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I’m sure my high school buddy Chris and I might have figured out how to put out punk records ourselves after a few years. But it was the Arlington record label Simple Machines and its photocopied instruction books that really got us off the ground. For the better part of the ’90s, Kristin Thomson and Jenny Toomey of Simple Machines combined the do-it-yourself punk spirit with a puritan work ethic and a commitment to social change. Their booklet, A Machinist’s Guide to Putting Out Records, was a mighty tool for sticking it to the Man, or, at least, getting your best pal’s band’s 7-inch in the right racks.
But Internet technology is quickly subsuming the music biz, and the ex-Machines gals are trying to help the indie musician figure it all out. This month, Thomson and Toomey are announcing a new enterprise, the Machine, a Web site (located within www.Insound.com) in the same spirit as their original guide. It’s designed to help the DIY music set navigate the Internet explosion. It is, in their words, “a site that will explain everything you’ve wanted to know about putting out music and making digital downloads.”
The idea germinated four months ago, when Thomson and Toomey realized that the idea of putting selections from their back catalog up on the Web for download prompted a lot of questions, which often had no answers. They noticed immediately “how confusing it all was,” Toomey says. “We needed to do something more than update the guide.” While gathering information to get the site together, she noticed that “everyone I talk to says, ‘I’m not an expert on this. At all.’”
The new site will also be a resource for indie musicians dealing with Internet issues. “We’ll keep track of the larger digital download companies to make sure that they are not taking advantage of small artists and labels,” reads the Machine’s charter.
The Machine will be, as Toomey says, “one site where the curious can go for information” and “take positions as independent artists.” It will offer basic technical information on topics such as building a Web site, downloading digital technologies, and referrals to credit card companies serving small labels on the Web. Toomey and Thomson are also adding articles on ethics, the pros and cons of exclusive download contracts, and the piracy and encryption debate. “Basically, it’s almost like Consumer Reports,” says Toomey. —John Dugan