Technology allows virtually all musicians to cheaply record and duplicate their music. The difficult part is getting that music into the hands of listeners. And that need is being met by a handful of small labels that have cropped up in the Quad Cities in recent years.
They release a wide range of music, from hip hop to industrial, and just about everything in between.
These labels are often one- or two-person shows, and they often resemble collectives more than corporate organizations. But the people running them argue that they're a key part of the music industry and the local music scene, allowing artists to reach audiences they might not be able to otherwise.
"We were tired of sitting around waiting for a hip label to want to release our music," said Jason Parris, one of three people running the new Future Appletree label. Starting in February, the label plans to release five CDs from five different indie-rock bands: The Marlboro Chorus, Driver of the Year, Seth Knappen, Chrash, and Tenki.
That sick-of-the-music-industry refrain is nearly universal among proprietors of small labels. "There are a lot of bands that blew me away that nobody had ever heard of," said J.T. Tapia, who runs Nail in the Coffin Records. The label has two seven-inch-single releases so far, from The Vida Blue (now Ten Grand) and Growing.
"Basically, we wanted to get good music out that wasn't getting out," said 20-year-old Johnnie Armchair, one of the two people behind Blood on Blood Records. The label has released a pair of seven-inch singles, including a new one - "Music for Ghosts" - from The Winter Blanket.
Parris believes the label will provide its bands "power by numbers," and that it can provide expertise to bands. "We know the distribution people," he said. "We know the media people. We know the radio people." The goal is essentially to "cut the Big Brother out of the thing," and help both bands and local record stores. An independent label can also sell CDs more cheaply than a major label, and the band can get as much as $4 per disc - much more than from a major label. "You reap all your benefits," he said. And labels help independent records stores such as Co-op by offering local music not carried by many chains.
"It's all in who you know," said DJ Mixxin Mel, whose Sin Hawk Productions label has been producing and releasing hip hop records in the Quad Cities for 20 years, accumulating more than 30 releases. The label's biggest release, by Alkatraz, has sold roughly 7,000 copies. The advantage of the label for artists is that much of the groundwork has already been laid. "I've networked since 1985," he said. (He said that his label has slowed down since he shut down his recording studio.) DJ Mixxin Mel also said independent labels offer artists full artistic control. "The more you put into it, the more you get out of it," he said.
A lot of these labels are using the Web to get their music out, in addition to releasing music on CD. "About 70 percent of the marketing is getting people to the Web site," Parris said. He added that he's working to establish relationships with a handful of storefront Web sites to help get the material distributed. And a benefit concert for the label on December 7 is intended to raise enough money for Future Appletree to buy ads in publications such as CMJ New Music Monthly.
Most of the distribution models aren't nearly so sophisticated, though. "I push my records on everyone I know," Tapia said.
And some local labels remain modest in their goals. Octopoid Productions handles four active bands - primarily in gothic and industrial music - but Joshua Bentley, one of the three people behind the label, said he doesn't expect big things. "Music is basically Hollywood, and we're just bit players," he said. "I see Octopoid as merely a stepping stone for everybody associated with it." The label prides itself on creating interactive content for its CDs, such as videos.
Business is only part of the equation, though. "The label's kind of a family," Parris said. And, of course, the label can craft an identity for itself by the bands it chooses to release. "The label has its own soundtrack," he said.
And that can help all the bands on a label. If a label has a strong reputation, Johnnie Armchair said, "people will buy it because they trust the label."
Future Appletree Records will hold a showcase fundraiser at 8 p.m. on December 7 at the Peanut Gallery in Rock Island. The label's five bands are all scheduled to perform.
Also on December 7, Octopoid Productions will host a free show at 9 p.m. at Lumpy's in Davenport to mark the release of the new Human Aftertaste CD. Also on the bill are Wisteria Losenge and One Night Standards.
And on December 21, The Winter Blanket will celebrate the release of its single on Blood on Blood records with a show at the Eagle Reception Hall in Rock Island.
Links to Local Record Labels on the Internet, all featuring downloadable music:
Future Appletree Records: (http://www.futureappletree.com) with 10 downloadable songs
Mobb Boss Records: (http://geocities.com/mobbossrecs)
Octopoid Productions: (http://www.octopoid.com) with many downloadable songs
Sin Hawk Productions: (http://sinhawk.ohgo.com)