How Midnight Cinema is Bypassing the Record Industry

The Oakland pop rockers are taking a more direct and affordable new recording tack to distribute their music to potential fans.


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Photos courtesy of Midnight Cinema

 

It’s around 6 p.m. on a Sunday night in December, and darkness has descended with just a sliver of orange on the Pacific horizon. The members of the Oakland-based band Midnight Cinema are alone in an 800-square-foot condo in West Oakland, preparing to give an hourlong performance on what might be called a cosmic stage.

Guitarist Drew Cribley, lead singer Clayton Stoope, and drummer Paul Niedermier are there. The camera is set up, the sound system is checked, and the lights are turned on. By pre-arrangement at precisely 6:30, the trio begins to stream a live performance of its latest songs online through Concert Window, one of several websites streaming live performances for a new generation of music fans. Midnight Cinema’s performance can be seen and heard locally and in real time at 9:30 p.m. in New York, 2:30 a.m. in London, and anywhere in the world.

“It’s a great way to get your music out there,” Cribley said. “We made about $600 in donations on that gig. No windfall to be sure, but this kind of exposure on a worldwide stage makes for an exciting venue.” He also noted the interactive component between the band and viewers.

For decades, the East Bay has been a hot spot for emerging recording artists. But in spite of the region’s deep indie ethos, most performers aspire to the traditional route to recognition and success: recording a demo with a signature sound, getting a manager to secure a label, recording at a sophisticated Hollywood or New York studio and seeking radio play, and then landing a booking agent to take the show on the road.

Today, however it’s a brave new DIY world, as garage bands operating on a shoestring rely more heavily on social media for exposure, recognition, and buzz. “On the positive side, it has given bands more freedom and control on how they produce and distribute their music and reach their fans,” said Jock Rockenbach, a journeyman guitarist and longtime Bay Area music coach. “But so far, the DIY money is slim, but promising. … It’s like the Wild West out there on the local music scene, everyone panning for nuggets. The social media exposure does help to build a fan base and set the stage for performing at local clubs and touring.”

Consider Joel Robinow, formerly of Howlin’ Rain and now a member of the Once and Future Band. His band is doing its own recording instead of renting time in a big studio and put out a four-track EP vinyl record this past year. “Online and DIY is the wave of the now for most startup bands and even those that have been around for awhile,” Robinow said. He also noted that his girlfriend, Jessi Phillips, with her group Eight Bells, raised $15,000 through Kickstarter to record and market their own CD.

Midnight Cinema exemplifies this current template, with the pop rock group striving to make it totally on its own as it find its niche.

Cribley, Stoope, and Niedermier founded the group in 2012, the name inspired by a local theater showing cult films at midnight.

The band’s first EP, Midnight Cinema, was recorded in a major studio in New York City’s Times Square over a year, requiring multiple cross-country flights to complete. It was released in 2013 under its former label Windup Records.

“We were told by the powers at Windup Records that the five-song EP cost $100,000 to produce, or $20,000 a song,” Cribley said. “We never saw a cent return.”

Cribley, Stoope, and Niedermier are survivors of the band Thriving Ivory, which had a hit album featuring the song “Angels on the Moon.” In 2009 the album was No. 1 on the Heatseekers Albums charts and eventually hit No. 28 on the U.S. Pop 100 chart. By 2010 “Angels on the Moon” went gold, reportedly selling more than 500,000 copies, largely because of Stoope’s voice. The band spent the better half of four years on tour and left a trail of fans scattered across the country. At the pinnacle of its success, long-simmering internal personality conflicts came to a head, and two members left the band. The three remaining members regrouped as Midnight Cinema, severing ties with Windup Records.

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