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Digital disruption has upended the traditional music industry business model, making it harder for most musicians to make a living selling their music. But Mac DeMarco, whose homemade records and unique persona have allowed him to thrive in today’s environment, has used the power of the internet zeitgeist to build a loyal following. NewsHour Weekend’s Christopher Booker reports.
While digital disruption has upended the business model of the music industry, some artists have managed to harness the technology to forge careers without promotion from old-fashioned record companies. One of them is Mac DeMarco, whose self-produced records and unique persona have allowed him to thrive in today's environment. NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has more.
The irreverence that infuses the music and career of Mac DeMarco has been there from the beginning. From his initial 2012 breakthrough, DeMarco stands as a portrait of the artist unpolished, a contemporary musician not afraid of the overshare or being misunderstood, whether posting photos of his double chin or appearing as a lizard man smoking a cigar.
I mean I know what kids like on the Internet. They would want to see my double chin. It's funny. I think it's funny too, it's no problem.
For the Canadian born singer/songwriter dubbed the "Laid-back Prince of Indie Rock," the transparency has endeared him to millions of fans, making him a staple of the touring and festival circuit.
But DeMarco's success is as much about his ability to go it alone as it is his musical talent and offbeat personality. Everything he does is self-produced and self-recorded — either in his bedroom or this cluttered, gear-filled garage in Los Angeles.
Did you train in recording or is it all trial and error?
Oh I don't know. I never took any, I have no idea. I mean I just kind of would get recorders and stuff like that and do whatever I could on them. I mean I still don't really know what I'm doing. I know how to plug stuff in and I know how to set a studio and I understand the basics of you know.
DeMarco's understanding of the basics is how it started. Living in Montreal at the time, he began uploading his songs to Bandcamp, a website that allows musicians to sell music and merchandise directly to consumers. He was signed to independent label Captured Tracks soon after. His first two releases in 2012 — an EP called "Rock n' Roll Nightclub" followed by the full length album "2″ produced tens of millions of streams of his music and videos.
His video for "My Kind of Woman" from his album "2" has 35 million views on YouTube. While his song "Chamber of Reflection" which comes from his 2014 follow up, "Salad Days," has been streamed over 96 million times on Spotify. And this past summer, with the release of his album "Here Comes the Cowboy" released on his own label, his basic understanding produced a bonafide Billboard hit.
"Here Comes the Cowboy" was your first top U.S., top ten. It did really well.
Yeah, but what does that mean? Jack Squat! Well, I mean it's cute I guess. Everyone who works for me was like, right on. I guess it means we sold some, but it's like the Wild West. Nobody really knows what's going on. Everybody's freaking out about things getting monetized, everyone's talking about streaming services, you know, social media, blah blah blah blah blah. Nobody really knows what's going on.
Nobody except maybe Mac DeMarco. His fans — like most these days — are overwhelmingly consuming music on streaming services like Spotify or iTunes, which pay only a fraction of a penny per stream. But if your song has streamed over 96 million times, like DeMarco's "Chamber of Reflection" has, that's still real money, not to mention an endorsement that your approach might be working. Something that for DeMarco, has remained largely unchanged, and happens nearly every single day in his garage, recording song after song.
I like this. Just garbage, but fun to make.
It sounds like, this could be a Super Mario Bros world, you know?
Yeah! That kind of stuff. What else we got? What is this? Hippie Rip. Similar vibe. I think the thing for me is sometimes I get more preoccupied with the recording side of things so I'll just make something just to see how I can record it.
What do you mean? Make something just to see how you can figure it out?
Yeah. Like instead of going down and being like, I should write a song today. It's kind of like, well, I'm gonna do some, like, you know really rush through something just so I can put the mikes up. You know? It's just the nerdy side of me coming out but.
If it all feels kind of tossed off … well, it is. And DeMarco is well aware that he's the one who might get tossed off any minute. But he says whatever happens … is whatever happens.
I mean, have it set up so I could make albums forever. Like, you know, there's no… I'm not paying anything to be in here. I'm not even paying for tape anymore, so I can just reuse the same one over and over and it starts sounding real sketchy, but, ah, I'm really at a point right now where I feel feel calm. And I feel like I like making art and I'm going to make the art that I want to make. And I don't really care if people like it or not.
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Christopher Booker is a correspondent and producer for PBS NewsHour Weekend covering music, culture, our changing economy and news of the cool and weird. He also teaches at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, following his work with Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and Doha, Qatar.
Mori Rothman has produced stories on a variety of subjects ranging from women’s rights in Saudi Arabia to rural depopulation in Kansas. Mori previously worked as a producer and writer at ABC News and as a production assistant on the CNN show Erin Burnett Outfront.
Laura Fong shoots and produces stories for PBS NewsHour Weekend on a wide range of topics, including U.S. politics, education, the arts and urban transit. She also covers breaking news for the Saturday and Sunday broadcasts. Before joining NewsHour Weekend, Laura worked on the first three seasons of the CNN documentary series "Inside Man" with Morgan Spurlock. Through Teach for America, Laura taught first grade for two years in Houston. She has a B.A. in electronic media from the University of Oregon.
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