POSTED ON FEBRUARY 2, 2011:
Changing With the Game
Dante & the Hawks amongst the latest to adapt to a changing music industry
Not so long ago, full length CDs ruled the music industry. They were what we waited for as listeners and what artists worked toward when writing songs. Even on the live music front, the CD release party was consistently one of the biggest events of the year for most bands.
Whether fortunate or unfortunate, things have changed over the past few years. It's no secret that the major labels are in trouble right now, partly due to the economy, but largely due to years of fighting technology and not fully embracing digital distribution. Now, CD sales are at their lowest in decades and iTunes more or less rules the music market.
With that shift has come a change in listening habits. Of course, there will always be the loyal few that are an exception to the rule, but by and large, listening habits have changed. Much like television and print media, even music is now dictated by sound-byte mentality and attention spans.
Digital distribution and the proliferation of portable devices like the iPhone, Zune and iTouch have only accelerated the process. Not only can you pick the songs you want and leave the rest, you don't even have to wait until you get home to download them. As a result, single songs now rule most casual listeners' music collections and album sales have decreased dramatically.
That's not to say the music industry is in trouble, although many of the major labels have been, it just means that the rules of engagement are changing and those who adapt will survive. After all, music won't cease to exist and people won't stop listening.
It should come as no surprise, then, that over the past few months instead of receiving albums worth of material to listen to and review, I've been receiving single tracks. If people want individual songs, the artists may as well provide them to keep their fan base growing.
Over the past six months I've seen single tracks released at a time from a number of artists. Amongst those included are Chase Stites, Stars Go Dim, and now Dante and the Hawks.
When Dante Schmitz sent me his new single, "I Can't Wait," I was immediately intrigued. A collaboration with TJ McFarland, the red-dirt and Americana artist who was at one point pretty well established in Tulsa, it's a shift in style and approach for Schmitz and his band. Schmitz's great melodies and a solid pop essence are still there, but the collaboration gives the song a slightly grittier, classic rock undertone.
When asked how the collaboration came about, Schmitz shared that he and McFarland met a few years ago while gigging around Tulsa and struck up a friendship. After chatting, they realized they both grew up in Noble, Oklahoma and had much in common, deepening their connection.
Eventually, McFarland suggested working together, with Schmitz writing and performing the song and McFarland acting as producer. As it worked out, the two co-wrote the song and recorded the track in Nashville, Tenn., with Hawks' guitarist Ted Scott.
"I really took a back seat this time," Schmitz said. "I'm usually really hands on in the process, but I decided this time to sit back and let TJ take control. Even the parts that Ted played, I just said 'Do what TJ says.'"
McFarland took the lead in the studio, even picking the musicians on the disc and calling in a couple of friends (Brad Pemberton on drums and Billy Mercer on bass) who have both worked with Ryan Adams. The end result is an engaging blend of Schmitz's pop sensibilities and an earthy, Americana twang that hints at Tom Petty, John Mellencamp's earlier work and even some of Ryan Adams more rock oriented material.
Just this past week, however, Schmitz finished up another track with his band, The Hawks. "Tonight, Tonight" moves in an even more pop direction, but is more indicative of Schmitz true direction, building off of a simple keyboard line and chiming guitars.
When asked about the songwriting process with The Hawks, Schmitz shared that "I write most of the songs, because of my singer-songwriter background, then I take them to the band and we hash out everyone's parts." As a result, although the songs are primarily Schmitz's creations, he allows enough creative input to make it a collaborative effort.
Dante & the Hawks' first EP was recorded and released in 2008 after only a couple of months playing together, reflecting more of Schmitz's input. After three years of playing together, however, he said "it's just now starting to feel and sound like a true collective effort."
"Now that we've been playing together more, I kind of feel like this last year was our first year in business," Schmitz said. "I'm ready to get into the studio and put out our first real record together, where they have much more input."
Hawk Eye. Roots-rocker Dante Schmitz and his bandís collaboration with TJ McFarland presents a shift in style and approach: itís melodic pop meets gritty rock Ďní roll.
