Larry Keel, Acoustic Endeavors on iTunes

As Apple’s iTunes Music Store has grabbed up a larger segment of the worldwide music purchasing pie, many smaller independent labels and artists have been concerned that their releases would be lost amidst the slick promotion for mainstream pop projects on iTunes. Legal music download sales tripled in 2005 to just over one billion dollars (US), with digital downloads accounting for approximately 6% of all music sales. Online distributors’ catalogs were said to contain more than 2 million tracks at the end of last year, with iTunes commanding a majority of download sales in many markets.

From its inception, Apple has insisted that it wanted to broaden rather than restrict iTunes’ offerings, and initially reached out to smaller labels. Contrary to what many believe, however, Apple does not host the audio files themselves, and smaller labels often were unprepared for the technical aspects of converting files for digital distribution and making them available for iTunes on an appropriate server for download. The larger bluegrass labels (like Rounder, Sugar Hill and Rebel) now have much of their catalog on iTunes, with new projects generally released simultaneously on audio CD and iTunes. Rebel has even begun to make out-of-print titles available for iTunes-only release, a trend we hope will become more widespread.

A number of companies have arisen to assist small labels (and artists) get their music into the digital distribution realm, and iTunes is seeing more and more projects that are independently produced show up in their catalog. CD Baby has been very effective in getting independent projects into iTunes, and a number of wholesale distributors are also getting into this business. Copper Creek Records has indicated that their catalog will soon be available for digital download, and are being assisted in this effort by their primary distributor, Select-O-Hits.

Two artists we found recently on iTunes are friends of Bluegrass Today whose music should appeal to our readers.

Larry Keel has been a prominent fixture on the alternative acoustic scene for some time, though his more recent efforts have been a bit more mainstream bluegrass. His current band, Natural Bridge, has a grassy edge, and one of Larry’s Tunes, Mountain Song, was featured on the previous release from The Del McCoury Band. He now has three projects available to sample or purchase for download from iTunes.

If you have iTunes installed, you can find his solo project, Journey, the debut CD with his new band, Larry Keel & Natural Bridge, and a duet project with his brother Gary, The Keel Brothers Vol. 1.

Also up on iTunes are two CDs from Acoustic Endeavors, both their debut release, Coming Of Age… again, and the current On A Farm. Both CDs are made up of all-original material, and feature one of this blog’s authors on banjo.

These are projects that were wholly artist-produced, or by artist-owned independent labels, showing that this sort of release can make its way into such a dominant venue if the artists are diligent and persistent.