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Beehive Recording Company

1401 Vermont
Detroit, Michigan 48216

Steve Nawara

By Tunde Wey
June 27, 2013

The following paragraph is a brief approximation of how the world changed – the world of music – and the subsequent response. Please follow along.
The internet and the proliferation of digital devices have decimated the traditional music industry business model. Before now, big record labels received tons of demo tapes – and later demo CDs – from musicians aspiring to a record contract. The contract, when eventually given to the artist, was more burden than benefit, offering them a pittance from the sale of their record and further burdening them with a loan, called an advance, to pay for the recording of their album – which of course was expensive to record because of the behemoth technology involved.

Album sales, which were an upfront investment by the record company, were then driven largely by an untiring media machine, pushing the record from the studio into the fans' hands. So the artists were paid very little for their music while the fans paid very much for it. Then mp3s came along, followed by music sharing, swapping, and streaming services, and the world changed. The byzantine world of mega record labels is collapsing, and besides the complicity of the industry giants, some other usurpers are also responsible.
Steve Nawara might be in his late 30s but he is all vintage; dressed in the style of your favorite, genuinely casual, musician. There’s the sometimes stingily shaven face making for a rough, grizzled chin. Aviator glasses, tinted his preferable yellow; earth tone plaid dress shirts layered with a blazer. Then there’s the authenticity, the sincerity of one who does it for the love.
Nawara is founder of Beehive Recording Company, a nontraditional music label that records artists for free and provides free mp3 downloads of all music recorded to the public. He calls it a "music preservation society," recording music, from across different genres, relevant to the Detroit; a musical ethnography of sorts.
A staple of the local music scene in Detroit, Nawara played with popular local group Electric Six.  His experience and connections led him to found Beehive in 2007 as an antidote to a business model that is antiquated. In the beginning Nawara, a product of the forces he now pushes against, tried to sell mp3s from the Beehive website. He charged $2.50 for a three-song download and waited for the money to pour in. It was crickets.
Nawara relaunched the label in 2010 with an updated website and a new idea: make music free while documenting Detroit’s authentic sound, its "colloquialisms." Since that time Beehive has welcomed over 3,000 members from around the world, releasing over 50 singles and notching downloads in excess of 10,000. Bands like the Cray Crays and Blackman are among the releases available to anyone interested in parting with their basic information – name, email, zip code and such is most of what is required to join the site. While the music is free, donations are very much encouraged. Interestingly for Nawara, his donation-based, pay-what-you-want model has been more successful than his previous attempt, validating his contention that "music wants to be free" – or at least free from arbitrary pricing.
Nawara is recording Detroit musicians, eager to manifest the specificity of their roots in their music. He started in his basement, meeting with other musicians after a long day at work, each supporting each other, forming a collective of mutual interest, reinforcing to one another what was so important about Detroit music. Nawara has moved his operation into Pony Ride, an appropriate move as it is also a creative collaborative space nurturing local entrepreneurs. Still Nawara and his musician friends are in the basement, recording out of the erstwhile furnace room of the building, keeping it raw and elemental.

Photograph by Marvin Shaouni Photography

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