Creating a Merit-Based Music Economy: Compulsory or Blanket Licensing for Interactive Subscription Services
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B2. Make Your Own Record!

One thing that grass roots artists couldn't do affordably until relatively recently was record their own records. This began to change in the mid-80s, for several reasons.

At that time, there were a lot more serious independent labels trying to provide an alternative to the majors. But they didn't own their own recording studios or pressing plants for vinyl LPs and cassettes, because they didn't have a large enough roster to use these resources consistently. So, many independent studios and several pressing plants arose to cater to the indie labels' need for occasional recording and manufacturing.

The indie studios began renting their services on an hourly basis, and the pressing plants would do small runs, both at affordable rates. Studio rates ran around $50 to $75 per hour, and pressing plants charged around $2 per unit for pressing and assembly of small runs of 500 to 1000 units. But, they weren't always able to fill up their business with indie labels, especially as many of those labels began struggling and dropping out of the market. These services began marketing themselves to unaffiliated acts, to produce their own records. The popular term for this market today is the DIY (do-it-yourself) market.

It is common for a well-organized act with an experienced chief engineer to be able to produce a professional quality mixed master for well under $10,000, even as low as $2,000-$3,000, and to press 1000 CDs for another $2000 or so. This is quite enough to get started in the grass roots market, and can often be afforded by a middle-class musician saving up over some time.

Recently, in addition, good quality home recording equipment has also become more common. For a few thousand dollars you can buy equipment to use indefinitely without hourly charges. You can perfect your recording techniques and prepare multi-track recordings to be mixed in a professional studio later. After the initial fixed investment, professional quality recordings can be produced for much less, perhaps $500-$1000 per mixed master. Bruce Springsteen led the way with his famous 'Nebraska' album recorded on a home 4-track system and remixed later in a professional studio in the early 80s.

With contemporary technology, both for recording and for MIDI-enabled synthesizing and sequencing, more power than ever is available for home recording. Even though major acts may spend $100,000 or more to produce an album, this expense is no longer necessary to make many quality recordings.

So grass roots acts now can have CDs available to promote themselves a bit more and to generate extra revenue, in addition to performing, itself.

And, now that DIY recording is common, a professionally manufactured CD is expected, to demonstrate business development beyond just a demo tape. A tape of a live gig can still be useful as well, to demonstrate an act's crowd response and to ensure a stylistic fit with the venue. But without a commercial recording to sell, even grass roots acts have a much harder time getting booked these days.

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