Acid House Interviews
I thought it would be a cool idea to interview people, friends and colleagues, that I work with or know, in the music and entertainment industry. I wanted to catch up and talk about how things were and how things are and I mainly wanted to chat with people and maybe get a bit of insight to put up for new artists and industry professionals.
There is so much information floating around out there, it’s nice to hear it from the people inside, who have been there and are still working in the industry, as it is, ever changing, right now. These interviews have had a few homes, but now the Can Con ones will be now be posted up over at NxEW,and they will in turn, all find there way back here. I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions! Enjoy.
Welcome to the Acid House Interviews, whereby I interview my friends, colleagues, entertainers and artists about art, music and the entertainment business.
My first interview is with Jason Wilber. We have known Jason here at Rave On for a few years now, and he has played on 4 of our album projects. He is a talented artist, multi – instrumentalist and all round super nice guy!
ja ~ Jason, thanks so much for participating! Can you tell us a bit about yourself to start things off?
jw ~ Sure, I was born and raised in Indiana. Live there still. I started playing guitar in local bands when I was in my early teens and progressed from there into playing with regional traveling bands and then in my mid twenties I started playing with John Prine, which lead to playing guitar for other singer-songwriters in the folk/rock/country vein. I’m a singer-songwriter myself and have released 7 records of my own.
ja ~ I thought it would be interesting to talk a bit about how in today’s industry, you really need to be a business person, marketing expert, social media pro and jack/jill-of-all-trades..can you talk a bit about all the different things you do?
jw~ I think that has always been the case really. The idea that you can just play music and someone else will take care of all the business and marketing stuff is a mostly fallacy.
When you get to the point that you can afford to have other people working for you to do that stuff, you still have to understand how the business works so you’ll know if they are doing the right things. Although, sometimes it’s hard to know what the “right things” are!
Being an independent musician is much like running any other small business. You have to do bookkeeping, marketing, keep inventory, pay taxes, etc. and of course play music. I read a Herbie Hancock quote that said,
“You should spend about 50% of your time on music and 50% of your time on business”.
I think that’s a pretty good guideline.
ja ~ I am guessing that the emergence of the Internet and social media has made the business of music a lot easier…
jw ~ The Internet has definitely been a game changer. Much of the way I operate business wise today would be impossible or much more difficult without it.
ja ~ For emerging artists, do you have any advice on working in the industry today, new strengths that would be beneficial, it’s not like the old system where you a) have loads of talent b) get signed = c)you’re off and running (I wondering if young people today even have that rock star dream, or if their expectations are different?)
jw ~ I would say, never stop learning as much as you can about your art and the business surrounding it, work harder and longer than the next guy or gal, learn about your own strengths and weaknesses and how to get the best out of yourself, and put yourself in an environment where you’ll come into contact with the people you need to meet to further your music career. If you do all of those, you’ll probably develop an understanding of what else you need to be doing to succeed.
ja ~ People who read this may be anyone from emerging artists all the way up to industry professionals, is there Anything else you think is important to talk about? Anything you think is helpful or info to get out there would be great – you really have your foot the door to both worlds, as you are both artist and business person, and so it is interesting, to hear your thoughts…
jw ~ Sure, I would say first of all, only try to play music for a living if you can’t stand not to. Because it’s really not a great business to be in if you’re a musician, for a whole variety of reasons that I won’t go into here, but mainly because of too much supply and too little demand.
However, if you’re going to be playing music all the time anyway, and you don’t mind working really hard for very little money, possibly indefinitely, and you can handle endless boatloads of rejection punctuated by occasional moments of encouragement, then you might like playing music for a living. That may sound discouraging, but I think it’s pretty accurate. Ask some other working musicians if you want a second opinion.
All that said, I sure can’t complain. Music has been good to me and I feel very fortunate to make my living playing music I love.
ja ~ Thank so much Jason, we’re happy to know you, and it’s great working with you, we’re very fortunate!
My next interview is with my friend Thomas Wong. I have known Thomas for, hmm, since one of us still had ‘teen’ in our age. Thomas is a teacher, fashion mogul and musician, but above all a writer.
ja ~ Thanks for chatting Thomas, can you tell us a bit about your background?
tw ~ I think you have about covered it! I’m from Montreal, grew up in Vancouver and now live in Victoria BC. I’ve been writing for The Tyee for almost five years, and about music for three of those.
ja ~ That’s mainly what I want to talk about here, I can tell you that people are so keen to have their music heard, not to mention ‘reviewed’ or written about – and it is so difficult to find anyone to do that.
It’s an integral part of the self-marketing process, that the music industry today requires, and everyone has to do it. Even big names all have to start somewhere in order for a label, manager etc. to even find them in the throngs of artists out there.
So, people will want to know how do you pick the music you write about? Is it just what YOU like? By the current buzz? Man on the street? Album art?
tw ~ There is so much music journalism now that it would be a little cynical to write yet another review of a major release. Pitchfork, for example, reviews 5 albums a day. Newspapers still have record reviews – add to that magazines, corporate websites, and finally blogs, and you have literally hundreds of daily reviews. Access to all music, all the time, sounds wonderful until you start to think about how you’re going to ever listen to it all. There is a similar problem with books, but you can’t reasonable sample 50 books a day – you could with albums.
