Photo by Danmcp from the Miniatures Photoset.
Discussion about the evolving intersection of web 2.0 and the music industry tends to gravitate towards the repetition of cliched mantras which (re)announce the death of the major label and champion the democracy of social networking. While these market trends appear to be in full swing, the manner in which they play out in specific musical economies and subcultures varies greatly. Since electronic music is so tied to technology, it makes sense that independent labels and artists in this field would serve as a good barometer for the market shifts that are transforming the entire industry from the (under)ground up. Torontoist has sought out the perspective of two artists working within the local electronic music scene to chat about their experience with social media and new-school digital distribution.
DJ and producer Noah Pred cannot be accused of being lazy; in addition to several recording projects, a job at Moog Audio and teaching aspiring producers the ubiquitous Ableton Live software platform, he also runs the label Sentient Sound. Noah’s imprint features an international roster that includes several seasoned Toronto techno producers such as NAW, Myers Briggs and Adam Marshall.
What distinguishes Sentient Sound from a number of other Toronto based independent electronic music labels is the fact that it is exclusively digital. The label was launched in 2005 and Noah is quick to point out the decision to ‘go digital’ was relatively straightforward as “the uphill battle of pressing vinyl…with its daunting manufacturing costs, no longer seemed worth it, while the digital download market was just beginning to flourish.” DRM-free niche retail outfits like Bleep and Beatport have reshaped the marketplace for the once vinyl-obsessed DJ community. Beatport has further blurred the distinction between online artist presence and the retail experience through a proprietary media player which can be plugged right into any web page and profiles on many social networks. Noah categorizes these changes as both democratic and inclusive as the market is now “unrestricted by manufacturing runs and accessible to everyone with a computer, playable by anyone with an iPod or CD-burner. The size of the market for electronic music has expanded exponentially.”
Vergel Evans is another example of a local artist who has thrown himself headlong into digital distribution. Evans writes and releases music and also hosts the popular techno-culture podcast Lx.7. The podcast invites the audience into Vergel’s studio to “de-mystify the process” of producing house and techno and also documents key North American festivals like Mutek and DEMF. Vergel is extremely enthusiastic about the potential for artists to “find their audience” through social media: “Last.fm is especially amazing since it allows the community to rank and associate music they find relevant. I’ve uploaded two albums worth of material and have found that my music ranks well with people who like like Arpanet, The Black Dog, and Sleeparchive. I didn’t pick them, the network of listeners on Last.fm did.”
While no stranger to utilizing social media for promotion, Noah Pred has spent time doing A&R for other labels in the past. He is rather direct in his prognosis that at the end of the day “at least for underground music…it’s the quality of the music that sells the record.”
It is worth noting the range of experience artists are having in marketing their music right now; on one end of the spectrum, you have self-publishing and distributing artists tapping into niche communities that span the globe and conversely what Vergel Evans describes as the sad reality of “major artists trying to move away from labels and record stores and retail in business like Starbucks.” Artists like Noah and Vergel are a good frame of reference when considering how social media and digital distribution might play out across the music industry in the near future. Given the perennial marginal status of techno in Toronto, it only follows that these artists have to hustle that much harder than your garden variety buzz band.
Noah Pred Photo by basic_sound from the Fukhouse Photoset. Vergel Evans photo by Jofus S.