It’s been a tumultuous decade for the music industry, one in which the traditional business model was turned on its head.
The proliferation of music freely distributed on the Internet has devastated the sales of recorded music and many once-strong CD retail chains have either shuttered their doors or downsized and sought out other sources of revenues. This, in turn, has resulted in down-sizing at the major record labels, where the shrinking bottom lines have cut jobs and artist rosters.
One of these casualties was Dakona, a band led by Ryan McAllister that had signed a multi-million dollar contract with Madonna’s Maverick Records label. Dakona’s sound was compared favourably with Irish superstars U2 and shortly after recording their debut album and touring extensively to promote it, the axe suddenly fell at Maverick.
“We caught the tail-end of that meltdown ten years ago,” says McAllister in an interview at his home in Bradner.
“The whole industry is trying to find its bearings. It’s an interesting time; everybody that’s bigger can’t handle their overheads.
“And there is a giant sea of independent musicians on-line, trying to get noticed. But it’s had its good sides too; it weeded out the people who weren’t in it for the right reasons and the people who are left are really passionate about their art.”
McAllister says he’s grateful that he was able to invest a big chunk of the money he got from the Maverick deal to install a professional recording studio inside a converted barn on his family’s acreage. He’s taken the knowledge he gleaned from working with the top engineers and producers and parlayed it into building his home-based business at Five Acres Studio.
“When we were recording at Capitol Studios in L.A. we were spending $15,000 a day, and that kind of pressure is counter-productive to creativity,” says McAllister.
He is able to provide this service at considerably less cost at Five Acres and he’s engineered and produced albums for local artists such as Daniel Huscroft and Prairie Dance Club, as well as for his own music. This year he released his first solo album, Music for a Rainy Town, as well as another with his trio, Cowboys and Indians.
“I wanted a (recording studio) space with ambience to it that is a big step up from the typical home studio,” says McAllister.
The quality of the studio’s sound is readily evident on McAllister’s solo album, as is the maturity of his songwriting.
“Having kids changes your view,” says the 33-year-old father of three pre-schoolers.
“I do miss it a bit, being young and obsessed, but I’m so much happier where I’m at.
“Now the real challenge is how many songs can you write about being happily married?” he jokes. “Songs that are not too sweet and corny, but authentic and listenable. There’s a shortage of that. Youthful infatuation is so much easier to write about.”
One of the album’s songs, This Black Heart, has been getting a fair amount of play and it helped put him in the top ten for the Shore (104.3 FM) Song Search contest earlier this year.
Bell Tower and River Jordan have also proved popular among his fans, and Mystery White Boy is under consideration for use in the forthcoming documentary movie about the late singer Jeff Buckley.
“It’s the oldest song on the album. I wrote it in Toronto just after getting our record deal and first hearing Jeff Buckley. Just a couple days after getting his first CD, Grace, I found out he’d drowned in Memphis,” says McAllister.
“His mother heard the song and invited me over to dinner (in California) and said she could maybe use it in the movie that’s now in development.”
Selling songs for use in movies has been a growing niche market for many musicians and one that McAllister has been pursuing. It was the main thrust of his appearance at the South by South West music festival in Austin, Texas earlier this year, alongside another local colleague, Zaac Pick.
“We have no delusions of grandeur,” McAllister says of the close circle of musical friends he works with.
“We’re blue collar and realize there’s not a lot of money to be made. We love it and that’s enough.”
However, he is developing a website he calls the Starving Musicians Union (http://starvingmusiciansunion.com) as “a way to network with each other, booking players into gigs; just trying to provide more work for musicians and artists.”
He will also be traveling through California this month, performing in colleges and promoting his CD at radio stations.
The public can sample selections from Music for a Rainy Town at his website (http://wp.ryanmcallister.com) and the website also has a link to a video feature by Firecanvas Productions on his Five Acres Studio.
“I’m really a lighthearted guy but my songs are serious and so is my approach to the business. The sad truth is that so many people get tired of their songs or have no desire to sell it and themselves,” said McAllister.
“You have to want to love it to make it in this business. Yes, you need an ego but preferably ego without the arrogance.”