Monday, February 9, 2009

Meet the Policy Day Panelists: Alec Ounsworth of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

This post is part of a series on DC Policy Day, which takes place on Wednesday, February 11 at National Geographic's Grosvenor Auditorium in Washington, DC. Read previous entries here.

Alec Ounsworth is the lead singer and songwriter of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah — the posterboys of indie success in the digital era. Alec was a participant in FMC’s most recent Artist Activism Camp in New Orleans, and will be on hand for DC Policy Day this Wednesday, February 11. So let us tell you a little story about a college kid in a band who cut out the middleman and sold thousands of CDs with no label backing.

Born in Philly, Alec Ounsworth’s interest in music began when he was encouraged by his mother to learn the piano and later guitar. By the age of 17, he was writing and recording his own demos. In 2004 he formed Clap Your Hands Say Yeah with bassist Tyler Sargent, keyboardist Robbie Guertin, drummer Sean Greengalgh and Tyler’s guitarist brother, Lee Sargent.

Before long, the Brooklyn-based group had begun to generate some serious buzz. Their self-titled debut was released in 2005 without the benefit of label backing — how’s that for indie CYHSY had minimal expectations when they started selling the record through their website, yet within a few months it had sold a startling 25,000 copies. Did we mention that this was all done with out ANY label backing or distribution?

Accolades from MP3 blog sites and a Best New Music review from Pitchfork Media — which Alec calls the group’s “defining moment — followed. As of today, CYHSY have sold over 200,000 CDs and have had the likes of David Bowie and David Byrne attend their often sold-out shows.

This kind of DIY success story isn’t likely to happen for every band, but one thing is for sure: CYHSY wouldn’t have been able to move this many “units” without a level online playing field. Net neutrality — the principle that protects the open internet — allowed Alec and co. to reach their fans directly on the same “series of tubes” that iTunes and Amazon use. (Click here to for more info about why net neutrality is so important to musicians.)

Of course it takes a lot of time and envelope licking to deliver CDs to your legions of fans without any help. So for 2007’s Some Loud Thunder, CYHSY signed a distribution deal with the UK label Wichita Recordings. So far so good: the song “Satan Said Dance” was one of Rolling Stone’s top 100 songs of the year and was featured in the second season of “The Office.” The band also released Live at Lollapalooza 2007, a digital-only live album available through iTunes.

Alec will appear on the “Fair Trade Music: Toward a Legitimate Digital Music Marketplace” panel with CD Baby founder and moderator Derek Sivers, National Geographic Entertainment President David Beal, music manager Peter Jenner and Justin Ouellette, CEO & founder of Muxtape at DC Policy Day 2009.

Time is almost up for online registrations — head here to reserve your spot now!

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