By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
IN THE JAM WORLD, TRADING PROVIDES THE proof that the band is for real. "We owe a huge amount of thanks to people making tapes, because it's given us such an opportunity to show the differentiation between shows," says Mark Roberge, acoustic guitarist and vocalist with OAR (Of a Revolution). "Every show is different, and you can't just say it and not back it up."
Roberge offhandedly admits his band's first two albums weren't even composed before they began rolling tape. "All we did, and what we still do, is we don't practice too often. The song 'That Was a Crazy Game of Poker,' which has catapulted us into people's ears, was off-the-cuff completely. The first verse was written, but the second part was completely improvised, and it kind of stuck." Roberge improvises lyrics and melodies with the same fluidity that his bandmates create extended solos. OAR's early recordings, tracked and mixed in mere hours, were self-released on their own Everfine label, with the business end handled by Mark's brother Dave.
"We started selling those and made a CD with Discmakers, just going in and paying $1,000 for a couple hundred CDs or whatever. We didn't have the resources, experience, knowledge or money to do it any other way."
OAR have steadily increased the size of venues they play by constant touring. From humble beginnings at backyard parties (which they still do for friends and longtime fans), they now play larger clubs and small theaters, ranging from 500 on the road to 4,000-seaters in Columbus, home of the band's alma mater, Ohio State. They can fill the House of Blues here in Los Angeles. On top of the rabid file sharing and tape trading, fans are purchasing the band's CDs at live shows or through Web sites -- in OAR's case, mostly CD Baby, a site devoted largely to private labels. Web sales are so brisk that their latest, Risen, debuted at No. 11 on Billboard's Internet chart, which tracks SoundScan sales posted by Amazon.com, CDNow and smaller sites. The chart position represents a first week's sale somewhere in the 2,000-unit range.
Live work can also fund recording and home labels. In Howie Day's case, the Bangor, Maine, native juggled classwork with substantial touring during his senior year in high school. Radley caught a set three years ago when Day, then just 17, opened for Ziggy Marley. The pair began a partnership, and Radley secured Day a showcase at a NACA (National Association for Campus Activities) Conference. Day played for 1,500 college talent buyers, which directly led to four months of work in the lucrative college market.
Day self-financed the recording and the manufacturing of his debut EP and follow-up album, Australia."He looks at what he's doing now and sees he has a good thing going," says Radley. "He's in control of his own destiny. He released a four-song EP in 1999, which sold 8,000 copies in a year. The full-length came out in November 2000 and sold over 15,000 copies. He owns his own label, he self-finances the recording and the duplication. He pockets $8.80 a record. That's selling it for $10."
According to Radley, Day is being courted by a number of major labels, but is feeling cautious. Given the way a major label charges back expenses to the artist, Radley estimates that a major would have to sell seven to eight times as many Day discs to generate a royalty equal to what Day is paying himself already.
DISCS BY HOWIE DAY AND OAR ARE DIFFICULT TO find at chain and even indie shops, but are prevalent at numerous Web sites that specialize in selling self-produced and smaller indie-label releases. Budnick's Jambands.com is strictly editorial, and is financially supported by advertisers; it has all the latest news and monthly reviews on new music by bands as varied as Soulive and Sonic Youth. Other sites, such as Awarestore.com, sell complete catalogs of underground jammers like Dispatch; Awarestore recently listed Dispatch's Who Are We Living Foras one of its best-sellers, while Dispatch member Pete Francis' solo album sits high on its chart. Dispatch also has a high chart entry, and OAR recently had two selections in the Top 10.
Even more scene-specific, and offering marketing tools for bands and promotions that involve the fans, is the Homegrown Music Network at homegrownmusic.net. Here, CDs are sold, shows are listed, contests are run, news is reported and fans volunteer for street-team promotions. Run by Lee Crumpton in Simpson, North Carolina, HGMN is unique in that it gets bands and fans working and networking together at a variety of levels, yet it is still primarily a CD distributor. Anyone can participate and post on the site, but posting in the news section requires a paid membership, which costs venues $125 and bands $300 per year.
Despite the fee and a sizable paid membership, Crumpton says, "The cash flow comes primarily through the sales of the artists' merchandise, but behind the scenes, we're helping those guys communicate. We have e-mail lists that allow the bands and their managements, the booking agents and the clubs to all talk to each other. We have an online database for our members containing thousands of press contacts, radio contacts, venues, festivals and Internet resources. We also have somewhere between 350 and 400 reps scattered across the country, volunteers who are really passionate about the music and want to help the bands."