Refuting Forbes, Courting Millenials, and Sticking it to the Man

A Conversation with Wyves

Seamus McCaffery’s in Downtown Phoenix may be one of my favorite bars in town.  It has this great Departed-esque vibe with all of the patches of law enforcement officials lining the upper shelf behind the bar.  The place feels Irish .  The mood is sombre, the lighting is low, the wood is dark, and you can almost forget – just for a second – that you are in the Valley of the Sun.  It feels like a couple of Hooligans could be at a back table drinking Jameson, Mick police officers could be lining the bar drinking Guiness, and Corey Gloden could be jamming an acoustic guitar and helping your Black Orchard (spin on a Snake Bite with Angry Orchard Cider and a Stout float ) go down easy.  I walked in late on a Thursday night, and Corey called out to me after his current song, “Hey Ryan!” and busted in to Bitch Has Got Problems.  It was going to be a good night.

In order to lock down Wyves, one has to be prepared to surf through the schedules of four very busy men.  Corey plays acoustic gigs around town four or five nights a week (to say nothing of his side project Dry River Yaught Club), Brenden teaches music: Guitar, Ukulele, Piano, and Drums (also to say nothing of his side project Treasurefruit) , Evan plays side project gigs for Sponsored Cover Bands, and Nick Sterling is a full time dad during the day, a columnist for Modern Guitars Magazine, and plays night gigs with Corey from time to time.  Luckily, going to a bar to listen to a gig, have a few beers, and wait for other members of the band to come in shifts for our conversation sounded like a perfect way to spend an evening!

On May 3rd of this year, Ross Gerber, contributor to Forbes Magazine, released an article entitled How the Music Industry is Putting Itself Out of Business.  If you choose,  read the article while listening to the above song and realize something is definitely not right in Denmark.  Gerber, after beginning the article proclaiming facts without giving one example of a “mid-range” band, would have readers believe that:

“Times have changed.  Besides a handful of superstars, it’s impossible for bands and musicians to generate significant revenue taking the approach of putting out a record, selling a couple thousand copies and then going on tour to promote it.  And the reason is simple: because of streaming services consumers won’t pay much for music.”

Gerber’s thesis is simple: album sales are necessary for a band to achieve super-stardom, and because of music streaming, less albums are being sold.  Therefore, the music industry is dead.  He continues by projecting the assumption that these steaming services, jump-started by Napster {oh Lars Ulrich, there you are!} back in the 90s, “produc[ed] a generation of listeners who didn’t value music because they were able to download it for free.”  Gerber perpetuates this assumption by following it up with, “Another irony is that music has been devalued at a time when there are more what that ever to promote it.”

Problem: this is an argument from fallacy, or an argument that assumes a plank is true in order to prove its conclusion.  His assumption: music has been devalued.

Brenden McBride was playing with his band Treasurefruit, so he arrived late to the shindig at McCaffery’s.  When asked about the modern state of music, he answered almost immediately:

“You don’t get there without Spotify.  Sure, you have to reach out on Facebook and other forms of social media, but there is simply too much competition to not have quality content.”

Wyves are releasing the follow up album to Spoils of War this summer.  If you do not already own this album, it is an absolute MUST for Rock n’ Roll fans – Get the album HERE !!!! Dude… 12 bucks ??!! You can work an hour for THIS!  While you are at it, click the album cover, and listen to it’s first single: “Puppycat”.

I have incredibly high hopes for this band, but the point is – who will be these next “mid level” or higher bands?  The greats are all aging; who will replace them?  Wyves… New ChumsJane n the Jungle: these are the bands that are bringing the passion back to music, and these are the bands that will rise in that Echelon of Musical Power.  Perhaps Gerber is right on one level: the high-end-money-making-scam of the modern music industry is being forced to Change or Die, and that is certainly not a BAD thing.


Wyves describe themselves as “Unapologetic Rock n Roll”, and of course, that in and of itself, begs a question.  Corey finished his first set, and came over to my table.  “How are you bud?  I’m sorry we gotta do this in shifts during a gig.”  This of course is to be expected from a hard working independent music artist – you gotta work.  So, not wanting to waste the opportunities that he could take a break, I asked the obvious ice breaker:

“What is unapologetic rock n roll?”

Something in the late night air, the din of the bar, and the low lighting mostly disguised Corey’s momentary look of panic.  “Shit man, I don’t know,” the front-man laughed.  I was prepared, as I had googled the term earlier, and simply jotted down some of the “Image Search” list.

I laughed, “Would you like to hear what Google has to show?” and I began to read the list:

As I started the list, Corey almost blushed…. not really, just almost.  He smiled and laughed, “Really?”  When I got to his band’s name he interjected again, “Seriously, we’re on there?” By the time I ended the list he was nodding, and obviously pleased with the company.

