Today’s music business. Can you make it?

Sounds of escalating tumult emerge from behind the bright red doors of the performance space at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Wire brushes scratch a snare drum as fingers vigorously pluck an upright bass. Suddenly, the music dies. Silence.

Moments later, the doors open and the waiting crowd that had gathered outside streams into the auditorium. The clamor came from a rehearsal. This mid-spring evening, singer Mallory Glaser is performing with her band, In One Wind, a six-piece ensemble composed of fellow New School seniors and alumni. “Now the party really starts,” she says into the microphone as she invites the band up on stage. Singer/songwriter and guitarist Angelo Spagnolo, the brainchild who formed the band about 18 months ago, quietly strums his guitar as the band begins to play their first song, “Moving.”

With every other phrase, the tempo shifts from fast to slow. The volume bobs-and-weaves from loud to soft as the intricate melodies bounce from one musical genre to another: from country to jazz to indie rock to folk. Spagnolo sings as Glaser and vocalist Lily Claire Nussbaum sweetly harmonize with his soulful tone:

Feel it, moving, moving on (moving on)
Keep the ground I’m standing on (standing on)
No more ‘should have’s’ hooked to my back
Free for us all it’s been paid in full

After several In One Wind originals and covers by Joni Mitchell and Georgia Anne Muldrow, the performance concludes with a standing ovation. With one last, major performance of their college careers completed, what is the next step for the band?

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Kirby Desmarais, founder of Everything Independent

This past week I spoke with Kirby Desmarais, founder of Everything Independent (and her husband–see next entry) at Jalopy, in Carroll Gardens. We sat inside the venue/cafe/bar/instrument repair shop beside the stage lined with red velvet curtains and small red twinkly lights.The front of the space functions as a woodworking station, with guitars (both electric and acustic), banjos, violins, and fiddles lining the wall. Opposite the repair station sits an antique red cash register and a matching red espresso machine. To the sounds jazz coming from the speakers and the buzz of steaming milk echoing from the machine we talk about her company, built for a crumbling music industry. Kirby, 24, has been in the music industry, booking bands on the Lower East Side since she was 16. With years of experience, she focused on a problem and took the lead on making a change.

What is Everything Indepdent?

Everything Independent is an Industry Service Provider which covers all aspects of the Music Business.

We customize affordable and realistic music career packages to suit each artist’s particular needs. These packages can grow and change over time as the artist’s career progresses. All of the necessary elements needed to succeed within the music business are available within the Ei network including management, publicity, legal advice, and music production. What separates Ei from traditional record labels and management firms is that our artists retain complete ownership and control over every aspect of their career. Additionally, we NEVER take a percentage or “points” from our artists. We simply guide, advise, and open many doors within a complex and ever changing industry. We work for you!

Here’s what Kirby had to say:

How did Everything Independent start?
It grew on its own. I had a bunch of companies that came to me and said, “if you refer your artists to me I’ll give you a discount.” And I was like, “wait, don’t even give me a percentage, just drop if down for my artists and I’ll send you all of my business.” And it just kind of grew into a company. It wasn’t a concept and then a company; it was a company and then a concept.

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Everything Independent, a view from the inside

While at Jalopy, I also spoke with Mark Desmarais, 31, Kirby’s husband and “silent partner” who gives her some insight into the world of musicians. This is what he had to say about Everything Independent:

I’ve done music for a really long time as well. I’ve  been in bands, some touring, some not. From the aspect of the musician, a traveling musician, I have a little better insight into some things than she does. All I ever do is offer advice, I never make any decisions for her or with her. All i do is support her, I’m a silent partner per se, but it’s totally her business. It was her idea. She started doing this in 2003, 2004 when she was doing rock promotion down on the Lower East Side [she started doing this when she was 16].  She’s always been involved with bands and so it kind of stuck.

The business has evolved into different formsand into its latest shape which is basically a co-op of all the worthy connections that she’s made over the years. If you’re an artist who’s looking into something in particular she’ll tailor to your needs, as opposed to artists selling out their rights and royalties. Her artists still own their music and have control over it while getting the same support and expertise that they’d get from a major or even smaller indie level. They’re retaining everything they need.

So if you’re a band and you’ve already got someone doing your PR and you’ve got a recording studio but  you need entertainment law, she can set you up with that. You can pick and choose what you need because she’s got pretty much ever single aspect that a record label would offer. She never takes a percentage of your earnings. It’s a good platform for artists to step onto to get to the next level or to do business the way they want to do it and not having to go through a million contracts and lots of different people and end up pulling money after they record an album, that’s how the music industry was for the longest time. You’d get a big grant up front to record an album and the next thing you know you’re making pennies or less for every album sold.

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NYU Music Business professor on the new business

Speaking with Samuel Howard-Spink, Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU Steinhardt’s Music Business Program, I now have a new view on the music business. Here’s the insight that he had to share on what it NOW means to “make it” in the music industry.

How can one make it into the music industry?
Define “making it?”

Being signed onto a label. Being able to play music as a career.
Having a record label is absolutely no guarantee of it being a career. There is no such thing as a guaranteed career in the music industry. It’s disposable.

What would I consider making it? Making a sustainable living through music production. For people that don’t perform their own material, the options for them getting paid are getting squeezed and squeezed. If you write your own material and you have a good publishing deal.

What’s the difference between publishing and recording?
Publishing is based around the composition or the lyrics.

