Stolen Silver puts its money where its songs are

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Recording their new record, "We Have Everything/We Have Nothing," was only the beginning for the Chicago band Stolen Silver.

Since the CD came out in May, there's been a flurry of work, hustle and expense to try to get it heard, everything from singing the national anthem at Wrigley Field to regular opening gigs for Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band to Friday's big event, a vinyl release party and gig at Schubas.

Even selling the CDs at shows isn't as easy as it used to be, thanks to a technological change, said Dan Myers, one of the two frontmen and songwriters in Stolen Silver.

"When I started touring, people wanted autographs on the CDs," said Myers, 37. "Now people want selfies."

Photos snapped on a fan's cell phone, it goes without saying, don't pay the bills in the same way that $9 of profit on a CD sale does.

The financial details for Stolen Silver, an indie folk band rooted in the upper Midwest — but with traces of California in the 1970s in its sound — provide a window into how the new music economy works, or doesn't work, for bands trying to build their careers.

For instance, making a vinyl version of a record is almost mandatory these days, as many serious music fans seek out old-school, 12-inch, blow-off-the-dust-before-you-put-the-needle-down records.

"We had been getting a lot more requests for that," Myers said. "Ten years ago, I don't think I ever heard anybody ask, 'Do you have vinyl?' Now it's pretty much every show we'll get a request for it."

"It makes us look better to have some vinyl," said Levi Britton, the band's other frontman and its primary vocalist. "Whether we sell them or not, there are certain people that take you more seriously if you have vinyl, which is kind of silly.

"But, honestly, a big thing for me is my dad is a vinyl guy, and to be able to have vinyl to give to my dad is (expletive) cool."

But remember when CDs used to be so much more expensive at stores than LPs? Not anymore. Where it costs about a dollar each to make a CD, Stolen Silver paid about $6 each for the 1,000 vinyl LPs it printed, Myers said.

The band will sell them for $20 apiece, compared with $10 for the CD version of the record. That's about the standard for indie bands these days.

But you don't just go down the block to the local vinyl record plant. The Stolen Silver record was pressed in Romania, via a company Myers found by tapping his Chicago music industry connections. (In addition to playing violin and singing in Sinise's band, which maintains a busy schedule of playing big charity gigs for soldiers, Myers writes, sings and plays jingles. He's even had four of his songs featured in a Hollywood movie, "Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil.")

"It's quite a task," said Myers of getting an LP made. His friends steered him to A to Z Media, based in New York, which subcontracts to the Romanian firm that actually makes the records.

Even before that, the digital song files had to be mastered by an audio engineer who "knows how to do vinyl," Myers said. "We used a guy up in Milwaukee."

Another big expense came with the decision to hire a PR firm for three months to help promote the record when it first came out, at a rate of $2,000 a month. "We didn't get a lot out of that," Myers said.

Then again, the effort to get the record out to music publications and writers may pay off down the road, he said: "O.K., so maybe Billboard didn't write us up this time, but maybe a year or two later, people will be like, 'Oh, yeah. I remember them.'"

And the band saved about $1,000 on its PR bill, said Myers, by addressing the envelopes and sending out CDs itself: "They'll forward over a spreadsheet with all the addresses and contacts. We'll send out the CDs to the contacts."

"It is," he added, "a pain in the neck to go into the post office with like 350 packages" — especially if you get a grumpy employee who'll make you buy stamps rather than printing out postage labels for you.

But all of it comes in the name of a record Myers and Britton believe in, one Myers led the writing on in the wake of the break-up of his marriage to the Chicago dancer and choreographer Autumn Eckman.

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