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?

Despite the crashing music industry, these college seniors aren’t abandoning their calling. In One Wind’s members have staked out their career paths: full-time musicians. They don’t want day jobs as bartenders or baristas, secretaries or teachers. They want to write, play, record, and tour, day-in and day-out.

But in a digital media age where the money that was once made from record sales has disappeared because of piracy, how do any musicians stand a chance of making a living?

Ideally, a team of professionals is hired to guide a band’s career, according to Donald S. Passman, author of “All You Need to Know about the Music Business.” And conversations with those experts, including a manager, a publicist, and an agent, confirm the notion that making a living as a musician it is still possible. New companies have developed, such as Everything Independent, that have transformed the traditional label and management process to service artists aspiring to embed themselves in the business.

Like most fledgling bands, In One Wind is starting out without a roster of professionals to pave the way. The band must manage their own funds, secure their own shows, and promote themselves and their performances. To get started each member of the group invested a bit of seed money for the first pressing of their extended play (EP) album. Other expenses have been covered by CD and t-shirt sales as well as donations from the tip jar passed around at their shows. With the real world looming, the members carefully plan each aspect of their band’s future.

On a warm early evening in April, the band sits in a circle, legs crossed Indian-style, inside of Washington Square Park. Each holds an iPhone or an agenda as they schedule rehearsals for the next several weeks. They unintentionally form a coordinated band aesthetic: The guys are all wearing button down plaid shirts, drummer Max Jaffe and bassist Rob Lundberg are wearing shorts, Spagnolo and Steven Lugerner, woodwinds, are wearing jeans. The girls, both wearing jeans, sport jackets seemingly fitting to their personas; Nussbaum has on a black leather biker jacket with red detailing, Glaser wears a magenta cardigan.

Since their formation, the band has played live shows all around the city; (le) Poisson Rouge, Abrons Art center, Pete’s Candy Shop, Sycamore, and Spike Hill. Each band member, who has played with other groups, keeps in contact with different venues. “Often at places we’ve played at with other groups, we can email the venue saying we’ve played here before with this group and I wanna play here now with this group,” explains Glaser. This is how the band has booked live performances without a booking agent. And even without press they’ve managed to build a following.

“We’ve built a nice, small attention by playing shows and having friends tell friends, people noticing us, liking us and encouraging us,” says bassist Lundberg. “We like to keep it as organic as possible.”

And, of course, they have gone online to promote their music and to allow listeners to stream it. In One Wind has a website,, and a MySpace page. Yet, the band believes that there is no fan-to-band-connection that can substitute seeing a live performance. The band sees the website as a stepping stone.  “Someone comes to see us and they say to a friend, ‘This band is awesome, here’s the website,’ and ideally, they’d come to the next show,” says Nussbaum.

In addition to playing local venues, touring is a crucial aspect for bands trying to build a following, according to David Galea, a booking agent at The Agency Group in New York City. On a Friday afternoon in late-March Galea is swamped with e-mails. “I’m mind numbingly busy,” Galea says of booking a summer tour for Paramore, one of the bands he manages. “There are so many pieces involved with a tour of this scope and you need to be in the middle of everything.”

Casually dressed in a baseball cap, jeans and a sweatshirt, he says that until recently, the intricacies of booking Paramore were not so complicated. “I started booking Paramore when I was still an assistant,” he says. “I booked them for 50 to 150 people for their first few shows.”

Now with a four-tier CD case filled with their music, Galea says that because of their strong foundation as a touring band, they’ve collected a group of fans and are now able to fill venues of over 1000 people. “They’re the perfect example of a band where the critical mass was just there,” he says. “We built them a touring base so when they were ready to go to radio on the second record, people from the radio station would walk into the 9:30 Club in DC and see 1000 people and be like, ‘Where did this come from?’”

In One Wind is not yet at the stage to attract the services of an agent like Galea. Luckily, having a booking agent is not necessary for a band to have a successful tour. In One Wind concluded their first, eight-day Midwest tour on March 11. The band played five shows in Ohio, one in Pittsburgh and the final back in New York City. They toured with the Atypicals, a band whose members are the roommates of Jaffe, the drummer.

