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Monkeys and The Music Biz

Hey-o. It’s been a crazy couple of months! I finally have some time to breathe, so I thought i’d update the blogosphere on what’s going on with me and the monkeys. For those of you who follow our band, you know that we’ve gone through some changes over the last year. This post offers a little more detail into some of the challenges we’ve faced and are facing as an independent rock band, and what they mean for the future of Monkeys In Space.

I moved to LA in May when I was presented with an opportunity to fill-in on Hollywood Records’ production staff. Over the last two months, I’ve been exposed to the inner workings of the record biz. It’s been an invaluable experience and let me tell you, the people behind artists like Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato & Miley Cyrus are some of the smartest, hardest-working people I’ve ever met. They’re also ALL really fuckin’ cool. Anyway, me moving up this way presented some obvious challenges for our band. First, we’re not able to practice nearly as much as we would like (I’ve been driving down to SD every weekend to rock), and being a self-produced band, recording has become more difficult.

As little as a year ago, MiS was livin’ the dream. We were all working and living in a spacious, four-bedroom house down by San Diego State. We had a huge garage that we got to practice and record in whenever we wanted, and were working really hard every day to progress. Progress we did, but as life tends to go, people get older, responsibilities pile up and things like playing in a rock band become less important. It’s never easy to face, but that’s just the way it is. Needless to say, Monkeys In Space has gone through some changes over the past 13 or so months, but we’re still very passionate about the music we’re making and have finally started getting on some bigger shows. Things are certainly progressing, slowly but surely, but we still need help, aka a “break.”

By “break,” I really mean money. The expression “you don’t need a record deal” is true, but only if you have the capital to do all the things a record deal would do for you. And trust me, as an independent band, you don’t have the time or resources to produce what a major label can. You can certainly try, and Monkeys In Space has spent three years building up a brand online – doing absolutely EVERYTHING we can to try and get our music heard. Unfortunately, the internet is no longer a place to discover new music that no one’s ever heard. It’s become just another controlled market place where only one thing really matters – making money.

Before I got the gig at HWR and even before the Monkeys hit the road on the greatest tour of all time, I worked for a digital publishing company that produced content for over 20 or so websites. In the world of the web, the way to make money is to drive traffic. The more people you have on your sites, the more interested advertisers are, the more you can charge for that advertising, etc. The only way to drive traffic to your site is to produce content that people want to read (or music people want to hear). The quickest way to do that is to post the same shit everyone else is posting, also known as what’s “trending,” and lace it with “SEO strategies” and hope your site pops up in the search results. Same goes for music. If everyone is searching for the Black Keys new song, you’d be a bad business person not to have that up on your site. Correction: the quickest way to drive traffic is to pay Google to gaurantee you show up in their search results, but who has that money? (the same companies you see on TV and hear on the radio)

How does that relate to what we’re trying to do?

In its early days, bands that had a jump on the internet were able to gain a lot of exposure very quick at what appeared to require minimal effort. Back then, while corporate America was scrambling to figure out how to control this new medium, consumers took advantage and were able to discover music on their own. Before the internet, the only real way to do that was to go to the shows, because outlets like the radio, MTV and VH1 were all controlled the way the web is today. Now that the big wigs have caught up, the “new music” you’re being fed through outlets like Spotify – which is fucking every musician they feature, popular or not- and others is pushed by those who can afford to push it. These services are available to independent artists, but it’s impossible to operate on the same level as those with big budgets. Just like everyone else, indie musicians have to pay for advertising online to be seen. If you’re lucky enough to have earned (or spammed) yourself a large network, you could be doing pretty well. But of course, that wasn’t going to last forever. One of the biggest and most recent hits to independent artists was Facebook’s new policy on your fan’s Newsfeeds. Now, even if you have a substaintial amount of “Likes,” each one has to individually subscribe to your posts. Without those subscriptions, only 10% of your Fans will see your updates. Maybe it’s 20%. Regardless, now users have to take an extra step to get your news and, let’s be real, who’s really going to? Of course, you can pay for sponsored posts, which will send your updates to your whole network.

Those in the business of offering services for independent artists online – for the most part – are just taking advantage of people’s desire to play music for a living.  A few examples: ReverbNation and Sonicbids. These two sites offer independent bands the opportunity to submit their music to the biggest music festivals in the world. Submission prices average anywhere between $5-75. Each of these websites has thousands of registered users, mostly independent musicians that are desperately trying to get their music heard. The promise that your music will be considered is often empty. You pay the submission fee and never hear anything. No email explaining your rejection. Nothing. Once you wise up to that, it’s just another door closed.

It’s no secret that live music is taking a hit now that music is so easily accessbile online. As home entertainment improves, there are less reasons to attend live events. Just ask Major League Baseball – not everyone can afford to blackout their broadcasts like the NFL. Greedy fucks. With less people attending the biggest concerts in the area, you can imagine the impact these advancements are having in the underground scene. To adapt, promoters require bands to sell a certain amount of “presale tickets” to cover their expenses, maybe even their salary, who knows. There are seldom clubs in Southern-California that don’t require some sort of guarantee that money will be exchanged between the bands performing and the promoters hosting. Rarely is it the other way around. Once again, musicians that are desperately trying to get their music heard will sign on – like we did on our recent show with Unwritten Law – run around peddling tickets for the promoters, hand over the cash before the set and likely play to no new faces. It’s a business model that’s killing local music scenes all over the country. And there’s really no way to reverse it.

So what can we do about it? Well, besides bitching on our blogs about how unfair everything is, not a whole lot. One thing we can promise is that we will continue to work hard to produce music that is honest and real; inspired only by the things that truely inspire us. While we may not be the biggest band in the world, we absolutely work as hard as any other. Despite all the challenges I mentioned above, we’re still pressing on. The harsh reality is that we’re running out of time to turn Monkeys In Space into a music career. There may come a day where we need to walk away, but not today. Until then, we’re continuing to record our music and ask the same thing we’ve been asking since we started this band: please give us a listen. If you like what you hear, share it with a friend.

Rock on.

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