It's easier than ever to get your name out as a musical artist with free tools for event promotion, music sharing, and merch selling in the palm of your hand.
Your music can be heard by people in the farthest corners of the planet unlike before the digital age, when music was only heard on the radio, at a live show you learned about from a flier, or on an album bought at a record store.
Our digital world is changing the music business, but it's not all good news. Social media can be daunting, and making money from music sales has decreased for many musicians because of streaming. Locally, young artists are feeling the pinch of the digital age while also finding real-world fans on stages near and far. Three next-gen artists in hip hop, jazz, and pop would like listeners to know the ever-changing nature of their craft and how people can support their favorite bands.
Alfred Banks summarized the digital age by stating, "Social media is ridiculously important. It's unfortunate, too." Alfred is a rapper who infuses his bars with messages about mental health and positivity. As a solo artist and half of the band SaxKixAve, his real-world accolades hold a heavier weight than his social media presence. "I don't really live for social media. It's important because that's how people judge you now. If your follower count ain't high enough, your music sucks. I feed into it as much as I feel is healthy, but I'm still passing out flyers, doing live shows—building my fan base that way."
Sasha Masakowski is not unknown in New Orleans music. She has performed alongside her father Steve Masakowski, the Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies at the University of New Orleans and a highly accomplished jazz guitarist, since she was a child. Her desire to write new music has taken her all over, and this is the same reason that makes her want to limit social media use. "I think it's really toxic for artists to be consuming social media. It stifles your creativity or shortens your attention span. Whenever I can get away from it for a few weeks, I feel like I'm able to focus on writing and get into a productive and positive headspace," she mused. "I wonder how other artists balance the two."
Streaming apps allow you to play pretty much any song that has ever been recorded or performed live and filmed. The revenue that comes to the artists doesn't add up to much; they are making fractions of pennies per stream.
Sasha explained the change that she's experienced in just the last 15 years, saying, "I would sell 75 CDs on a Tuesday night at Balcony Music Club. Now everyone looks at you like you're crazy. I try to push people towards Bandcamp because at least we get a little money from that. People in India or South America who can't come to New Orleans can discover me on YouTube, which is beautiful. The downside is I don't get paid."
Playing live shows is how many artists make the bulk of their livelihood, but even that is changing, as people may not want to see a band in a crowded venue, and a number of venues have shuttered since the pandemic.
Newer to the scene, pop artist LeTrainiump is a radiant bolt of positivity. Hailing from Mamou, LeTrainiump dreamed of becoming a well-known musician in his dream city of New Orleans with his signature sound derived from upbeat pop music of the 1980s and 1990s. "The 80s/90s influence came from the clothes I was wearing. I was always thrifting. I like my music to be nostalgic," he said smiling. "You get a chance to relive your childhood or feel something you haven't felt in a long time."
Unlike the 80s and 90s, musicians rely on live performance rather than music sales to make a living. "I'm fortunate enough to do just this for a living, but I hustle. You have to take a lot less in life than your peers which sucks because it lowers the quality of your life. But it's for the dream. If this was 15 years ago, I could have sold CDs. I'm hoping to see a change in the near future. You can't even sit in a coffee shop right now without listening to music. It's pretty unfair that things you bare with your soul just get given away for free."
Needing to play live shows to be a full-time musician likely means that you'll have to get out of town, but that's not necessarily a bad thing if fans in other cities dig your sound more than the hometown crowd.
"There's a difference [between] being successful in New Orleans and coming out of New Orleans. I'm local in the sense that I'm from here, but I'm not a local rapper at all," stated Alfred Banks. "To be successful in New Orleans, you have to make bounce music or street music. There's a new energy coming around, and we're not rapping about guns. We are the children of those people who were unfortunately addicted to substances and were involved in those things. Those were our big brothers, our uncles, our mothers and fathers. Some of us did follow that path, some of us did step back from it and realize that ain't the only way, and some of us rejected it 100%," he continued. "That's the music you're hearing now. I don't know a person alive who doesn't want their hometown's appreciation. I learned a long time ago that wasn't going to happen for me. Now that I got up out of here, I came back, and now I'm getting love."
Sasha also felt the need to break away to broaden her musical horizon. She moved to New York in 2015. After traveling throughout Europe and Thailand for a year during the pandemic, she's living in New Orleans again, at least for now. "I felt like I hit a ceiling and I couldn't grow artistically. I've played with every musician and played every club. To be able to live in New York, make music with artists who inspired me, was so special. It helps you grow artistically to be surrounded by people that are better than you so that the bar gets set higher and you constantly have to be pushing yourself."
Her hometown does have some advantages over other cities though. "New Orleans is a great city to work things out. Whereas [in] New York or L.A., you don't have that freedom if you bomb. The stakes are a bit higher."
As Alfred Banks, Sasha Masakowski, and LeTrainiump work on performing and creating new music, their goal is the same—quality. "I want to make something that when I look back ten years from now, I can say that I'm proud of that. I want it to turn heads," Letrainiump stated. "If you put in the work for it, and you put in the genuine effort of building something, people will show up."