Given this situation I try and write music reviews with some sort of alternate story. The Tyee doesn’t give me any numbers so for all I know all of ten people might read them, although they still let me write so I assume someone is reading. Writing about music, dancing about architecture? But you’re trying to convince people to listen to something, when listening to it in the first place would be a more compelling sell.
ja ~ Do people send you cds?
tw ~ I’ve never been sent any music, although people have offered to send music. Which is odd.
ja ~ Uhm, I’ve sent you music…
tw ~ Well, aside from you..
ja ~ Can people send you music then? If so, where to?
tw ~ There is no system in place for people to send music to the Tyee, but links can be sent to email@example.com. I can’t promise I’ll get to it, but you can send it and I will try to look at it.
ja ~ Thoughts on the vinyl come-back?
tw ~ I do own records, plan on buying more, but my record player is currently on the fritz. As for the “current trend,” I really don’t care. Retro has been in so long that the retro of today is different from when the trend started. I buy records because I love the physical object, and I’m glad to be able to go online and fill my iPod with all the music of the universe.
ja ~ Thanks for the quick chat Thomas, I think this will be compelling reading for loads of artists.
jw ~ Of course, any time!
Interview #3 is with a new artist we just met and began working with this year. Danielle’s interview answered more questions than I knew to ask, and I’ll comment at the end of the interview.
ja ~ Hi Danielle, can you tell us about yourself, where you are from and a bit about yourself as a musician?
dk ~ My name is Danielle Kurant. I was born and raised in Florida. I started classical piano lessons when I was five years old and fell in love with music. Although there will always be a special place in my heart for classical music, my current interest is in pop music. Being from Florida, my music is heavily influenced by folk, and I think that comes out in my writing.
ja ~ When did you start writing music?
dk ~ Writing was never something I thought I would do. Composition chose me rather than the other way around. I started songwriting in March 2007. I absolutely could not sleep one night. I had lyrics and a melody running through my head incessantly, and was only able to rest once I had written it down. The same thing happened for weeks on end, and now I have a nice repertoire built up!
ja ~ Where are you at right now in your career, two years later?
dk~ For the past two years I have been doing a good deal of writing, but not much recording. I am spending most of my time networking and practicing. I perform at local coffee shops when I have the opportunity, and will be recording songs for my first full-length album in a few weeks.
ja ~ Being an ‘emerging artist’ in today’s world, what challenges do you face or…has social media helped you solve any of those challenges ie: remote recording etc??? Connecting? Or is it a hinderance because of the sheer volume of artists out there? How do you get noticed, or is that what you want out of your musical career? Or do you do if just for you and what happens, happens?
dk ~ The hardest thing about being an emerging artist is getting people to notice you. If you are putting out a quality product, people will want to support you and hear more. The trick is getting them to listen in the first place!
Social networking has been central to getting my music out there. The various social networking sites make it easy to communicate with people all over the world simultaneously. Nevertheless, yes, it can have a dark side.
There is a vast ocean of indie music out there… people can have a hard time finding the pearls! There are so many talented people, it is easy to get lost in the crowd. Overall, however, I think that social media has benefited independent musicians. Remote recording has been a real lifesaver! I have been able to work with people from both coasts of the USA, Canada, and even in England!
Of course I would like to “get noticed” and have more contacts, but at the moment I am investing in the ones I already have. It is better to have a few people who really believe in you and enjoy your work than to have a thousand “friends” who have never even bothered listening to your album!
I create music because I love music. I write because I have something to say. That being said, it would be ideal if I were able to make a living by doing what I love!
ja ~ Anything you want to comment on, or share, suggestions, ideas…this interview is wide open!
dk ~ Music is wonderful – it transcends time, culture, and experience. It is abstract and it is alive. I love the way it brings people together, and there is nothing so rewarding as seeing the final product after so many talented people have contributed to it. Creating quality music is a real team effort! There is a great sense of community in addition to creativity – this is part of the reason it is so beautiful. Whether or not things ever work out for me as an artist, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with several interesting, talented people. It is worth the effort even for that!
ja ~ At the start, my goal of this interview was to ask Danielle from an ‘emerging’ artist’s point of view if she had an answer or any insight to the conundrum of so many artists and so little interest, but I think she gave the ultimate answer and the best advice to any artist – you do what you do, you love what you do, and it doesn’t matter who’s listening. Thank you Danielle! (And update – though Danielle is still working on her album, she will be attending medical school fall 2010 – congratulations!)
I am so fortunate, and down right lucky to work with this man. Lenny Bronstein is one of the power-trio of US radio promoters, and he was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I have asked Lenny to purposely name-drop in this interview, as I wanted everyone to be able to connect on some level with this man, and have some sort of scope of the amazing work he has done and a taste of the life he has lived so far! This is interview is uncut – Brontstein unplugged…
Lenny Bronstein – On Radio
ja ~ Hi Lenny! THanks you for doing this! Can you tell me a bit about your background, accomplishments and where you are at now, in your career?
lb ~ Hi Jenn, sure. I co-founded the Brooklyn College radio station, WBCR, in 1968 after being a very rabid radio listener and participant on air at NYC Top 40 WMCA, where I created the first of my radio friendships with the many disc jockeys and programmers there.
While at Brooklyn College, I and another college radio programmer, Gary Cohen, convinced all the labels to start college radio promotion departments and directly service college radio with new product. Previously, for 40 some odd years, the IBS was its only advocate and very ineffectual.
As labels started those programs, A&M Records contacted me and hired me to do NY/NJ/Conn college promotion. In less than a year, I became the local NYC rep for A&M. I was moved to San Francisco in 1974 and 8 months later was promoted to west coast regional rep. 8 months later I was moved to the home office heading the national album department.
During my tenure, we broke artists as diverse as Frampton, Supertramp, Styx, Nazareth, Billy Preston, Joe Cocker, Carole King, Cheech & Chong, The Police, Joe Jackson, 38 Special, Ozark Mt. Daredevils, Pablo Cruise, The Tubes, Brothers Johnson, Chuck Mangione, Gato Barbieri, Nils Lofgren, Bryan Adams and many more.
