Musicians in Utah are finding alternative ways to have their music heard

Watch a multimedia video about a local record label.

Story and multimedia by HELEN COX

For musicians wanting to be heard, it’s all about who they know and how creative and resourceful they can get. Despite the current recession, bands are finding alternative ways to record and release their music.

Getting a good record deal has never been easy, and these days it’s even harder. While several record labels and distributors do exist, a legitimate contract that will pay for recording and pressing is more difficult to attain than some may realize. The money is simply not there. But several locals have been looking for and finding new ways to get their music out to the public on a low budget.

Gavin Hoffman, drummer of INVDRS and IX Zealot – and an employee of Raunch Records and SLUG Magazine – has been playing music in Salt Lake City for 18 years. He has noticed bands are more likely to find a label to pay for the release of their albums if they know someone or if they tour.

Neither of Hoffman’s bands tour. In order to get their music out, they must do it themselves by networking within the music world and paying out of pocket. It’s a sacrifice, but even in a recession he explains there is a positive aspect. People still want to hear new music.

“If we shell out the dough and the time to record, press, and send our stuff to people, someone will eventually hear it,” Hoffman said.

Even with good networking and reasonable prices, this is not inexpensive. Hoffman’s sludge punk band, INVDRS, spent about $1,300 to record, mix and master their full-length album. The record was co-released by Relapse Records. His blackened hardcore doom band, IX Zealot, spent close to $700 to record, mix, master and press their three-song demo.

“We don’t ever expect to make that money back. It’s a total investment, simply to record and get our music out to people,” Hoffman said. “Neither of my bands – in fact, no band I’ve ever been in – has ever done anything to make money. We play and record simply because that’s what we like to do.”

Local black doom metal band, Gravecode Nebula, has decided to save some money and record on their own. They brought a PC with recording software into their practice space and have spent the last several months experimenting with rehearsal recordings. They are also saving foam padding from a shipping room at a band member’s workplace in order to make sound-proofing material – padding that would otherwise be sitting in a landfill.

“With the advent of new technology and the modern PC, we see that getting a professional sound with a home recording is now easier than ever,” guitarist Eric Elde said. “Other than saving a lot of money, I think the main benefit of this is that you can take your time to perfect and enrich your music to the vision you have for whatever you want to do.”

With a label that will fund the pressing and release of Gravecode Nebula’s debut album, the band is confident that recording their guitar, bass, keyboard and vocal tracks in their own studio is ideal. Due to drums being more troublesome to record – it is difficult without proper equipment – they plan to pitch in a few hundred dollars for their drummer to be recorded in a professional studio.

While many bands have found reasonable ways to record, distribution is an even greater issue musicians face. Without decent promotion and distribution, the music may never be heard.

“After recording and pressing, we have to get the album out to the masses,” said Hoffman. “Local support is good. Sell the album at shows and get it into local shops like the Heavy Metal Shop and Raunch Records. You have to get it out into the universe. The best way I’ve found is to send as many copies as possible to local, national, and international magazines for review. Even a negative review will generate some amount of interest.”

While some bands like to stick with more traditional approaches to promotion, social media has also become a very popular and accessible outlet. With an increasing number of websites that allow musicians to upload and share their music for free, it is easier for bands to be heard. Some labels are taking these ideas to a new level.

This year Backscatter Media and its sub-label, Dungeon Recordings, launched a new website with a unique idea. Two digital compilation albums are available on the site, with the option to stream or download the music for free. Many local favorites are included on these compilations, and the labels feel this is a great way to help Salt Lake City bands get exposure.

“We were already affiliated with a bunch of different artists who we were helping out, just kind of selling their stuff on our website,” Kevin Cazier of Dungeon Recordings said. “None of these bands really had any distribution, they didn’t really have any websites built for themselves.”

Cazier believes traditional methods of promotion and distribution are still very effective, but the Internet has something to offer that is difficult to provide otherwise – free music for the public and free exposure for musicians.

“In the past we had done compilation CDs, and it kind of gave us the idea to do this,” said Cazier. “We took that idea one step further. We thought a free download would be excellent – one compilation to represent Backscatter and another to represent Dungeon. Generally when people are listening to music they don’t have as much of an open mind if they have to pay for it. It helps the bands and it helps our label.”

Skyler Sheen, a self-described artistic terrorist who runs Wee Gee Wee Gee Records, a sub-label of Touch of Horror, believes all sound should be free and utilizes his home studio and social media more than most.

“If you have a painting, you can’t really charge somebody to look at it,” Sheen said. “Music and audio – sound – should be 100 percent free. I think most people believe this or they wouldn’t be stealing, or whatever, music all the time.”

Sheen believes money should only be made from the more artistic aspects of music, and social media should be taken advantage of as free distribution. He sees live performances and creating fun, personal and interesting ways to release and promote physical albums and merchandise as the only acceptable ways of making money in the music biz.

“I don’t know why somebody would want to be signed to a record label anyway,” Sheen said. “Create your own label or create your own thing. That’s why the corporate music industry is in trouble, is because a lot of people are going and doing that.”

It is apparent that the recession has given local artists a reason to appreciate their independence, get away from outdated norms and come up with new ideas. These are qualities that could be beneficial in the long run, even though they are likely to give the music industry a run for their money.

“I think, if anything, the recession has taught musicians to value what they have, to look toward the future and find new and exciting ways to capture their music,” said Elde. “Any way to save a buck in this economic climate is beneficial.”

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