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By Brett Sokol | July 1, 2011 | People
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.
|Spam Allstars founder Andrew Yeomanson, aka DJ Le Spam, in creative mode at his North Miami studio, City of Progress|
More common was the experience of majorlabel Miami acts like Arlan, Big, Mary Karlzen, Nil Lara (in whose band Yeomanson played guitar), Locos Por Juana, Jorge Moreno and JD Natasha. Though many of those names would likely draw a blank from anyone under 30, each had their own moment of hometown hero status before stalling out on the national level.
No doubt chastened by witnessing Lara’s “next big thing” experience, Yeomanson says he was unsure of just what the machinery of a major label could actually do for Spam Allstars: “We don’t write pop songs. We’re a mostly instrumental band…. You’re never going to turn on the radio and hear our music.”
True, Top 40 radio programmers may scratch their heads. And with the industry at large in free fall, major-label marketing muscle seems shakier than ever. But Madison Avenue now has little qualm about sidestepping the traditional gatekeepers. Buzz may not sell CDs, but it does land advertising accounts: Over the past decade, Spam Allstars have licensed their music to everyone from the Miami Heat to Mercedes- Benz. And while they still perform regularly at their old Hoy Como Ayer stomping grounds in “We don’t write pop songs. We’re a mostly instrumental band.... You’re never going to turn on the radio and hear our music.” Yeomanson proudly presides over his beyondimpressive vinyl collection. Spam Allstars perform live at Carnaval on the Mile in Coral Gables. Little Havana, they’ve also appeared on MTV as hitmaker Daddy Yankee’s band, as well as alongside James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis at New York City’s august Lincoln Center. It’s hard to imagine what doors a major label could’ve opened that Yeomanson wasn’t able to kick down himself. That’s all in addition to becoming an in-demand wedding band, playing innumerable corporate events and, for one memorable night in Deerfield Beach, serving as the dance floor soundtrack for a national gathering of reform rabbis (“We worked up a version of ‘Hava Nagila’”).
“There aren’t too many other bands that can say they’ve played 2,000 gigs. I’m proud of that,” Yeomanson adds. As for the future, he’s looking forward to more recording projects at City of Progress, like his recent score for the documentary film Square Grouper, as well as sessions with local funk outfits Fusik and Ketchy Shuby—whose presence seems to have rubbed off on Spam Allstars. The new CD, forthcoming this fall, features plenty of thick organ-based grooves, as well as some truly wigged-out and overdriven guitar work. And there’s always the next gig.
“I don’t know if I can be a 50-year-old guy on the sampler,” he quips. “But it’s become such a part of my life, performing for people. There are plenty of things about the business that frustrate me. But I’m still incredibly fortunate. Just the fact that I can think about nothing but music all day long is tremendous.”
PHOTOGRAPH BY JIIM ARBOGAST