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Independent musicianship

I am an Independent Musician. Yippee! It’s a grand sounding term with an air of freedom and emancipation. As if I’d ever been an enslaved musician. “Irresolute” would be a better description. “Indie” is a faintly derogatory handle that is used in the trade. Okay-dokey. Whatever.

We are a bit despised on a number of counts within the greater Music Industry – particularly by the owners of expensive and cavernous recording studios. Why might this be so? Well, with the advent of digital recording techniques – in particular, the blossoming of recording possibilities using a computer of modest power and software, also modestly priced – anybody with a credit card can set up a “studio” and call themselves an “independent musician” and/or “producer”. You don’t even have to play a musical instrument given the plethora of looped beats and samples of instruments, real, virtual, and imaginary that are available, often for free, to produce… er… music. A couple of minutes with your free MP3 encoder and you can upload your tunes to an online music distributor (OMD) for free and offer them for free download to the free, and not so free, world. It’s little wonder that, shall we say, the variable quality of all that output is a cause for depression and cynicism in established industry circles.

One the other hand, there is a huge pool (ocean?) of genuinely creative musicians who are now enabled to realise their aspiration to record, produce, publish and promote their own music without the hopeless trudge around the offices of established record companies, with a demo in hand (which cost a small fortune to make), in the vain hope that someone might ever listen to it past the first five seconds of each song. These bleak days, or at least their inevitability, are gone. You can still choose to go down that road – and I suspect that most “indies” would jump at the chance to land a contract with a “major” if the opportunity arose, often without close scrutiny of the terms of that contract.

Nevertheless, it is true that a lot of fine and established recording studios are simply going out of business or “restructuring”. What that means I can only guess – but creating ringtones for a living won’t keep the creative juices churning, I wouldn’t have thought. And what I will readily concede is that independent musicians, unless very well-heeled, will be unlikely to set up a recording facility capable of achieving the same quality of production routinely achieved at the established studios, especially those with long pedigree and hard-earned reputation.

It’s said, time and time again, that there is a tsunami of crap coming out of our home (aka project) studios. No doubt. But I’m not hearing that much better coming out of the radio or TV, either, by and large. A long as record companies’ artist signing policies are dictated solely by short term considerations with the “bottom line”, and with scant regard to artistic merit, then they will continue their slow decline – as will the attendant service industries: recording studios and CD pressing plants.

For my own part, it has been a liberating experience to be able to set up a facility, albeit it ever so humble, where I can at last record my songs and, with a little bit of investment on professional mastering services, publish “my life’s work”. Interim Reports would not, and future projects will not, have been likely otherwise.

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