Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Music & Shows

Is that 80s music lost forever? Greg Billings Band and others turn to streaming

Six years of Greg Billings' life were just sitting in a drawer.

The Clearwater singer was once in a rowdy Southern rock band called Stranger, which had a strong following and a deal with Epic Records. For a while they were poised to become Florida's answer to Van Halen. They also self-released four albums that sold into six figures combined, Billings guessed, good for an independent band.

And that was essentially the end of it.

In an age in which streaming is king, you'd think every song that can be online already is. That's mostly true for new artists. But for legacy acts like Billings and Stranger, it still isn't so.

Like much indie music from the pre-Internet era, most of Stranger's music never made it to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora or any of the other digital outlets that drive the industry in 2017. The thought never really crossed Billings's mind.

"I'm a Carolina boy," said Billings, 60. "I like to sing. I like to write songs. I like to make people laugh. I like to entertain. But as far as the business end, I'm lost."

Enter Tampa's Cigar City Management, which manages acts and books concerts. But it also offers "label services," including digitizing old tracks.

"There's all these albums that were released independently, one at a time," said Randy Ojeda, CEO of Cigar City Management. "The artist might not be thinking about getting that music up on digital platforms, but it's where music is going. And if you're not there, it's like the music didn't exist."

On Friday, Billings and Cigar City Management will bring those "lost" Stranger albums online for legal sale and streaming. They might not reap much income, but it's a slice of Florida music history that otherwise might have been forgotten.

"If you can get it out there in the digital world, you're putting a stamp on what you're doing," Billings said. "Like my wife says, this stuff's going to live forever."

• • •

Streaming music has upended everything about how the industry operates.

As sales of traditional formats, like CDs, have plummeted, Billboard and Nielsen SoundScan devised a formula to convert song and album streams into "album-equivalent units," meaning you can top the charts without ever selling a physical CD.

Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book and Jay-Z's 4:44 debuted near the top of the Billboard charts and were nominated for Grammys. Thanks to its nearly 5 billion streams, Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber's Despacito will go down as one of the longest-reigning No. 1 pop singles in history.

The money artists earn varies, but it's typically a fraction of a penny per song stream. Still, it's now essential for fans to be able to access music that way, no matter your stature as an artist.

"It costs a little bit of money, but you want to get on every streaming service possible," said Rick Derringer, a friend of Billings' who lives in Bradenton, and whose classic hits include Hang On Sloopy and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. "Get it out there free, and if people like it, then they will stream it, and that's the way you make your money now."

In Billings' case, any money is better than no money at all. Select tracks from those four Stranger albums — No Rules, Angry Dogs, No More Dirty Deals and We Be Live — are on iTunes and Spotify, but the royalties they earn are sparse compared to Billings' newer music. Physical Stranger albums remain elusive and expensive — CDs of No Rules are listed for more than $90 on the resale site Discogs — but you can also find songs pirated or posted illegally on YouTube.

"I don't like going online and looking to see what's out there," Billings said. "I don't know who the hell these people are, or how they got it, but you can find some of my music out there, and it's very discouraging."

Earlier this year, Billings met Ojeda and Cigar City CFO Jason Solanes at a Panera near Westshore Plaza with a zip-lock bag of chipped Stranger CDs. He owns the rights and publishing, so all Cigar City had to do was rip the CDs, clean up the artwork and send it to a British company called Kobalt Music to prepare it for digital distribution.

When the music goes live, Billings should take home about 70 percent of the royalties, with Cigar City, Kobalt and streaming services splitting the rest.

"Everybody can get it from one spot, and I'll see the money — albeit probably not a whole lot of money," Billings said. "Maybe in the beginning, there will be a pretty decent little check, but like Randy and those guys said, it's just sitting there right now. What do you want? $30? Better than sitting in a drawer somewhere."

• • •

Is there a market in 2017 for independent, mostly regional music from the '80s and '90s? In Billings' case, there might be.

The Greg Billings Band is well-known and -liked around the beaches, often playing prime-time slots at local festivals like Ribfest, Taste of Pinellas and Clearwater's Blast Friday. In January, they played a concert celebrating 35 years of Stranger at Clearwater's Capitol Theatre. To Billings' surprise, it sold out in advance, drawing 750 fans eager to relive Stranger's heyday. New T-shirts sold out quickly. A live album from the show will be released this fall.

"If they can sell out the Capitol Theatre and other venues, there's definitely people that want to hear this music," Ojeda said. "The key is, are these people into streaming? Are they willing to make Spotify playlists? We'll see."

On streaming services, channel and playlist placement is key to expanding a band's audience. If Stranger songs start popping up alongside songs by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet or the Allman Brothers Band, it could increase interest worldwide.

