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Ted Carstensen, Evan Walton and Peter Marting from Ptarmigan sit Thursday night at the Blue Fugue. Ptarmigan along with Nonreturner are under the label Yards and Gods.

Breanne Bradley/Senior Staff Photographer

Independence from the industry, catharsis from creativity

Columbial music label Yards and Gods puts music before profit.

By Emily Adams | March 18, 2011

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In a country that prizes individualism and identity over conformity and orthodoxy, independence remains surprisingly rare within the music industry. Columbia indie pop band Nonreturner seems to have uncovered the secret to procuring this very ideal.

The suggestion that musicians bestow their audiences with the gift of free composition and boundless harmony shocks the ears of the music industry, which has fought piracy so intensely. But, to Nonreturner and other bands associated with the Yards and Gods label, providing the public with their music as openly as possible is the only way to combat the musical deviant brought about by the Internet and other gateways.

“People are going to get your music for free if they want it, whether you give it to them or not,” said Zach Biri, who plays guitar, keys and vocals for Nonreturner. “We would rather them hear our music, enjoy it and donate a couple bucks than ask for money and not have people listen to it. It is an outmoded notion, to put music before profit.”

Although this appears to reflect a completely original concept, it is a mentality shared by most bands allied with Yards and Gods, the co-op of both Nonreturner and Ptarmigan. Ptarmigan is a powerfolk ambiopop band that just announced the release of its second album this week, also located in Columbia.

“There is nothing better for a developing independent band than having their music heard by as many people as possible,” Ptarmigan guitarist and vocalist Evan Walton said. “If that music is free, people don't even have a choice but to hear it. Small bands don't make much money on album sales and printing albums is costly.”

Yards and Gods consists not of cold contractual business ventures, but of bands that share a commitment to independence from the capitalistic-driven nature of the music industry.

“All of your money, when you sign with a label and are contractually bound, comes from merchandise and door sales anyway," Biri said. "We don’t really see a reason to put ourselves under those restrictions."

Walton expands on this notion that Yards and Gods offers them the same, if not better, benefits as an official label would.

“(Wil Reeves, of the Centro Cellar Studio) provided every imaginable means for us to do whatever we wanted," Walton said. "Once we get into the studio with him, he becomes sort of the fourth member of Ptarmigan, without imposing upon or controlling our ideas."

Bands connected to the Yards and Gods corporation are driven by a self-entitled license to succeed on their own terms. The ultimate goal is freedom by definition of following their cathartic need to express themselves through music, without resigning their art to the looming superiority of an official label.

“We would just like to be able to travel, play shows and make enough money to get by on that alone," Biri said. "And what a coup it would be to do it all on our own: production, distribution, all of it."

The promotion of free music that these bands have adopted embodies what Biri believes to be the detail most music lovers take for granted.

“I feel compelled to make music," Biri said. "Music is one of the only enjoyable things you can do in life that is worth it. Even with all of the social connections people make through media today, it is still really easy for people to feel emotionally disconnected from others."

Both Nonreturner and Ptarmigan will perform music that maintains the independence most artists crave Saturday at Eastside Tavern.

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