Monica “Mo” Samalot and her musical and real-life partner indie rock musician and songwriter Paleface have seen plenty of changes in the musical landscape.
The latter goes by the Paleface moniker from his days as a musician in New York City when he was given the nickname while playing open-mic nights and busking at subway stations before finding success in the indie rock scene in the early 1990s.
Samalot, his musical partner and longtime girlfriend, is a drummer from Puerto Rico who also performed with folk band The Avett Brothers along with Paleface.
On the touring side, Samalot still sees built-up demand for live music and live entertainment after all the restrictions, shutdowns and pullbacks for the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think things are picking up and people are really wanting to go check out live music,” she said.
The alt-folk duo has upcoming shows in Indiana, Kentucky and their home base of North Carolina after recent shows in Virginia and Maryland at the Avalon Theatre in Easton.
“We’re getting back into the groove,” Paleface said, adding that while some music venues closed during and after the pandemic there are new venues and festivals offering live music.
The bigger challenges for the duo and other acts across genres is how to produce and market their own tracks and albums and whether there is enough new songwriting and new music being produced amid recent sea changes in the industry.
“The internet is too big. Radio is too small,” Paleface said of changes in the music business that have seen the rise of streaming and digital services and the decline of smaller record labels as well as diminishing popular influences of radio.
“I don’t know what the music business is any more,” he said.
The new musical landscape is increasingly one of artists self-producing albums as well as acts required to be more at the helm over their own social media, marketing and backstage logistics.
“We are doing everything ourselves,” Paleface said, noting that bands increasingly have to handle their own concert bookings with consolidation and decline of booking agencies.
All that gives musicians more power and more responsibility over their own creative and vocational paths.
“You have to wear a lot more hats,” said Samalot, who also does vocals with her partner.
But, the autonomy has its advantages especially on the creative and musical sides, she said.
“More and more musicians are electing to stay in charge more,” Samalot said.
‘Way back stuff’
Musical acts also have to figure out how to create, record and get their music to the masses in an age of plenty of self-production technology and streaming services but not the past record label and radio support.
“All those kind of little, tiny labels that kind of supported a whole universe. That world doesn’t exist,” Paleface said.
The indie artist — who was once roommates in New York with alt-music savant Beck — sees artists relying more on singles to help get their music to fans and new audiences online.
“That’s way back stuff,” he said, referring to the popularity of singles — including from Elvis Presley and the early days of The Beatles — before the ascension of albums in the mid 1960s.
Paleface said producing more singles helps keep artists’ music present for fans and are needed to help attract new listeners. Samalot agrees. “More musicians are just doing singles.”
He sees a path forward with seasonal or summer and Christmas singles along with albums to help propel their musical journey. The pair released a new album “Beyond the Bells” in February.
“You constantly have to have something new,” the indie musician said, still stating the creative need for longer-form albums.
But that means finding time for creating new music — both singles and albums — and the rehearsals and performances that come with concerts and tours.
Her partner is concerned about how the current musical landscape is diminishing new songs and new music from artists more focused on concert tour logistics, social media audience growth.
“I think it’s sad,” Paleface said. “How many great songs are not going to be written.”
A similar concern is held by some other musicians.
Need for new music
Conrad Warre, a British-born guitarist with Bees Deluxe, a self-described “acid-blues, modern punk jazz band” based in Boston, said the touring side of the music business is seeing higher ticket prices at venues and other impacts of high inflation after all the monetary and fiscal spending infusions during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Ticket prices are going up. They are higher than they were before,” Warre said.
Warre and other musicians said music venues are mostly back to pre-pandemic operating procedures after all the restrictions and social distancing of the pandemic.
Bees Deluxe has upcoming summer shows throughout New England as well as in Tuckerton, New Jersey (July 9) and at the Bayside Wine & Blues Festival in Baltimore (Aug. 12.).
Warre, whose band melds different genres including jazz, punk, psychedelic and blues, is concerned about the preponderance of cover and tribute bands at many music venues — rather than groups producing their own music.
He sees a need for more new music, more new songwriting.
“It’s so easy to put together a tribute band and book it,” Warre said. “It’s terrible from a musical point of view because nothing new is happening.”
Warre said musicians need to keep producing new songs and venues need to be more willing to book acts with original content rather than the bevy of tribute bands focused on popular groups of rock n’ roll and pop music past.
“Venues need to take a risk on new artists. Many of them aren’t willing to do that,” said Warre, who is also a freelance music writer.
On the musical side, Warre said artists have to navigate a changed industry with fewer smaller record labels and more groups producing their own music with the landscape dominated by streaming services.
Warre said bands that focus on partnering with a more well-known or established record producer run the risk of waiting in line with other acts rather than self-producing and getting their music to market faster.
“They could have put out two albums in that time,” he said.
“We write all the time,” Warre said, adding that groups can produce live albums as well as self-produced and studio original music.
‘It’s a battle out here’
Hyro the Hero is an American rapper in the rap and hard rock / metal space. He has been living in Nantes, France, and performing his music across Europe.
“It’s totally different here,” Hyro said.
Hyro said hard rock and heavy metal music are popular in Europe. He said concert bookers and record labels in Europe are less focused on social media followers and online numbers than their American counterparts.
“I don’t think they are as much about the social media statistics,” he said in a Zoom interview from Nantes which is near the annual Hellfest heavy metal festival. “They are vibeing with the music more than with the numbers. It’s more on the talent.”
The Texas-born musician, who released a new single earlier this month and has a new album coming, moved to France two years ago.
He said artists face the need to keep producing new music via albums and singles especially with the new streaming and digital landscape and the ability to self-produce via at-home studios and music technology.
“It’s a battle out here,” he said. “It’s a competition thing now. You’ve got to compete. People can make a song in a second.”
Hyro recently released a single “Head Under Water” and his fourth album is due later this year via Better Noise Music.
Danny Case, vocalist for Pennsylvania-based rock band From Ashes to New, is still seeing some lingering effects of the pandemic related to ticket sales.
“Fans tend to wait until the last minute out of fear of cancellations,” Case said of when fans are buying tickets and VIP packages. “We still see surges on day shows for tickets and VIP (packages).”
That can make for some nervous moments for venues and artists before shows.
Case said this summer is seeing an increase in touring acts with venues back to pre-pandemic operations.
“I feel like everyone’s touring this summer. We are seeing a lot of faces we haven’t seen in a long while.” Case said.
The Lancaster-based rock band recently performed in Annapolis, Maryland, and Milwaukee and has upcoming concerts in Buffalo, Mansfield, Ohio, and Billings and Missoula, Montana, in July.
He said bands are also facing increased costs as the U.S. economy has faced post-pandemic inflation.
“The cost of everything is up,” Case said. “A bus driver costs $450 per day. That is a little over double what it used to cost.”
From Ashes to New released a new single earlier in May, and has a new album coming out in July. The vocalist said renewed use of singles is allowing some bands to gain more exposure for their music.
Case, whose group released three studio albums between 2016 and 2020, said musicians need to figure out their fan bases and the broader musical marketplace when it comes to the balancing act between singles and albums.
“It depends on how much hype they are expecting for an album. Sometimes for artists, it’s better to build up the anticipation and talk about an album coming out,” Case said. “Other times, you can drop a song and drop another song every couple of months.”