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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND

Do-It-Yourself CDs Help Bands Go Big Time

Many draw inspiration from the growing number of local groups signed to major labels in the last few years.

September 12, 1996|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For local musicians, the do-it-yourself (DIY) recording scenario is a game with no rules and no guarantee for success. It is born of necessity, not desire, and continues at least until the band quits, gets signed or just decides to play for fun and beer.

"We've had no choice except to do it ourselves," said Spencer Barnitz, front man for Spencer the Gardener, a successful touring band out of Santa Barbara with seven years experience.

"We sort of got really popular, then we started selling a lot of CDs, which pretty much pays for our cost of touring."

Singer-songwriter Brian Wurschum of majority DOG, a Newbury Park band with two self-produced CDs and another on the way, puts it succinctly: "It's like do-it-yourself or don't do it."

While many bands don't mind being big fish in small ponds--playing local gigs and selling CDs to whomever shows up--the majority of local musicians desperately want to get signed.

"Our producer Aaron Stipkovich has an 'in' with the industry and took a liking to us and gave us free studio time," said a hopeful Jim Jackson, guitarist for Ventura's Bad Apple. "We have an eye on the bigger picture because the places that let you play around here won't pay you."

Bands such as Bad Apple get both inspiration and encouragement from the number of local DIY bands that have been signed to major labels during the last few years, including April's Motel Room from Simi Valley, the former Ventura band the I-Rails who went on to become Primitive Radio Gods, and Toad the Wet Sprocket, Ugly Kid Joe, Dishwalla, and more recently, Snot and Cory Sipper, all from Santa Barbara.

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But whether or not a band gets signed, having a CD in hand has its advantages. For example, when trying to land a live gig, the club owner inevitably begins any discussion with one statement and two questions: "Of course, I can't pay you much" followed by "How many people can you draw?" and "Do you have a tape or a CD?"

Making your own music guarantees creative control and no record label corporate bean counter can change a word or a note. Even the Silver Strand-based Ska Daddyz, a popular band that took years to make its first CD, is now glad they did.

"It'll take a lot of pressure off us," said guitarist Darren "Zorba" Cruz. We did it ourselves, and we just had a CD-release party. Nobody is paying us and it all comes out of our pockets, and that's kinda cool. That way, no one can come up to us down the line and say 'Hey, remember all I did for you?' If it sucks or if it's killer, it's on us."

Which is more or less the philosophy of Ventura swing kings, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, the biggest DIY success story in the county right now. The band has sold over 10,000 CDs and has turned down several offers from record labels wanting them to sign, said the Biggest Daddy, guitarist Scotty Morris.

"Do it yourself is totally what this band is about, and this is the closest I've ever been to doing what I want to do with the guys I want to do it with. We manage ourselves, book ourselves, record our own albums and we keep all the money because there's no middlemen. We play jazz clubs, rock clubs, punk clubs, meat markets, parties; we play Vegas. "

And that, said Morris, is the name of the game: being willing to work hard, sell hard and, most of all, travel hard.

"We went to Arizona, a place we've never played before. We called the owner of the happening club, then called the manager of the happening record store, sent him CDs, shirts and a bunch of posters, and told him we'd put him and all his friends on the guest list. When we got there, the place was packed and we sold a bunch of CDs."

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