Tech Shakes Up the Recording Industry

L. Bird pkeets at
Sun Oct 10 00:20:22 CDT 2004

The Human Element: Record and Promote Your Own Music

Eric Butterfield, PC World

Want to be a rock star? It's never been more affordable to pursue the only 
valid excuse to trash a hotel room. Cheap software makes it easy to record 
CD-quality audio to the PC in your bedroom--or to a notebook in the back 
seat of a taxi, for that matter. And the Web offers instant access to 
millions of music fans.

With inexpensive audio software, musicians can record themselves and forego 
expensive recording studios. The Recording Industry Association of America 
(news - web sites)'s lawsuits over file sharing may be the most public 
evidence of a shakeup in the music industry; but at the other end, a quiet 
revolution has been going on in musicians' homes.

When I made my first recordings at home in the mid-eighties, it was with a 
Tascam PortaStudio. The beauty of this machine, which cost a few hundred 
bucks, was that it recorded four tracks onto an everyday cassette tape. To 
make a recording, I no longer needed my less-motivated friends to play 
additional instruments--I could play one instrument at a time while 
listening to the previously recorded instruments, each on its own track. 
Cassette recordings are best suited as demos, though some albums have been 
recorded on cassette, the most famous perhaps being Bruce Springsteen's 

For the same amount of money I spent 20 years ago on this device, today you 
can buy software that records 24, 48, or more CD-quality tracks. Software 
won't replace the knowledge of a professional audio engineer, of course, but 
the audio quality competes with that of studio recordings. Best of all, 
there's a bunch of free and demo software out there to help get you started.
Essential Software

The centerpiece of any PC-based home studio is multitrack recording 
software. Most of these programs cost a few hundred dollars, but demos and 
free versions are available. Digidesign, for example, offers a free 
eight-track version of its Pro Tools software, the obvious motive being that 
you'll find eight tracks too limiting and opt to buy the full 32-track 
version for $450. Another popular multitrack program is Adobe Audition 
(previously known as Cool Edit Pro), which costs $299. You can download a 
free demo to see how well you like it.

Apple has been very public about its music-recording software, including 
GarageBand on all its new computers. Separately, Apple's ILife suite costs 
just $49; it includes GarageBand, plus photo-organizing and movie-creation 
programs as well. (Speaking of movies, my colleague Richard Baguley is 
offering tips on making music videos in his Making Movies columns.)
Time to Be a Salesperson

Digital technology has made recording music easier than ever. But what about 
groupies? You'd be smart to promote your music on the Web.

"I think it's really important that artists have a Web site," says David 
Nevue, a solo pianist and author of the self-published How to Promote Your 
Music Successfully on the Internet (2004), available online. "It seems 
obvious, but many don't."

If you're short on Web design skills, or simply don't have the time to build 
your own site, no worries: Nevue recommends that you let CD Baby handle it. 
In addition to having sold more than 1.1 million CDs by over 72,000 
independent musicians, according to the site, CD Baby builds Web pages to 
help the artists sell their CDs. "It's the simplest thing to do," says 

CD Baby also hosts streaming audio files and submits the music it sells to 
Apple ITunes, AOL Music, Napster (news - web sites), Rhapsody, and other 

Of course, CDs don't sell without promotion. Though nothing beats getting in 
a van and touring the country, exposure online can't hurt. Perhaps the best 
place online to get that exposure is, the Web site for a 
community of musicians who review each other's music. (This outfit is 
separate from Apple's software, although Apple paid for 
limited rights to the GarageBand trademark.) There's no cost to set up an 
account and submit your music for review, as long as you contribute by 
reviewing others' music. CEO Ali Partovi says the site has almost a half a million 
registered members, and that many have found success through the site: 
"We've had dozens of acts get signed by labels or get paid by companies who 
want some sort of music licensed for a commercial or soundtrack." While 
Partovi didn't have statistics on how many of these artists recorded their 
music themselves, a recent survey done by the company found that 90 percent 
of the artists on have a recording setup at home. Both FM 
radio stations and Internet radio stations play music posted to, including

All this makes it possible to reach an increasingly larger audience 
online--but that of course attracts more artists looking to make their mark. 
You need a way to stick out in the crowd. "You can't just put up a Web page 
and expect people to find you," says Nevue. He's taken the additional step 
of setting up his own station at, which he says has brought in a 
lot of listeners. Nevue stresses that artists have to go out and find their 
audience through discussion groups, message boards, and through Web sites 
that attract people who are likely to appreciate their style of music.

Christopher Knab, author of the self-published Music Is Your Business 
(2004), available online, emphasizes that musicians rarely market their 
music solely over the Internet. "There are hundreds of thousands of bands 
and multimillions of tunes that are out there," says Knab. "The artist makes 
the mistake of saying 'Hey, I'm on CD Baby; I'm on ITunes; I'm on Napster,' 
and they don't realize that that's just the beginning."

There's a lot of grunt work left to be done. But there are a growing number 
of online tools out there. Just make sure you've taken full advantage of 
them before trashing that hotel room.

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