Traditionally, there are two ways a musical act makes a living in the recording industry. Touring and record sales account for the majority of an act's income.
That and a day job.
In a volatile industry facing titanic technological change, and with sales the big boys would see as modest at best, the seven full-time members of the Los Angeles-based band Ozomatli have blazed a unique trail and created success, musically and financially, on their own terms.
They have redefined the way musical acts can be compensated in the recording industry. Together more than a dozen years and with four full-length studio albums to their credit, the members of Ozomatli have no day jobs and there's no need of any in sight.
Critics have always been kind to multicultural, multi-ethnic Ozomatli, whose name is taken from the Nahuatl word for the Aztec astrological symbol of the monkey. But while the band has topped Billboard's Latin Pop chart, its discs don't appear in the upper reaches of the mainstream album charts.
Nor has mainstream radio really embraced Ozo's sound, a hybrid of Spanish-English mash-ups of hip hop, salsa, cumbia, dub, and Middle Eastern funk. This concoction, which in the hands of lesser musicians might prove disastrous, has earned Ozomatli two Grammy Awards in the Best Latin Rock/Alternative Album category, one in 2001 for Embrace the Chaos and the second in 2004 for Street Signs. And while its current CD, Don't Mess With the Dragon, has garnered the most significant radio support of any Ozomatli release so far, it too peaked at No. 154 on the Billboard 200.
How has the group succeeded and made a decent living without massive record sales or major radio support? The short answer is that it is as innovative from a business perspective as it is from a musical one, finding ways to mine new profits from its core competency – playing live. The band has created multiple streams of income beyond the staples of touring and record sales.
"Ozo performs between 175 and 250 shows per year," states its manager Amy Blackman, known to band members as Amy B. "Our initial mission statement was, 'say no to nothing.'" While the number of gigs has remained constant over the years, the band has gone from playing bowling alleys, film screenings, and quinceañeras to festivals, fairs, and stadiums.
Its raucous, party atmosphere has helped the band tap into a lucrative performance opportunity known as the "corporate gig," which were especially common during the dot-com boom. Performing at a special, closed corporate event for company bigwigs and their guests often pays 10 times that of a standard club gig.
Ozo is also a band's band. It is the favorite of many musicians – Carlos Santana was an early and vocal advocate – and has been invited to perform as an opening act at numerous stadium tours, including one for the Dave Matthews Band.
Being road warriors and playing in front of tens of thousands of people has caught the eye and interest of companies looking for eyeballs. The band is outfitted with soft drinks, clothing, gear, and more from various sponsors, who pay the band a tidy sum to wear their goods on stage and promote their beverage.
Ozomatli's music has also been sought after by music supervisors who have placed the band's music in more than a dozen TV shows and films. If a scene in a film requires a celebratory Latin-flavored music cue, Ozomatli often gets the call. These placements generate income and exposure within the industry.
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