Musicians get the hook up from digital publication

By Phil Collins

The world is quickly shifting online and the music industry is no exception. Artists are selling their albums online with increasing frequency and relying largely on the Internet for publicity purposes.

Geoff Byrd, frontman of a Portland area band named Geoff Byrd, is being heralded by garageband.com as possibly the “world’s first Web-born pop star.” GarageBand is a site that allows bands that are just trying to get off the ground to post their music and get exposure.

On the site, users can rate any available song on a scale of five stars and that information is made available to anyone who views the site.

“Garageband has been great because it actually rates the songs,” Byrd said.

The three songs Byrd has on the site have all been rated highly by listeners: all of them have been in the top five of either the site’s pop or pop rock charts.

Of their singles, “Silver Plated” has received the most recognition on GarageBand. Awards the song has been given on the site include best male vocals, best guitars, best drums, best bass, best keyboards, best production and best lyrics, with each award being won in both the pop rock and overall categories.

Byrd’s full-length album, Candy Shell, is now available online through cdbaby.com. However, Byrd said a new version of the album is available in retail stores everywhere now.

“There’s definitely things coming around the bend that are more like a sub-label on a major label,” Byrd said.

The new version of the album will feature the best songs of Candy Shell along with four or five new songs. The album will assume the new title, Shrinking Violets.

The album will be released through Granite Records (Universal/Fonatana distribution), which Byrd signed with on April 22. The band embarked on a national radio tour beginning April 28.

Byrd’s respect and understanding for the importance the Internet now has in the music industry got his band to the forefront of the online music scene. The band’s Web site, www.geoffbyrd.com, keeps fans updated on the group, makes two minute clips of every song on the album available for listening, and much more. In addition, Byrd personally responds to e-mails sent to [email protected] and encourages listeners to write him with comments. His connection with fans, among many factors, shows his ability to make it without a major record label.

“I think that the major labels have always been a rough go … but right now it’s not in good shape,” Byrd said. “I think they don’t really understand the Internet and are still using the old model. They are afraid of losing control,” Byrd said.

The Internet has proven itself to be a viable and favorable method of music distribution, at least as far as the fans are concerned. Programs like iTunes, which allow users to download individual songs for a small fee, show the music industry’s recognition that Internet distribution is not going away.

“The whole industry has to shift,” Byrd said. “It will be better for artist development.”

This has proven true for his band, as they have made the progression from demos to an album available on the Internet to a wide release. Doing this all through the Internet has allowed them to gain a fan base of people from around the world rather than simply in their hometown of Portland.

“Because of the Internet, we actually got to be number one in the world on the Internet charts,” Byrd said. “U2 was number two. That wouldn’t happen in a conventional situation.”

Bands in Urbana-Champaign are also getting into the online scene. Whether it is using e-mail lists to keep fans aware of shows, spreading mp3s, or setting up shows with venues online, local bands are benefiting from Internet use as well.

“Digital distribution is definitely the forefront,” said Larry Gates, vocalist and guitarist of a local band named Lorenzo Goetz. “I hate to say it, but mom and pop record stores are in trouble.”

He said it was much more difficult for a band to gain recognition, unless they were signed with a major record label, before the Internet. He said the costs of sending out an annual newsletter became difficult to deal with, certainly more difficult than updating a Web site. Lorenzo Goetz’s album, Jesus Elephant, is now available on iTunes.

“My bank account looks shitty and I don’t care if people trade my music,” Gates said.

New methods of online distribution may eventually allow artists to build a successful career without ever having an album in a physical store. As the demand changes arenas, the supply needs to follow or the music industry may continue the slump caused by file sharing.

“What (the music industry) needs to do is change the priorities of what a record label is,” Santanu Rahman, vocalist and guitarist of Triple Whip, said. He said that record labels used to be for artist development, but are now looking for superstar explosion.

The Internet puts mainstream multiplatinum acts on a more level playing field with bands that would otherwise be restricted to a local fan base. Although online distribution is becoming the norm, people may not be ready to give up the physical concept of an album.

“There’ll always be real genuine music fans,” said Tristan Wraight, vocalist and guitarist of Headlights. “They’ll want the artwork, and the lyrics.”

Nevertheless, Wraight also realizes the level of importance the Internet has in the music industry.

“For Headlights, we only really got a Web site going this winter,” Wraight said. “Since it went up, it’s helped a huge amount … Before that, it was kind of nonexistent to have people contact you about your music, it was always the other way around.”

Lorenzo Goetz, Headlights, and Triple Whip can be found at lorenzogoetz.com, headlightsmusic.com, and triplewhip.com, respectively.