Going to Market
More musicians go online.
By Beverly Keel
JUNE 15, 1998: As the music industry becomes increasingly fragmented--and bloated--performers everywhere are starting to follow a new trend: bypassing major record labels and releasing their CDs on the Internet. In so doing, these musicians guarantee themselves total artistic control, not to mention the promise of making a little money on the side. As the Internet becomes an increasingly viable marketplace, expect to see more and more Nashvillians jump on board.
Already, a number of local artists have released their own product and placed it on the Internet. But few of those performers are part of the music-business establishment--until recently. Sandy Knox, the writer of such hits as "Does He Love You" and "She Thinks His Name Was John," just released Pushing 40, Never Married, No Kids, on her own imprint, Wrinkled Records. She's selling the disc on her Web site-- http://www.songs.com/knox. --and also through 1-800-BUY-MYCD and at Blockbuster on West End. The songs on the collection explore the life of a maturing, successful single woman--not exactly the sort of themes likely to attract Nashville's major labels.
"So many of my girlfriends suggested that I do a CD," Knox says. "Then I thought about the fact that many of the songs had been put on hold to be recorded by major artists, but they backed off because the songs were too potent, too strong, or honest. I finally realized the only person who could do them was me."
She was convinced to release the CD herself when she realized that working with a label or a business partner would mean compromising her vision and subjecting herself to unnecessary red tape. "I had several people in the business tell me to drop the 'Pushing 40' part of the title." But, as she points out, "that's the essence of the album."
Among the standout tracks, "I Wanna Know (The Betty Crocker Song)" explores the dilemma of a woman who eats too many dinners for one while reading through the personal ads: "Between Betty Crocker and Betty Friedan, I don't know who the hell I am. Do I bake cookies or be a CEO? Won't somebody tell me, 'cause I don't know." Even more pointed is "Childless": "I got a big house, got a new car, the very best clothes, a fully stocked bar. My parents, my friends are proud as can be, I dug in my heels and accomplished my dreams.... Yeah I have it all, but I'm childless."
"I didn't want anyone telling me what I could and couldn't sing," says Knox, whose songs have been recorded by Neil Diamond, Patti LaBelle, and Liza Minnelli. "They would have said several of the songs are too harsh."
And so her label was born: "I jokingly said to a friend that I should start a label called Wrinkled Records where you have to be over 35 and show your cellulite if you want a deal. You have to have lived life."
Knox isn't the only Nashville musician to start up her own imprint. Saxophonist Jim Horn recently unveiled his CD, The Hit List, on his Web site (www.JimHorn.com). Horn's rsum is impressive: He has recorded with The Rolling Stones, all four former Beatles, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty. He played the flute solo on Canned Heat's "Goin' Up the Country," the horn arrangments on the Fifth Dimension's "Up, Up and Away" and "The Age of Aquarius," and the oboe on The Carpenters' "For All We Know."
Released on Horn's own Rhythm Records, the new CD features 14 rerecordings of songs on which Horn was originally a featured player, among them Christopher Cross' "Ride Like the Wind," the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," and Elton John's "Little Jeannie." Horn explains: "I worked really hard at getting the tracks to match the original--but with today's sound." Although the collection is essentially an instrumental album, the saxophonist decided to have singers come in during bridges or choruses to make the songs immediately familiar to listeners. Leon Russell sings the bridge and plays on "Lady Blue."
Horn was inspired to make the CD after he appeared as a guest soloist on The Late Show With David Letterman. After he told bandleader Paul Shaffer that he'd simply jump in with the rest of the band, Shaffer suggested that they play some of his hits instead. "I said, 'My hits?' " Horn recalls. "He said, 'Yes, all the hits that you played on.' He more or less planted the seed."
Horn, who until recently toured with Wynonna, spent about two months recording the project; it took about a year to complete the CD and launch the Web site. "People are starting to realize that it's cost-effective to do it yourself," he says. "You end up making more money. We eliminated the middle man here; we've just gone right to the source.
"After a while, record companies will drop promotions on your album," Horn points out. But with his own label, he can devote more time and energy to promoting his own product. In addition to The Hit List, he'll soon market a smooth-jazz album featuring Louie Shelton in his Web-site catalog.
The logic of self-releasing a record becomes increasingly evident once the numbers are tallied. Most Nashville major-label releases have to sell about 250,000 copies to break even--and artists only earn about 10 to 15 percent of the retail price after all expenses are met.
But with a self-financed CD, artists can keep all the profits--and since their costs are considerably lower, they make a profit that much sooner. What's more, if they're recording their own material, they don't have to worry about paying publishing royalties. "I know people who have gone in and made a whole CD for $10,000," Knox says. "Here in Nashville, when you know people and have connections, you just know the ins and outs and how to make it work better. We didn't cut corners, we just made it cost-effective."
Going the independent route may be cheaper, but it also involves plenty of hard work: "There was a lot more to it than the old line from those Mickey Rooney movies--'Let's put on a show in my dad's barn'--and 30 minutes later they're putting on a Broadway show," Knox says. "It's not as easy as you think. I have a whole new respect for artists and producers who do it daily."
In addition, once the manufacturing process is finished, an entirely new--and much more difficult--question arises: sales and distribution. At the moment, Knox is currently looking for a distributor to handle her CD. Without a distributor, record sales are generally limited to stores willing to pick up a title on consignment.
True, there is the World Wide Web, but as Horn points out, Web sales are not for everyone. "First of all, you almost have to have a reputation," he says. "If anyone wants to do this, they're going to have to promote themselves. That's the only way to get people interested. The hardest part is getting out there and convincing people to listen to it. The easiest part was going in and recording it."
Horn hired The Press Office to publicize the CD, and he has been booked on television shows in large markets around the country. His recent appearance on TNN's Prime Time Country, for instance, helped boost his sales. His Web site also receives additional hits via links from other Web sites promoting The Beatles, Christopher Cross, and Toto.
Currently, Horn's business manager, Randy Talmadge, handles the record orders, but the saxophonist will likely hire a company to fill orders once he takes the CD to the European market. "It takes a lot of people to make this work, and you have to spend money to make it work," he says. "You can go into debt, and you hope to make it back. You pay as much as you think you can and hope that it all comes back. So far, I'm really happy with the way it's going."
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