While George Michael is busy carving out his multi-million dollar deal with David Geffen’s new DreamWorks label, unsigned bands across America are scraping together an average of $1,200 for seven inches of vinyl that will probably yield little or nothing in the way of money or fame.
Why bother? ”It allows bands to document a certain moment,” explains Tim Alborn, 30, who, when not teaching English at Harvard, sells seven-inch vinyl at four bucks a pop for his Harriet Records. Like most indie entrepreneurs, Alborn breaks even after selling about 1,000 copies of a single (sales of 3,000 are the underground equivalent of a gold record).
Vinyl’s low production costs make it the only option for true independents, like 16-year-old Ben Jadlow. ”It’s the cheapest form of recorded media,” says the junior at Groton School in Massachusetts, who will release a single with his band, Quaranteen. ”And it keeps with the DIY [do-it-yourself] spirit of punk.”
Mainstream-phobic alternative acts have taken notice, turning to vinyl for indie cred. And because often only a few hundred copies of a big act’s single are pressed, they are just as attractive to their major label, who can service rabid fans. ”Singles are a way to get into hipper record stores,” says Joe Janecek, an alternative marketing rep at Warner Bros. Additional motivation: More obscure artists, like ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan, get into jukeboxes across the nation. Janecek reports that Babes in Toyland’s Lori Barbero has her own jukebox. ”Her motto is ‘small hole, no go”’ he says, before adding the bottom line: ”Seven-inchers are just cooler.”