A frank conversation with The Dozens Travis Posey and the struggle to make it in the music business.

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I’m from the old school when it comes to most things in life, especially music.  I still buy physical CD’s and Vinyl so I can experience the entire package that the artist is offering up.  I do it for many reasons but a few of the most important are because I want to hear the entire story the artist is telling.

I want to see who did the photographs on the cover, I want to know who played the horns or did hand claps.  I want to read the lyrics and who the band thanks at the end of the album as supporters. And most importantly, I want the most of my $10 or $20 to go to the artist so they can keep making me great music

The Dozens is a band that, while immensely talented and putting out some fantastic original music, is fighting against many of the struggles musicians in general are facing in today’s musical landscape. With streaming services becoming more prevalent, the way that music fans have been herded to buy and listen to music, and the compartmentalization of genres, it’s a tough road to make a living as a band.  Hopefully this article will help open some minds and sooner or later the industry will correct it self and musician will start to really reap the rewards of their work.

I discovered the The Dozens more than a year ago when I became aware of  John Cuniberti’s One Mic Series.  They preform 2 fantastic songs in the historic Muscle Shoals recording studio and blew me away with this musicianship and how they structure their songs. I wanted to see where they were at since those episodes were put up and what was happening with the band.

I spoke to Travis on Dec 1st 2018, which, incidentally, was the same day as the SEC championship with Georgia against Alabama.  Travis mentioned that and says “The whole state will be watching.  I’ve always made a note not to book anything that day since no one will be paying attention to you.  It’s real tough for musicians here during football season.”

I started with where it all started for me and asked how the One Mic Series came about for them.

“John is very good at what he does and as a guitar player when I was learning to play guitar..that stuff (Surfing with an alien) just blew my mind. I remember when the dozens were doing our first album, we were looking for people to master it and going through the list and looking at the prices.  There was a guy in Memphis, a friend of mine lead me to..Brandon Blackwood, and was way out of our league for pricing, but I noticed that one of his friends was John Cuniberti and then it hit me, I stared at that name on the back of those cd and tapes.

He actually just found us through me on Facebook really because he sent out a thing. You know I first saw that one mic and thought it was just so cool…cause it sounded so good  He was doing the south thing and I thought we gotta get on with that.  So I sent him an email and showed him the band you know a bunch of songs and then he sent me an email back saying That’s cool i think I’m gonna use you guys. So I was like woah, that’s awesome.  You know were from north Alabama and so we go a lot to muscle shoals and some of us are from real close to there.  I was really excited about it and it came time to do it and he sent another message out through his one mic page and it said still looking for bands and i thought he must have changed his mind, but he didn’t and that was a real thrill for us.

We had already recorded at muscle shoals for the first record but it was at a place called the nut house and the producer is Jimmy nut on that he actually won a grammy for the Steel Drivers so that’s another long story you know we were recording there when he won the grammy and we were just the whole band was pumped like this is gonna be great because it’s going to open some opportunities for us cause he just won a grammy and people are going to be looking at him like who are you producing now and the dozens was on there but nothing ever came of it. And it’s not necessarily our fault or his fault is just the way of it.

We were really excited to record at muscle shoals sound, I thought it was kind of funny for a guy from California to get us in just down the road.  And it was a pleasure working with him.  I’ve done some interviews with local papers and I’ve told them the same thing.  He’s just a mastering genius.  We herd the stereo track leaving the studio you know we got to hear what we’d done and I was just, i left there thinking if it sounds like that it’s just great then once he took those 2 tracks and mastered it, you know it sounds better than what we spent on records and he just used one microphone.  It was a pleasure to work with him and a really nice guy.  I was nervous coming in since he worked with Satch (Joe Satriani)  but he made everybody relax and get in there and do what you need to do.  John asked us which 2 we wanted to do, already knowing which ones he wanted us to do but he asked us and that was the 2 that we chose. And it’s a no brainer and Gravity Pushing is the most popular song on the first one and Tidal wave is the most popular on the second one.  This by far was the most public exposure we’ve had.  We’ve been on tv on local tv and articles and papers and of course you can find us on youtube…but this was perfect for us.”

I told Travis that when I let people know about the One mic series their video for Gravity Pushing is the one that I send.  “You know what, I think it’s because up until the muscle shoals sessions, it was kind of low key band stuff, I mean it was good and they had some drummers and keys but it was kind of real quiet and folky sounding and the he does it with a smacking drummer and 2 guitar players…i mean he’s got 2 amps and a bass and a leslie cabinet and he still manages to balance that to where it almost sounds multi track. I wish him the best of luck on it I honestly feel like he needs some kind of recognition for that.  It’s as impressive as anything I’ve seen come out of the grammys.”

