Carrie Akre has incentive to rebel against major labels—her bands have been signed three times and dropped twice. After seeing two albums by her current

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For Goodness' sake

A band attempts to use the Net to escape major label misery.

Carrie Akre has incentive to rebel against major labels—her bands have been signed three times and dropped twice. After seeing two albums by her current group, Goodness, get mangled in the corporate machinery, she and bandmate Garth Reeves decided to join the thousands of bands that are using new technology as a variation on the independent record label.

Their new online company, Good-Ink Records, has just released Transmitter, the debut effort from Reeves' side project Blue Spark. The record is the opening salvo in Akre and Reeves' battle to gain control of their own musical output. "The idea of success is insane right now; if you're not selling five million [copies], you're a failure," says Akre. Major record companies sign young bands in bunches, hoping to find the next million-seller like No Doubt or Matchbox 20—then quickly dump those that don't sell big right away. "It's no problem for a label to sign up 10 bands and have nine of them fail," she says.

Bands that get dropped by major labels seldom walk away with money in their pockets—advance payments tend to get eaten up by expenses ranging from recording fees to the rent. Unless a record is a huge hit, royalties seldom cover the advances, so most bands don't make a significant amount of money from records. Touring and selling merchandise is the way to make a buck.

Yet, without funding the big salaries and other overhead of a major label, independent labels can make money from relatively modest sales. As recently as a dozen years ago, selling 10,000 copies of a record was considered a major coup for an independent label. "It still is, though," says Reeves. "That's the thing; 10,000 is still a large number."

Think of the Good-Ink Web site (www.goodinkrecords.com) as the virtual version of the table at the side of the stage where the band sells CDs and T-shirts. Instead of getting a few cents off every CD sold, the label can make a solid profit from each sale. "We're looking to see what you can get out over the Internet," says Akre. "To see how many people you can reach and if you can bypass record labels."

Music industry attempts to use the Internet as a mass merchandising tool have been a bust so far, but the Net thrives on connecting smaller groups of like-minded individuals. Some bands have done so well selling merchandise through their Web sites that record companies are investigating ways to get a cut. And labels also lust after bands' fan email lists.

But Good-Ink is thinking beyond merchandise and is experimenting with trying to make a buck off the music itself. Actually not quite a buck—the Good-Ink site also sells MP3 files for 99 cents each (credit card payment only, please), in addition to offering a few free files for the sampling. Reeves admits that they're only selling a few MP3 files each week, but notes that more and more potential consumers are acquiring the computer equipment necessary to play them. "How many computers do they sell in a year—and they all have a sound card in them."

That Akre is looking to bypass the majors in getting her music to fans isn't surprising. Her former band, Hammerbox, had a one-album stint on A&M Records in 1992. The first Goodness album was released on a local independent label, then picked up by Lava Records, an Atlantic subsidiary. But that relationship dissolved after a label purge and the band's second album, Anthem, was released on Immortal Records (which still may do a third Goodness disc, but has cut its ties with major Epic). Getting confused yet?

But Akre saw things clearly: While her trip through the majors established that she probably wasn't going to release a million-selling record, she knew she loved performing and that there was a small but steady audience out there interested in her music. She also knew that major labels simply aren't set up to nurture young bands, do niche marketing, or distribute lesser-selling releases.

Good-Ink's Web site is currently offering CD and single-song MP3 versions from the original Goodness CD (the band wisely bought the tapes back from Lava when they parted ways with the label), a subsequent EP, and side projects by band members Reeves, Akre, and soon-to-depart bassist Fiia McGann (Miracle Baby). The next label release will be an Akre solo album.

The goal of Good-Ink is to allow Reeves, Akre, and other local bands to maintain their musical careers outside the realm of major labels. Akre admits that her band's rough experiences with labels forced her to consider quitting music, but she didn't want to give up without a fight. "If I can find a way to survive as an artist—financially and mentally—we'll be psyched," she says.

 
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