Techno musician Bev Stanton is making a name for herself on the Webeven if she isn’t making any money.
It’s the day every obscure musician with a self-run label and a dream prays will never come: Near the end of the summer, right about the time her family and friends were cashing in on the president’s tax refund, Bev Stanton found an ominously thick envelope from the IRS in her mailbox. The notice within warned that the 34-year-old techno artist/remix mastermusic-world alias Arthur Loves Plasticwas underpaying Social Security taxes on income from CD royalties.
“I thought I was reporting everything like a good citizen, but apparently I wasn’t filling out enough forms or something,” says Stanton, who is both slight and slightly offbeat-looking, decked in thrift-store chic and a blunt, choppy bob. “I read the letter and I was like, Shit, if they come over here, I’m really bad at keeping records on sales and things. Not that there’s that much, ’cause I’m esoteric, but that’s it.”
Stanton was barely breaking even after manufacturing, packaging, and mailing costs anyhow, so she decided that there had to be a better way. So the self-proclaimed form-phobe all but stopped selling CDs, making her three most recent releasesFixed Star, Second Avenue Detour, and Klondyke 5available gratis on Arthurlovesplastic.com. She plans to do the same with all future projects, as well.
So today, there’s no more shelling out dough for huge CD press runs, no more mass mailings to radio stations and reviewers who simply toss the work on already toppling, neglected piles of new music, no more watching her own stock of discs stack up in the basement, begging to be doled out as last-minute Christmas or birthday presents. Now Stanton simply generates CDs on an as-needed basis for a couple of local music stores and a few online shops. Otherwise, any fan with a PC, a CD burner, and a modem can log on and download the latest Arthur Loves Plastic tunes.
“I thought, Why don’t I let the consumer do all the work?” recalls Stanton, lounging in the dim, minimalist recording studio off her Takoma Park, Md., kitchen, where she holes up every weekend, all weekend long, as well as most evenings after getting off work managing the Lindesmith CenterDrug Policy Foundation Web site. “People think I’m nuts for doing it, but there’s a method to my madness,” explains the prolific audio collagist, who has won six Washington Area Music Awards in the Techno/Ambient/Electronic/ Industrial category.
“I’m not making money in this area anyway, so why should I go through all the work to not make money, and then have to keep all this paperwork to show the IRS that I don’t make money?” Without skipping a beat, she sums up her own special kind of business model: “My approach is really informed by laziness.”
Stanton’s musical career has followed a lackadaisical yet logical progression from the very start. As a clarinet-toting band geek growing up in Orlando, Fla., Stanton would shuttle between parade gigs at Walt Disney World and high school football games. Sick of praying that her own team would lose so the season would end sooner, she switched to bass guitar as a senior and soon discovered the world of indie rock, playing with an R.E.M.- and Smiths-inspired group called Miserachord, first in northern Florida and later in Raleigh, N.C.
The young musician got some quick lessons in band-house living and performing for a drunk, disinclined few, as well as a full-blown seminar on dysfunctional group dynamics that featured a revolving door’s worth of drummers. As egos clashed and band members continued to vanish, Stanton found herself drawn toward more reliable musical mates: drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers, and the like. In 1991, she and a friend formed the aptly named electro-pop duo Then There Were None and played and toured until Stanton, now based in the D.C. area, decided to just go it alone.
Arthur Loves Plastic’s first CD, Sperm Warfare, was born in a dingy basement in 1994 and mailed off as a demo to scores of music publicationsone of which, Britain’s Music From the Empty Quarter, eventually offered to release it, backed by TEQ Music. “Some of the catchiest, sexiest music ever,” read the review. “ALP’s music rarely seems cold or impersonal, it taps instead a carefree vein of futuristic delight.” The recording didn’t sell all that well, however, and shortly after its release, the label went out of business. But Stanton kept going.
Seven years later, this one-woman act has produced seven solo CDs and four remix EPs, among other projects, the vast majority recorded on the cheap in her home and released independently. Arthur Loves Plastic’s trademark: collecting random audio snippetseverything from late-night phone-sex infomercials and classic Ronald Reagan soundbites to Stanton’s favorite moments from Madonna or Peaches & Herb or local vocalistsand weaving them into pulsing techno tracks.
