Brave Or Invincible and the £1 CD

Brave Or Invincible are an Indie label started by four Uni friends. They produced an album for solo artist Tiny Cinema, which they released as a free download (yep, on Bandcamp) and CD. Then, they decided that they had made a big mistake, and promptly brought the CD price down to £1.

They realised that they should forgo CD releases altogether. It was old, major label thinking that doesn’t make sense for a grassroots label that is just interested in getting music out there.

So you may have seen yesterday that we are now selling the Tiny Cinema album Designs for £1 on CD.

Sometimes when a label does this, it can seem like it’s a ‘fire sale’ or an ‘everything must go’ situation as they desperately chase lost revenue. Not for us. This is about remembering why we started this label in the first place.


The only way people will want to pay you for music these days is if you create something they want to pay for, something different, something cool. This, of course, is why we went out and got “Standard Jewel Case 4pp CDs” made.

Yeah. We fucked up.

The important thing we hope that anyone looking to release music takes away from this is to do things YOUR way. Don’t think just because you are releasing music everything has to be ‘major label standard’, like you would see in your major high street music shops. Fuck those places. They are dying, and if you align yourself with them then you will do.

Physical releases are costly to produce, and each copy that you don’t sell is a direct cost to you. Download releases, on the other hand, incur the same one-off cost of recording (unless you record yourself, of course!) and each download, whether it’s one or ten thousand, costs you no more if you are using a platform like Bandcamp to serve your music. You don’t have capital tied up in a stack of unsold CDs while fans and listeners can gain instant, cheap (or free) access to your music.

The release, called Designs, is a very accomplished creation and well worth a listen. It’s free to download or stream from Bandcamp, and this has certainly done Tiny Cinema no harm.

On every other level we have delievered on our intentions for Tiny Cinema. Close to 200 people have downloaded his music from Bandcamp, he has played to new audiences and we have got him press coverage that gets his name out there, and we will continue to do this for as long as he lets us.

Don’t be Held Hostage by Labels

Traditionally, getting a deal with a record label was considered the ideal way to make a living from music. But what if your deal actually stopped you from making music?

That’s what happened to Amanda Palmer, formerly of Dresden Dolls.

From FREE AT LAST, FREE AT LAST (Dear Roadrunner Records…):

as many of you know, i’ve been fighting very, very hard to get off the label for the better part of two years.
for the past seven years, anything i have written and recorded (solo or with my band, The Dresden Dolls) has technically been owned and under the ultimate control of the label, but no longer.
after endless legal bullshit, it’s over, i’ve been DROPPED, RELEASED, LET GO, whatever you wanna call it. in other words: i am FREE AT LAST!!!!!! RAAHH!!

for right now & in celebration of this great event, i am very pleased to be able to – for the first time since the year 2003 – offer you this track from my house to yours….legally and free of charge.


this whole exercise may not seem like a big deal to you (artists put up music for free all the time), but for years i have not legally been allowed to put a song on a website and say: I JUST DID THIS, GO DOWNLOAD IT. it’s been illegal. i am so happy i can finally make music and just GIVE IT AWAY.


According to her open letter, although Palmer is very grateful for the opportunity the label had given them when no-one else would, she felt like Roadrunner Records had not supported Dresden Dolls since their second album in 2006. That’s four years in a contractual limbo where they were tied to a contract that prevented them releasing music away from the label but without providing them with enough in return.

Much less amicable is the story of Hollie Smith, a New Zealand artist who signed an international deal with EMI label, Blue Note.

After recording her debut album, singer-songwriter Smith’s international deal required that she record two extra tracks and surrender her master recordings, while the label was obliged to release the album within six months.

A couple of months later, Blue Note decided that they were not going to give the album an international release at all. Smith believed that they could just nullify the contract and then take her recordings to other labels. Instead, Blue Note told Smith that they owned the masters and that she would have to buy them back. Smith threatened to sue EMI, whose response was, according to Smith, “okay, go ahead”.

