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The importance of innovation
by Andrew Duke

The future of electronic music belongs to those who learn from their predecessors and innovate, not those who settle for simply recycling the past. With hundreds of new records released every week, you'll never hear a DJ or stockist or music lover complain there aren't enough records from which to choose. You do, however, hear the continual cry for less vinyl mass, more music with a purpose.

Most independent labels do not have the publicity power of the majors. The latter can employ a team to promote and focus on a single artist with some staff taking care of the press and others servicing radio and the clubs. A full length album can be worked for a number of years as successive singles are released, remixed, and sometimes rereleased. Take Daft Punk, for example. What's the difference between Daft Punk now (on Virgin Records and still riding high on the wave of admiration for their "Homework" full length as yet another single is pulled from it) and Daft Punk from their days on Glasgow's Soma Records? Publicity, nothing more. The music hasn't changed, in fact some of the material on this debut album was originally released close to four years ago.

Independents must have a regular release schedule to ensure they've always got a new release on the shelves and on the twin tables. Without a publicist, the label has no one working the phones to ensure constant attention--it's the records themselves that must carry the reputation of the label and keep it on the must-buy lists of consumers and regularly covering the slipmats of the jockeys at the nearest party, club, lounge, radio, or Internet station. Risk too long between releases, especially as an artist, and you've got to make sure that next release is brilliant. Stay in the shadows too long while taking a rest from the busy schedule and be called a flash in the pan. Or worse yet, a comeback artist. Can the independents ever gain ground with such hardships?

Furthering the problems, most of these independent labels are run by the artists themselves, not businesspeople. Artists must juggle recording with DJing, distribution with accounting. And they must pay the bills no matter how many records they manage to sell. With so many labels vying for attention, artists face less and less payback from just one record. See the new one from such and such an artist on all the hype sheets and think s/he must be styling? Think again. DJs forced to choose from the onslaught of fresh new tunes can't follow certain artists and buy the majority of their particular releases anymore because record buying budgets can't keep pace with the wax.

While some musicians take on a variety of aliases in order to moonlight and try different styles, others do so because they have no other choice. With the shelf life of some records extended to a number of years due to the efforts of press and publicists, many consumers start looking at productivity with a skeptical eye. When we see a large number of records under the same name in a short period of time many of us assume an increase in quantity must mean a decrease in quality and the artist's anchor--the very work they must produce to stay in the scene--becomes an albatross. Thus you'll see many artists choosing pseudonyms and different names for other labels in an effort to beat this assumption. Or waiting in line at their label for their release to be pressed. Labels started up merely to follow the latest trend only make matters worse, as the legitimate ones are overtaken and savvy wins over passion.

Any music lover will tell you that despite all this there's nothing better than weeding through the latest batch of vinyl and putting the needle down on a platter infused with that certain something. If the best electronic music is that which can't be imagined until it is actually heard, it is the innovators who will continue to break new ground and chart the course in the years to come. Independent artists and labels will be forced to strive for a balance between music and business, two words that together can leave a bitter taste in one's mouth, but must coexist in order to continue the viability of electronic music.

Artists will aim to please those sitting down as well as those standing up, tempering their need to experiment with the knowledge that the dancefloor must be sated. When the right combination is found, this is artistry is all its glory. Artists will continue to make it work. And thanks to the innovation of electronic musicians who have a need to express themselves, the music continues to thrive.