The Psychological Effects of the Indie Route
(or "the Ow-ie of the Indie"):
Issue#40-Cosmic Debris
copyright "97 by Monte Nordstrom

        Recording & releasing one's own Cd project is a tortuous journey to undertake & many a blindcurve comes your way when you travel the Indie route. One should be aware that it is not always a pretty experience & the effect can be less than rewarding in a variety of ways. Be forewarned, it is not for the faint of heart.
        First of all the selection of your material is the cornerstone of a release project. You must decide at this point what you are trying to achieve with your recording & choosing the songs is job one. One of my own recurring problems is to include too many different styles on a collection, so that it ends up being hard for a listener to categorize. People have this penchant for slapping an overall "label" on a recording & "far-reaching eclecticism" isn't one of them, unfortunately. Personally, I prefer recordings that are somewhat adventersome. Remember the Beatles?
        Anyways, try to maintain a focus for your listener & treat song selection as though you are targeting your audience. Keep in mind that once begun a project takes its own form & what you start out with may evolve enroute to completion. This is OK but can be surprising or even a disappointment, if your preconceived notion doesn't match the end result. Try to have an open mind. And don't feel bad if a particular song doesn't make it on. There's always next time... maybe.
        The next step is the selection of the musicians to be involved in the recording of your release. If this is a group recording & you are working as a co-operative, sharing costs & such, you will have an "in-house" line-up to work with. This can have it's problems. It is a good idea to appoint an overall producer or project commander so individual feelings aren't crushed if it's decided that a guest player would be a better choice for a particular track. Ego is a fragile thing & bands can explode from tracks left on the cutting room floor. It is wise to have a pre-production meeting with a focus on an "end-result at all costs" agenda & outline a "bruised-ego clause". Good luck! Be tactful & receptive to constructive criticism/suggestions.
        If the project is a singer/songwriter vision using a supporting cast of players, or a series of guest artists, it is best from the get-go to enlist people for their strongest talents, not because of friendship. Wanting to include people for sentimental reasons usually clouds the end quality.
        Another problem in selecting musicians is if you have featured a particular instrument on an album & it becomes a focal point. In promotional appearances for your release you will be required to perform your material with that player -or someone equally talented on that instrument, so make sure you're prepared to do so. Or keep the focus on the songs themselves rather than the soloist. This can be a balancing act but its an important consideration.
        Another point here is the taking of credit when titling & selecting artwork for album design. If you are going to be promoting your CD as a solo at any point, get your name on that puppy & if you have a co-release or band situation make sure that anyone credited in big print is going to around to promote the recording once it's out. Either that or you got some 'splaining to do...
        This is also where the artist should consider whether they themselves are the best choice for a particular track. There are occasions when the writer should assume a lesser role in singing or instrumentation if they are not strong enough to carry the arrangement. This can be a hard thing to accept but an important thing to consider. Ry Cooder is a genius at using great back-up singers to carry his own limited vocal ability. Bob Dylan is another example. Steely Dan guitarist, Walter Becker is a great player but would often hire studio legend, Larry Carlton for certain guiar tracks because he wanted to capture the best possible performance for the sake of the song.
        A different perspective is that the release is for personal satisfaction & not meant to compete with the commercial market. This is a perfectly valid motivation but keep in mind that any release is going to be compared with commercial recordings of that particular genre & some comparison will be unavoidable.
        If you have the budget to enlist an outside producer it is a good way to achieve objectivity with your project if you can find someone appropriate to work with. If you are self-producing make sure you consult with other experts regarding standards & quality. Even then these two points can be missed & it is frustrating to release a flawed work, but it does happen. Take time & care in your mix downs & play them for a variety of regarded listeners, guaging response & noting suggestions. Also listen to your mixes on a variety of speaker/amp/room combinations. Sometimes things get by you & once its manufactered you have to live with it. Then you just have to move on... Remember that even artists of stature have released works that were panned mercilessly. For example: Neil Young, Leonard Cohen & Joni Mitchell are no strangers to vicious critiques of works that years later were accepted as high water marks in artistry. Recordings that were later celebrated for the very reason they were rejected in the first place. Don't think that they were not injured by the initial rejection. Suffering for one's art is definately a reality. And sometimes that acceptance never comes & all you have is your artistic integrity...& a large bill for production & manufacturing that may take years to recoup. Like I said, this is not for the faint of heart.
        Once your recording is finished, mixed & manufactured you will discover what a difficult market it is for indie releases. Without high-profile & sustained media coverage, your average citizen, including people who should know, will scarcely be aware that you have a new CD out. It will also become apparent that placing product on consignment in your local shops does not readily translate into sales. The market is soft & overflowing with product so competition for retail dollars is stiff. An annoying question will start to be repeated by well-wishing individuals, "How's sales?" To which I usually respond, "Have you got your copy yet?" Another situation is the myriad of people who may have picked you up hitch-hiking 10 years prior or perhaps bought you a beer last summer that expect to get a free CD. "They do grow on trees, don't they?" Come on folks, support your local recording artists, buy their CDs. They will love you!
        Corporate radio types will run at the mention of an indie release & even the lofty citadel of the CBC can become a great grey wall of indifference when approached by unknown indie artists with CD in hand. Don't count on support. Look instead to forward thinking radio stations that feature "indie hours" or co-op/college stations with eclectic programming philosophies. There are of course exceptions to all of these points but from my experience, the business world in general is not terribly interested in indie product from unproven acts. Especially if it differs from its usual fare. This may be where the phrase, "jumping on the bandwagon" has it's origin.
        You will sell more product off-stage so get out there & perform as much as possible. Travel further & futher afield. Build your reputation, work on your press kit. Network & expand your data base. Try to make your CD reflect your live show as much as possible & keep on smiling in spite of the slings & arrows of outrageous fortune. Don't give up but be prepared to roll with the punches. Cheers!
Note: Author, Monte Nordstrom has recorded 8 albums to date (Nov '99). He performs regularly at numerous venues on Canada's West Coast.
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