As I talked about here, I'm starting to really think about new models for developing and producing work, new ways of approaching this industry to do the work I want to do. Over the last couple of years, a lot of us have talked about the "rock band" model, which sounds very cool, of course, since it has "rock band" in the name. But what does that mean? And what could it mean for theatre. So let's break it down a little bit, by looking at three different models.
Ani DiFranco is kind of a gold standard in indie rock. (Okay, maybe not. Am I actually a point in my life where Ani DiFranco is not cool? Uh oh.) Buffalo-born, she started her own record label, now called Righteous Babe Records. The big name in the Righteous catalog is Ani DiFranco. Not that that's not cool, but there it is. It's her house and she runs it her own way, I imagine. Using her combo punk-hippie aesthetic (two great tastes that taste great together), she said, "Fuck the Man," and made her own kind of music. She's built up a fairly big following, has produced a lot of music and has a solid career. She's not a household name, or Grammy-nominated or anything (except for packaging...really, Grammys? Packaging?), but I don't think those things matter to her so much. I'm not as into her music as I was when I was 19, but I still have a warm place in my heart for her.
Thom Yorke and Radiohead are another band that's often name-checked in these discussions, mostly because of what they did with their album, In Rainbows. They released it themselves, as a digital download, independently. All well and good...except they followed it with a CD release, in order to reach a wider audience. They made the record without a label and then signed on, album in hand and millions of fans waiting, to release the hard copies. Not quite DIY...but close. And it was a huge success.
I'm a big fan of The Mountain Goats, which is one of those bands that's really just one guy, John Darnielle. He's straight-up indie music, some of it recorded in his basement, some in a studio. He's bounced around from small label to small label and, since 1991, released a pretty prodigious amount of music. He's also been a part of other bands, somewhat like Stephen Merritt. The Mountain Goats exist a little bit below the radar, like Ani, doing their thing, but not having their own label. John finds his home where he finds his home and does his own thing.
Three different artists, three very different styles, three different models. I see a lot of the indie movement as being like the Ani model: the central artists controlling the means of production. Young Jean Lee, to my mind, fits in more with the Radiohead model. She does her thing and then finds the appropriate place to partner with to get it out there: HERE, Soho Rep, the Kitchen. Personally, right now, I'm vibing on the Mountain Goats model, but I wonder where the indie labels of the theatre world are. Are there other models I'm overlooking?