Positive Feedback ISSUE 69
september/october 2013

 

New Beginnings - 20 Years in the Making...
by David Elias

 

On the brink of the 2013 Autumn Equinox, I am releasing a collection of recordings that was made about 20 years ago. It was the beginning of my work as an independent acoustic artist in the SF Bay Area. I met many of you on my mailing list way back then or shortly after as I began performing my original songs in a retro solo coffeehouse style approach to live music. I also began recording at my home studio with the encouragement and assistance from Gus Skinas and Roger Powell who helped set me up with gear (which included a nice 100-year commemorative Gibson Gospel guitar!). I recorded to Hi-8 video tape on a Tascam DA-88 8-track PCM recorder at 48kHz. I had 3 very good mics that Gus loaned me which was probably the biggest quality influence on the whole setup.

A CDBaby is Born...

Those are my beginnings as a DIY musician and the first effort yielded my first self-released CD called Lost in the Green in 1995. A few years after that I found out about a brand new online retail outlet called "CD Baby" (what a name!) for independent arists. I had 2 CDs at that point (Time Forgets was recorded in 1997 and released in 1998) so I called Derek Sivers in Woodstock, NY, who in 1998 had started this brainchild of hanging anyone's self-made CD in his storefront window and letting the artist control 100% of everything about the sale through their online account.

This included the retail price and all the info about the release. It could be changed by the artist at any time. Derek provided the warehousing of the inventory and did all the online transactions with Visa/etc., and shipped the package to the customer. Then he told the artist about it via email and kept the history of the transaction online.

To this day, I can look up the first CD I sold through CDBaby online in about 5 or 10 seconds. That's 15 or more years ago! CDBaby has not changed the price it charges to provide their service to me ($4 per disc no matter what the disc retails for).

Getting Online... Slowwwwwly...

At this point, in the 20-year horizon of how I was encouraged to produce my work and find my way into the way the Internet, and DIY music was being delivered to listeners worldwide, I looked back to the first recordings I made before CDBaby, before iTunes, before Hi-Rez, before Napster, myspace, Dreamweaverm DSL and cable modem, and lots of other things I gratefully forgot about.

I was staying up late nights into early mornings writing HTML in a Notepad text window and uploading it to my account with Netcom.com out of San Jose, one of the first ISP's in the Bay Area. I didn't have a domain of davidelias.com. I didn't think I'd need one...

But I did use the Alta Vista search engine (no Yahoo! or Google yet) to find the web sites and playlists for public and university folk and country radio shows. In the days of 19.2k, 33.6k and then 56k dialup modems that everyone had, there was no streaming of music online. You could upload and download mp3's but the radio stations weren't part of that. What they did was show you the programs they had scheduled and the playlists of what went out over the air in recent shows by the different DJ's. They often had email addresses for their staff.

So I started emailing those DJ's who were playing songlists that I felt my work would fit into. I let them know what I was doing as an independent artist with a web site, writing, performing and self-producing CD's and asked them if I could mail them a disc to audition for their show. They usually said "wow - you must be crazy and when do you sleep and sure send a disc to me."

So I could then track my work appearing in shows in the US and other places as far away as Hong Kong. I maintained my web page by hand, and added radio info and pictures and mp3 downloads as time went by. There were very few rules, as the "right way" to do things was still quite a ways off in the future...

MP3.com went online in 1997. It let anyone upload their music to the web to be accessed by the universe of listeners, many of which were also artists. I was in heaven! I don't remember any other artist songs as covers or copies like the YouTube of today. I remember all this original music. Maybe I'm glorifying it, I don't know. Before too long there were a million songs online there from independent artists like me. By 1999 MP3.com went public and all the artists online there were offered an IPO price on some (small) number of shares of the stock. A shared music platform with free exchange of styles and motivations. Too good to be true? MP3.com produced some very big rumblings in the record industry that was sitting back watching music being given away... lawsuits and the rest followed as MP3.com departed. (It first got locked in a drawer by Vivendi, then went to CNET, and exists today in another form.)

Napster (free)... iTunes (not!)...

In the wake of MP3.com, Napster, and others, in 2004 CDBaby took my songs along with other artists' songs online there up to the new unfolding retail motherlode of digital downloads, iTunes. I had been online almost 10 years with MP3 music at that point. But suddenly there was this very huge RETAIL thing looming in front of the independent artists. CDBaby took us to that front door, and all the other online music distributor (OMD) doors...

Since then, iTunes has sold some 28+ billion downloads.. .that's a lot of noteworthy hamburgers so to speak...CDBaby is the Online Music Distributor (OMD) of my catalog to over 50 download retailers, including Spotify, Rhapsody, Amazon, Napster, MusicMatch, EMusic and last.FM. There are over 350,000 albums on CDBaby alone (2+ million songs!) that can be purchased as CD and/or downloads right there. That's just CDBaby, that's not iTunes! You want to make a living as a musician with some songs recorded?... uh you have a few competitors out there...

MP3.com proved that there could be a huge music community of artists and listeners using the web as a conduit for the exchange of music. While MP3.com was visionary in this regard, they were ahead (meaning "occurred before") of things like Ecommerce and ad-supported web pages. It was just about the music. I, and I think millions of other people as artists and music lovers, liked that a lot.

Steve Jobs saw the opportunity... iTunes became the vending machine for delivering music to a BUYER, not necessarily a LISTENER. People who were involved in the approach (software) used to encode and compress the music files as MP3 were not necessarily happy with the resulting quality of the recording compared to the original. But modem speeds and expensive disk drives at the time were both catering to smaller files to download.