The industry has kind of messed with music so much that people expect it to sound a certain way…like some people might  say it’s kind of pitchy and it’s kind of sloppy and the tempo fluctuates. and that’s what music used to be and that music is still out there it’s just not on the radio or tv.  It’s all perfectly produced you know mass produced sound.  Just think of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers, and I don’t think they could do it today. It would be too sloppy to imperfect but you know what’s sad about it is that it sounds better because it breathes, it’s got life to it, and when you hear it it sounds like people playing music.  It doesn’t sound like a big puzzle that was put together.  If you really listen to our stuff, our guitar parts me an tip both their not exactly the same through out the whole song. But it makes it incredible.

We were all local North Alabama musicians in various bands and all kind of meet each other in the club scenes.  And hit it off and kept running into each other and the next thing you know some of us we ended up in a project together.  And then Shelly and Stephen the drummer, their married and they were kind of wanting to put together a band and they started picking who they thought would work best with them and who they liked the best.  First it was me and chip then we went through a keyboard player before we got Dan,  Dan and I had played in an Allman brothers tribute band called Skydog.  Then we went through several bass players. Brent Irving was a high school friend of mine and we played in some bands together and he’s a phenomenal musician and he went off to Nashville and played with some touring acts up there and he kind of came back home and settled in so he’s been playing with me on some trio stuff. So in a nut shell it was Stephen and Shelly picking me and Chip and me picking everyone else.

The Dozens
Photo by Stephen Pyle

We really get into the meat of our interview when I ask how much they are playing out and how far they are going.

“Well here’s the thing, we’ve kind of hit a dilemma or, this is the way I’ve been putting it to people. Were at a fork in the road and instead of going down one or the other were just standing there looking at it and I’m going to explain to you why.  Chip and his wife just had their first child and you know how that is. I have children and everybody in the band has children and Chip was the last one so you know that throws a wrench in things as far as scheduling.  And then Shelly is now in graduate school so it’s like all this stuff is happening right now and it’s kind of put us in a stop because of scheduling.  We’ve  had stuff booked and had to cancel because of scheduling conflicts and we’ve been down that road before and had to substitute somebody and it’s just not the same and as a band if it’s not going to be this, lets not do it.

And we’ve been together since 2011 and have been hitting it hard and heave around Alabama and Florida…and some surrounding stated, just playing a lot and made two albums and started writing the third when all of this kind of came to a slow down.  We’ve got more music sitting out there it’s just the fact that everybody trying to make personal decisions to get this done.  It’s kind of a bummer because it’s such a good band but, I understand.  I had my children earlier and I can’t imagine having a baby in the house and saying I’m going to be at the bar all night playing for $100. And also with Shelly she’s going back into graduate school so that’s a big scheduling problem right now.”

I have to interject that my immediate feeling and sentiment from Travis is that he is a very genuine person and while he, and all the members of the band, genuinely love this band, they are a family first and foremost.  They all take pride, and joy in their band mates life experiences and support their individual decisions, as a family should.  Playing gigs and being away from family is a tough road and Travis and I get into more of that in this next section of the interview.

Travis says “And also in the back of our heads there’s a bitterness as far as, the lack of support.  And I’m not only speaking about our band I’m speaking about local artist in almost any town…it’s just that support doesn’t seem to be there like it used to be.  And I can’t tell you why.  I think it’s just everybody is distracted now a days.  There’s not as many people want to go out and listen to live local music as there used to be and that’s kind of hurt the band.  This is an original band, we don’t go out and play a lot of covers, we set out to play our music and that’s an expensive thing to do.

The first album we recorded it at one of the best studios in Muscle Sholas now, and we used a grammy winning producer so that wasn’t cheap.  It was mastered by Rodney Mills who has done Allman brothers and Pearl Jam and that wasn’t cheap.  The second record we did mostly live and mostly analog, a lot of that we’ve done to 2” tape but there was quite a bit of it done live to tape and that wasn’t cheap.  So we were basically taking personal money and banking all of our gig money to get all this stuff done.

And once you get it out there the first couple weeks you sell cd’s and downloads and then it all stops as a local artist and you’re sitting there looking at it like this album cost us $10,000 and we made $2000., and so and the reason I’m telling you this is because I think people need to know this.  This is something that bands go through.

They have a passion they have desire to do this and they make  lot of sacrifices, family time, and I’m not talking about just gigging and recording, but I’m talking about writing.  The whole band gets together to write so there’s a lot of time and money put into this and once you get done there’s this satisfaction and that’s a big part of it but then there’s that part that says this cost us a lot of money and were not making that back.  It’s kind of frustrating cause people are listening to it on youtube and on spotify but their not buying it and that’s aggravating to everyone in the band, and kind of another dilemma to us moving forward.

You know why should we waste our time doing the third one when were still trying to make up for the first two.  It’s not only us, I heard an interview with Stevie nicks and she said the same exact thing I told you but it’s on her level.  She said it’s going to cost a million dollars and were not going to make that back.  The only way for them to get it back is to get out and tour so it sucks for not only us but for people like them.

