At a downtown café last week, local musician Eric Arndt handed me an object that could prove to be the future of the music industry.
It was not a new take on the compact disc, a solar powered mp3 player or a Lady Gaga keychain. The object was shiny and had the dimensions of a business card with a thickness of about an eighth of an inch. Embossed on one side was the logo for one of Arndt's many music projects, the band Refund Division.
The eye-catching object was a flash drive containing Refund Division's new album If and Only If (pictures of the drive are on refunddivision.com).
But the concept behind the drive goes beyond a lustrous new alloy packaging. Arndt is plenty familiar with the state of the record industry from playing bass and touring with his former band Hero Factor. He envisions utilizing the flash drive in a new business model and as the potential realization of the digitization of the music industry.
"Labels are scrambling," said Arndt, because they have to figure out how to capitalize on market shifts.
He wants to amend records in the way that Facebook and other online sites have revolutionized socializing -- by providing access, content and updates.
He envisions the business innovation in this manner: Refund Division will release the album on August 27 at the Tulsa Little Theater, 1511 S. Delaware Ave, and sell them on flash drives. The band, one of Arndt's less busy projects, will perform quarterly and at each show offer returning customers exclusive new content for their drives, new videos, photos, demos or alternate versions of songs etc., at no cost. Buying the album is no longer a stand-alone purchase, but a vein of information and content a fan can tap into.
"[Today] you can be an artist and control your content and still make money," Arndt said.
But his ambitions do not stop with revamping records. Arndt is expanding two businesses that will continue to develop the media presence and presentation of Tulsa musicians. The first company is Inductive Reasoning Group, a concept that Arndt admits is hard to define. He prefers the term "umbrella firm."
The company specializes in management, promotion and marketing music and will use "everything I have learned managing Hero Factor," he said, "taking a garage band to national touring act, taking a local band and making them regional."
But the needs of artists vary on a case-by-case basis, which leaves the company open to all sorts of activities. Arndt with his roster of artists, which includes Jesse Aycock, Beau Roberson and Denver Duncan, begins with establishing a basic sense of professionalism for the band or artist including press kits, promotional photos and a web presence. From there, Arndt said that everything will be steered toward the artist and enhancing what they do.
His second company AERICAN Entertainment will help with digital distribution of music and video content. The group has the production of short films and the Vandevander Live from the Colony DVD currently under its belt.
There has been a strain of local artists recording live performances for release, artists such as Wink Burcham, Pilgrim and Jesse Aycock.
AERICAN Entertainment is involved in visually documenting those performances as well.
"If you're doing a live record, why aren't you filming it?" he asked. The video could be used as a promotional device or potentially become a release of its own, he said.
Arndt plans to eventually expand AERICAN Entertainment to an in-house video production unit providing a range of services to locals.
As these two companies expand, Arndt will be helping raise the bar of professionalism in the music community of Tulsa and expanding resources here. The talent in Tulsa is at a tipping point he said, so he is doing everything he can to get local players ready for a national breakthrough.
"I've played across the nation, and I haven't seen anything like what Tulsa has."
As Arndt tells it, it is only a matter of time before the New Tulsa Sound, our city's unique mix of classic rock, funk and blues, spreads across the country. Because of the sense of community and low cost of living, Tulsa has "created this pocket of energy that is going to explode," he said.
Arndt should know all about it as he is tucked tightly in that pocket. He plays bass for various artists several nights a week locally including Jesse Aycock, Pilgrim, Wink Burcham and Vandevander as well as Arkansas-based Love Ghost and The Boondogs. He jokingly refers to The Colony, where Pilgrim has held a Sunday night residency for the last two years, as his "office."
Arndt has his finger on the music pulse here and is in a unique position to both navigate and participate in the local scene.
Nowhere is it more apparent than the upcoming FreeTulsa! Festival on Friday, July 30 and Saturday, July 31. He is performing five times throughout the festival on the New Tulsa Sound Stage at Bob's next to Cain's Ballroom, 423 N. Main St.
Friday will find him performing with Wink Burcham at 10pm. Saturday he will be playing with Love Ghost at 4pm, Vandevander at9 pm, Jesse Aycock at 10pm and Pilgrim at 11:20pm.
Bass guitar seems to be the logical instrument for Arndt; although he actually started on piano at seven and picked up the guitar at 14. It is the crucial cornerstone of music outfits, a fundamental support role that rarely garners attention, much like his business aspirations working behind the scenes empowering artists he admires.
Luckily for Arndt, business is good and gigs are abundant, so he is able to make a living off his talent and wit.
"I don't want to have a corporate job, I don't want to wear a suit to work," he said. "I want to write rock and roll and make movies."
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