe these days, and the thing most-often mentioned people will be the band’s big Internet hit, “Star Wars Gangsta Rap.” This three-minute hip hop satire of the original Star Wars movie led almost single-handedly to the duo’s success.
“When we started the Web site,” Brannon says, “the two of us would look at our stats. ‘Look! Two people heard our song!’ Two days later it was, ‘Look! Fifty people heard our song!’ Soon enough it just went crazy.”
Word of mouth and the easy accessibility of the track on mp3.com soon led to the band having thousands of downloads on its mp3 page every day. In the prime of mp3.com’s payola program, in which artists were paid five to seven cents per download, Bentframe became online celebrities, earning around $8,000 a month, making it one of the highest-paid bands on the Web site for months. As of mid-August of this year, the band’s site had registered more than 2.5 million downloads.
“We’ve had no contract offers, which is baffling,” Brannon says. “We’ve had the millions of plays on mp3.com, coupled with possibly 5 million downloads just off Napster in its heyday. You get that kind of exposure in the real world, and you’re record company dreams come true.”
Brannon is now branching out from his comedy hip hop roots. Bandmate Crawford has returned to Chicago, and the two haven’t recorded anything new for the Web site in a year. The two collaborated on the award-winning “Star Wars Gangsta Rap” flash cartoon, available at http://www.atomfilms.com. The cartoon recently won the fan prize in the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, sponsored by Lucasfilms, Atomfilms and George Lucas himself.
“I enjoy working with film and animation, and that’s the direction I’m personally heading in,” Brannon says. “I’m currently trying to get a group of Bloomington film students interested in my projects, because atomfilms has been begging me for a follow-up to ‘Gangsta Rap’.”
Brannon still takes independent musicians very seriously.
“If you’ve got the money and the right equipment, you can make music that is very polished,” he says. “Hell, look at us. We’re no experts, but we’re polished, and we did this well.”
Jonathan Sanders is a music features writer for the Indiana Daily Student. This article is reprinted from the September 12, 2002 issue of the IDS. To see the original internet article, visit http://www.idsnews.com/story.php?id=11397