“Bev isn’t really a formally trained musician, so she has her own sense of what sounds good and ends up breaking a lot of rules,” observes Stanton’s current vocalist (and girlfriend), Celtic folk singer Lisa Moscatiello. “I think the harmonies she comes up with, the way the melody and the accompanying music come together, are often very unusual, in a good way….She grew up listening to Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, so she’s got this pop sensibility, and I really appreciate that.”
Stanton’s sensibility has also led her to work with othersnamely, dozens of diverse acts from near and far, including indie bands such as Glassoline, Ped Xing, and Smartbomb, and major-label artists Emmet Swimming and Basehead, all of which have gotten the Arthur Loves Plastic remix treatment. Some seek her out on their own, but more often than not she connects with collaborators through her occasional engineering work at Recording Arts studio in Fairfax, Va.
She also finds potential musical partners through the Web, a medium she’s used from the beginning, mostly out of necessity. “The Internet has been pretty critical for me,” says Stanton, a self-styled hermit who is grateful to be able to do business and make contacts without leaving the comforts of her home studiospare, ’70s-basement-style digs outfitted with a PC workstation surrounded by mixers, sound modules, a keyboard littered with Dusty Springfield discs, and other gear; black-draped windows; glossy wood paneling peppered with photos of Dolly Parton and the Pope; snow globes; and the bottom half of a female mannequin, resting quietly in its own little corner.
“Before the ‘Net, there really wasn’t a good way to centralize your promotional efforts, and you were a lot more dependent on somebody like a label to get you out there,” says Stanton. “In the old days, I would shop stuff around constantly, because that was your only hope, but now I just have little motivation. In a situation where somebody approaches you about your music, you’re definitely willing to talk, but you immediately swagger a little more than you used toyou’re not groveling anymoreand I like that aspect of the world we live in today.”
That’s not to say that she enjoys the business end of the music industry, though. “I suck at it,” chuckles Stanton, who quickly shifts conversation about revenue streams to a discussion of her many musical influences, including disco, Aaron Spelling, Rodgers and Hammerstein, C-SPAN, Moby, true-crime books, and the aforementioned Springfield, to whom there is a minishrine made of album covers on the living-room wall. “I think I was always kind of an underachiever in terms of marketing and stuff like that. If you’re in a band, you can be sort of a legend in your own mind: You have that group neurosis, or psychosis, to sustain you. Whereas when you’re just dealing with youwell, I don’t know if I have the ego for all that’s involved.”
Marketing and promotion have always been difficult because Arthur Loves Plastic doesn’t do live gigs. Stanton, however, has discovered other means of supporting her costly gear habit. Whether hoping to upgrade her drum machine or finance a brand-new spinning addition, she turns to commercial work for CD-production libraries, creating and uploading tracks in a requested stylesay, of the Chemical Brothers, Moby, or some other mainstream techno act. She has no idea where her tunes will appear until the check arrives in the mail a year or so later. “It’s like a musical glory hole,” explains Stanton, whose work has turned up on high-profile bottom-feeder shows such as Access Hollywood and America’s Most Wanted, though she’s not complaining. “Oh, I don’t really have standards,” she says dryly.
As she speaks, an increasingly loud, mad meowing echoes through her small, nondescript group house. This is the first sign of the eponymous Arthur, a cat who loves plasticnamely, those decidedly un-PC grocery bags that collect under sinks and in closets and make for hours of feline fun. Sadly, Stanton’s beloved kittywho eventually makes a brief appearance and is, as it turns out, the fattest, fluffiest orange cat in the worlddoesn’t do much playing with plastic bags anymore. This child-safety measure of sorts is just one sign of an older, more well-behaved Stanton, who has lately been forgoing her trademark sampleseven the nearly irresistible snippets such as calls about Jesus’ visiting Idaho from Art Bell’s late-night radio showin favor of real live vocals with no copyright issues attached.
Though reaction to the Arthur Loves Plastic online free-for-all has been, in terms of actual downloads, rather restrained, Stanton couldn’t be more pleased. These days, instead of collecting receipts, filing, and worrying about the IRS, she is quietly readying a new remix CD featuring local artists such as Ami Gaston, Rachel Cross, and Linda Smith for an online release expected sometime during the holiday season. She’s also rediscovering her indie-rock rootsplaying her old bass and studying music theory, to bootas well as working on her fledgling DJ skills.
“The less bookkeeping I have to do, the better,” she says, flashing a gap-toothed grin. “For everyone involved.” CP