For most folks, New Year’s resolutions are simple — plans to lose weight, find a better job, etc. But for Shana Morrison, the Mill Valley-based daughter of legendary Celtic crooner Van Morrison, the process runs deeper.
Thanks to an eye-opening ’06, her vow for ’07, she says, "is to definitely, definitely not try to join the machine." A metaphor, she explains, for steering clear of the major-label music industry.
Instead, she’s released her latest blues-rocking record "That’s Who I Am" on her own imprint, Belfast Violet, and marketed it almost solely online, via sites including iTunes, Napster, Rhapsody and her own site, www.shanamorrison.com.
Look around, she says, sipping coffee at her favorite hometown haunt, the Sweetwater, where she’ll appear in concert Feb. 17 after a few gigs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts this month. The closing of historic Tower Records is only the latest sign — the machine is broken. Nothing against her old backer Vanguard, which issued her last "7 Wishes" set back in ’02.
"But I just came to realize that it’s better for me to do music the independent way, because when I’m working for a label, I do lots of promotional stuff, spend more time in the studio, and spend more time schmoozing, going here, there and everywhere. And all of that is unpaid work that precludes me from doing my job, which is playing. So I play less, make less money, which means I’m less able to keep my band employed, so they start drifting off into other bands. There are a lot of ramifications."
Morrison is happy to dish some dirt. Until recently, recording artists were forced to play a waiting game. You’d track your album, turn it in, then bide your time for its months-away street date, and then wait for the inevitable unsold returns.
Profits? Forget about it, she says. Major label recording contracts are written so that odds are heavily stacked against the artists.
She laughs, "They can always figure out new things to charge you for. ‘Promotion’ isn’t just buying a print ad or a radio spot. It can be the A&R guy flying to New York, business-class, staying in a five-star hotel, taking limos to vodka bars and just talking about you. This is the reality of the music business, the dark secrets."
After paying a year’s worth of legal fees negotiating a deal with a label that subsequently folded, Morrison had finally had enough.
"And my grandmother’s name is Violet, she lives in Belfast, sooo..." She revived the independent label she attempted in ’98 (for her "Caledonia" debut) and cut herself in for a whopping $12.50 on every unit sold directly.
"That’s Who I Am" — with a lightweight slipcase designed by Morrison — is featured on more than 20 online outlets. It boasts some of her most adventurous work to date, including the poppy "Strong on You," a soulful "Wo Wo Wo," and "Simple," a blues showcase clocking in at 11:58.
Does it feel like a brave new world for Morrison in ’07?
"Yeah," she admits. "I’ve always paid for my music, gone to the record store and looked at it, touched, gone through the whole buying procedure. I’m not from this new generation where you just get music for free or itshows up on your iPod; it makes me feel kind of old."
Her New Year’s resolve, she sighs, "to kind of change with the times, unfortunately."