Tuesday, May 21

Student musicians try an independent, online route to sharing

Fourth-year art student Walker Ashby, known by his stage name Toy Light, is one of a growing number of musicians using newer technology to independently produce music within the comfort of the artist's own home.

Fourth-year art student Walker Ashby, known by his stage name Toy Light, is one of a growing number of musicians using newer technology to independently produce music within the comfort of the artist's own home. courtesy of Spencer Pratt

From the time he wakes up and makes his first cup of coffee, Walker Ashby has one thing on his mind: his music.

Ashby, a fourth-year fine arts student who is known by his stage name Toy Light, said that he devoted entire days to working on his electronic music this past year.

After a caffeine boost and a review of his email inbox, he would sit down and get to recording mixing beats and sounds within the comfort of his room using the music production software, Ableton.

“(Ableton) is what I use pretty much for everything,” Ashby said. “You can DJ with that program, you can produce music, you can remix music, you can record. It’s endless.”

While achieving musical success was once a question of getting heard or discovered by an agent or record label, up-and-coming musicians now have many ways to produce and distribute their own music.

Young musicians can now create and share entire albums without ever leaving their dorm rooms or setting foot in a recording studio.

Asbhy said he uses Ableton along with a Musical Instrument Digital Interface controller that allows him to manipulate sounds and effects and have a hands-on experience with his music electronically.

“It’s very important, especially if you’re making music that has any kind of originality or organic elements,” Ashby said. “You want to be able to touch the sounds in some way.”

Recent UCLA graduate and bassist Owen Clapp said that YouTube, and other sites like Soundcloud and Bandcamp, are also changing the game for musicians who wish to share their music online.

Clapp said the ability to upload music easily to these sites makes it easier for musicians to share music today than it was just 10 years ago.

“You can just post a link to that on Facebook and it’s embedded in the newsfeed and you can click and play it right from there.”

Clapp said he does not do a lot of online promotion for his own original music, but he does use YouTube and Soundcloud to share song covers and listen to music from other musicians with similar artistic interests.

Soundcloud, referred to on its website as the place to “hear the world’s sounds,” was founded in 2007 and serves as a social media platform for musicians to share audio recordings both privately and publicly.

Braeden Henderson, who graduated from UCLA in the spring, said he and his UCLA underground pop rock band Owl Fly South have uploaded their singles to both sites, but prefer to use Bandcamp to share their music.

“It seems like the goal of Soundcloud is more to share sound, not necessarily music,” Henderson said. “Bandcamp is specifically music-oriented and it’s primarily geared toward the sharing of albums and collections of musical works.”

Owl Fly South has posted its two singles “Blink” and “Castle” to both sites, and their songs are available for download on Bandcamp.

Ashby said one of the most challenging aspects of using this online approach is to promote one’s own music is that the musician becomes his or her own producer, agent and promoter all rolled into one. While some musicians have chosen this new, nontraditional route, working without the support of a producer or a record label can still be daunting.

Some musicians, like Ashby, find it easier to control their own music and schedules. Ashby said he has shared all of his electronic music online through Soundcloud and Bandcamp, but he says there are still some advantages to working with a label.

“Essentially, the only difference between a record label and someone like me is that a record label has an immediate bundle of followers all the time,” Ashby said. “It’s a lot more challenging to just find people to listen to my music, and I’m really lucky that people find me.”

Henderson also added that he and his bandmates use Facebook and Twitter to interact with their growing fan base and post links to new music and information about upcoming shows.

Still, this independent approach comes at a cost.

“I think the most difficult thing for someone like me is to make money and get a set of shows that will each pay you significantly,” Ashby said. “I’m still such a secret.”

While these new avenues provide musicians with a wider range of options, Henderson said he thinks there is still value in sharing physical, tangible forms of music. He said when Owl Fly South releases its first album, it will do so in vinyl, CD and digital formats.

“If you look at any huge artist you love, there are very few digital-only releases, even now in 2013, and I think that says something,” Henderson said.


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