American expat Eric Eckhart just made an album from start to finish in one week’s time without spending ANY money. He created the artwork, recorded the tunes in front of an audience in an empty grocery store in Berlin, streamed footage of the whole process online, released the album, and promoted the heck out of it all by himself. Well, not exactly by himself…
While Eric IS an independent artist and accomplished this impressive feat without any label assistance—he’s also the founder of an artist collective called “Headful of Bees,” a well-oiled machine that helped him pull this off in under a week through a DIT mentality: Do-It-Together. (In fact, that’s the name of the album!)
DIT: Do-It-Together is now availabel to you as a FREE download.
I interviewed Eric about this crazy week-long adventure before it began. Check out the interview below and then click the link to listen to the final product!
An interview with Eric Eckhart from “Headful of Bees”
Q: Can you talk about what was happening in your life, creatively, professionally, or otherwise that landed you in Germany?
A: I had been living in Dublin since 2002 after leaving my old life in America as a Sales rep for a multi-national and had started to get some success with my music in Ireland. But, I was wanting a change and wanted to write and record an album in a country that was completely new to me. I wanted to put myself out of my comfort zone. Berlin was the natural choice as it is such a creative hub and cheap to live. So, my wife and I came for five months and have stayed for over four years now.
Q: What has been your experience as an American singer/songwriter touring and recording in Germany, Austria, etc?
A: Overall, it’s been great and inspiring. There is a whole non-mainstream, informal network of house gigs, coach surfing, car sharing, skill swapping sub-culture that is thriving here that allows independent musicians an alternative route to living as an artist. Plus, the Klopse is so tasty on a cold day on the road.
Q: So, what is A Headful of Bees? What is the DIT project?
A: A Headful of Bees is an international artist collective and record label based in Berlin that I helped start in 2010. We are musician, photographers, writers and film makers who believe in a collective approach to building our careers.
DIT is a project that us Bees are doing for my new album. I have been speaking at and attending music conferences and workshops for the last few years and everyone talks about all these great ideas of how DIY musicians can make it in this changed industry. The ideas are great, but very few people are actually doing them. And even fewer are doing all of them. So, I thought, why not take all these ideas and put them into one project and see what works and what doesn’t. I offered to use my new album as the guinea pig. The goal of the project is to show how artists are working together to build our own music industry.
We will record, mix, design, manufacture, film, promote and release the album in one week using workshops of volunteers all working in one open creative space called Supermarkt in Berlin in front of an audience.
We also decided to remove money from this project. No money is going in to produce it and no money coming out. The only reason people are involved is because they love the idea and want to be a part of it.
Q: What about your past experiences as a DIY artist brought you to a DIT approach?
A: Struggle. I got tired of it. I realized that there are things I am good at and things that I am not. My music friends are the same. So we started talking about how we could help each other in the areas that we were not so good in and it has made all the difference in the world. Also, we noticed that people in the music industry took us much more seriously when we approached them as a collective rather than as individuals.
For example, I did my own PR for my last album. I contacted a radio station that did live shows with musicians in my genre and asked for a spot on the show. They politely declined saying my music didn’t fit. A month later, I contacted the same person but this time through our collective and using an alias and they booked me straight away and said how suited my music was for them.
Q: Is an approach like this… scalable? Will everyone in the collective get to steer the ship at some point?
A: It is scalable. I met a woman from Brazil that is part of a collective that is so huge they started printing their own currency to use for payment amongst the artists, venues, recording studios, etc. For us, we are small and are enjoying it that way at the moment. Not everyone likes to steer. Some just want to be on the ship and pitch in when they can. We try to keep it loose that way.
Q: What will you be doing to promote the recording while it’s in the works?
A: We have a PR team and a social media/app team that will coordinate with the photographers and video guys to push content through all our websites each day. It is up to the teams to come up with a plan of who to target and how. They are empowered to go outside the box as much as possible. We are trying to not compete in the normal music circles but to look for new avenues to promote DIT. So, start-up blogs, small business blogs, culture and lifestyle sections of the media, etc.
Q: A key part of this project seems to be about close audience participation, and you’re even letting the public into the studio for the recording—are you nervous about that? Either from a stage-fright perspective, or from a logistical one?
A: It is a big key to the project and one of the first things I had in mine when I started kicking around the ideas for DIT. I’m not nervous at all. I am so excited to be able to open up this part of the creative process to people who have never seen how records are made. I know their curiosity and excitement will be a boost for me. I am always looking for new ways to connect with an audience and I think this one is pretty unique and exciting. Logistically, it is a bit tough but the sound engineers are up for it and if we get noise and bleed from the crowd then great! That will be part of the atmosphere of the record. We like not playing it safe 🙂
Q: How did you collaborate on a songwriting project using Facebook?
A: I just posted a request on my page asking people to send me lyrics, ideas, thoughts, chords, whatever and see if I could turn these into a song. I got over 40 responses which was more than enough to do a song. It’s called Facebook Blues and I love how it all came together. It makes me smile every time I sing it.
Q: I also saw you’re using some sound snippets generated by the public in your music. Very “Tomorrow Never Knows”! How will they be incorporated into the songs?
A: I don’t know yet. We got some crazy stuff sent in and I am looking forward to using it but i honestly don’t know how yet but I love the Tomorrow Never Knows reference. The wildest sound was a guy who put a microphone in a tree and recorded the sound of it growing over a long period of time and edited it and sent it to me. It sounds amazing!
Q: Do you ever listen to Schlager when you’re driving to a gig?
A: I haven’t had a car since living in Europe but I love Schlager music! If I had a car, I would definitely be listening to it on my way anywhere.
Check out the finished album, DIT: Do-It-Together.