Starting a CD-R label might sound like a complex operation, what with that extra R and all. But it's really incredibly easy. God knows how many CD-R labels exist in Portland: How many small crews of musicians are burning albums onto blank CD-Rs by the tens, handpainting their own discs, crafting their own packaging, and living in a world where the complexities of publicity and distribution are whittled down to good shows with merch tables...and maybe a website.
This is how most of our local indie labels began: Hush Records, Marriage Records and States Rights all started out as hardcore DIY outfits, their owners burning and packaging releases at home. States Rights still puts out CD-Rs on the side.
And why not?
Not every musical project is meant to sell CDs in the bulk numbers that production houses churn out. If everything worth recording stuck to a 1,000-album minimum, Portland's musical families would either get really poor (it costs $500 to $1,000 to get a thousand CDs pressed) or really boring. Music would be driven by market research rather than innovation, as it is on the national level. Basically, artists can take risks with CD-Rs: "CD-Rs are really, really, reallllly, cheap," says White Rainbow's Adam Forkner, who, along with Honey Owens, is launching Yarnlazer, home to Valet, Owens' bandle; Ghosting; and Irish "psych noise fog" crew Bonecloud. They're also releasing an album from Rob Walmart, who got dropped from Marriage after that label signed a big-time distribution deal. "New distribution deals for Marriage mean their products could actually be in a Wal-Mart," says Forkner.
Although having retail accessability may mean giving in to a distribution system, with all the attached bullshit, the lack of it is one glitch in the CD-R scene. We've got it better than most: Many record shops in Portland are willing to skip standard distribution for challenging music, however far outside the industry gears it falls. Ozone 3 has always been accommodating, carrying Tom Greenwood's Unity Sound Archive releases: a growing collection of live improv recordings of Greenwood's band Jackie-O Motherfucker, Vibracathedral Orchestra and My Cat Is an Alien, all in covers hand-drawn by Greenwood. You can also pick up those CD-Rs at Clouds (upstairs at 232 SW Ankeny St.), a new shop whose racks are stocked strictly with underground vibes from Greenwood's label and D. Yellow Swans' Collective Jyrk label, and from GOD, Grouper, Bonus and Inca Ore.
CD-Rs aren't limited to "challenging" music by any means. Unsigned pop bands have to have something to sell for gas money on tour. Jake Anderson's 6-year-old Tape Mountain puts out discs by dance-party fave Atole, the lo-fi Minmae and a well of experimental artists, all for about a quarter of what you'd pay for a shrink-wrapped album from Best Buy.
Like most of the music that comes out on CD-R, the underlying concept is freedom. Adam Forkner sums it up: "If you are making weird music, you hopefully already know that you are not going to get all big and famous for it. Hopefully you are doing it for the sheer pleasure of doing it and sharing it with people." In the end, that's what the extra R provides: A way to put your music in the hands of others. Period.
Check out Yarnlazer's Ghosting and Valet, along with Privacy, Metal and Tim Biller, Friday, Aug. 18, at the Artistery. 8 pm. $5. All ages.