I also initiated concepts that became industry standards including the “Dollar Concert Series” with the Ozarks and Joan Armatrading. I started sending out monthly A&M advance listening cassettes to radio to preview our new releases and priorities, which became the industry norm for most labels and big business for the tip sheets.
I launched the first of a series of live concert albums partnered with Lee Abrams for his client stations which we distributed exclusively to radio which never was available to the public so radio could bask in providing a one time only experience for their audience. In 1980, as the industry slowly constricted with early downsizing, I started my own independent promotion company, which I continue to operate today (with a short detour in 1990 to help launch the Charisma label in the US for Richard Branson with some old A&M cohorts). A short list of the many artists I helped to break include:
~ U2, LOVERBOY, HOOTERS, TOMMY CONWELL, JOAN JETT, HUEY LEWIS, BILLY IDOL, PAT BENATAR, HOOTIE 7 THE BLOWFISH, GODSMACK, CUTTING CREW, LENNY KRAVITZ, 7 MARY 3, COLLECTIVE SOUL, SAGA, OLEANDER,WARRANT, ROBERT PALMER, BIG COUNTRY, DEXY’S MIDNIGHT RUNNERS, BON JOVI, THE CALL, EURYTHMICS, RICHARD MARX, JOE SATRIANI, STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN, SAGA, FLOCK OF SEAGULLS, MODERN ENGLISH, KROKUS, VIXEN, RICK SPRINGFIELD, NIGHT RANGER, BONNIE TYLER, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, FABULOUS T-BIRDS, SISTER HAZEL, INDIGENOUS, FIXX, VAN ZANT, BADLEES, ZAKK WYLDE/BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, QUEENSRYCHE, LIVING COLOUR, SWITCHFOOT, MEGADETH, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, GOV’T MULE, ABC, SIMPLE MINDS, MISTER MISTER, BERLIN, GOLDEN EARRING, PSYCHEDELIC FURS, TINA TURNER, BANGLES, ULTRAVOX, LITA FORD, QUIET RIOT, BANANARAMA, WATERBOYS, KISS, TRIUMPH, TOTO, ANIMOTION, OUTFIELD, TALK TALK, ALARM, KIM WILDE, SMITHEREENS, CHURCH, POISON, LOVE & ROCKETS, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, BADLEES, BOTTLE ROCKETS, BAD RELIGION, BROTHER CANE and dozens more.
I also helped resurrect radio airplay for artists like: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Elvis Costello, Eddie Money, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Van Morrison, Robin Trower, Bob Dylan, Dokken, Slaughter, David Lee Roth, Deep Purple, Bad Company Molly Hatchet, George Thorogood, Little Steven, Jethro Tull, John Mayall, Ian Hunter, Alice Cooper, Meatloaf, Great White, Ted Nugent, David Bowie and more.
At Charisma, I directed the Gary Moore campaign which gave him his first gold album and helped the KNACK get to #7 on the charts in their comeback.
Today, I’m working with mostly independent label acts and helping former superstars go back to radio with new music.
ja ~ Ok first wow, you have been in on some major musical history in the making!
I know that there have been many changes, and evolutions in radio and in the music industry in general, can you talk a bit about them and how they have affected you and in what ways?
lb ~ Well, radio went through a few different cycles starting in the 80′s when new wave challenged a very conservative Southern-based/corporate rock consulted rockers. In the late 80′s, playlists shrunk and currents became scarcer in favor of researched safe recurrents, which dominated most rockers.
All of a sudden, a few bold programmers started to program this new brand of young bands and instead of burying them at 3 AM, they banged them up to 40+ times a week in all dayparts. It was the short-lived “hair band” era which immediately was cast aside, despite its success, by the Nirvana/grunge revolution. Instantaneously, all these cautious programmers became experts and flooded the airwaves with all these new bands who had a completely different social image and approach to success.
Unfortunately, with a new population of novice radio jocks and programmers, many who only had college radio experience, all the classic artists were discarded and relegated to classic rock stations while only these new bands were heard. Normally, it would be something to celebrate and most did, but almost none of these bands had an image, an identity or loyalty. Gen X, then Gen Y was about immediate gratification and instead of building a career for long term, bands sold multi-platinum on their first release, gold on their second and often looking for a new label deal for their third.
The Internet exploded and provided even more new avenues of exposure immediately grabbing a music fan’s attention, but also deluding many into believing that if they put their music online, everyone would discover and love it and buy it. As Xm, then Sirius entered the picture, they provided music devotees with a new, purer place to hear uninterrupted music.
Today, unfortunately, between the economy and the inability to connect the audience with the artists emotionally, sales have plummeted, record stores have bit the dust and the opportunities of old have reverted to the traditional touring to have a long term career, but dependence on American Idol or some major TV/commercial/movie campaign to break an artist/record to a mass audience.
The other factor that changed the playing field was the Spitzer investigation and clampdown on the record companies and radio relationships which were abused for years. However, the goal of leveling the playing field so indies could compete with the majors, led to internal controls which severely restricted new artists and music at these stations, defeating the original goal. Where some stations would have multiple adds for a week, maybe 5 or 6, they all of a sudden, added 1 or 2 or none weekly, dramatically closing the door on all but the established or researched hits already charting. Of course, we still have formats like AAA, who exposes a wide variety of adult artists, but most of their rotations are too minimal to reach the bulk of the audience frequently enough to become familiar.
ja ~ With some of these changes, there seems to me that there is a division in music delivery, the people who can pay for radio placement and the people who can send in their own music to Net radio etc. Has that higher end changed at all? Or has just the way you work changed ie: email and the Internet delivery systems etc vs telephone and hard copy distribution etc…
lb ~ Not sure how much that division really exists, but I’m cautious about most internet radio and how many people actually hear a particular station at any given moment, which deludes many bands/artists into believing they can “break” from that minimal exposure. What has changed is more “communicators” don’t communicate much. There are layers of people, voicemail and multi-station responsibilities that often prevent regular dialogue between radio and records.
