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Our Town

Published: Nov 18, 2004
Private label

A lot of guys keep a guitar in their spare room. Mark Easley keeps his own recording label.

GoldHat Music has issued three albums so far two by Easley himself, and one by a friend of his in Japan, Hiroshi Masuda, who goes by the name "Sketch."

The label's attic office holds a dozen guitars, a bass, a keyboard, two microphones and an array of speakers. But the single most important instrument is Easley's computer.

Easley, GoldHat's only employee, uses his computer to lay down tracks and mix the final sound. He uses the Internet to send master recordings to a compact disc factory in California, marketing the albums on his own Web site, www.goldhat.net, and through an online distributor, CD Baby.

Easley's not in it for the money. For one thing, he made enough working in the computer chip business to retire four years ago, at age 45.

For another, "We'll never sell enough CDs to pay for it all," he said. "This is totally a labor of love."

But GoldHat lets Easley combine two of his loves music and technology into one hobby.

Easley still has the 1973 Sony two-track tape machine that he used to make his earliest recordings. But when he started looking for a replacement a few years ago, he realized just how far technology had come.

Suddenly, making records looked like a beginning rather than an end. GoldHat was born, joining a wave of small labels sidestepping record stores to sell their wares online.

"What I found out is, it's not that hard," Easley said. "I could do everything over the Internet. That's why the music business is so different today, even, than it was 10 years ago."

Getting started

Easley, his wife and his son moved to Morrisville four years ago, after he took early retirement from his job in California. They could have moved anywhere, but decided Morrisville was the best choice.

"I had a lot of customers out here in the [Research Triangle] Park," he said. "Every time I tried to hire these guys, they wouldn't come [to California]. I figured they had something pretty good going on."

The Easleys settled into a spacious house in the Weston Estates neighborhood, and Mark tried to get used to retirement. He had played guitar a lot in college in the early 1970s, but had gotten away from it as his computer career heated up.

"I put my guitar down in 1985," he said, "and didn't pick it up for 15 years."

Until he moved to Morrisville, that is. Suddenly, he had time. And he had a back porch that was awfully inviting. He picked up his old six string, grabbed a seat outside, and dug into his old favorites: Simon and Garfunkel, John Denver, The Beatles.

Then he started recording, using his computer. Easley found a Web site called MP3.com now defunct where he could post his music and anyone could download it for free.

And boy, did they.

"I got 85,000 plays in 10 months," Easley said.

GoldHat kicked into high gear, as Easley took his most popular songs from the Web site and compiled them into an album, "Best of Mark Easley."

At the same time, Easley was building a working relationship with Hiroshi, who began swapping e-mails with him after they found each other's work on MP3.com.

"Sketch" sent Easley his own recordings over the Internet. Easley took on the role of producer, putting together an album and sending it to the California factory that had pressed his own album.

Together, Hiroshi and Easley had taken a step that would have been impossible for non-professionals only a few years ago.

"He got a CD produced and released in the United States without ever meeting me," Easley said.

'Thousands like me'

Easley isn't recruiting new artists for GoldHat. Instead, he is working on his next album, which he hopes to have finished by Christmas.

He has been working on the album, as yet untitled, since February. It's a time-consuming process he has to sit down and play each song on each instrument, and do vocals, laying down one track at a time. But he relishes the work.

"Do that 10 times and boom!  you've got a song," he said, after finishing a guitar track. "Do 10 songs and boom! you've got a CD."

He doesn't write only for his albums, however. Recently, Easley decided to create a tribute to the men and women of the U.S. military.

He took the result, a song titled "See You Soon, We Love You," and put it on its own Web page, not linked to his label's site. He e-mailed the N.C. National Guard, letting soldiers and their families know where to find it.

"It's been downloaded about 500 times," he said, "without anyone [else] knowing it's there."

That's the real beauty of technology, Easley said. Anyone with a few thousand dollars to spend can get professional-quality sound equipment.

"Think of what The Beatles had to do at Abbey Road," he said, waving a hand at his own small studio in contrast.

And anyone can share their music with a wide audience. A quick trip to CDBaby, the Web site that sells GoldHat's records, shows comments from fans in California, Britain and Japan.

Easley is one of the first to push the envelope, to explore all the possibilities. But he is not the only one, and he will not be the last.

"There are thousands of people out there like me," he said, smiling at the thought.


Contact Ann Claycombe at 460-2607 or aclaycom@nando.com
     
   
   

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