The Recording Industry Association of America's lawsuits over file sharing may be the most public evidence of a shakeup in the music industry; but at the other end, a quiet revolution has been going on in musicians' homes.
Cheap software makes it easy to record CD-quality audio to the PC in your bedroom – or to a notebook in the back seat of a taxi, for that matter. And the web offers instant access to millions of music fans.
For the same amount of money that 20 years ago bought a four-track Tascam PortaStudio, you can now find software that records 24, 48 or more CD-quality tracks. Software won't replace the knowledge of a professional audio engineer, of course, but the audio quality competes with that of studio recordings. Best of all, there's a bunch of free and demo software out there to help get you started.
The centerpiece of any PC-based home studio is multitrack recording software. Most of these programs cost a few hundred pounds, but demos and free versions are available. Digidesign, for example, offers a free eight-track version eight-track version of its Pro Tools software. Another popular multitrack program is Adobe Audition (previously known as Cool Edit Pro), which costs £245. You can download a free demo to see how well you like it.
Digital technology has made recording music easier than ever. But what about groupies? You'd be smart to promote your music on the web.
"I think it's really important that artists have a website," says David Nevue, a solo pianist and author of the self-published How to Promote Your Music Successfully on the Internet (2004). "It seems obvious, but many don't."
If you're short on web design skills, or simply don't have the time to build your own site, no worries: Nevue recommends that you let CD Baby handle it. In addition to having sold more than 1.1m CDs by over 72,000 independent musicians, according to the site, CD Baby builds web pages to help the artists sell their CDs. "It's the simplest thing to do," says Nevue.
CD Baby also hosts streaming audio files and submits the music it sells to Apple iTunes, AOL Music, Napster, Rhapsody and other services.
Of course, CDs don't sell without promotion. Though nothing beats getting in a van and touring the country, exposure online can't hurt. Perhaps the best place online to get that exposure is GarageBand.com, the website for a community of musicians who review each other's music. There's no cost to set up an account and submit your music for review, as long as you contribute by reviewing others' music.
All this makes it possible to reach an increasingly larger audience online--but that of course attracts more artists looking to make their mark. You need a way to stick out in the crowd. "You can't just put up a Web page and expect people to find you," says Nevue.
He's taken the additional step of setting up his own station at Live365.com, which he says has brought in a lot of listeners. Nevue stresses that artists have to go out and find their audience through discussion groups, message boards, and through websites that attract people who are likely to appreciate their style of music.
Christopher Knab, author of the self-published Music Is Your Business (2004), emphasises that musicians rarely market their music solely over the internet. "There are hundreds of thousands of bands and multimillions of tunes that are out there," says Knab.
"The artist makes the mistake of saying 'Hey, I'm on CD Baby; I'm on iTunes; I'm on Napster,' and they don't realise that that's just the beginning."
There's a lot of grunt work left to be done. But there are a growing number of online tools out there. Just make sure you've taken full advantage of them before trashing that hotel room.