Evan Knisely came in during the early moments of the list of Rock Unapologetics.  He didn’t lose a beat, slipping right into the conversation.

“One might argue that it wasn’t the right time to do an old school, throw back, rock n roll sound; we disagree, but it doesn’t really matter.  We write what we want to write, and play what we want to play.  There isn’t enough of this going on in music.”

There is simply something of a disconnect going on between the failing of the music industry, and the passion that practically bleeds from Wyves when they play.  They bring the party each and every time out of the gate: if you go to a Wyves show, you know they are going to show up.  Their fans are passionate, and their talent is obvious, so obviously the industry at large does not have its ear low enough to the ground.

Alison Wenham, CEO of the UK’s Association for Independent Music wrote her article, “Independent Music is a Growing Force in the Global Market” in July 2015.

“The power dynamics between the major record companies and the independent music sector, and with artists, are changing.  The major record companies, it seemed, held all the cards and could manipulate and orchestrate the marketplace to do whatever they wanted. Until now.”

Nowhere is this changing fact more pronounced and obvious than “the confirmation by Apple that independent music is fundamental to its brand.  This acknowledgement is seismic”, continues Wenham.

Rich Bengloff, of the American Association of Independent Music, explains this trend in digital sales, as reported by Claire Atkinson in her article “Indie Artists are New No. 1 in Music Industry” for the New York Post.

“Bengloff believes the availability and popularity of music streaming — which grew by 24 percent in the first half of 2013, while digital sales slipped 4.6 percent in the period, its first-ever decline — is exactly why artists are opting for indie status and why their power is growing.”

Coupled with this fact, Atkinson reports that Tim Westergren, the founder of Pandora, “has been wooing the independents. Songs from outside the major labels make up 50 percent of the content streamed on the 14-year-old service. On broadcast radio, it’s 13 percent.  Independents are supportive of Pandora because it’s a level playing field, not a walled garden, says Westergren.”

This disconnect, between the failings of the old music business model and the stubborn refusal of big business to acknowledge change, is based on one substantial fact: technology and the speed with which it changes is empowering one group more than any other.  Millennials.

The Millennial Consumer

One of the things that really impressed me as I as talking with Evan, was how close he was to simply watching trends.  I for one, have a tendency to be one of these counter-culture types that mocks just about every trend that we see hit social media and then all of a sudden take over the world.  I mock that all the time: everything from everyone in the world needing a beard to a dog as an accessory.  Come on; it is easy to mock!  But Evan, showed me an entire different side of it, and although he didn’t label it as such, Evan Knisely was explaining liquid attention.

While discussing unapologetic rock n roll, and Wyves’ desire to make exactly the kind of music that they wanted to, Evan made an a very interesting observation:

“Besides, everything is throw back right now.  Everything is vintage.  Vinal is back!  Look at the number of Nirvana shirts, Gun n Roses shirts, Johnny Cash shirts on people you can never imagining listening to Johnny Cash.  Even in fashion, the designs, the styles, everything is sending this vibe to a better time, like a throwback resurgence.  So in that respect, there has never been a better time for Wyves.”

He’s right…. absolutely…. BUT….

Huge thank you to JOHN RIGGS for the use of one of his images.

I hesitate to say it – but in a previous era, following trends and courting brands was only referred to in one way: selling out.  In this respect, Gerber was also correct:  ”

“Because of this, musicians have had to adjust. Some have begun to focus their efforts on brand building.  Megastars like Beyonce and Lady Gaga, and Michael Jackson before them, have always done this, pushing everything from soft drinks to clothing to fragrances. But more and more, musicians from across the spectrum are pursuing this path to prosper. One good example is Gary Clark Jr., a talented artist but hardly a household name who has endorsement deals with Lincoln and John Varvatos. In the past, purists probably would have called him a “sell out.” Now, it’s called getting paid.”

Returning to Mr. Gerber: it is not that he is absolutely wrong, it is that he is not labeling it correctly.  His article, which has garnished quite a bit of attention in the last couple of weeks, is a good one, and it does take a hard business look at the music industry.  But it misses when it comes to showing the EXCITEMENT of that change.  Rather, Ross focuses on the ENTROPY of it.

“The old music industry is dead.  We’re standing in the ruins of a business built on private jets, Cristal, $18 CDs and million-dollar recording budgets.  We’re in the midst of the greatest music industry disruption of the past 100 years. A fundamental shift has occurred — a shift that Millennials are driving.  This is the reality of the new music industry, which is built off of liquid attention, not record sales. – Writes Thomas Honeyman of Elite Daily.”