When discussing the new single, "Tonight, Tonight," Schmitz shared that he co-produced the song with Chris McLeod. "I wanted to produce it myself, but really dug what Chris was doing, so we decided to try it together."
"Chris was easy to work with," he said, "because his suggestions were very constructive and we both had the same expectations of what we wanted in the studio. His input was really strong on the recording side of it, leaving me to handle more of the creative side."
With an initial plan to record one or two songs and see how things went and possible move forward from there.
"I'm very pleased with the results, so we're going to try to go back into the studio in a month or two with the goal to come out with a five or six-track EP to sell at the shows," Smith said.
That's where our conversation turned to the state of the record industry and how it is affecting recording strategies.
"From a business side of things, I sell more five-six song EPs at a show for $5 than I do full-length CDs for $10 or $15," he said. "I know that the ways people are buying music is changing. I work with a lot of high school kids and occasionally I'll look at their iPods and see 'Oh, you've got this artist?', but when I click on it, they've only got one or two songs by each one. They're just picking and choosing, one song at a time."
Ultimately, Schmitz said musicians must learn to adapt.
For now, that may mean five and six-song EPs instead of full-length CDs for Dante & the Hawks and others. Or it may mean building a following, song by song, and releasing a series of singles before releasing a full album's worth of material. Although that may take some adjusting for people like me, who like to pour over an entire disc's worth of song lyrics and liner notes, it's where music is headed right now. It also means the artists are adjusting to the market demands, but if that's what the fans want and it keeps the music flowing, that adaptation is a good thing.
In the meantime, you can check out Dante & the Hawks as the band plays on a regular basis around Tulsa and the surrounding area. You might even catch a preview of the new singles and/or a few more of the songs that the band is preparing to record. Schmitz will be playing a solo acoustic show at The Kitchen in Brookside on Feb. 14, while the next band gig in Tulsa is coming up Feb. 18 at Hunt Club. If you love guitar oriented pop music and great songwriting, you won't be disappointed.
February may have kicked off on a high note with Ben Folds' killer show at Cain's Ballroom, but that doesn't necessarily overshadow the rest of the month. It's another busy week of shows in Tulsa and spring hasn't even officially arrived. If you aren't sure where to get started this weekend, we've got the highlights to point you in the right direction, so read on...
Thursday evenings have a number of standing gigs around town, like Ben Kilgore at Ivey, but if you're looking for something fresh and exciting to jump start your weekend you'll head over to Soundpony on Thursday, Feb. 3 to check out Rhythmstar.
Friday night has a handful of high profile shows casting a long shadow, such as Rooney with Eisley and The Chapin Sisters at Cain's Ballroom, Grady Nichols with Jenny Labow, Mary Cogan and Starr Fisher at Broken Arrow PAC and Dwight Yoakam at The Joint. Don't be fooled, though: we've also got an eclectic mix of shows worth looking into like Randy Crouch at Blue Dome Diner, Deadman Flatts at Mercury Lounge and great night of punk at Reverb with The Decomposed and The Dirty Mugs.
On Saturday, Feb. 5, Susan Herndon holds her official CD release for All Fall Down at the new Blue Rose Café, making it the perfect time to break in the new venue. Other highlights include Branjae and the AllStars at Bru House, Brandon Clark Band at Harvard Sports Bar, and Tony Romanello and the Black Jackets with Philip Zoellner Band and Dave and Haters at Soundpony. The stealth show of the weekend, however, is Anthony Gomes, who will undoubtedly burn down Cimarron Bar with his red-hot guitar licks and smoking blues.
On Monday, Feb. 7, King Cobra continues to launch its new material with a show at Soundpony. After that, Cain's Ballroom owns the week with Snoop Dogg on Tuesday, Feb. 8 and Amos Lee headlining on Wednesday, Feb. 9. You may want to rest up for an onslaught of classic rock, however, if you're planning on seeing Ozzy Osbourne with Slash at BOK next Thursday, Feb. 10
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