Time is highly constricted on both sides with more functions and daily distractions. We also have a new generation of promotion people and programmers who only want to communicate with their “thumbs” or IM’s instead of having phone conversations, which I find to be incredulously more time consuming, less spontaneous and less intuitive.
ja ~ Do you have a lot more work these days with so many people out there making music?
lb ~ Funny, but I have less work than ever because there are so many people out of work from layoffs, who hung up a shingle and dilute the promo pool, which contributes to the adversarial relationship with radio who now has too many people trying to work them. It also is because all these new “indie” artists believe that they have a shot on their own if they have a MySpace page and don’t want professional help.
Others are getting used to the idea of music being free online to download so why should they pay someone for anything. Try to get a carpenter to build something for free…tell a plumber you “deserve” to have your pipes fixed for free…try to convince an airline you should fly for free. Truthfully, we all have a harder time taking a record the distance, because in the old days, a number one record would have at least 95% of the stations playing it…today, you could be #1 with 50% of the panel.
ja ~ That being said, do you see a change in the quality of the product you receive, given that so many people now record on their own, away from a label and even away from a professional recording studio?
lb ~ Sadly, much of the music is indistinguishable and unidentifiable. Some is beyond amateurish and (believe me) you hear back immediately about the quality of the vocals, production and even ability to play instruments well. We also, frankly, have more compartmentalization and radio wants things to fit in a prescribed sound they strive for.
Ironically though, radio’s biggest breakthroughs are usually the records that DON’T sound like everything else they are playing and stand out! Again, with all these musicians producing themselves or their buddies, their sense of reality is often far from the stellar production of major talent. Let’s face it, it is a dream that few achieve, but now it is more of a fantasy than that reality of ever happening, although there are other avenues. Ultimately, it’s about a team of professionals starting with the artists having good managers who are experienced and even connected – locally or regionally or nationally- along with a record company or surrogate who honestly advises them.
ja ~ I think people are keen to know about sending music to stations, as it is a large part of the self marketing new artists have to do. I know you still do physical mailouts, do most stations still expect that?
lb ~ Most stations still expect a physical cd, though more of the larger markets are almost totally computerized and could get away without one. I am FIRMLY of the belief that we need to hit them multiple ways to get their attention to at least listen. playMPE or DMDS should be a part of the campaign, but having a cd in your hand with some bio/one sheet to tell you something about the artist gives you that extra visual connection. Face it, a cd in a pile on your desk may get another look…a file buried in a computer may never get heard or get dumped a lot quicker. Sometimes the artwork or packaging (like the old days of vinyl) can stimulate you to listen to an unknown offering. It’s cheap enough these days to press and mail it – why limit your chances?
ja ~ Yes, I agree, anything and everything you can do/afford, is required these days to even make a blip on the radar.
If you were to give advice to new artists, promo companies, or anyone in the industry really, what would it be?
lb ~ Establish relationships!!! Get to know your subjects, play as many places as possible to build a loyal following and keep trying to improve. Don’t send out your music until you’re really ready and a few people you trust who are not emotionally involved tell you it’s worthwhile. Be committed and don’t dream of the money or fame. It’s about the art ultimately, which will give you a career and not a moment. Be scrupulously honest despite a path easier taken. Be passionate and be prepared EVERY day!
ja ~ Is there anything else you want to talk about or want to get out there - the floor is wide open to you!
lb ~ I think I went above and beyond and probably opened up a few cans of worms with my candor…final thought is that this has been a lifetime CAREER and not just a cool job. It was never about the salary or power and position. The one word everyone cringes at hearing but has been the major reason for the downfall of much of the radio/record business is GREED. The excesses got out of control and wrecked a lot of the system while many profited more than handsomely taking advantage of it.
Like the banking industry today, the music industry bubble burst while many stayed in denial. The fact that we fought the Internet and downloading and subsequently sued all the “illegal” downloaders did more damage than anyone could have realized. As an industry, we rarely “adapt”…we usually “copy” and wonder why the copy isn’t as successful as the original!
ja ~ Lenny thank you so much. I can tell you that feel very privileged to have worked with you, and hope to more often in the future, it has been a joy! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat!
You can reach Lenny at: firstname.lastname@example.org or catch up with him of FaceBook.
Brody Murakami is a Mixing Engineer in Orlando, Florida. Here we talk about the effect the Internet has on his part of the music industry. We have only known Brody a short time, but he is one of those rare individuals you meet, and feel you have known forever. What a talent, and what a great person!
ja ~ Hey Brody! Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you are at right now in your career?
bm ~ Sure! I am a mix engineer originally from Aloha Kona, HI, and live and work now in Orlando Florida. I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years. I started out as a musician – piano/keyboards/synths and drums. I got into the recording side by writing songs and recording them, and eventually I took more of an interest in the technical side of album production.
I’ve worked with many studios all across the US from Seattle, WA all the way to Orlando, Fl. Slowly going internationally as well. I work along with Multi-Platinum Grinehouse Publishing and Works, also doing projects with Artist Manager Johnny Wright (Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Jonas Brothers, Britney Spears..etc). I currently have my own mix room out of Lou Pearlman’s old Transcontinental Records.
ja ~ I know you are busy and sleep deprived with the new baby, but I was hoping we could briefly talk about how the Net has or has not affected your work? And maybe where you see it going in the future as it relates to music or?
bm ~ Today’s industry relies a lot on the internet, and as everyone knows, digital download sales are soaring. As with everything on the Internet, it’s all about the ‘convenience’. You can log onto your computer and get a song or album right then and there, rather than going to the store to pay for a full CD. Don’t get me wrong, many still do that, but the numbers are slowly decreasing. On the negative side of all of this there is piracy. That may always be a problem until the right person comes along and figures out a way to not have peer-to-peer sharing of free music, if that is even possible.