Smith had effectively lost six years of work, and, being tied in to a two-album deal, couldn’t begin to think about another album in case that work was also lost to Blue Note. She eventually settled out of court, buying back her masters and waiving some of the royalties for the album.

Three years on, Hollie Smith has just released her second album, Humour and the Misfortune of Others, but has suffered a terrible ordeal from her collapsed record deal. I really recommend you read the whole of Hollie’s interview with New Zealand Herald‘s Greg Dixon for more detail on what happened with the deal and the knock-on effects it had for her, or, alternatively, a good summary from Dub Dot Dash.

It just shows the terrible trouble you can get in to with a traditional record deal. Even if you believe you have the contract on your side, it could prove difficult and incredibly costly to take on a record label with far, far greater resources.

To sign a contract that restricts your ability to make music seems live a very bad idea to me. I was recently reading a Steve Lawson post on “obscurity” which highlights the brokenness of the record industry and how little there is to gain for an artist with a startling fact:

“[…]of the 112 albums that sold more than 250K, HALF DIDN’T BREAK EVEN! What industry, after 50 years of experimenting, of statistics or measuring trends, or gauging audience reaction, still can’t make money on a product that sells 250,000 units?? A broken, insane industry, that’s what.”

Is that really worth surrendering your right to make music for?

Why we chose Independence

For five years, I’ve been playing bass in a four-piece band called Left Hand Red. For most of those five years, we’ve been going through a cycle of gigging, recording demos, and sending those off to labels and DJs with barely a single reply. This is how bands have always gone about being a band. Everything is with the hope of ‘getting a break’ (because, of course, label A&R people always go to gigs in toilet pubs in the suburbs of small cities, right?). The major downside of having this attitude is that everything that doesn’t lead to a ‘break’ feels like a failure.

Then, about a year or so ago, something changed. Dan, our singer, declared that we should make an album.

At first, the reaction of the rest of the band was dismissive. “We should keep doing demos. That’s what unsigned bands do.” was the general attitude. Dan came back with a link to a Wired article by David Byrne, formerly of Talking Heads: David Byrne’s Survival Strategies for Emerging Artists (I really recommend you read it straight after this!).

The article describes six different, completely real approaches to distributing music, ranging from complete label control to complete artist control. As I was reading it, something very significant clicked (or exploded) in my mind. I suddenly realised that getting signed wasn’t the be-all and end-all. In fact, it didn’t matter at all. We would do whatever we wanted to.

If all you want is for people to hear your music, you can do that without getting involved with a label. Thanks to the Web and Internet, you don’t even need a label to make money. I (and I think, the rest of the band) had been so blinkered in our attitude to what being an unsigned band was about: it was just the stage where you do everything you can to get signed. It seems so obvious now, but focussing on getting signed takes a bit of the fun (and creativity) out of everything.

Suddenly, gigging, writing and recording was much more fun and exciting. It was no longer a means to an end. It was all purely for the enjoyment.

So, the reason for choosing to stay independent, or to put it another way, not put all of our time and energy in to trying to attract labels, is a simple but very important one: it’s much more enjoyable to do what you want.

No, we still haven’t made that album yet. In fact, Left Hand Red’s drummer, Russell, has decided to leave the band and the remaining three members are embarking on a new project together, but with the absolute intention to do what we want from the offset, with regards to everything from writing, gigging, recording, publishing. It will all be for us.

When we do produce an album (assuming we don’t decide to do something even better than an album instead, whatever that might be), it will be for us and our fans, not as an extended ‘demo’ that will be a failure if it’s not picked up by a label.

This is what I would encourage you to do. Make music purely for the enjoyment. Do whatever you want to do.

