With an abundance of resources can come newfound opportunity as well as outright confusion. Such is the case with the internet, and particularly with the post-mp3 digital music world. Music is available through any number of sources: the corporate giant iTunes, smaller "mom-and-pop" digital music outfits like Amie Street, torrent sites, "sharity" blogs, regional sites like Indy's Musical Family Tree, label sites, artist sites, etc.
Where can one find guideposts in this storm of ones and zeros? Some established models remain for the listener: Reading criticism, drawing on real-world experience, seeking out - and coming to trust - labels, sites or stores that consistently offer up high-quality music, whether newly recorded or unearthed from the archives. Musicians have a similar wealth of opportunities, with nearly unlimited bandwidth available to post every jam and show, but the same old concerns about most effectively marketing or presenting work.
One local, digital-only label offers succor to both artist and listener.
"Digital music is the great equalizer for an upcoming artist," says Eric Brown, founder of Audio Reconnaissance Digital Music, an Indianapolis-based independent record label and online distribution company. "Before, it took accessibility to an audience and money to make a record. But now, with advancements in technology, anyone can put out music instantly, worldwide."
Brown formed Audio Reconnaissance in 2005, later partnering with an independent collective micro-labels, including Pattern-Hungry Records, Eclecticore Records and wormusic. These sub-labels handle their own roster of artists but utilize Audio Recon's services for exclusive digital releases. And although Brown - a veteran drummer, warehouse inventory manager and father of three - and his friends work day jobs, they still find time to work on website maintenance, artist representation, show production and marketing after hours.
After Brown and others have formatted each MP3 for the Web, Audio Recon uses Iris, a digital music content aggregator, to assist in digital music distribution. Iris takes 15 percent off sales, Audio Recon claims another 10 percent and the remaining profit from anything above $50 goes straight into the artists' wallets. (The price of digital albums ranges from $5.99 up to $11.99, depending on if it's a full-length or an EP.)
"Our artists are free to be prolific without the astronomical costs and overhead of physical formats," says Rick Haschel, an underground hip-hop artist known as Id Obelus who doubles as the vice president of Audio Recon. "An artist can send us their album in digital form, and a few months later, it is released to a worldwide audience via every major vendor of digital downloads."
Working side-by-side with Brown, whom he met in 2007, Haschel has brought The Dreadnots from Pennsylvania and prolific producer Nomar Slevik to the label. He also runs Audio Recon's new blog-formatted website (http://audiorecon.net).
"I reach fans globally with DIY promotion tactics using the modern tools that computers and the Internet provide. By continuing to keep information current, we get return visitors," Haschel says. "Another thing that goes hand-in-hand with this is our free weekly podcast, which had more than 1,000 subscribers in its first two months of existence."
Since spring 2006, when Audio Recon introduced its first releases by Mab Lab, Bob Wilson, Twilight Sentinels and Makon, Brown says he has more than 1,000 songs under the label's moniker, and by the end of the 2009, the label will have released 50 albums in a digital format.
Among the many artists with whom Audio Recon has partnered is Travis Bauer, a hip-hop emcee, producer and the head of sub-label wormusic, which he formed in 1996. Bauer says he has found balance as an artist since he started working with Brown.
"Trying to do everything is impossible; I am an artist first and a businessman last," Bauer, who represents acts like Grumpy Old Men, Children of the Corn and Richard Cook (Bauer's own music project), says. "Audio Recon is un-inhibiting to me the artist, me the manager, me the anything."
Another label under Audio Recon's umbrella, Pattern-Hungry Records, came out of a deal over one year in the making.
"We got involved with Audio Recon when Pattern-Hungry moved to Indianapolis in 2007," says Neil Cain, director. "Eric Brown has helped us by booking shows, promoting, encouraging us and believing in what we do."
Releasing mostly his own boutique, handmade CDs, Cain also promotes his musical comrades. "I find the music industry in Indianapolis and the Midwest, on the level we operate, to be extremely genuine and motivated by community, a love of music and a desire to connect with other artists," Cain says. "We keep everything in house. Our artists are our designers, promoters, booking agents and friends."
This November, the label will re-release three albums by Twin Monster, Ligyro and Coinslot digitally through Audio Recon, as well as EPs by Cain himself, Paris Brewer, Ligyro, Lorax and Dan Marquis.
Brown formed his own micro-label, Jazz Meridian Records, in 2008 to release jazz and roots music by Indiana musicians. The label has released work by the late drummer Jack Gilfoy, as well as working musicians like Mike Milligan and Indianapolis jazz trumpeter Bob Wilson, who previously served as a producer for Mab Lab, a trip-hop ensemble Brown co-founded in 1999 with fellow Ball State University graduate, vocalist and organist Kate Lamont. Wilson's most recent album on Jazz Meridian, Fished In, features archived work by his trio, The 2:30 Band, and fuses lo-fi garage jazz with 1970's basement style jazz.
"I wanted something classy," Brown says. "That's why I started Jazz Meridian."
With diverse musical interests that range from rap to rock to free jazz to experimental electronica, Brown says if he hears a song that moves him, no matter what the genre, he'll consider signing the band that wrote it. "I love it all," he says. "I'll pop in Modest Mouse in my car on the way to work and Mos Def or John Coltrane on the way home."
Growing up in Daleville, Ind., Brown found inspiration by drumming for Mike Milligan's group at age 17. He then ran the ranks, playing with The Pub Sigs, Echinacea and then with Mab Lab.
"After Mab Lab broke up, Matt Schwegman [entertainment manager at the The Vogue] introduced me to Ted Kartzman, who started JamBase.com. He was heavy into the digital realm," Brown says. "I had my own work and work from Bob Wilson's catalog and wanted to release the music. Ted, who was the chairman of Reapandsow.com, connected me with J. Gibson of Reapandsow, the director of operations, who suggested I launch a digital-only record label. I took his advice."
Running Audio Recon has given Brown the opportunity to not only participate in the artistic process of other bands, but foster collaboration between artists from different genres and bands.
"We get musicians who have never played together to do a digital project," Brown says. They're one-off albums, he says, but they're something that can go down in the history books. "We want to collaborate more," Brown adds, "which I believe will translate to more success for the artists. We also want our artists to work their way up through the local scene, but also think worldwide."