In a August 8 2018 Rolling Stones article titles “How do artists make money –  or don’t at all- in 2018” Amy x Wang says “According to one Spotify company filing, average per-stream payouts from the company are between $0.006 and $0.0084; numbers from Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer and other streaming services are comparable. That creates a winner-takes-all situation in which big artists nab millions and small ones can’t earn a living wage. It’s nothing new — one could argue that such were the dynamics in almost every era of music past — but the numbers are more dramatic than before.” (Click Here for complete article)

Through a label an artist will get approximately $1.25 per sale of a physical cd and, for example, Apple will pay around .09 cents per single song download.  It would take approximately 208 streams to make that same $1.25 profit they make from a CD.  To make $1 million on one album from CD Sales it would take 800,000 sales and 166 million streams .  And then if they made $1 million and split that between the 6 band members, that gives them $166,666 each.  Those kind of numbers just don’t add up to a living once you break it all down.

Travis continues to explain that at the grass roots level by saying, “You know a lot of times we’ll play a show and maybe it’s a sign of the times but we’ll do a show and maybe sell a cd cause there’s young people out there looking at a CD and don’t know what it is.  People don’t buy the whole thing their buying one song.  Their buying “Gravity Pushing” or “Tidal Wave” and I’m like buy it all man.  You know that’s what you used to have to do and you used to have to buy the album or the cassette… but you know what that’s what made us fans.  Cause not only did you hear that song on the radio we were forced to listen to the whole side to hear the next song that was on the radio.  And those songs came just as important to us as those other songs.  I think if people would just listen to it it would be popular.  I can go to so many places around north Alabama and hear just phenomenal talent and I have those same conversations with those musicians too.  There’s all these old school guys like back in the 80’s we’d play louie louis for t f s and we’d sell t shirts and and it’s be packed and, you know we can sell t shirts and stickers but we can’t sell the music.  I’ll ask have you bought the album and they say well no it’s out on spotify.

You know this is stuff that I want people to know and I want to dozens fans to know this too.  And I’m not dogging our fans, we got some great people that support us and are at the show and are like part of the band you know we almost expect them to be there.  We’ve got some great support it’s not that.

That love and support only goes so far, and then you gotta start reaching.  it’s gotta grow and once it dies, it’s not from lack of  effort from the band that it died, it’s the nature of the beast that no one is buying it because it’s free.  Imagine if everyone that listens to our music had bought it we’d be having a different conversation. You’d probably have to go through a manager instead of just calling me up while I’m out in the yard.

Were living in really interesting times.  It’s really cool that you can find a lot of stuff easily but you have to have the want to.  That’s kind of the problem The Dozens is having right now  is that nobody is seeking, everybody is kind of sheep and people are listening to what other people are telling them to listen to.  I don’t mean like friends I mean like tv and radio and it’s kind of hurting us little guys.”

I ask if they get a huge kick start or new interest would they go back at it full time again.  “It would be a shame to see Shelly have to quit school but is that something that would happen with the right opportunity”, Travis says. “I think that would catapult us or give us that spark that we need again I think if one day we get a call from somebody saying they want us to do this, I don’t think there’s a doubt that we could do it.

You know we’ve been dealing with this for the last couple years.  You know the One Mic thing came up and it was like alright that’s something that’s worth our while, that may help us and help people hear our music.  So we jumped on it  That’s a perfect example of what you just asked.  If the next opportunity came up and says hey do you guys want to do this, if it’s something interesting, that’s all we want, we want people to listen to our music we think that there’s a bigger audience out there for it then what we have here and were kind of at a point where we don’t know what to do.

You know we hired a publicist,that we hired and paid for monthly but it got to the point where we were spending a lot of money, and he was working really hard for us and doing a good just it just wasn’t benefiting the band.  We got a lot of exposure from the one mic session and we still get it and they go to the one mic session and they watch it and that’s cool slide playing it southern rock and its a girl singer and that’s as far as it goes, then they’ll turn around and buy a stupid game on their phone or something.

So basically the band is still there were just waiting on something special to get us motivated again.  And it’s not going to take much it’s just gonna take just one or 2 little things that are going to make us say, lets finish the third album.”

I mentioned that I’d love to see Magnolia Boulevard and The Dozens to hook up and do some shows together.  Both bands have a strong southern feel, a female lead, and are extremly talented musicians.

“Yeah we’d love to you know it’s a tough thing to do is get out there on the road and not make any money.  It goes back to Chip having a baby and Shelly in graduate school, it makes it even more difficult for us.  I mean I’m not trying to sound like were something special I’m just saying it’s hard for us to do what we do and go hit the road and make $40 a night.  We can’t do that it’s not economical for us.  That’s why were sticking around and waiting for the right opportunity around here to take us to our next step.  You know the band we talk every day the bands in good standing and we all want to keep playing were just waiting for the net thing.  Most of us still have side projects and play with other bands but the dozens is our baby.  That’s everybody’s number 1 thing and there’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think what do we need to do what’s our next step.”

After talking to Travis I bought 3 copies of each album for $5 a piece and gave 4 copies to the Analog Vault to hand out to customers that they thought may enjoy the band.  They are a tight, original band that, with a slight push, could take this music to the next level.  And as I always say you have to put some dollars behind the music you love or get it out to as many people as you can.

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