The Freemium Model: Smashing Pumpkins’ Teargarden by Kaleidyscope

The Freemium sales model is one that should interest musicians. In short, it involves giving away a product or service that helps you sell an improved, premium version of that product or service. It’s not quite like a free trial — there aren’t usually time limits or a limited number of uses, although there may be other limits on the service.

You draw in a large number of people with something useful that they can have for nothing (although you may derive some value from their use of your product/service: viral marketing, customer data, ad revenue, or your product might be more useful the more people that use it, like a social networking website). You are then in a better position to sell a premium product to a small percentage of those people based on more features, better quality or some other selling point. The advantage to the consumer is that they get something useful as well as a taste for the quality and value of your premium product.

Smashing Pumpkins’ latest project, Teargarden by Kaleidyskope fits the Freemium model nicely.



THE SMASHING PUMPKINS are issuing a 44-song work one at a time, for free, with 4-song EPs being made available as the songs are released. The first EP box (4-song CD and 7” vinyl) is titled TEARGARDEN BY KALEIDYSCOPE VOL. 1/SONGS FOR A SAILOR and is set for release April 20 via Martha’s Music/Rocket Science Ventures and includes the tracks “A Song For A Son,” “Astral Planes” “Widow Wake My Mind,” and “A Stitch In Time.”

The group’s BILLY CORGAN says, “Each song will be made available absolutely for free, to anyone anywhere. There will be no strings attached. Free will mean free, which means you won’t have to sign up for anything, give an email address, or jump through a hoop. You will be able to go and take the song or songs as you wish, as many times as you wish.”

The music will not only be issued online, CORGAN has revealed. “We will sell highly limited edition EPs (of 4 songs each times 11), and details of how those EPs will be made available are still being worked out. Because the songs themselves will be free, the EPs will be more like collector’s items for the discerning fan who will want the art itself, along with the highest possible audio quality available. The EPs will be more like mini-box sets rather than your normal CD single. We may also offer other variations for sale–say for example, a digital single with a demo version of a song.”

Upon the album’s completion, explained CORGAN, “it will be compiled into a deluxe box set which will also be made available for sale. Those who have bought the EPs need not worry, as the box set will not be a recompilation of the limited edition pieces.”

This is the kind of thing I love, and, I think, another example of a great model for releasing music in the future.

When CDs (cassettes, LPs etc.) were the only way to hear recorded music, people bought CDs because it was indistinguishable from buying music. Now, there are plenty of other, better, cheaper (or free) ways to get music so you have to sell a CD as a product itself instead of just a vessel for music (the Premium product). Here, the EPs and full, 44-track compilation will be very tempting for Smashing Pumpkins fans and also collectors who will want a physical product with high-quality audio and, I’m sure, plenty of original artwork, liner notes and packaging that can only be achieved in a physical release.

To make downloads free (the Free product) acknowledges that a piece of recorded music is no longer scarce (in fact, digital data is in infinite supply), and therefore worthless to the consumer in terms of price, but certainly not in value. I know I’ve bought more than one album on CD after being given a copy from a friend.

Welcome, Audiosmiths

Hello, and welcome to Audiosmith, a blog for independent and unsigned musicians.

Despite what major labels insist, most people make music for the love of it. Making money is secondary or even irrelevant next to the thrill of creation. But musicians also like to be heard. Thanks to the Web, we can now distribute our music far and wide, and without record labels.

This blog aims to explore strategies for getting your music heard, and maybe even making a few pennies from it. Whether you’re writing, gigging, recording or publishing, we want to preach the freedom of doing things on your own, doing it your way, and having a jolly good time in the process.

If I may quote independent musician and blogger, Steve Lawson, from his post, Dear Rock Stars…:

[T]o answer [Pete Waterman’s] question, ‘Who is developing new talent?‘ – the talented people are, you idiot! We don’t need ‘developing’, we can just get on with it, without you, and services like Spotify remove the gatekeepers and friction from people hearing us. It HELPS us. Stop speaking on our behalf.

A blog about being independent musicians