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The Seductive, Perilous Life Of The Semi-Indie Band

producerI went to an interesting show last night. It involved five bands, all in the process of recording their first album at the same studio. The owner of the studio, who is, I guess you could say, “co-producing” the album along with the artists, suggested that they put on the showcase in order to do some live sound and video recording. If they were able to create some successful media, it could be incorporated into their album and/or EPK in various ways.

While the producer suggested a venue, along with video and sound people for the project, it was the bands’ job to book the venue, promote the show, sell the tickets, and pay the tech people. If they managed to record quality sound and video, the producer would then know just what to do with it.

The night was a big success, but of course the bands didn’t actually make any money. After the venue, technicians, and set players for solo artists were paid off, the only reward was some hopefully usable recordings. The bands had been walked through part of the process of production, however, and they were all delighted at having participated in such a professional event.

Indie Limbo

This is a trend that we’re seeing a lot of these days, isn’t it? Bands and musicians hovering in a kind of indeterminate state between being DIY and having the support of a label or producer.

The most common form of semi-indie status seems to be that of artists who have been invited to record with a producer who is willing to fund the recording process, but not the production of CDs or the promotion of the realized album. Recording then becomes a sort of co-op venture between band and producer.

Having this type of semi-producer can be helpful or unhelpful on a variety of levels. These entrepreneurial types have no standard job description, except that they’re willing to help out bands that they believe in, to varying degrees.

The Semi-Producer

One emerging trend among these producer/facilitators is to invite bands to play small “salon” shows attended by wealthy types with interest in boutique investments or patronage. These attendees like to meet with the artists, chat them up, and decide whether they’d like to put a few thousand dollars towards their success.

Another bit of help semi-indie bands may receive is the benefit of a producer’s connections and industry knowledge. The producer might introduce them to the right people needed for vocal coaching, or setting up a tour. She will also want to meet with the band – at times obsessively – to make sure they remain professional, committed, stalwart, and attractive. It’s still the band’s job to implement these helpful nudges in the right direction, but the producer is more than happy to point the way.

Be On The Lookout

Unfortunately, there darker side to semi-indie limbo. While a producer who decides to support an artist in the above ways can be incredibly demanding, they rarely make a commitment in terms of how far their interest and obligation will extend. We’ve all heard our share of horror stories about albums halted in mid-production, help withdrawn when specific demands are not met, and implied promises broken.

The kicker when it comes to the semi-indie promise is that in this economic and artistic climate, bands have little choice.

When the semi-producer comes knocking, it’s almost impossible to say no. Unless a musician is rigorously DIY, or confident enough to hold out for a full-support deal, most of us are going to jump for freakin’ joy at the very prospect that someone in the industry, someone professional, is taking an interest in us. And going semi-indie can be a wonderful experience and opportunity. Bands just have to be careful, when getting into one of these relationships, to take it for what it is – a gamble on both ends – and to protect their time, money, and creative work.



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