If you haven’t heard of Gungor yet, you will. Though Michael and Lisa Gungor are the main forces behind the Grammy-nominated group, they refer to it as a collective—the instruments and musicians change as the songs require. Late September marked the release of I Am Mountain, an album that continues to awe listeners with its gorgeous harmonies, folk themes and truly impressive instrumentation. We got a chance to ask Gungor about the success of the album, the changing music industry, and what 3 tips all independent artists should consider. So check out our interview below, and if you have a chance to see them live, do it.
You describe Gungor as a musical collective.” Can you explain what that means?
We are not a band in the sense that we do not have a set group of members that are always involved so much as a larger collective of people that are sometimes involved in the creation of the music. Depending on what’s going on and what our musical goals are for a given situation, we might have anything from a three-piece to a twelve-piece out on the road with us.
What served as the inspiration for your new album I Am Mountain?
Doubt. Loss. Hope. Love. Life, you know? Music for me is therapeutic. It’s a way of looking into your soul and being honest about what’s happening there.
You’ve received an incredible response from the album—it reached #8 on iTunes’ Albums Chart, saw attention from music blogs—all without a major label. To what do you attribute this success?
Our fans and our live shows. We have amazing fans that have made it possible to do what we do. I think because our music has never really fit a single traditional format, we have never had much support from more traditional music industry gatekeepers—but along the way we have met plenty of really cool and interesting people who keep sharing our music with their friends and coming to our shows, and that’s what has primarily driven everything about our career so far.
What kind of team do you think an artist needs to be successful? Has your team evolved over the years?
Yes, we have definitely evolved over the last few years. We started small, and have continued to add team members as we have found good fits. But regardless of who you are in the music industry or how far along you are, you are going to need a team that can properly handle the business aspects of both touring and the record business side of things.
There are all sorts of people that would love a cut of your money—managers, business managers, lawyers, producers, band members, record labels, publicists, radio promoters, and the list goes on. These sorts of jobs are certainly necessary for some people some of the time, but I don’t think they are all necessary for everyone all of the time. What I do think that everyone needs to be successful is some level of talent, a lot of hard work, and some sort of customized team of smart people around you that can help you do the things you do best.
Where do think the music industry is headed?
I think it is headed towards a democratization that has both some upsides and downsides. The good news is that everyone has a shot now of getting heard. The playing field is so much more fair than it used to be. Talented people don’t NEED a label anymore to reach the public. They can just post something online for free, and everyone in the world has access to it.
One of the downsides of this leveling of the playing field is that there is potentially a devaluing of music that is happening in peoples’ minds. Everyone with a laptop can easily make their own album now. So everyone is competing with everyone else. Which not only can make it more difficult to find the most talented, but it also makes people value recorded music less and less. With everyone out there just wanting to be heard, so many artists are just giving away their music.
And now, even the labels have followed suit, and the whole music industry is basically giving free music away to the streaming services. This makes people value recorded music less and less, which means artists and producers and studios and everyone else are pressured to make albums with less work and less money. Which means the music industry turns into a sort of flea market. Flea markets have their value, but they also tend to churn out a bunch of cheap crap. I’m afraid we will be seeing a lot more of that in the music industry as well.
Can you tell us a little about how TuneCore is part of your team?
As an independent artist, TuneCore allows us to get easy and direct access to our fans without having to go through middlemen that take the bulk of the money.
At the end of the month you’re starting a major tour covering the US, New Zealand, Australia and Europe. How have you worked to develop a worldwide fan base?
Our booking agent has been good at that. He just happens to have relationships in a lot of other countries and he knows that once he can convince some of these promoters to open the door and let us come in, we will work really hard to do what we do best and try to connect musically with some new friends.
Your independent success has really become something for other artists to model their careers after. What are the top 3 tips you’d give an independent artist looking to grow his or her career?
1. Leave it all on the stage every single time.
2. Make art that you are passionate about rather than trying to please some imagined audience. If you are truly passionate about the music you are making, there will be others that will be as well.
3. Pay attention to your “gut.”
So what can we look forward to next from Gungor?
Good question. I ask myself that all of the time. I’m not a very good fortune teller, but I can tell you that we will continue to try to make music that we care about, and will do our best to share it with whoever will listen.
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