Neeb Bogatar learned on his own how to make beats, write lyrics, record his own music and shoot his own music videos. Bogatar believes he made it this far on his own, so he doesn't want to hand over any control of his career to a record label.
"We are living in the new age. We have YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Face-book. I never plan on signing with a label. I want to stay independent. The world is different," said the 30-year-old Egg Harbor City electronic dance music artist.
The world is certainly different.
Not too long ago, recording an album meant going into a studio outfitted with expensive equipment to record, overdub and mix a musician's performance. Once completed, the songs would have to be pressed onto a disc or burned onto a CD and then distributed around the country for sale.
It was a costly undertaking that few could afford without a label's help.
But advances in digital technology now let artists record and mix songs on their home computers using sophisticated programs that can cost the same as the price of a good restaurant meal. The songs can attract an audience on YouTube and be sold to fans worldwide on iTunes and other music distribution sites, with the artists pocketing a large percentage of the purchase price.
Just as technology has changed the publishing world with the rise of self-published authors selling their ebooks online, it also has enabled musicians of all types and levels of talent to live out their dreams of creating and selling songs and albums.
Amateur musicians recording in their basements and bands who have built up strong followings over years playing local bars are taking advantage of this musical marketing revolution.
Bogatar had a leg up on most amateur artists when it came time to record his own music. He had already been recording hip-hop artists at his home recording studio and charging them $40 per hour. Bogatar took the skills he'd acquired and applied it to his own recordings made in his basement studio over the past 18 months. Bogatar uses the Apple - Logic Pro X and Live 9 computer software programs to create his beats, record his vocals and mix and master his music. Logic Pro X costs about $300, while Ableton Live 9 can be purchased for about $600, Bogatar said.
A bar worker at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Bogatar used this software to create his most elaborate production to date - a five-song digital download called "EVOL LOVE," which he is releasing on his SK8 Park Musik label.
"I decided to stay on my own because I do all the work. I'm not going to give my work away," Bogatar said. "Macklemore is independent. He's blowing up. I'm inspired by that."
Bogatar sells his music through the iTunes store and Google Play. He's promoting it with a video on YouTube for the song "She Is Long Gone." He hopes to tour in the coming months.
Jesus Baker, of Pleasantville, has been rapping for 20 years as Blk Zus. His gigs have included opening local shows for rappers Busta Rhymes and Doug E. Fresh.
Baker's music has appeared on promotional underground mixtapes locally, but he stepped his game up for the national release of his tracks "So Much Money,""Maria" and "Nutricious," which are all available for purchase as digital downloads at amazon.com.
The singer, who hopes to release a debut album in a few months, is promoting the music with YouTube videos for "So Much Money" and "Nutricious." He's also recently taken out an ad promoting himself in the XXL rap magazine.
The rapper recorded the three songs - available at Google Play, Amazon and iTunes - at a home recording studio in Galloway Township. The songs were given radio-quality mastering by Mr. Mig, who has remixed songs by Beyonce, Britney Spears, Taylor Swift and others.
"CD sales are down due to the Internet. I wouldn't rush to sign myself to a label. I'm branding my name. I'm getting my sales up independently," said Blk Zus, who added record labels are not doing artist development anymore. "They would have to offer me something I couldn't do myself and a major signing bonus."
Blk Zus is an independent artist, but he does have a distribution deal through WHOMAG Distribution/Sony Music Entertainment.
Independent artists can make more money from the sales of each of their songs or CD because they can hold onto a higher percentage of the money made from each purchase, typically at least 70 percent from sales on sites such as iTunes. They also can tour and sustain themselves financially with the money from live performances. But the toughest nut to crack as an independent artist is making it onto commercial radio station playlists. You can make great music, but not many people will know about it until they give you a listen.
One of the biggest success stories for independent musicians is the hip-hip duo of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. The pair's disc, "The Heist," was released by the Alternative Distribution Alliance.
Although there was no label backing them, the two got some vital national exposure when they were featured in the Unsigned Hype column in the rap magazine The Source. They also had 8.3 million views of their song "Thrift Shop" and 4.7 million views of their song "Same Love" on YouTube when their full-length CD was released, according to rollingstone.com
Most independent artists are not that lucky.
"You don't have a promotion team behind you. A major label has a vested interest in your success," said Paul Kelly, vice president of broadcast operations for Longport Media, which owns the contemporary hits station WWAC-FM 102.7 and the rock station WMGM-FM 102.7 among others. "When establishing a new artist at radio, it is very difficult for an unsigned artist to compete."
Kelly said he will look at bigger market stations' playlists, the Billboard Hot 100 chart and iTunes sales chart when considering whether to add a song to his station's playlists.
The Vineland-based rock band Cheezy and the Crackers recorded its four independently released CDs using a mixture of outside studios and lead singer Cheezy McNasty's home setup. Their second and third releases, "Cheezy McNasty for Mayor" and "Bananas for Sasquatch," were recorded at McNasty's home studio.
McNasty has a personal computer just for his home studio and used the Nuendo and FL Studio software programs to record the band's music. Each software program can be purchased for a couple of hundred dollars online, McNasty said. "Bananas for Sasquatch" hit the top 100 on the iTunes reggae chart. Both of the band's home studio-recorded albums are available on iTunes. More of their recordings - some with parental advisory stickers - are available at cheezyandthecrackers.bandcamp.com
"If you have decent sounding material and a bar code, the world's biggest marketplace is the world wide web," McNasty said.
Because so few artists sell a notable number of CDs these days, McNasty believes his albums have to be used as promotional tools to convince people to come see his band's live shows. McNasty said he gives away 10 discs every show. The group is currently in the Digital Warmth Studios in Mays Landing recording its next CD, "Goodness Gracious," which will be out in May. The band has traveled as far away as California and will play there for the third time this summer. They have paid for their van, trailer and sound system with proceeds from their live concerts.
McNasty is thinking of staying in southern New Jersey for two more years before possibly relocating to San Diego to make a bigger splash with his music, but in the meantime, he is content to follow the independent path to music business success.
"We have read so many horror stories. ... We have known people whose album got put on a shelf (never released)," McNasty said. "You've got it make it yourself."
Contact Vincent Jackson:
Local music: Are you an independent musician or band with recorded music for sale? We'd like to hear from you. Music acts from Atlantic, Cape, Cumberland or southern Ocean counties should send a description of themselves and their music project along with a high-resolution image and links to where people can hear and purchase their songs to firstname.lastname@example.org