How one band is trying to make it in a music industry turned upside down
It’d been five shows in five states in the past nine days, and now Mario Cuomo and his band mates slouched in patio chairs outside an unfamiliar bungalow, giving no hint of the huge stakes of the backyard gig they were about to play. They sipped tequila and vodka from red plastic cups. They fiddled with their phones. None of them seemed worried that their bassist was missing, last seen earlier at the motel.
“He thought we were coming back for him,” said Cuomo, the lead singer. “But nah.”
Although they were playing it cool, Cuomo and the others knew this could be a pivotal moment in their careers. Most of the people pouring into the back yard were not ordinary fans. Some had probably never even heard of their rock band, the Orwells.
But this parade of hip T-shirts, skinny jeans and untucked button-downs represented a powerful group: They licensed songs for films, TV, ads and video games. And in an era when few people buy music, a show such as this was vital, maybe even more valuable than a record deal.
“We’ve got to license some stuff today,” Cuomo, 23, said to guitarist Dominic Corso as they watched the crowd grow. “It’s business, Dom. L.A. is all business.”
The Orwells were five friends from the Chicago suburbs grappling with what it takes to succeed in a music business undergoing dramatic change — one that has ramifications not only for music creators but also for the listening public. Last year, the U.S. music industry saw its largest spike in recorded music revenue in nearly two decades, driven by a surge in online song streaming. It was a remarkable reversal from just 10 years ago, when the online distribution of songs threatened to crush the industry. But this change in fortunes has created a new set of winners and losers.