I think the main people affected by this digital download era are the record labels and every one involved in them. They are needed less and less. With the affordable ways to make great sounding songs and records these days the whole big process of the way it used to be is slowly decreasing also.
Great albums are being made in bedrooms, garages and living rooms now and you can hardly even tell. Sure, today’s music doesn’t sound the way it used to 20-30 years ago, but that’s what happens with age and change. Me personally, I’m old school and new-school. I prefer to mix on a large analog console and use 1/4″ tape as my play back source. Tape is very expensive today, so I don’t get to use it much, it more depends on the project I’m doing and the budget of that project. I prefer to do all my edits in ProTools and a lot of automation in there too, but I will never mix a song without running it through analog. You just can’t get those harmonics and distortion with digital.
As far as all this affecting me much, sure.. but it is more of “who” are the people that it is being affected by. When it all comes down to it, it’s a budget thing. While not trying to sound egotistical at all, many bands simply can’t afford to have their stuff mixed with me unless they can cop the cost of the studio; that’s just the business side of it, no one works for free. While I love working with locals and Indies, my mix room is made to have more label work come through it.
ja ~ All that being said, are you still busy?
bm ~ Swamped.
ja ~ Thanks Brody, I’ll let you get back to it, but one more thing, what do you think about the comeback of vinyl, are you seeing it from where you sit?
bm ~ I’m not seeing a whole lot of it where I am. I do believe anything is possible, people like blasts from the pasts! Thanks Jenn!
We met Terry last year while recording Melissa Endean’s second album ‘Authentic’. He has got to be one of the most pro players we know and again, an all round nice guy. We’re excited to have him as part of our Mariachi team for an upcoming project, and I am sure this will be the continuation of a beautiful relationship!
Tony Marriott is a multi-instrumentalist and the hottest bass player around. He has worked on nearly every one of my projects over the years, and we have spent many hours talking production, gear and life stuff. Tony is my go-to-guy, and he cooks.
ja ~ Tony Hey – thanks it was you who got me started on the interview idea! Can you tell us briefly about your background, some of your accomplishments to date, and where you are at now in your career?
tm ~ Sure, I’m originally from Toronto but moved to B.C. at age 8, so I’m basically from here. Musically speaking, I studied in Los Angeles at the Musician’s Institute and in Boston at Berklee.
Most people know me as a session bassist, but I play a little guitar and drums too and have also released 3 CDs under my own name. I lived in California (L.A and S.F) making a living as a session bassist from 1987-1997 and these days I still do a lot of bass sessions but I’m mostly focused on my production company JonesForTones.ca.
Currently, I work out of Blue Wave studios, which is also home to Pacific Audio and Visual Institute www.pacificav.com or PAVI as they call it. I feel very lucky to work in a studio of this calibre and especially one with a such a rich musical legacy. Right now I’m working with Myk Gordon, The Broken Condom Babies, Sensible Shoes, and a drum loops CD for session drummer Bill Hicks.
ja ~ That’s awesome! And that’s what I wanted to talk about – I wanted to ask you specifically about the music industry today and the sea of talent out there. I think it was you who once said to me ‘everyone can be a producer now with the free audio programs available’. So that being said, how are you competing and staying competitive in that industry?
tm ~ I think I might have said these days anyone with computer and a DAW thinks they’re a producer lol, but I think what you said is more accurate. Anyone ‘CAN’ be a producer.
In all honesty, as far as being competitive I’m not sure about that. There are many fish in the small pond called Vancouver. Maybe the best way is to carve out a niche and not try to be everything to everyone. I’m guilty of this to a degree because I really like lots of different genres, but I’m kinda old school in my approach to recording rock. Most of my production ideas come from records made in the 60′s and 70′s. I try to ‘engineer’ or manipulate as little as possible.
The sound of commercial rock radio today is not something I strive for. On the other hand I like the way bands like Radiohead mix in elements of electronica. As of now anyway, I am trying to stick to basics, like using 2″ tape, at least in the early stages of production. As has been said by many, ‘..if you try to copy current trends, your songs will already sound dated by the time you release!’.
ja ~ One of my artists sent me this link today to a mobile recording studio, that will come to your house, can you comment on that? I guess this industry is wide open and if you can think outside the box, not that this is new, but they are making it readily available to the general public, that’s their audience.
Is this kind of thing taking advantage of the consumer? I mean, can you really get a good product outside of the studio? or does it matter given that most people will only listen on mp3, if the music even gets to the listening public?
tm ~ Not that it’s a bad thing, but this is nothing revolutionary. I mean mobile recording isn’t new by any stretch. As to whether you can get ‘good’ recordings on location or not depends on many factors. The musicians, their instruments, the acoustics of the space, the engineer’s ability. The recording gear is important but it’s important to keep in mind it presupposes all the above are in order.
