Digital Music Format Opens Doors for Indie Bands and Unsigned Artists
by Andrew Marx

The digital revolution is washing away the distinction between mainstream music and indie bands. Sure, we will always have mega-artists the likes of Madonna and The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney, but now we are seeing the rising of the indie class. In part, record labels are embracing the indie class, particularly labels that are one or two degrees of separation from the major labels. But the real surge carrying the indie class towards the mainstream is the spawn of digital music.

Indie bands are gaining wide exposure to new listeners by focusing their efforts on digital music. Spreading the word is as simple as converting your music to mp3 and letting fans share and share alike. Create a MySpace page and they will come. Indie bands are profiling themselves on MySpace and YouTube, cheaply, and even mega-artists are eyeing the bandwagon and jumping on for the ride.

The internet long ago birthed a dedicated creative space for every artist, but cheap and plentiful domains now mean everyone gets their own website and a band would be crazy not to put something out there in webspace. But it was when streaming previews gave way to downloadable full-length tracks that the shift was marked. For most indie artists, the CD itself was never a significant source of income, so giving away the music for free doesn't skew the equation of financial success far from what it used to be. In fact, digital sales still do not make up 25% of the industry's revenue, so in every sense, an independent artist has little to lose by offering at least some of their music for free.

But the underclass, the unsigned artists, are benefiting from the popular appeal of digital music as well. Companies are reaching out to help them. One such company, DiscRevolt, manufactures prepaid download cards for bands to distribute or sell to their fans. The cards' artwork is customized by each band and loaded with 15 credits that can be redeemed on DiscRevolt’s website. The band then posts live and studio mp3 tracks to their profile page on www.discrevolt.com/ and fans can then "purchase" the tracks using the credits.

A band buys the cards in bulk for as little as $.25 per card, and if they choose to sell them to fans, they keep any profit. The only charge to the band is the cost of manufacturing the cards.

This system, and there are a number of companies offering some variation on it, allows bands to cheaply distribute their music and possibly profit from studio recordings without the support of a record label. The sheer prevalence of cost effective promotional opportunities for unsigned bands has elevated them to instant indie status, and the indie bands are inching their way into the mainstream as record labels embrace a new digital business model that indeed has room for indie music.

The development of the digital music industry has meant that bands are no longer stifled by lack of exposure, or limited in their options of distributing their music. Determined artists have relatively cheap outlets for self-promotion on the internet from message boards to touring blogs. More clearly now, the distinctions separating the indie class from mainstream music are fading, and the best music out there will get its chance to be heard by everyone, however we classify it.

Andrew Marx's music column Stuck On Random appears every Tuesday on SmartReMarx.com.