Recording is selling recordings. Recording industry revenues have plummeted because people don’t care about CD’s anymore. Publishing revenues are going up because of the number of new ways there are to synchronize music to all these exploding ways of media. More people are using it and more people are demanding it because they are being exposed to more different kinds of music than you would be than just listening to the radio or shopping at Wal-Mart. By the way, Wal-Mart still sells the vast majority of CDs in the country.

If you’re just Britney or Christina and you just sing, perform, and dance and shake your butt, but you don’t write any of your own material, dropping CD sales is a big problem for you. If you write your own material and your job, in the music business, exploitation is a good thing. Exploitation means getting your composition, to the extent that it’s your intellectual property and it’s getting administered by an organization, out there. Then there are a lot of ways of getting revenue coming back to you. Each way means a bit less revenue than the old way. If you are a music creator, then you are at a much better position to make a living from your creativity than you ever, ever were before.

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Janelle Rogers, creator of Green Light Go

How did you get into public relations?
I went into the Art Institute of Seattle for music, video, and business. I knew from high school that I wanted to work with music. Then I moved to Austin, partly because of South by Southwest (SXSW), I went one year and I loved it, and partly to get journalism degree. While I was there I worked at SXSW, which led in a roundabout way to where I am now because I ended up working as an intern at the college rep for BMG Distribution. My role there was finding alternative artists, street teens, and coming up with marketing promotions. From there I became an alternative artist development rep, I moved to Detroit where I worked on a lot of regional campaigns like the Kings of Leon, The Strokes, The White Strips, those were some of the bigger ones. Three years ago, I quit my job and started Green Light Go because I wanted to go back to my roots of publicity, and really I just wanted to become a beacon of hope and integrity and honestly in the business because I see so many musicians just being taken advantage of.

Why did you decide to choose to work with small bands in Brooklyn?
They actually chose me. A lot of my business is through word of mouth. It starts with one community and builds from there.
Naked Hearts was the first Brooklyn band that I started working with and I met them from another Portland band that was called Star Fucker at the time [now called Pyramid]. And then the others were just word of mouth from other musicians.

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Naked Hearts

“Proving once again that downtown New York City is still the world’s greatest incubator for awesome rock music, along come dynamic duo known as Naked Hearts. The twosome of Amy Cooper (guitar and vocals) and Noah Wheeler (bass, drums, and vocals) have done things the good old-fashioned way–by playing lots and lots and lots of shows in tiny clubs and bars all over the city. In less than a year after forming, the band had already managed to establish itself as a formidable live act and a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Two-piece bands might be all the rage now, but Naked Hearts put a fresh spin on things, crafting songs that are equal parts tough and sweet.”

Recently, I spoke with Amy Cooper of Naked Hearts. Here’s what she had to say:

How did Naked Hearts start?
I had been playing songs and releasing CDs under my solo name, Amy Cooper, for a while before I had met Noah. He was in a couple of other bands but, met at Piano’s in New York. I was on tour at the time but when we met we really recognized that we had a similar approach, and we just had a connection. We hit it off after seeing each other play. He ended up coming on tour with me and playing drums and harmony. On that tour we started writing songs together. It just happened, and we were like “cool, we’re doing this now”. It just came out of him playing with me and we had chemistry, musically. So I moved back to New York, at the time I was living in LA. We just started doing Naked Hearts and performing, the two of us together.

Both of us are really interested in recording so that’s the first thing we did. I have a four-track and an eight-track. We started experimenting with them and making demos, and showing them to people and getting gigs, meeting other bands with the same kind approach and, that’s how we first started getting into the scene. We played at Cake Shop, I knew Andy Bodor very well. It’s owned by cool people and that was our somewhere to start. So we played a couple shows at Cake Shop, and we started building through that and we kept working. It takes time with figuring out how to record, who to record with. We just had these four-track demos and then we recorded an EP with one of friends in Brooklyn. And we just recorded a full length album. We’ve been in a band for 2.5 years.

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Yesterday I spoke with Ryan Lee Dunlap, guitarist and vocalist of Fan-Tan. The band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is about to release their album, Age of Discovery, on May 11th and is beginning a national tour to promote their music on April 15th.

Their MySpace reads:

Fan-Tan formed in the fall of 2006 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Kuki and Sandee Kooks, two Indonesian expatriates active in the Chapel Hill college rock scene, met local singer/guitarist Ryan Lee Dunlap and began making music that parted stylistically from the 90s alt rock sound so abundant in the area, and drew more from British post-punk and new wave. After a few months of recording demos and playing shows around the area, the trio decided to move the project and themselves to New York where they incorporated the unique synth sounds of fellow North Carolinian and circuit-bender Mike Walters, who had also recently relocated. It is here where ultimately the sound of Fan-Tan would take shape. Over the next two years, the band played venues all over New York, toured the east coast, and began recording their second EP with Arjun Agerwala at James Iha’s Stratosphere Sound Studio in Chelsea. The results of those sessions, entitled “The Age of Discovery” will be released on March 26th, 2010, followed by a US tour in April.

Here’s what Ryan had to say:

Tell me how you guys got your start:
We’re all from Chapel Hill, NC, a college town. It’s a big music town, it’s music scene was very big in the 90’s, it was like the second Seattle. It had its hay day. We all played with different bands at various points, but Kuki, the drummer, wanted to start our own thing. Sandy came in and we started playing as a trio.

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