In response to the MP3 question, I’d say a large percentage of music consumers have always listened to music through sub-par systems. I don’t think this is any reason to lower standards of production. Conversely you could say there are many audiophiles out there with better sounding systems than ever, so maybe we should raise our standards. I look forward to the day SACD (24-96k) is accepted by the mainstream market, (haha) If ever.
ja ~ Yes, great points, and yes, (I still mainly use 44.1!). Oh and hey, any comments on the come back of vinyl?
tm ~ I love the sound of vinyl but I ‘d be really surprised if it ever came back into popularity.
ja ~ Just one more: I am talking with a lot of people about having to do so much more in today’s industry to be successful, did you ever think you would have to be a marketing expert and business person when you were at Berklee?
tm ~ It does seem that you have to spread yourself pretty thin these days but It’s never a bad idea to understand as much about the biz as you can. I mean why leave the important stuff to some supposed expert. I think even in the past artists eventually learned everything, sadly, lots of times by getting screwed. It’s like anyone going into business for themselves, the more information you have at the outset the better your chances for succeeding. I’ll let you know.
ja ~ Thanks Tony, as always, nice chatting.
With everything changing at a fast, frenzied pace in the music industry today, I think that the only way to survive is to have your fingers in all the pies. Having another artist cover your song, or writing for other artists in general, is one of those other pies which is becoming an interesting and available option to any songwriter with an Internet connection. Jim Vallance, BC’s own feted songwriter, and one of my faves, shares his thoughts and offers up some solid advice.
ja ~ Hi Jim! Let’s get right into this – First of all, from where you sit, has writing for artists changed much over the years?
jv ~ The idea of “writing for artists” is as old as music itself. At some point in their careers Bach, Beethoven and Mozart paid their rent writing made-to-order music. Fast-forward to the 1940′s and 50′s and 60′s, and you had Sammy Cahn writing for Sinatra, Leiber & Stoller writing for Elvis, and Bacharach & David writing for Dionne Warwick. The list goes on and on. Trying googling “Tin Pan Alley” or “The Brill Building”. Buddy Holly and The Beatles introduced the idea of “artists who write their own material”, but there have always been — and always will be — artists who rely on songwriters. That hasn’t changed.
ja ~ I am sure that as with all other work, talent, skill, patience, and a bit of luck are required when breaking into this area, but do you have any advice, or is there something that works/doesn’t work that we may not be aware of?
jv ~ In my experience, the only strategy that consistently works is writing directly with the artist. I appreciate that not everyone can pick up the phone and call Steven Tyler or Ozzy Osbourne. The reality is, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up to that level, which is exactly how it happened for me. Thirty years ago I started at ground-level with artists like Bryan Adams and Prism, when they were completely unknown. My advice is, find a talented young artist and get in on the ground floor. As their career grows, so will yours. The next thing you know, other artists will be calling you!
ja ~ Regarding remote collaborations – have you ever done that? Worked with someone via Internet (or any other way), whom you have never met? Would you be keen on that, or do you feel it’s missing something, not having actual/face-to-face/high five-when you’re done/tactile contact.
jv ~ Back in the 80′s Bryan Adams would occasionally phone me from a studio somewhere, when a song needed an extra verse, or maybe a bridge section, and we’d sort it out over the phone. It was awkward, but we managed to do that a few times. More recently (2005) Bryan and I wrote three complete songs on-line. Bryan lives in London and I live in Vancouver. We emailed audio files back and forth, each of us adding an idea until we had something that sounded like a song. It took several weeks to finish each track, but the results were quite good.
ja ~ Seems to me that the need for an agent or industry contact is still there, in spite of the number of websites out there that focus on ‘helping artists make connections’ (ie: www.eSession.com – Nashville’s RowFax etc).
jv ~ I’ve tried the “song-plugger” websites, but I haven’t had any success with that. I’ve had better luck with publishers placing my songs with artists, or putting me together with artists and other writers.
ja ~ I realize that with the growth of the Internet people are generally more accessible, but I am wondering if there is a still a gap in getting songs from songwriter to the artist (or maybe ‘popular’ artists)?
jv ~ Anyone who’s ever written a song has dreamed of having it “covered”. But placing songs with artists has always been difficult. Almost impossible. There are layers and layers of people to get past: managers, producers, A&R. It’s terribly frustrating. You have to be persistent and tenacious.
I honestly believe, if your song is really good, it will eventually find a home. I have one song, called “The Right Place”, that took twenty years to get covered. Adams and I wrote it for Joe Cocker back in 1988. Joe was looking for something that sounded like Ray Charles, so we wrote the perfect song, or so we thought. We sent it to Joe’s producer, but the song was rejected. Then we thought, if it sounds that much like a Ray Charles song, then let’s send it to Ray Charles! We tried getting it to Ray — maybe he heard it, I don’t know for sure — but in the end, that didn’t work out either.
Twenty years later, when Taylor Hicks won American Idol, I heard he was looking for songs that sounded like Joe Cocker or Ray Charles. I immediately thought of “The Right Place”. My publisher sent it to Taylor’s producer, but he didn’t like the song. But a week later they changed their minds and recorded it after all. It ended up being the most requested song on Taylor’s album, and it sold nearly a million physical copies, which isn’t bad these days.
The truth is, when you decide to become a songwriter you’re signing up for decades of frustration and disappointment … not to mention paralyzing self-doubt. Of course, there are moments of exhilaration, like when you finish a song and you know it’s good, or when you finally hear your music on the radio. But for the most part it’s just plain, hard work.
ja~ Perfect – Thanks Jim!
I met Skulastic through an artist that I was working with who had just collaborated with her on a few songs (mrdc-music.com check him out). I myself had never worked on hip hop, or really knew anything about the genre, but after the first song, I actually began to think and write in hip hop (stanza’s?) – so cool and very poetic. With the perfect balance of drive and talent, I predict Skully is going to make it to the big time.
ja ~ Hi Skully, can you tell us a bit about and a bit about yourself as a singer/songwriter/MC?
s ~ Sure! I was born and raised in Vancouver BC, and moved to Nanaimo about 7 or 8 years ago. So far the only job I have been able to hold has been music, apart from that I excelled in academics (hence the name skulastic …lol) and have a business degree. I enjoy teaching and learning about everything this world has to offer.
ja ~ When did you start writing and playing and becoming serous about music?
s ~ As a child, I grew up playing classical piano. My mother is an opera singer/piano player, and her father is a piano/harmonica player, also, my dad’s father was a violin/voice instructor. So, I come from a very musically rich family.