So iTunes jumped on the wave and, in my opinion, created one of the best media manager software packages out there at that time, and for quite some time. I spent years telling people that if they wanted to just catalog their CD libraries they could download iTunes for free and do just that. They could play the music from the computer (or send it to their stereo system) or their iPod or iPhone if they had one, and never buy a single download from Apple. iTunes lets you rip CDs to WAV/AIFF so the CD and resulting digital file sounds are identical. I don't think most people understood how useful that was, and still is. Newer software that can also play DSD now exists, so iTunes hasn't quite the same clout that it did... still most media player software integrates WITH iTunes, it doesn't try to REPLACE iTunes. Talk about market share...

What iTunes also did, however, was assign a value ($.99 to be exact) to each song on the web. What a concept that Jobs had! Juke boxes of 1, 2, or 3 songs for a quarter or $.50 couldn't hold a candle to this one. So free music became less interesting to a whole lot of people on both sides of the equation from then on; the record industry had its serious competition forevermore. Music lovers had to start being more judicious (mainstream?) about their choices of music, and starving artists (or some version of that) got this new gleam in their eye that said "Hey, if I could only put the right song up on that iTunes I could probably make...!").

Also in the wake of iTunes came a host of new challenges and opportunities, all of which I managed to get tangled in without a lot of guidance, because most people didn't know much about the How-To either. Some were quite fun really, as technology got kind of bolder in the desktop, and then notebook—then notepad—computers. Plus, I'm a persistent type, so I don't mind doing the research and experimenting for my own education. A memorable list of technology for music during these times would include webcasts, podcasts, live streaming broadcasts, highly stylized and customized media players, standardized media players and eventually videos. Most, if not all of these, are still around.

The waves of independent artist music grew large and poured out over the web, with me right there with them during all those years.

Derek has since sold his business (2008), which had grown to include HostBaby (where I've hosted my web site since he started that around 2000, I think), and other things. But the mechanics of how CDBaby works are the same.

DSD Wobbles Around and Then Sits Up Straight After 10 Years or so...

Time sure did race by... Now in 2013 I am 20 years into being an independent artist, and also 10 years into the creation of the planet's first independent hi-rez SACD recorded and mixed for stereo and 5.1 surround sound. I made The Window available as a DSD Disc (stereo DSF files) download in 2009 - another first - to anyone interested in accessing hi-rez over the web, as opposed to on an SACD disc.

This format (DSD as .DSF and .DFF audio files) was just this month, 4 years later, announced and embraced by Sony as part of their new High Resolution Audio (HRA) campaign that encourages DSD Downloads!

You can read about their initiative through these links

http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/personal/2013/09/03/cea-to-tout-high-resolution-audio/2758871/

http://www.cepro.com/article/sony_releases_8_hi-res_audio_products/

You can now also find my released DSD recordings online with the record label DSD Download crowd online at http://www.SuperHiRez.com—there's lots of press and buzz about this:

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue68/hi_rez.htm

I'm just happy that there is a (rapidly?) growing community of artists, producers and labels that care about how good their recordings sound. They (Sony and retailers) might say it's because their surveys say that the market wants good sound, but I think they have to want good sound as much or more than anything else... let it happen!

Independent Acoustic Roots...

This new release is where I started with this world-connected music. I'd already been playing guitar and performing my songs for 20 years (I know, I know...). But that's another story. Everything changed with the digital technology that enabled DIY CDs to be created and web-connected communities of art in general to be flowing into retail pretty quickly.

So here are 16 songs that are from the beginning of my Independent Acoustic DIY universe as a singer-songwriter. Playing guitar is one of the things I've cared about my whole life as a young guy then young student, then young adult then... what am I again now?

It doesn't matter. Music is timeless. You can find the track downloads online at www.davidelias.com right now. They will be online at iTunes and the rest of the web download machine any day now. Lost in the Green never made it to iTunes for personal and then some bureaucratic reasons. So adding this release to my catalog on iTunes and the other download sites helps complete my story online for Independent Acoustic.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to all those who have helped and encouraged me to be Independent along the way.

About the new release...

Independent Acoustic Roots—these are solo acoustic bare bones performances, original mixes. As a result there is only one overdub on these tracks. Calvin McElroy plays mandolin with me on "Season of the Fall." John Caulfield added his fiddle part to "Time To Sleep Corrina" as an overdub.

Some of these tracks were used later in multi-track mixes for the release of Lost in the Green. Some were unreleased. 4 tracks are written by Townes Van Zandt and recorded during the same time in 1994. Only two of these appeared on Lost in the Green.

1. The Great Unknown (David Elias)
2. Season of the Fall (David Elias)
3. Dollar Bill Blues (Townes Van Zandt)
4. Lost in the Green (David Elias)
5. Time to Sleep Corrina (David Elias)
6. May People (David Elias)
7. Field of Wood (David Elias) *
8. Nothin' (Townes Van Zandt)
9. Every Hour, Every Day (David Elias)
10. Eye on the Wind (David Elias) *
11. Mainland (David Elias)
12. Hair of the Dog (David Elias) *
13. Rows, Desolation & Angels (David Elias) *
14. Stormy Early Warnings (David Elias) *
15. Waitin' 'round to Die (Townes Van Zandt) *
16. A Song For (Townes Van Zandt) *

* Does not appear on Lost in the Green

 

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