While the price touring can be costly, In One Wind was hosted by friends and family in different cities. “We didn’t have to pay for one place to stay and we were fed by everyone,” says Spagnolo. “It’s nice to have a support group. I mean yeah, there’s a pride that we want to start from the ground up. Do it ourselves. Raise our fists…”

“Raise our fists and dance,” interrupts Nussbaum. The group laughs.

For bands just starting out like In One Wind, their goal is to be discovered, says Galea. While touring is one approach, file sharing, the latter-day word-of-mouth is another. But file-sharing—downloading music without paying for it—means no one makes any money. “Labels disagree because they’re losing revenue, but maybe people will be more likely to buy your record because they’ve heard a song,” says Galea. In the end, he believes that a band will end up making more money because once an audience discovers a band, they will be more likely to buy show tickets and to purchase merchandise.

Revenues from touring, merchandise and other methods of creative marketing are the innovative ways bands capitalize today since financial success is no longer based on physical sales of CDs or being singed onto major labels. The old definition of “breaking into the industry” by signing onto a major label is outdated, says Samuel Howard-Spink, clinical assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt’s Music Business Program. “What it means to be successful as a musician is undergoing vital, paramount change. If you’re a small band from Brooklyn, you never really had a fighting chance. Now you do.”

This change has been spurred by the ways today’s audience buys—or steals—music. Sales of CDs are down 15.4 percent as of mid-March, according to Billboard. In fact, sales have been dropping for years. Last year’s record sales totaled 360.6 million compared to the 706.3 million purchased in 2000. The world’s largest music market now comes from digital channels. Last year, 27 percent of the industries revenues came from online and mobile sales, a 12 percent increase from 2008, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI).

Piracy is to blame—or credit—for this transformation. The emergence of Napster, an online music file sharing site, in June 1999 allowed users to share MP3 files for free. The site was shut down in 2001 because of copyright infringement. However, it has had lasting effects on the music industry.

Janelle Rogers, founder of Green Light Go Publicity, remembers when Napster first emerged. She was at a meeting at South by Southwest (a music festival held in Austin, Texas) while she was working with Bertelsmann Music Group (BMG) Distribution, a music rights management company. “One of my counterparts had asked, ‘What do you plan to do with Napster?’ and the response was, ‘We’ll wait and see what the little guys will do because as a major label we’re not going to take the lead with that.’ BMG ended up trying to work with Napster, but at that point it was just too late.”

After Napster, the listener’s mindset for purchasing music was forever altered. With the availability of free downloads a new mentality set in: “If we can get our music for free, why should we pay for CDs?” Piracy and the internet caused a bottleneck-effect on the industry because it minimized the way music could be sold, says Rogers. And although the digital arena has made it easier for a band to get discovered, musicians are forced to discover more inventive ways to make a living.

One way for a band to make money is by publishing compositions and/or lyrics. “Publishing revenues are going up because of the number of new ways there are to synchronize music to all these exploding ways of media,” says Spink. For example, bands can sell their songs as ringtones or they can license their music to be used on TV and in movies.

“The idea that opportunity for success is limited because of the reduction of the profilitability of the major record labels is a fallacy,” says Spink. Being signed to a major label never guaranteed a successful career in the music industry.

But for In One Wind fame is not their end goal. Making music that the band believes in, enjoys, and hopes that others will appreciate and connect with is their primary objective. They’re trying to make it in the business, but not on the MTV, Lady Gaga level. To be successful “is just to get to a point where the band is financially self-sufficient and hopefully, even helping us pay our bills,” says Lundberg.

Magazines like Time Out New York (TONY) specialize in listing music performances so New Yorkers can go out to hear local bands like In One Wind. Their music section boasts an abundant record of shows happening each day, in each genre. “It’s our responsibility to the readers that we’re providing them with the service that tells them exactly what’s going on,” says Sophie Harris, staff music writer for TONY.

TONY music blogger Jamie Falkowski says that while the magazine can only focus on four or five artists, the magazine’s blog has more flexibility to promote new artists through interviews, show coverage, and focusing on the best and latest music and videos. “In this day-and-age web exposure can be more important than print and artists can truly grow and gain a fan base from internet campaigns alone,” says Falkowski. “A simple blurb online for a new artist can be hugely influential.”