I started to write random poetry towards the end of High-school. Someone exposed me to rhyming, bars, and flow, and I took that and my poetry, and already had a natural passion for music, so I just put it all together and went with it. I was very lost, not knowing what I was put here for, and when I discovered it was music I had this big “ahhh…that’s what I’m here for” type of moment.
ja ~ That’s awesome, I love those moments. Where are you at now in your career?
s ~ I don’t think I have even begun to scratch the surface. Right now, I’m still out to define my sound, explore my possibilities musically and what not, I want to grow as an artist, and have my listeners/fans and even critics grow with me, and vise versa.
If I could use a couple words to describe myself as a mc/producer/singer/songwriter it would be “versatile, multi-facted, and re-inventive”. Recently, I have been involved in a lot of great collaborations. I am very thankful and feel blessed to find people I mesh so well with musically. I don’t want to limit myself to just rapping, I want to involve myself in producing and song writing for other artists as well.
ja ~ Being an ‘emerging artist’ in today’s world (and female artist in your genre?), what challenges do you face or…has social media helped you solve any of those those challenges ie: remote recording etc??? Connecting?
s ~ Being a “female” pursuing hip-hop has not posed any problems at all. My take on that topic is that if the music is good, people will look past gender, race, religion or whatever it may be. I face the same challenges that everyone else in the music industry faces or has faced.
As far as working remotely, I recently started working with more out of town artists, and we do what we can, but I still think that nothing compares to working with someone in person.
ja ~ How do you find it working n the industry right now, with the sheer volume of artists out there? How do you get noticed, or is that what you want out of your musical career? Or do you do if just for you and what happens – happens?
s ~ The Hip-Hop industry is highly over-saturated. Getting noticed comes from hard-work, good music and the right marketing. I really feel all those things are essential.
ja ~ Do you feel your specific genre makes it easier for you to get out there? I mean, I lived for years on Vancouver Island and never in my wildest dreams would I have thoughts that would be a place for your hip hop to take hold! So maybe it’s a rare thing on the Island and so easier for you to be ‘one of a kind’?
s ~ On a certain level, having a good local scene can be very beneficial for up and coming artists. If the local scene digs it and you have made a name in that respect then you know you can take your music further and expand geographically. Local scene is kinda like testing the waters so to speak. Locally, I have a name established. I see no end to my music and its capabilities.
ja ~ Do you find that your business degree helps with your music career?
s ~ I’d say it does to a certain extent, some of the very basic concepts I learned in business could be applied to the music industry for sure, but on the other end of the spectrum, the music industry is so different, that I am still and always learning.
ja ~ guess that’s an important point, no matter what you ‘know’ you still have to be open to learning and changing. Thanks Skully!
Time is a funny thing. It seems like only yesterday that I was at a Trooper concert or talking to this artist’s Grandpa as he sketched in Stanley Park. Fast forward and here I am today talking with one of the lower mainland’s greatest new talents and a helluva photographer, Connor McGuire.
ja ~ Hi Connor! Thanks for participating in these interviews! To start off, can you tell us a bit about your background, your accomplishments and where you are at now in your career?
cm ~ My name’s Connor McGuire. I’m a Singer/Songwriter from White Rock BC. I’ve been writing and playing music in one form or another since I was 12. I put out a solo acoustic album when I was 19 called “Different After Dawn” and after a year of playing solo, I started a band called Connor McGuire + The Lives of Others. In the process of writing my new album, I decided to start forcing myself to write a song a week and film it. The result of the three-month process, dubbed “The Song a Week Project”, is now up on Youtube.
ja ~ And they’re great by the way, I’ve loved watching the evolution, and that is one of the reason’s I wanted to interview you, you’re fearless and I like clever!
In these interviews, I have been speaking with artists a bit about how in today’s industry, you really need to be a businessperson, marketing expert, social media pro and jack/jill-of-all-trades.
Having said that you seem to have a good grasp of all of those things! Can you talk a bit more about the project and maybe tell me, how and/or why you came up with this project ie: was this a clever marketing strategy, or was it the challenge or?
cm ~ There was no sense of impending doom before the project started. My songwriting deadlines tended to shift with how preoccupied I was doing other things. I find that if you throw the threat of public embarrassment into the mix, things tend to get done a lot quicker.
When I started the whole video part of it I was just trying to make sure I followed through. I’ve never really thought about the ‘market impact’ of it all. If people are stoked on watching it unfold then that’s an awesome byproduct. The original purpose was to scare the crap out of myself…. It worked.
ja ~ How is the project going, what have been some of the ups and downs?
cm ~ I’ve gotten stupidly frustrated with the whole thing a few times, but overall it’s gone great. I’ve always had a tendency to throw songs out before they’d actually had a chance to become anything good – my censor is always going full force. Trying to ignore the fact that I’d love to throw out most of the stuff I write made up most of the downs, but it’s always really rewarding when the song comes out good in the end.
ja ~ It’s funny some of the stuff I’ve seen thrown out, or have rescued before it hits the bin! Songwriters can be their own worst enemies I think. Have you learned anything about yourself and/or your talents during this process? Has it given you any ideas?
cm ~ I’ve learned that I’m a lot better under pressure than I thought. I’ve been thinking about doing a “Music Video a Month” project… It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
ja ~ Has this project brought you more hits/fans – how have your overall stats reacted?
