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.
AAJ: With this first release you quickly established yourselves playing venues in some of the largest cities throughout the Midwest. How did your music reach national media exposure to ultimately be picked up by the documentary series Road Trip which airs on national television?
BO:When the first album was co-released with Statue Records we started touring to promote the band and the new album. Our immediate scene is pretty weak to put it kindly (there are only two venues in our city really worth playing and the radio stations here only play like 25 songs on rotation). But our location works out to our advantage because we can travel around three hours to play a lot of larger cities.
Once we were getting out there and getting some fans, we started pushing for more and more opportunities and then a year later two songs ended up on TV. Roadtrip Nation picked up our songs after we submitted our electronic press kit on Sonicbids, but I feel it heCDed that we were playing pretty often in larger cities, plus we had a decent amount of college and PBS radio play around the same time.
I've learned over the years that you have to show people you are already making things happen for them to take you seriously at all. However it's not like we started playing in 2006, got a record deal in three months and then got our songs on TV a year later. I've been a songwriter for 17 years now. Blue News is the result of everything I've done right or wrong since I was 13 years old.
AAJ: You have also made arrangements with InGrooves Distribution of San Francisco. They are to digitally distribute your music all over the web. Where can we find your music? What big things does this mean for you?
BO: INgrooves has been great to work with. They get our music on iTunes, Napster, eMusic, Rhapsody, Amazon and I could go on and on. They quickly get any of our releases on all the major download sites and quite a few I've never even heard of. It's really convenient because we don't have all of the research, submissions and tracking to worry about. They just take a small percentage for downloads and it's worth it because they get the releases out there. They do a great job tracking downloads then they report sales each month and pay us whenever we get a substantial amount built up.
INgrooves actually just signed a deal last year with Universal Music Group to carry their entire digital catalog and they're also working with Universal Publishing now to get bands like us the opportunity to license our music in TV, film, advertising, video games and so on. We actually just signed a new deal with INgrooves Licensing. That could mean big things for the band because it greatly improves our chances of getting a deal for more national TV exposure or, with a bit of luck, placement in a feature film or video game. It's a great break and hopefully it'll open some doors for us.
AAJ:Tell us about your most recent release, a 13-track CD titled Strange Light?
BO: Our sound is solidifying on this album. We've never been a straight-ahead blues band because there almost always seems to be something else in there to make it our own. Everyone wants to make each new album the best they've ever done and I think that holds true for us. So far, people have told us they like the songs "Rattlesnake Blues,"" Running Back To You,"" Promiseland," "Where Does She Go?" and "Shelter," but we hope people listen to the album a few times and find their own personal favorites.
The new album was entirely self-produced and we've released it under our own label, called Blame Records. We recorded, mixed and mastered everything in our own studio and we even manufacture our own discs now. It's worked out incredibly so far and we were all excited about having the album finished after working on it for months.
We actually had our first video shoot for the song "Shelter" for the new album, and I think it heCDed us realize the album was complete. We had a great offer to make a music video in HD and the timing was just right because we were just wrapping up the last tracks for the album. We worked with director Chris Thornberry from the video production company Green Sky Media/The Price Of Admission. Chris did excellent work and allowed us the right amount of creative control. Everyone involved was easy to work with and good at what they do so we had a great time making the video.
The song "Shelter" featured in the video will also be the radio single, which we'll start sending out soon to promote the album. It just made sense to use the same song for the video that we'll be pushing to radio stations this spring . I think the new album will really take off once we start pushing it. We spent a lot of time working on every song so I'm sure we'll put just as much into promoting the album. As for the songs, I can only speak for myself but, it's interesting to hear how the music has developed from albumto-album, because everyone involved keeps growing musically. It pays off to keep pushing yourself because you can be more confident in what you're doing.
Blues News, Strange Light (Blame Records, 2008)
Blues News, The Signs (EP) (Blame Records, 2007)
Blues News, Blue News (Statue Records, 2006)
Green Sky Media