In fact, exposure to 1,000 fans is enough to earn an artist enough money to make a living, according to the “1,000 True Fans Theory” by Kevin Kelly. In order to subsist as a working artist, all that is needed are 1000 True Fans (“someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce,” Kelly writes on his website, The Technium). To be financially successful those fans must spend $100 a year on the artist, generating the artist a $100,000 salary.

Technology created this new form of fandom, according to Kelly. Before, making a living from one’s work required that an artist follow the long tail model where a hit was necessary for an artist’s career to take off (Britney Spear’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time” is an example). Instead, with the 1000 True Fans model, a livelihood can be made from a core base rather than a short-lived stint as a celebrity.

“You make a living instead of a fortune,” Kelly writes. “You are surrounded not by fad and fashionable infatuation, but by True Fans. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.”

To contribute to their favorite artists, fans can buy CDs, vinyl records, digital recordings, and merchandise or they can fund an artist’s project by using websites like Kickstarter or Fundable. “Fundable is a web-based enterprise which allows anyone to raise a fixed amount of money for a project, while reassuring the backers the project will happen,” explains Kelly. Kickstarter has the same digital-patronage concept.

Kirby Desmarais, founder of Everything Independent, a pioneering service provider modeled to transform the traditional record label, has been promoting Kickstarter for the past two years. The Life and Times Of, an artist under Desmarais’s label used Kickstarter as a platform to campaign and fund the recording of their album.

Desmarais has been in the music industry booking rock bands since she was 16. In 2007, at age 21, she founded Everything Independent, a co-op of services including lawyers, booking agents, press relations and managers that artists can pick and chose from. “If you’re an artist who’s looking into something in particular she’ll tailor to your needs,” says husband and musician, Mark Desmarais. “As opposed to selling out their rights and royalties to a label, 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 label.”

Lawrence and Leigh, an indie-folk rock duo made up of Kristin Stokes and Andrew Kalleen, signed with Everything Independent in January after Desmarais discovered them playing at the Metropolitan stop off of the G train. “I love working with them and I love how they’re trying to reinvent the business,” says Stokes.

Desmarais has managed to create an intensive industry network over the years. She connects her artists with these clients and instead of taking a percentage of what a lawyer, for example would charge the musician, Desmarais has the lawyer give her artist a discount. In addition, the label works as a monthly service where the fees are paid up front as opposed to the traditional label that takes a percentage of what the artists makes.

“So whatever we make after we print off the album and the merchandise, we get all the profits,” says Stokes. For new bands like Lawrence and Leigh, they’re paying a lot of money up front with the hopes of making it back one day. And it’s a risk that they’re willing to take.

“It’s what I want to do and it’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” says Kalleen who is using money he’s been earning for years as a music teacher to pay for the service. “Even if I don’t succeed, what I want to do is put out music that I feel proud of. It’s all about trying.”

A few weeks before graduation the members of In One Wind make their way into a sunlit New School practice room. Inside, Glaser daintily sings at the piano. Barefoot, Spagnolo sets up his amplifier, toying its peddles with his toes. With the strumming of his guitar, they begin to play Glaser’s ‘How a Bird.’

“We need to make it disintegrate in some way,” says Glaser as they finish the third section of the song. “This is the big build and we have to get it fall and feel like we’re coming out of the rubble.”

“Maybe hold the last ‘AHHH’,” suggests Nussbaum.

“I just don’t know how much we can hold it, but yeah.”

Spagnolo pretends to suffocate. “Ehhh, hheeeee, ehhhhhh,” he jokes before he becomes serious again. “But now, is the tempo, ‘puck-it-ta-puck-it-ta-puck-it-ta-tee. Poahh-poah-de-doooooah’?”

They repeat the section again. And again.

Nearly a month after In One Wind’s performance at Glaser’s recital, plans for the band’s future are still up in the air. There are talks of touring the West Coast. However, their main priority for the summer is to record a full-length CD. Beyond that, the band has no clear direction of where they are heading. But they aren’t in a hurry to figure it out.

“We haven’t set a timetable to reach ‘success,’” says Lundberg. “But we assume it will take at least a year, likely longer.”


About Samantha

Samantha Tilipman, 19. NYU double major in Journalism and Psychology.
This entry was posted in Band, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Today’s music business. Can you make it?

  1. Pingback: Travels of an East Villager: Union Hall | EAT EAsT

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s