Astorian Stigmata partners with YouTube for 'Dramatic' future in music
December 31. 2013 12:26AM
By Rich Howells Weekender Editor
For years, Dennis Condusta has had an interesting philosophy on the continued evolution of the music industry. A song, he believes, is no longer viewed as a product, but a business card, an advertisement for a band that must connect with its audience directly now more than ever before.
It turns out that someone else shares this view – Google.
As the singer and guitarist for Astorian Stigmata, Condusta has been working hard – and independently – since 2009 to attract listeners to his music of “somber hopefulness,” but Wilkes-Barre hasn't always been the most welcoming place for a goth rock act.
“Most music scenes don't know where to put us. They're like, 'I don't know what you guys are doing.' We're too weird for normal people, and too normal for weird people, so we're like right in the middle,” he admitted with a proud smile.
“This area has always kind of ignored us. We're like the weird cousin who comes at Christmas and you're like, 'Oh, how've you been?'”
After seeing the national and international success of local bands like Motionless In White, Title Fight, and The Menzingers, however, he never gave up hope that Astorian Stigmata could find an audience, producing four “official” full-lengths and four EPs by himself, earning enough income to pay bills and rent by putting a handmade touch on records, t-shirts, and other merchandise he ships directly to listeners as far as Europe.
“You wake up, check your e-mail, and you see all these orders. 'I've got to package these today.' A couple hours go by and now you're like, 'Oh, I'm also a musician. I have to write a song.' It's just like, 'What are you?' You're working on the same thing but you're doing it from so many different angles you just get confused. It's overwhelming in that sense where you're a salesman, technically as weird as it is to say, and then you're the artist. You have to write the song, and those two things can't overlap because they're totally separate personalities but going towards the same thing. It's really strange. It's a bit exhausting,” he described, though he wouldn't trade his current job for a record deal.
“We've talked to labels, we've had offers, and they're not fair. It's as simple as it sounds. All the horrible things people hear about the music industry – it's all true times 10. It's bad. They want artists who are just talented people who are great musicians who look good who are just going to sign papers without thinking and just go through the motions, and they're going to take all your money and you're not going to have anything. You'd essentially make better money working a part-time job, but you'll be on tour and you'll be famous and you get to do all the excess, but once that's done, you're done for. You have nothing. It's cut off.
“We sell a record on iTunes and get $8. It goes straight into our band bank account, and it's hard to want to give that up, especially when we keep growing more and more.”
With that growth in mind, Condusta and his girlfriend were already talking about moving to California when a fan alerted the band to an advertisement. YouTube was looking for indie bands that use their YouTube channels to promote their music in unique ways, something Astorian Stigmata had been doing for years, producing two weekly web series, Q&As with fans, and various music videos. Condusta received an e-mail from the music director of YouTube and couldn't believe what Google, YouTube's parent company, was offering.
“You don't trust anyone who offers you anything in the music industry, but I gave her my contact information, and a few weeks later, she called me and said that they were going to fly us out there, all expenses and everything, and give us $3,000 to make a video because what they were doing is they were looking for bands who are using YouTube and realize that YouTube can possibly be the future of the music industry. I realized that quickly, and they knew that I had, and what they're doing is they're trying to show the whole music industry, like already established bands, that you guys have got to get on this,” he explained.
“She uses our channel as a template to show band managers of bigger bands that this is what they should be doing. They should be engaged with their fans because that's what people want now. People don't want just a CD every two years; they want to know what you're doing. They want to know what you did yesterday. They don't care what it is. That's just what social media has done to the arts.”
YouTube also pays musicians substantially more than streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, so after being made a YouTube partner with full access to their studio facility, a huge airplane hangar in Los Angeles, Condusta decided to move to the City of Angels, and his three bandmates are following in a few weeks. They already have shows booked and a street team promoting the band in a scene Condusta believes is receptive to gothic and alternative rock.
“YouTube is paying what bands should be paid for what they do, and a lot of bands don't even know that yet, which is crazy,” he said.
“Most musicians that I'm friends with and know would rather write music and be in a band, which is amazing, but talk about how the music industry is shot and just feel cheated instead of finding what to do now, what we do next, which is what I do.”
The group's dark, quirky sense of style has already amassed them a dedicated following, and in addition to YouTube, their Facebook is constantly active, with attention-grabbing pictures and videos posted almost every day.
“If you keep thinking of creative and new ways to use social media, there's literally millions of people at your fingertips, but getting through to them is hard because there's millions of people competing for their attention at the same time, and people with money,” Condusta noted.
“We're basically a very punk rock band on the Internet. We still do actual flyers and do everything the old school traditional way, but learning to utilize the Internet is really defeating record labels. Record labels still exist because a lot of musicians don't want to work hard enough outside of recording and writing music to be a salesman.”
The 27-year-old described his October video shoot in L.A. for “Dramatic Romantics” as “amazing,” though bizarre at first.
“It was a lot of fun, but it very strange to us because it was foreign. In all of our videos, we're either in the basement lighting things on fire or smashing stuff on the Black Diamond Bridge, filming illegally at the Huber Coal Breaker, and then we go into this studio where it's very clean and there's a team of people with walkie-talkies,” he recalled.
“Everything's rigid and on schedule, but they let us do anything we wanted. It was crazy.”
Despite his newfound love of the West Coast, however, what Condusta wanted was to retain a sense of home in the video, as the band's mysterious and grimy look originated in the decay of his hometown, Wilkes-Barre. Most of the budget was spent on shipping props purchased from a Wiccan store in Jim Thorpe to the studio, and the frontman sported his own handmade clothing his fans recognize him for.
“When we used to go on tours and we didn't care what we looked like or how the music was presented or the visual element or any of that, we played half of the same songs that we play now, and it's so much better received now. Some of these songs are years old and no one cared then, and it's funny with an aesthetic and just presenting it with a video and a packaged format to someone, even though what we do is very strange, they'll just put it out there,” he pointed out.
“I do the song first and just focus on that, and then the video, pictures, all that comes afterward and separately. I enjoy all that very much, but it's still all centered around the song. … I don't think that packaging it and selling it is the most important part, but that does have to come after in order to sustain what you're doing.”
Though he'd rather express his artistic side than his business sense, both have combined rather perfectly into a package that Google is ready to sell.
“The music industry is up for grabs right now. It doesn't even exist, really. The next thing hasn't happened it. It's been in limbo for like five years, and Google wants it.”
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