Ojeda has already opened talks with other Tampa Bay artists from the Stranger era to reintroduce their "lost" analog albums to a streaming audience.

"This is a totally different opportunity to put out music that otherwise wasn't available digitally, but now we can preserve that history and that legacy," he said. "Just being able to have that music there for people and preserve it for the future is amazing."

Putting it out where people can get it is what matters.

"Money's money," he said. "Anytime you get a check for selling records, no matter how big the check is, it's pretty cool."

Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

 


 

 

SOUNDCHECK: Live music news and reviews

 

 

FIND CONCERTS: Search for shows by date and venue

 

 

FOLLOW: Soundcheck on Twitter

 

 


 

 

Comments
Mary J. Blige coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

Mary J. Blige coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa

An icon of modern R&B is coming to town to warm your winter right up.Mary J. Blige, the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul, is coming to Amalie Arena in Tampa on Feb. 21, part of her ongoing Strength of a Woman Tour. Tickets start at $47.25 and go on sale at 10 a...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Kesha, Macklemore coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Kesha, Macklemore coming to the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa

Brush your teeth with Jack Daniel's and put on your grandpa's hand-me-downs, because Kesha and Macklemore are teaming up for a summer tour.The pop outcasts-turned-heroes will hit the road for a 30-city trek that includes a stop at Tampa's MidFlorida ...
Published: 12/11/17
Dead and Company’s Orlando concert, postponed after John Mayer’s appendectomy, rescheduled for Feb. 27

Dead and Company’s Orlando concert, postponed after John Mayer’s appendectomy, rescheduled for Feb. 27

John Mayer is on the mend, and Dead and Company are making plans to get back on the road.The Grateful Dead-honoring supergroup has rescheduled several concerts postponed by Mayer's emergency appendectomy this week, including a Dec. 7 date at Orlando'...
Published: 12/08/17
Clearwater Sea-Blues lineup: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, ZZ Ward, more coming to Coachman Park

Clearwater Sea-Blues lineup: Kenny Wayne Shepherd, ZZ Ward, more coming to Coachman Park

A handful of artists are about to put the blues back into the Clearwater Sea-Blues Festival.Blues guitarists Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Ana Popovic will headline the 2018 Sea-Blue Festival, Feb. 24-25 at Coachman Park in Clearwater. Fiery singers ZZ Wa...
Published: 12/08/17
SoundBytes: Senses Fail, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and more

SoundBytes: Senses Fail, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox, YoungBoy Never Broke Again and more

— Senses Fail is coming to the Orpheum in Tampa on March 6, along with Reggie and the Full Effect, Have Mercy and Household. Tickets are $16 and up. Click here.— Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox will perform at the Tampa Theatre on Apri...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/08/17
The Band Perry drops out of Florida Strawberry Festival

The Band Perry drops out of Florida Strawberry Festival

Tickets went on sale for the 2018 Florida Strawberry Festival Thursday, but if you were hoping to see the Band Perry, think twice before you purchase.The band has canceled its March 3 performance at the Strawberry Festival, according to organizers. N...
Published: 12/07/17
This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: 98 Degrees, David Crosby, Petula Clark

This week’s best Tampa Bay concerts: 98 Degrees, David Crosby, Petula Clark

PACKAGE DELIVERY: 98 Degrees Oh, the weather outside is far from frightful — that’s one of the perks of December in Florida, you know. But inside the Mahaffey Theater on Friday, it’ll be 98 Degrees and steamy. The Brothers Lachey w...
Published: 12/06/17
Updated: 12/08/17
Dead and Company postpone Thursday’s Orlando concert after John Mayer’s emergency appendectomy

Dead and Company postpone Thursday’s Orlando concert after John Mayer’s emergency appendectomy

If you had to guess which member of Dead and Company might have an emergency medical issue that would force the postponement of several shows, you might guess Bob Weir, right? Or maybe Mickey Hart or Bill Kreutzmann?Nope. It's John Mayer.The guitaris...
Published: 12/06/17
Jason Mraz coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Jason Mraz coming to the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg

Jason Mraz is coming from the Great White Way to the Sunshine City.The pop singer-songwriter will embark on a solo acoustic tour next spring that includes several stops in Florida — including a March 17 date at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Peter...
Published: 12/06/17
Photos: Lil Pump gets his ‘Gucci Gang’ lit at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Photos: Lil Pump gets his ‘Gucci Gang’ lit at the Ritz Ybor in Tampa

Teenage Miami rap phenomenon Lil Pump packed the Ritz Ybor last week, bringing hundreds of members of his Gucci Gang to Tampa.It was an all-too-brief show — he went on late and left early, spending only a short time on stage — but the Tim...
Published: 12/05/17