Ever since Napster hit the scene and forever changed the way we distribute music, the music industry has been fighting a slow death over the past few years and while record labels still exist, they are quickly becoming a dated way to “make it” with YouTube, at home ProTools rigs and countless social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Soundcloud) available for artists to truly DIY their careers rather than wait for the elusive record contract to “change their lives.”
While established artists like The Chemical Brothers, Phoenix and Daft Punk have taken to the conductor’s podium to create scores for films such as Hanna, Somewhere and Tron: Legacy (can someone also get Muse attached to a project, please?), bands that are not yet well-known are taking their music out of local clubs and putting them onto the silver screen for better (and bigger) exposure.
One band, a multi-media group based out of Brooklyn called Fall On Your Sword, caught people’s ears (and attention) with their score for Another Earth and are following that up with their score for the upcoming Lola Versus (due in theaters this Friday, 6/8) as well as 28 Hotel Rooms and Nobody Walks (which both premiered at Sundance this past January.) Rather than getting lost in the shuffle as just another “band from Brooklyn,” FOYS took matters into their own hands and began to diversify themselves by not just looking to release albums of their music, but explore other outlets for potential exposure.
I asked FOYS’ founding members, Will Bates and Phil Mossman, if they see film and commercials as the future of how new music is brought to audiences since the music industry seems to be getting further and further away from the traditional record label distribution model. Bates said,
“Yes, it really seems like that’s where it’s headed. In the early days of FOYS we quickly gained a following thanks to YouTube and putting out singles alongside our videos became the norm. Since then yes, it’s been the films and commercials that have helped spread the word, but labels still play an important role in getting our work out there. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some great labels on individual projects weather it’s DFA, Milan, Lakeshore or whoever, it’s finding new and interesting ways to work with them in the FOYS model.”
“Being in a band and signed to a label feels mildly adolescent and we are grown men. We are fortunate in that we have forged some great collaborative relationships with certain labels, agents, publishers etc but ultimately nobody is going to do your job for you. We still haven’t truly found our place in popular culture where we feel satisfied and the thought of not succeeding in achieving what we set out to do sometimes keeps me up at night. Making good records, scoring compelling movies and doing good advertising work are all equally important to us and there is no generic distribution model set up for that so we have to navigate our own path. There is a lot of pioneering spirit involved coupled with a healthy dose of trial and error but being the masters of our own destiny and throwing the rule book out of the window sits well with us.”
While it is clear that with the record industry crumbling and artists being forced to find new ways to reach audiences, it is also not a system that has (or will) simply fall apart overnight. Bands may be finding new fans through exposure in films, commercials, video games and television shows, but labels are still able to produce and distribute music on a scale much larger than what even the most savvy, YouTube armed up-and-coming artist could ever do themselves. Labels will probably never fall completely, but there is no denying that change is coming and it seems that finding those new ways to work with labels, like the ones Bates mentioned, will be the future of discovering and distributing new music.
This makes the idea of garage bands only getting “discovered” by high powered record executives or A&R reps a thing of the past (sorry Zack Attack) and Bates painted the picture of how diversification seems to be key saying,
“There was an interesting moment in the FOYS studios the other day which I think sums it up well: An antique piano was being lobotomized for an art project while some bottles were being smashed together for a certain soft drink commercial, taking place whilst putting the finishing touches to the Lola Versus soundtrack. Variety seems to be another common theme at FOYS.”
The days when MTV could catapult rock gods into super stardom (you know, back when MTV actually featured music videos) or even when TRL helped make popstars household names are clearly over. And with that decline, artists have begun to adapt. FOYS has embraced the idea that being a musician is not just a creative outlet, it is a job. Mossman explained,
“We definitely set out to make FOYS a home for a variety of creative output and diversity has always been core to our manifesto. Will and I have a long history of bands, film scoring and sync work prior to working with each other so it has always felt very natural to work in different formats, sometimes simultaneously. We are not a band that got into film scoring or film scorers that started a band, multiplicity was built into our formula intentionally. We treat it as a job and there’s a lot of dignity in that. We come in to the office every day and look at the board and say, “What do we have to do today?” What we, perhaps naively, underestimated was people’s need for tidy definitions that sometimes frustrates us. We have a catch phrase that is, “Keep ‘em guessing.””
While the industry may be changing, the idea of scoring music for film is not a talent suited for all artists. Creating music to be the main feature in a music video is a much different feat than creating scores which, ideally, are not at the forefront of a viewer’s focus while they are watching a film. That desire to create music for film seems to be something that should be in addition to an artist’s desire to create music itself. Bates revealed,
“I’ve always wanted to score movies, at the age of 5 I sang the entire score of Star Wars to my parents who, despite being somewhat horrified, quickly realized how I’d be spending the remainder of my years.”
Diversifying is certainly a key element to this idea of finding new ways of getting your music out there and the more ways you can do that, the more opportunities may come your way. But Bates also warns that one format does not necessarily lead into another,
“I rather naively thought that scoring commercials would be a route into doing movies and despite winning awards and getting quite good at it, the world of commercials seemed to exist more in parallel with the film world. My first scoring break came through Ry Russo-Young, introduced to me by a mutual friend. I scored her break out feature, You Won’t Miss Me, which took me to Sundance and opened me up to a whole new scene. About a year later Phil and I started working together as FOYS and it’s been a steady stream of recommendations and word of mouth since then.”
Certainly the more people hearing (and hopefully liking) your music, the better. To be a successful musician these days, it takes more than just musical talent, you must also be a self starter, marketer and have a head for this business that we call show (as it were.) When I proposed whether it was more FOYS approaching different projects they may be interested in working on or people seeking them out based on their past work, Bates said,
“I would say it’s a combination of them both. Having more of our work out there has definitely helped bring more people our way who have become familiar with the work.”
So in the end, you may need more than just a record executive saying yes, but you then open yourself up to the potential of hearing yes from a variety of other decision makers such as filmmakers to ad creatives to video game developers. The record industry may not necessarily be ending, but it is changing and maybe in a few years your new favorite band will come from a movie or commercial you just saw rather than the more traditional methods of billboards, radio or record stores (virtual, or those elusive physical ones.)