How Midnight Cinema is Bypassing the Record Industry

The Oakland pop rockers are taking a more direct and affordable new recording tack to distribute their music to potential fans.


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Photo by Stephen Loewinsohn

Cribley and Stoope primarily collaborate on the writing, music, lyrics, and arrangements.

 

With no label, manager, or booking agent, the newly constituted group set up shop in Cribley’s condo, which is a vertical design with three levels. This is where they stream performances and record. A makeshift studio occupies the top room, up a long flight of narrow stairs. The recording equipment is compact, taking up no more than 10 square feet. The sound Midnight Cinema creates is rich, with a fidelity that matches the output of a major label studio. What comes out sounds more like a six-piece band than two instrumentalists and a vocalist.

Even though Cribley, Niedermier, and Stoope left their former band name behind, as Midnight Cinema they did carry over the remnants of a signature sound—instrumental harmonies and overdubs combined with Stoope’s voice, which is both ephemeral and haunting with a low-to-high range raspy quality reminiscent of Rod Stewart. It lifts the lyrics of the songs just above the blend of instrumentals.

Midnight Cinema was followed in 2014 by Lightning in a Bottle, a 10-song CD. For the last track, the band brought in local singer Emily Rath to balance the song’s harmony. Lightning in a Bottle is distributed through the independent online distributer TuneCore. Songs can be downloaded through iTunes and Amazon for $1, from which the creators receive 70 cents.

Cribley, who also sings and plays keyboard, said the band invested $5,000 to record and produce the CD, and that so far it has recouped the cost and then some. “We’re not getting rich,” he said. “We’re simply doing it our way and it feels awesome.”

In December, the group added three more tracks to Lightning separate from the digital version from the CD. The extra songs were released through iTunes and Spotify as part of a “deluxe version.”

Niedermier hopes the band members can some day make a living with their music—but on their terms. The 31-year-old currently works in sales for a high-tech company in San Francisco. Stoope, who is 32 and married with a 3-year-old boy and baby girl, is a registered nurse. Cribley, 33, is a tax accountant who tends bar a couple of nights a week at night at Flora.

Will they tour? Cribley said yes. But currently there is no schedule. He generally acts as the road manager and booking agent, making calls and lining up gigs, mostly one-night stands. For now, the group is playing local gigs when possible.

Asked if there was any way to measure their impact other than the CD sales, a modest press run, the three pondered the question. Stoope said responses and comments are posted on FaceBook. “For instance, as Thriving Ivory, we got more than 90,000 ‘likes,’ and as Midnight Cinema, we so far have gotten almost 5,000 ‘likes.’ ”

Midnight Cinema members were unanimous in their desire for the future to be doing what they love, which is making music any way they can. “At some point, we may want to hook up with a label again, if the deal looked good,” Cribley conceded. “In the meantime, the plan is to continue the DIY mode—at least in the foreseeable future.”

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