Archive for the ‘Read’ Category

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Read: The Indie Band Survival Guide

October 23, 2008

I’m not a musician. I’m just a fan. So I’m kind of amazed (and grateful) that the bands I like are willing to put up with smelly vans, sleeping in a different place every night, and what I’m sure is pretty marginal pay to keep making new music and coming out to entertain me. I’m acutely aware that it wouldn’t take much for most of them to pack it in, go get a day job, and maybe play gigs with their friends in their hometowns occasionally. I therefore have a strong vested interest in seeing the bands I like succeed, at least to the point where putting on the green apron doesn’t seem like a better alternative. So listen up, new bands – please go read Beatnik Turtle’s Indie Music Survival Guide.

Beatnik Turtle, themselves an independent band, have collated everything they’ve learned into this guide, which is available either as a PDF [PDF link, duh] or as a paperback – something you can read during those quiet stretches in the tour van. The guide is a pretty enlightening read even – maybe especially – for a non-musician. It starts by busting the myth of ‘getting a record contract, getting heard on the radio, and being a rock star,’ and then goes into the tools a band can use for a DIY approach. Topics include promotion, putting on shows, filesharing, the basics of recording an album, and a nice primer on copyright and alternatives (like Creative Commons licenses) for independent bands. Speaking of which, for their own music and other work, they decided to improve on Creative Commons licensing by starting with Sampling, Attribution and Noncommercial and adding a proviso: “Don’t make it suck.”

Read more about the Indie Music Survival Guide and join the online forums here, or purchase a dead-tree edition here.

MP3 link: Beatnik Turtle – Mason Rocket (Spy Extraordinaire) [more song info]

[via Boing Boing]

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Read: Empire of Dirt

May 29, 2008

Wendy Fonarow is an anthropologist and lecturer at UCLA, and in Empire of Dirt: The Aesthetics and Rituals of British Indie Music, she turns her professional eye to the indie music subculture. It’s a scholarly work, and the nature and tone of the writing reflects that, but it’s nevertheless surprisingly readable. If ‘culture’ can be loosely defined as ‘all the things that you do that you don’t think about doing,’ part of the fun in reading this book is developing a self-awareness of indie culture by viewing it through the eyes of an ethnographer. For example, she talks about the central role of live music, and describes the existence of distinct ‘zones’, with zone 1 closest to the stage, zone 2 the intermediate region, and zone 3 near the back of the venue:

For the majority of zone one (the exception being the very front rows) participatory spectatorship is embodied in demonstrative physicality coordinated with the music and in following the proper etiquette associated with being near the stage. For zone two, participatory spectatorship is embodied in mental concentration on the music and a prolonged visual focus on performers onstage.

She goes on to describe the ‘proper etiquette’ for both regions (as well as for zone 3, the music industry zone), the demographics of the different zones, and how participants choose zones and transition between them.

Fonarow also makes an excellent case for using Puritanism as an analogy to understand indie culture: she contrasts indie music against the major labels (ie Catholicism), describes its ethos of simplicity, and compares their common emphasis on an unmediated experience of the ‘divine’:

I see a lot of the religious narrative of Puritanism in the indie music scene; the idea that, to have the pure divine experience, it has to be direct and unmediated. So the smaller and more intimate a show is, the ‘truer’ fans believe their experience was, compared to someone who saw them later on in a bigger venue. That’s why so many people claim to have seen the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club.

While Fonarow’s fieldwork was mostly in the British scene in 1993 and 1994, many of her observations still apply today, and to indie rock culture on both sides of the Atlantic. One exception is that she describes indie rock as defining itself in opposition to dance music (‘technophilia/technophobia; electronic drums/electric guitar; synthetic/organic; faceless/charismatic artists’). But this was before artists like Dan Deacon and Girl Talk, and the many other crossovers between indie and dance/electronica.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably immersed in indie rock culture to a greater or lesser extent. Empire of Dirt is a fascinating guide to thinking more deeply about what this culture is and what it means.

Popmatters review

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