In a culture where amateurism thrives, the music industry has particularly been mauled by an oversaturation of product. Everyone’s a DJ, everyone’s a songwriter, and everyone’s got a mixtape. Incidentally, consumer ears have acquired a fondness for inferior sound, so alternative routes are being implored to comb through the ravages. Some artists find a lucrative outlet in licensing deals or bypass the system entirely by leaking music to online tastemakers. Others seek bookings in key festivals or city-specific showcases. Regardless, to survive is to traverse uncharted domain with no hesitation.
The Greene Space
“New York’s always been a place that’s culturally rich,” notes Indira Etwaroo, executive director of WNYC’s The Greene Space and creator of “Battle of the Boroughs,” a competition to platform undiscovered local talent of all genres and ages. “There’s been a renaissance of music here throughout history, and we wanted to create a space for emerging artists to elevate their work.”
Getting booked nowadays is no longer a testament of skill rather marketing dexterity; a great musician who can fill 50 seats is easily overlooked for an inferior one who can fill 200. The Greene Space was formed as a musical showcase that directly connected talented performers with their listeners.
“Artists were chosen not merely based on technical proficiency, but on an innovative approach to their genre,” explains Etwaroo. “The most essential attribute in a good musician is someone who can cut through the noise and figure out what has not been said.”
Judges scoured through hundreds of submissions to narrow the competition down to five finalists, one of which was selected as the winner. No artist was alike, and all felt the struggle to fit into an industry more interested in the monetary value of their identity than the intricacies of their art.
My Cousin, The Emperor – from Brooklyn
“New York has high standards for music and access to so much,” comments Terry Quire of My Cousin, The Emperor, a team of four alt-country rockers from Brooklyn. The group regularly plays around the city, has music featured on Delta Airlines, and won an Independent Music Award for their songwriting, yet none live solely off their creative work. It’s a fact true of most musicians breaking out in this era.
“The bar is low in hip hop these days,” notes Mojo, an emcee from rap group, Dujeous, another finalist who’d even toured the world playing shows. “Commercial radio is driven by what’s hot in clubs, which is not the way it used to be. In those days, Tribe and N.W.A. could get played. Fortunately, there are other ways to get your music out there.”
Joe Thompson and the Comfortable Catastrophe – From Queens
For country band, Joe Thompson and the Comfortable Catastrophe, winner of the competition, there now lies the opportunity to open for a major recording artist at Summer Stage, one of the largest concert series in the city. After playing years with little recognition, it is a feat to instantly be seized upon.
Many musicians no longer seek record deals. Instead, they look to successful mercenaries like Radiohead, whose decision to release their work online at the purchaser’s price changed the business model altogether.
“It’s all about self-promotion and branding,”notes Rik Cordero, music video director for artists like Jay-Z and Nas. “Those with compassion, who can understand a struggle and turn it into something marketable, will have the most success.”
Mos Def and Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) photo: John Keets
Even executives have left previous roles for more nontraditional means. CreativeControl.TV sprung forth as a collaborative effort between entertainment mogul, Dame Dash, and directors, Coodie & Chike, who count Kanye West and Mos Def among their cliental. The project is an online venture to give both successful artists and rising talent a less repressive approach to their careers, while also embarking on trademark endeavors that bend genres and challenge conformity.
“In this day and age we’ve lost creativity,” observes Coodie. “It’s all about money. CreativeControl.TV is an avenue for innovative, talented people to express their art with full jurisdiction.”
The online forum follows a variety of figures, including neo-soul icon, Erykah Badu, buzz-worthy ingenues, Jay Electronica and Curren$y, and little knowns like The London Souls, as they pave their paths. It’s rawer than Dateline, less filtered than MTV, and quickly changing the structure for how talent can bring attention to their name. The team’s more recent conception, BlakRoc, an album pairing rockers, The Black Keys, with a host of hip hop stars, received praise from fans in both worlds of music, and found great success independently.
“It’s a movement that joins all artforms,” adds Coodie, who can be seen with a camera in hand on stages across the country, as the company’s outreach continues to grow and reinvent itself.
To make it in music now, it seems it takes such pioneers who can navigate the treacherous waters of renovation with ceaseless ambition and love for their craft. Others will assuredly sink if they haven’t already.
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– Courtney Garcia