The last time that you bought music, was it online or in person? Did you click through iTunes, or walk into a local record store, smile at the clerk behind the desk, and sort through the plastic CD cases? Did you check out the Top Songs list or groove to whatever was playing on the speakers? Did you scroll through titles on your computer screen or observe creative cover art?
If you’re yearning for something more than the cold click-and-drag of digital playlists, Out of Sound Records wants to give you something more tangible. The Guelph, Ontario-based independent music label launched a project last March that plays with the world of digital downloading, while its heart stays in the realm of old-school technology. The project is called Digital DIY, and it’s a way to merge unique “do-it-yourself” merchandise with the convenience of digital downloads. At artists’ concerts fans can buy handmade products that come with a digital download code that gives them access to music from Canadian independent music download site zunior.com.
Out of Sound has sold handmade silk-screened posters, CDs packaged in hand-sewn bags, glow-in-the-dark record compilations, and colouring books, just to name a few. It’s all part of improving the fans’ experience, they say. Upcoming Digital DIY offerings could be anything: cartoons, comic books, wallpaper, posters, or pictures.
According to the label, Digital DIY is “a rebuttal to the insincere and corporate world of digital media.” Part of its aim is to give indie music fans a chance to connect with artists in a more personal way than a major label can offer; it’s also a reaction to “digital only” releases, available exclusively through the Internet.
This project is designed for the “super indie fan,” says an Out of Sound representative. “Most people don’t seem to care about individuality, but rather buy into a collective concept that is being force-fed like crispy chicken from McDonald’s.” Instead of reproducing a product that is identical to others around the world, Out of Sound is looking for individual thought and stresses the sincerity of their aspirations.
We all know the perils of being unique – it’s great until everyone else is unique in exactly the same way. The efforts of the small indie label today could easily be the crispy chicken from McDonald’s of tomorrow.
Larger indie labels have already used similar ideas; perhaps coincidentally, Outside Music sold posters for their artist Sebastian Grainger the same way that they hawk hand-silk-screened posters for lesser-known group Hot Kid. If the project continues to be successful, we can only guess that major labels will soon be emulating these DIY trends. Out of Sound is aware of this dilemma, but isn’t too bothered by it; they plan to continue with their business and stick to the “true spirit of Canadian indie culture.” That means developing with an industry that is always changing and continuing to innovate.
The DIY concept is also not new to the indie community, as a representative from Out of Sound acknowledges. “We have always been printing [cover art] and burning and taping and recording music,” he says. In the age of music downloads, a digital spin on the tradition of releasing DIY albums is a natural step. Out of Sound strives to keep up with the new technology of the Internet while staying true to the beloved production practices of independent artists.
Out of Sound Records’s next digital DIY release is called Cassette, a compilation of unreleased songs by 24 different artists released in association with zunior.com. The DIY feature of this compilation is that the music is on an actual tape, which comes with an digital access code to download music online. Cassette features Canadian artists like Shotgun Jimmie, Sunparlour Players, Jim Bryson, and Andre Ethier. The tour to promote Cassette includes a Montreal date on Sunday, September 28 at The Pound, with Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy, Innes Wilson & His Opposition, among others.
Cassette plays on the nostalgia of children of the eighties and early nineties who saw tapes as a new medium for music and then watched them become obsolete as CDs, and then iPods, took the lead. That we think of tapes as ancient technology is a testament to the level at which the digital world has permeated our music experience to the point where we forget how young it is. The heyday of the tape format was little more than ten years ago, but when we consider it now it seems like a relic from a different world – we’re already pulling out old cassettes and reminiscing about our youth the same way that our parents did with their records.