Pretty Lights Gives It All Away

For many an up-and-coming indie music act these days, the best way to get your music noticed is to get a mention on a major music blog. A mention on Pitchfork, Stereogum or even Dallas' own Gorilla vs. Bear is an almost guaranteed avenue to notoriety—and maybe even a little bit of success.

But for the bulk of the bands out there trying to make a living—the ones that don't find themselves on the adoring end of the blogosphere—success is still a matter of the old-fashioned route that relies on constant touring and positive word-of-mouth reviews.

Derek Vincent Smith, better known by his stage moniker Pretty Lights, is making his living via the latter method. Well, with some tweaks: Smith gives away all of his music. For free.

To him, it's a means to an end—the more people that hear his music, the more people that will come to his live shows, he hopes.

"As far as giving [out my albums], I'm sort of planting seeds with free music," Smith explains. "Free downloads and word-of-mouth are what has taken us to the next level."

To Smith's credit, Pretty Lights' free releases are certainly worth their price, filled with party anthems that fuse big-beat electronica with soulful samples from rock, '60s soul, jazz and hip-hop. And, in turn, his philosophy has worked. On his Web site, Smith's albums have garnered more than 100,000 downloads. And, on his current tour, Pretty Lights has managed to sell out theaters and rock clubs alike.

"I really think it was sort of a combination of good music and the right place and right time sort of thing," he says.

Smith also acknowledges that, as an electronic artist who uses banks of keyboards and sequencers to perform, it takes a little more than knob-twisting to keep his crowds interested.

"I make electronic music; I'm not a full band," he admits. "When people come to see me, they definitely see that I get into it onstage. But I'm not five members of a band that can take up your attention and watch."

So, to keep the crowd interested during his shows, Smith's added a touring drummer and video screens for the shows to enhance the experience.

"(My show) and my goal is to always make it a bigger, better or more unique show," he says, "and make it a special experience for the concertgoer—something they want to come back to."

Ultimately, Smith realizes, it's the ability to bring people through the door and put on a great show—not just giving his music away for free—that will keep him on the road making a living.

"I'm just gonna kinda take it one step at a time and feel it out and continue to have a loyal, mutually respectful relationship with the audience," Smith says. "That is at the top of the priority list."

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Lance Lester