If record label executives are fat cats, counting their diminishing returns high up in ivory towers, then independent musicians are chameleons, intuitively adapting to the changing environment of the music industry. Sales of physical copies of audio have fallen by more than ten billion dollars worldwide over the last five years, while download revenues are on the up. However, as any internet-savvy, eye-patch wearing music pirate will tell you, there are many ways to download music and not part with your cash.
Not everybody picks up an instrument and learns to play for fame and fortune. Not everybody is motivated by wads of money. But everybody knows that it’s tough to pursue a passion without at least a couple of coins to rub together. Milwaukee/Chicago punk band Direct Hit! are no different.
“All of us have real jobs,” vocalist Nick Woods said. “I work as a copywriter at an ad agency, Robbie remodels houses, Devon works retail and Danny drives an ambulance. All of us would much rather be writing, recording and playing music for a living.”
Easier said than done. The band, like so many other independent musicians, rely on selling merchandise at gigs and collecting donations from fans who download their music, some of which they offer for free. This is self-sufficient, not-for-profit punk rock where anything earned “goes to buying more merch, paying for recording time, and putting gas in our tank when we play shows.
“I play in a band because it’s fun, not because I want to get rich.”
Embracing the independence and vast audience on offer in cyberspace enables the band to control every facet of their existence: “If we handed over control of our tunes to a label, it would mean we wouldn’t get to do whatever we wanted to do all the time, which would make playing in this band less fun.” Woods is extremely positive about the prognosis for independent musicians and the potential to thrive: “There are more awesome bands that exist today because of the fact that there are more resources available in the digital space than there ever have been in all of history in the real world.
“There are a thousand more counter-cultural forums on the internet than there are record shops. And by that token, there are a thousand more counter-cultural record shops available to you online.”
What some may see as restriction, at least in terms of what looks like an increasingly defunct music industry model, Direct Hit! view as opportunity. The band toss nostalgia into the gutter, embracing what the internet can offer to the aesthetic of the band, ignoring what it cannot. “I think there are as many exciting possibilities for digital album art as there are for physical stuff. People just don’t want to take the time and effort to figure it out most of the time.
“An animated GIF can be as much a piece of art as an album cover. I think people are just uncomfortable with change – they prefer album art because that’s what they know, and what they love.”
The raucous three-minute punk blasts of Direct Hit! are an energising experience: Immediate, uncomplicated, catchy and some can be yours for the princely sum of zero pounds, zero pence. “Our songs are designed to be understood immediately,” said Woods. “We’re not trying to make you think one way or another, or point out some universal truth. We play music that I hope makes people forget all of that deep, mostly depressing bulls**t.
“The reality is that the majority of the world’s population would want to get paid to stand onstage and get their d**ks stroked by a few hundred people every night. If you’re telling everyone you know that they’re obligated to pay you because you are a musician, and you need to be supported, you’re basically telling them you deserve to be paid to masturbate. You’re doing something that anyone would do for free.”
Photos: The Visual Soundtrack, via facebook.