Behind the Band: Spam Allstars
By Brett Sokol
Yeomanson proudly presides over his beyondimpressive vinyl collection.
There’s no love in selling downloads,” laughs Andrew Yeomanson, better known to Miamians as DJ Le Spam, the sonic maestro behind Spam Allstars, one of this city’s most adored bands. It’s not just the lack of aesthetics that leaves Yeomanson shaking his head over the state of today’s music industry. Sitting inside his North Miami recording studio, City of Progress, surrounded by thousands of the vintage soul and salsa vinyl records that (in sampled form) often find their way into the Spam Allstars’ live sets, Yeomanson muses on how a new generation of musicians plan to support themselves. As he finishes mixing the new (still untitled) Spam Allstars album—their sixth self-released CD—finances are on his mind: “Whenever I log into our [iTunes] account, there’s a few bucks in there, but nothing life-changing.”
|Spam Allstars perform live at Carnaval on the Mile in Coral Gables|
Indeed, digital downloads hardly offer a viable business plan—for anyone. Though downloads now make up nearly half of all music purchases nationwide, increasingly supplanting physical CDs, overall sales continue to plummet. 2010 saw only 13 new albums achieve platinum status with sales of at least one million copies— down from 22 in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The bulk of those 13 are either rappers like Eminem and Drake, or manufactured studio creations like Kesha and Lady Gaga. American Idol contestants may have reason Spam Allstars founder Andrew Yeomanson, aka DJ Le Spam, in creative mode at his North Miami studio, City of Progress to cheer, but the chart prospects for everyone else look much grimmer.
“It’s no longer about access,” Yeomanson says, recalling his late-’90s days scouring record shops for unusual finds and then spinning them on a South Beach-based pirate radio station. Today even the most obscure music is only a keystroke away. “Now it’s more of an issue of getting drowned out by the immense amount of content out there. How do you get heard above this incredible amount of noise? And what good is it to have two million YouTube views if you can’t sell a record because of it?”
But don’t worry too much about Yeomanson— he’s already forged an alternate career path, one that harkens back to the pre-’70s music business model, when live tour dates—not album sales— were the bread and butter of most musical acts. His first lesson? Forget about that much-vaunted ticket to stardom, the major-label record contract. A CD, like a T-shirt, may bring in some extra revenue. But its chief purpose is to serve as a calling card: “We make our living day to day, playing in nightclubs and bars,” Yeomanson stresses.
A decade ago, that strategy seemed downright contrarian when Spam Allstars were garnering a wave of national press raves. With The New York Times christening the band the face of “the new Miami,” everyone wanted a piece of Spam: Yeomanson was bombarded with seemingly lucrative label offers. He passed on them all.
Signing such a deal had certainly been the previous local pattern. Never mind that the success rate for major-label acts out of South Florida was checkered, to say the least. A few, like Goth rocker Marilyn Manson and country act the Mavericks, did indeed become stars.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIIM ARBOGAST