There was a time when in the career of a band, ‘making it’ meant some record company flunkie would come see you play in a dank, rowdy bar or opening for a mildly successful artist at the local hot spot music venue. If this record company flunkie liked what he saw, then he might offer that artist a contract. The record company would pay for this band to go into a nice studio, work with guys that actually knew how to run a soundboard, market the album, put the band on the road and get them gigs they’d only dreamed of after watching films like The Last Waltz and Let’s Spend The Night Together. The small-town band went big time. Albums with pretty artwork sitting in local record stores and Best Buys and available in chain stores like Sam Goody, Tower Records and Musicland. Grandma at the local arena dancing in the front row saying to some bewildered onlooker, “That’s my grandson playing the drums.”
Yep. That’s how it used to be. Or was it? Well, not quite.
Those lucrative recording contracts had stipulations. Fine print. You got to record in a nice studio, but those recording costs came out of any profit you would have made. Those great tours? Well, the RVs were all booked up, so you get to spend 300 days out of the next year in an Econoline van with four other guys and band equipment. The smell? Somewhere between fried food and the drummer’s sweaty gym sock. And if there’s 12 other artists above you on the record company roster, well, they’ll be promoted first. If you get a blurb in some local quarterly rag you’re doing pretty good. It’s never been as simple as signing your name on the dotted line.
A funny thing happened on the way to success: home studios. Whether armed with a four-track cassette recorder or a Pro Tools setup, the unsigned artist can now create his own “White Album” or Alien Lanes at home in their basement or bedroom. No record company required. And thanks to the internet, that same unsigned artist has an even mightier sword to brandish: free promotion. An artist has the ability to get an audience as near as down the road or as far as across the Atlantic, all from a computer chair.
Fort Wayne has given the world many great musical songsmiths who have taken advantage of these tools, and one of the most respected and consistent is Lee Miles. Lee Miles and his band, The Illegitimate Sons, have a new album they are putting the spit and polish on. It’s called American Music, and they think you’ll want to hear it.
“There really isn’t a concept to this album,” says Miles. “After the songs all came together we needed a name to encompass all 10 tunes. We came up with American Music.This is an Americana album, with murder ballads, rock tunes, old-country barn burners and some folk songs. Lots of harmonies, traditional instrumentation and lots of imagery that, when taken as a whole, encompasses what one could call ‘American music,’ music like The Band, Neil Young, Tom Waits and even Bob Dylan used to make.”
In the past, usually when a local band self-produced a record, they’d simply make a bunch of CD-R copies, do some Photoshop album art and sell their wares out of the back of the car. Or, if they’d saved their pennies, they could pay a local printing company or a web-based outfit like Discmakers to make something up professionally, for a chunk of change. But, for some bands, the CD-R route just doesn’t represent the music sonically the way that it should. With the resurgence of vinyl. A lot of music buyers prefer to listen to their music on the 12-inch. The problem with that is that vinyl is expensive, and most bands don’t have a vinyl press in their basement. There is a solution to that problem: Kickstarter.
Miles and the Illegitimate Sons decided they wanted to offer this release on vinyl as well as on CD and digitally. I asked Miles how they got hooked up with Kickstarter and how it worked.
“I have some musician and artist friends who’ve tried Kickstarter, and it worked out well for them. It’s not a donation system; it’s a way to pre-order various merchandise from the artist. The artist then uses those funds to finish the project at hand, which is then pre-delivered to the pledgers. In the past I’ve always funded my own projects, but this time the band decided we should offer our new album on vinyl, which is expensive. With this expense in mind, we thought we’d try Kickstarter to help alleviate some of the cost of production.”
Miles has been putting out Americana and folk music of the highest order for years in the Fort Wayne area, starting with 2003s So Much Pain, So Much Sorrow. He released seven albums from 2003 to 2011 and in 2008 released his masterstroke, Heathen Blux.
“When I was recording Heathen Blux, I realized that I was finally writing what I had been trying to get to for a long time. Since then I’ve tried to better myself, but I feel like I’ve been writing from an authentic place since Heathen Blux.” Listening to Miles’ music, one can easily identify his influences, but since he’s answering questions here, let’s let him answer that one. “My biggest influences are Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Neil Young, The Band and Townes Van Zandt, first because of their lyrical work, secondly because of the music they make.”
I asked Miles to explain a little more about the band’s Kickstarter campaign.
“Basically, we set up our Kickstarter page with our financial goal and our merchandise offerings, and we chose a 30-day period to raise funds: Feb 25-March 25. Then we spread the word to our friends and fans, and they pledge to receive various incentives, ranging from a digital download of the album to private house show performances by the band, to picking a cover song for the band to record,” said Miles. “Kickstarter takes 5 percent of all that is earned. You either hit your goal and receive funds, or you fall short of your goal and receive nothing.”
It seems like a lot of work for a band to go through. Is the need for this album to be available on vinyl simply a matter of “giving the people what they want” or just a lifelong dream to have a Lee Miles and the Illegitimate Sons record heard through the pops and sizzles of vinyl goodness?
“After hearing these songs, everyone agreed that the best listening medium would be vinyl. If we had gone with just CDs, we wouldn’t have had the need to raise funds with Kickstarter. We are very excited to offer our first record on vinyl! This record will sound best on vinyl at high volumes.”
Editor’s note: The band reached its Kickstarter campaign goal of $3,500 this past Sunday.