Brent Orndorff: The Mouse That Roars
Small isn't necessarily a bad thing. For Blue News, a three man, Indiana-based, indie band, being small and working with a restricted budget is actually a plus. Producing their first two albums for free, they have gone on to establish themselves in venues throughout the Midwest, and their music has reached national media exposure to ultimately be picked up by the documentary series Road Trip which airs on national public television.
What they have accomplished did not happen overnight; this success was not a fluke. Their achievements are the result of research and implementation, the culmination of everything that Brent Orndorff has done in music over the past 17 years.
Speaking with Orndorff, the guitarist/vocalist was open to freely offering advice which any band can use to its advantage. His advice provides a potential shortcut to success. Although he offers his road map to his success, talent is still required to achieve the kind of success Blues News enjoystalent which Blues News is certainly not short on.
All About Jazz: According to your band bio, your first two releases were produced for zero cost. Is this correct? How can a band produce a CD without any costs?
Brent Orndorff: : Yes, that's correct. We recorded the first two albums for free. We did have a little cost up front on discs but we quickly made it back.
I'll elaborate. The first release was recorded in pieces. Part of it was recorded using a free version of Cakewalk on an old PC, and I invested a few hundred on a free-standing Fostex digital recorder. But I opened a studio and recorded other people so it quickly paid for itself. Then Statue Records in Hollywood co-released the band's first album so we didn't have a lot of cost making the discs. What little we had to spend to order 100 physical CDs at a time we quickly made back when we sold them.
Shortly after the first release we signed on with INgrooves Digital Distribution in San Francisco, California, and they arranged to release the album digitally and that didn't cost anything either.
After the first album I was invited to record in a basement studio using ProTools. The result was The Signs EP, released in 2007. It sounded phenomenal in the end and it opened my eyes to the real difference in using "pro" quality equipment.
There are so many more creative possibilities when you can use tools like Virtual Instrument plug-ins (VST), good condenser mics, midi and so on. It's not about what costs what and who is using what now, it's really about functionality. It's about having that broader range of tools which make it easier to be creative. It was a great experience to work with a producer on that EP, but it's nice when you only depend on yourself to record.
The new album, Strange Light (Blame Records, 2008), wasn't produced for zero cost because we now use a private studio but it only cost about four hundred dollars for a Tascam Multi-track Audio Interface that I use with my laptop. It allows us to record 16 tracks simultaneously, use live virtual instruments and midi plug-ins. I'll always be amazed at how you can make a cheap keyboard sound like a vintage Hammond organ or a full symphony orchestra. Our studio is also totally portable so we can record live shows if we want to. That's another reason I decided to spend a bit on it.
Bands can release albums for no cost by looking at it like any business venture. Make informed decisions so you'll get a return on your investments. Too many bands get in over their heads by mass producing 1,000 CDs or more, and then they end up in debt with hundreds of CDs left.
Bands can save themselves a lot of grief (and debt) if they are just sensible and follow a simple rule: make small goals to reach. In time you'll complete several small goals and be ahead of other bands with huge goals they can't achieve. Make 50 T-shirts at first and sell them all. Then use your profit to get more shirts made. Do the same thing with CDs. Get 100 made and sell them all.
If a band wants to release an album for little to no cost my advice would be to either get their own gear or try to find someone who wants to record you for free. Most band members will have a computer already so either find some free software or invest a little bit. Your greatest ally as a musician or songwriter is someone with faith in what you do. If you find people who believe in your music, then it lets everything fall into place. Most importantly, if you can do it yourself, then do it yourself. The last thing I would suggest is paying a studio thousands of dollars to record a demo or album. That made sense until about 1996, but nowadays you can have a professional quality personal studio for $2,000 or less. I mean if someone like Nigel Godrich, Brendan O'Brien or Dan Auerbach call us out of the blue one day and say they want to produce our next album, then we'd go for it. If I walk outside and see pigs flying around I'll wait by the phone.