What Honeyman is able to capture in his article, How One Generation Was Single-Handedly Able To Kill The Music Industry, that Gerber misses is the actual breakdown of how the new model – the new superstars – the new Grassroots Greats…. are being made.  You see this is the thing, when we are young, and following our bands, and full of piss and vinegar and unfounded ideals, judging our roll models is very easy to do.  When one is having to pay the bills, and wants to do so by LIVING and doing what they LOVE… perspectives and definitions change.  Read Honeyman’s article…. it is great, and I am not going to simply repeat it here.  In short, he and Evan mimic each other; after all, great minds think alike.  In a nutshell:

“The new music business model is based on four inherent things.  First: Demand.  Just like any other business, it follows cash.  A new generation of artists has hit the scene and they thrive on attention rather than units of music they sell.  The attention has become just as valuable as our likelihood to purchase, as it leads to festival and performance attendance. What brands understand is that music is an important part of Millennials’ identity. It’s more than entertainment for us. The music we listen to can be as important as how we dress and influences who our friends are. – Honeyman”

Ross Gerber makes one horrible assumption right out of the gate, but, he does write for Forbes so perhaps it should be expected, and that assumption is that the new generations have DEVALUED music.  As you can see; that is 100% false.  In many ways music is being valued more than it ever has been, it is simply that the way that value translates is shifting faster than business can keep up.  This does nothing but empower the independent artist.

Which leads to the second plank of the model which is supply.  Supply has never been easier or more affordable.  “All that’s required to make a modern record is a computer and a piece of affordable recording software. Technology is cheap and high-quality learning resources are free. As the result, artists have massively successful records without having set foot in a recording studio,” Honeyman explains.

It should be noted, that what I am seeing here in Phoenix is not so much a refusal to use recording studios: it is more that there are a bunch of really awesome Independent Options to record music without having to have an agent or a label.  Check out Flying Blanket if you get a chance Or STEM Recording with Curtis Grippe or 80/20 Records.

Keep in mind that the Forbes article blames Spotify, Pandora, SoundCloud, and other streaming services for what it calls the death of the music industry.  As Brenden McBride explained, “You don’t get anywhere without Spotify”.  The new business model is being missed, the third plank of which is discovery.

“Music discovery is at an all-time high.  Platforms like SoundCloud have more than 250 million active users each month and Millennials discover their music predominately through these digital platforms. Incidentally, when digital natives produce new music, they release it first on the digital platforms.  This is how Millennials are playing both sides of the field: They’re creating more music than ever and releasing it onto platforms where their peers go to discover music. – Honeyman”

What is happening is a grassroots takeover of music.  The middle players: agents and labels have been not so much completely replaced, but changed, into a conversation.  Trends.  Likes.  Shares.  Views.  Clicks.  These are the new currency.

This hyper connection that is possible in social media can be nerve racking.  If it is used improperly, it can simply make the entire world wish that it had a pause button… or a mute.  But used with an agenda, it is insanely powerful and leads directly to the fourth and final plank of the new model: Team Building.

“Production teams are one of the main drivers that keep the superstar artists on top. Working in teams allows these writers to churn out tons of highly listenable pop tracks.  Now, Millennials are breaking down this final barrier, too.  Services like FindMySong are connecting independent musicians so they can form their own dominant songwriting and production teams.- Honeyman”

Viktor Koem, reporting for The Economist, writes, “Profits are too high.  America needs a giant dose of competition.”

Nowhere is that competition more obvious, raw, and vibrant than in Phoenix, Arizona!

Sticking it to the Man

I am a new writer to the Phoenix scene.  I am having a great time getting out, exploring, and writing – after all, that is what I love to do.  First hand, in less than two months, the explosion I have witnessed in my own brand – my own work – is almost mind boggling.  It is so fast; faster than I really ever dreamed possible.  Why?  Because of the model described above.  Because of networking with other independent artists trying to do exactly what I am trying to do: reach a fan base, be exciting, and as Kody Dayish said, not get boring.

We are all verifiable proof that art on all levels IS NOT DEAD.  We are a combined force, a group of connected artists helping to promote each other, and work together for the betterment of our own endeavors.

Ross Gerber was right… the old business model is dead.

And one of the best things about it is that Music FEELS fun again.  The bands meet you, hang with you, enjoy a beer or two.  We are REAL PEOPLE.  Creating REAL ART.  For the REAL WORLD.  In ways that are more empowering to the individual than ever before.


“Corey was kind of coming on here in Phoenix at the tail end of the old guard greats: The Pistolleros, Dead Hot Workshop, Ghetto Cowgirl, Roger Clyne, Gin Blossoms.  There was this lull in the Phoenix music scene, but over the last few years, yes – there is a definite pulse going on in the Valley” Evan explained when I asked him if he could feel a real vibe in the Phoenix music scene.

“Oh yeah, man,” Brenden continued, “and it is diverse!  It is easily recognizable and you have this awesome, wide variety of really good music.  Bands like Banana Gun, Ruca, Phoenix Afrobeat Orchestra, and Decker.  You just can’t go wrong now in the Phoenix music scene!  There are great artists all around in every genre.”



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