Sounds Real Good for Free 

In hopes of being heard, local artists jetpack and Fognode are giving away their music online

In hopes of being heard, local artists jetpack and Fognode are giving away their music online

A new TV ad sponsored by Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) features a dance party that’s silenced when someone downloads a free song off the Internet. The message is clear: Downloading kills music. Tell that to jetpack and Fognode, two very different-sounding local acts whose latest work is available as a free download from their respective Web sites.

jetpack’s self-titled CD was one of last year’s best local records; its raw exuberance and AV-club songwriting pushed the band to the head of Middle Tennessee’s nerd-rock class. There’s a fine line between boyish charm and social retardation, however, and with a median age of 26, jetpack couldn’t keep singing about shagging 17-year-olds and beating up bullies forever. Fortunately, Saxophone, the new four-song EP available for download from the band’s Web site, shows them gaining in confidence and maturity—qualities that are lacking in many of their Weezer-influenced classmates.

jetpack continue to borrow from the best of glam and power pop on Saxophone—crunchy Marc Bolan-style guitars and sing-along vocals that recall The Sweet are the record’s bedrock. What makes the new EP sound grown-up are its intricate arrangements and the strength of the band’s performances. “Sweet Brilliant Moves” uses a compelling melody, vintage synth sounds and layered vocals to make its mundane lyrics sound inspired and original.

Lacking the funds to press and release their latest work on CD, jetpack have elected to give their music away. “We’re not a band people are hearing on the radio, and the free download is a great tool to familiarize people with our music,” says singer Sean Williams. “We want as many people singing along as possible and the easier access they have to it, the better.”

Thin Faces is the second solo recording by drummer and ambient recording artist Fognode. Working mostly in his basement studio, Fognode (a.k.a. Brian Siskind) turns field recordings, sampled sounds and live recordings into grainy soundscapes, using the latest in digital recording technology to form musical devices that are both avant-garde and efficient. The material on Thin Faces is drawn from the sounds of Siskind’s environment: birds chirping, a saxophone playing, a helicopter passing overhead. These sounds are processed and made to flow seamlessly into one another. They recur like old friends, and the result is that the record sounds technologically masterful yet is utterly human.

The marketing strategy for Thin Faces is militant and anti-materialistic: Siskind has commissioned a limited-edition pressing of 250 copies of the record on clear, hand-numbered vinyl. After they sell out, the recording, complete with artwork and liner notes, will be made available for free download. “I don’t care about making money with my music and prefer to finance my own endeavors so that I can do exactly what I want,” Siskind says. “It’s illusory to think that, for most artists, record sales is where the money is anyway—most income comes from live shows, licensing and merchandise.”

jetpack and Fognode have very little in common musically. What the two share is a desire to get their music heard. The RIAA’s stand—that downloading is stealing—is an oversimplification that underestimates the power and permanence of music available on the Internet. There’s no question that illegal downloading takes money from the pockets of Celine Dion and Britney Spears—not to mention from the giant conglomerates they record for. But for those artists without record deals and radio airplay, free downloads are one of the few ways left to get exposure. And as any struggling artist knows, that’s a valuable commodity both artistically and commercially.

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