cm ~ It’s definitely helped me connect with the fans I already had. People are opening up to me a lot lately. People are more willing to talk to me about the things they do and how it relates something they saw in one of the weeks. I think the project has let people know that I’m not doing anything that unusual, just working really hard doing what I love. Anyone can relate to that, songwriter or not.
ja ~ I know you told me that you have no ‘end date’ in mind for this project, how will you know or decide when it’s over?
cm ~ I’m officially done this week, week 12. I set out to get a collection of songs that I was really happy about putting on an album. I hit week 9 last week and started to feel really close. I feel like after three months of writing a song a week I’ll have explored what I needed to explore and my effort can move on to recording the album.
ja ~ Connor, from your experience so far, can you name three things you feel it is important for every ‘emerging’ artist to know, and three things that you think they should not worry so much about?
cm ~ I don’t really think I’m entirely qualified to give advice, seeing as I’m still working through it all myself, but there’s a golden rule I’ve picked up from some people who are much smarter than I am:
Believe what you do. Always. I listen to some pretty questionable music based solely on the fact that it’s passionate. With so much music to choose from, nobody has time for liars. Oh yeah, and don’t spam your mailing list, fuck that’s annoying.
ja ~ Hahaha, thanks so much Connor, can’t wait for the album! (Week 5 was my favorite).
I discovered Padma when I put out a call for artists to play at a David Suzuki event this spring. It was refreshing to see an artist out being an artist, and working tirelessly and passionately for environmental causes, without thinking of it as an ‘angle’, but more a ‘responsibility’.
ja ~ Hi Padma! First of all, thank you so much for doing this!
p ~ No worries!
ja ~ Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself, and where you are now in your career?
p ~ Sure. I’m a singer-songwriter, originally from the UK, though I move around a lot and currently live between Vancouver, the UK and Spain. I’m also a Buddhist, and a blogger. I released my first full-length album (‘Here’) on Just Music (a UK indie label) in 2008. My second album, ‘In Defense of the Wild’ is due out in August (2010). It’s a political eco-folk record – a bit Nick Drake and a bit early Bob Dylan, though with some drums and some extremely sexy Hammond organ thrown in for good measure. I’m doing it independently this time, though it will have the support of Backstage Vancouver in Canada and Trilithon Records in the UK.
ja ~ People who read this will be emerging artists all the way up to industry professionals. I value your opinions, so anything you think is helpful or info to get out there would be great – it is interesting to hear your thoughts about how in today’s industry, you really need to be a business person, marketing expert, social media pro and jack/jill-of-all-trades..can you talk a bit about all the different things you are doing… and things you have had to learn along the way?
p ~ Yes, I think it’s always been the case that if you wanted to get noticed, you had to be able to create a buzz as an artist. Previously you were trying to attract the interests of a label. Nowadays you may be trying to do that, but it’s also feasible to cut out the middle bit and just engage with your audience directly. The idea that you could just be quietly pootling away being ‘artistic’ and then be ‘discovered’ by a label that would then inject lots of money and contacts into your life and let you continue to be artistic, only now also incredibly rich and successful too, is not really how it’s ever been. Any label, manager, agent or whatever who is interested in taking on an artist wants to know that they have got it going on already, and they can then plug into that and help move it on to the next level. You can only attract them when you don’t need them anymore. Everyone in all fields is always essentially asking ‘What’s in this for me?’ – so you have to put yourself in the shoes of the person/organization you are trying to attract, and be the answer to that question.
For me, I worked hard to build a relationship with the label that eventually signed me, and I’d already done a couple of small-scale self-releases. I learned a lot from doing my first full-length release with them – there’s no way I could do this one on my own if I hadn’t already been through it with them. They brought the money, industry know-how, and understanding of the process of releasing and promoting a record properly, and I brought the music and plenty of hard work. This time I’ve done all the hard work I did last time, but I’ve also done the vast majority of the bits they did as well, and I’ve had to do it on a fraction of the budget, which has meant finding more creative ways of getting things done, and doing more of it myself. It’s been a pile of work – writing, performing, recording, mixing, pulling in session musicians, designers, mastering company, writing press releases, building websites, organizing distribution, working out the promotion plan, networking on and offline, etc, etc, etc. It’s a LOT of work and I think there will always be a role for labels/some kind of support, because there’s just so much to do. Fortunately I have a great manager and some extremely talented friends who’ve helped me out a lot.
ja ~ When I first read about you, I was happy to see that you are keen on environmental issues. Do you agree that it is the responsibility of the artist to use their voice to create positive change?
p ~ Climate change is without doubt the greatest threat that humanity has faced. You could argue that the nuclear threat in the Cold War years was comparable, but that didn’t happen in the end, and this IS happening. Many people don’t really want to take on the full force of that, but it’s true. So for me, everything else is secondary. I’m a musician, so music is my way to articulate that, as is blogging, doing interviews and so on, as well as the way I live my life day to day. I think everyone in every walk of life, artists included, have to get with the programme on this one. Playtime is over. All the old goals – fame, money, big car, big house – that time has passed. But I think this is also a great opportunity for positive change on lots of levels. If anyone out there is wondering what they’re supposed to be doing with their life, this is it! Move towards sustainability, school yourself and then school others and help them too. This is happening and we are the generation who are faced with the task. My album in fact is all about climate change, sustainability, community, reconnecting with nature, and the need for political and economic change. It’s not a preachfest though! It’s written in the first person – about how I experience it. The songs were written or conceived while I was living completely off-grid in a yurt in the Spanish mountains. So it’s got a lot to do with a love and respect for nature, as well as just trying to keep humanity going a while longer.
ja ~ As a Buddhist, how do you deal with fame and ego – or do you just ‘not’? What is your goal as a musical artist? Do you have a vision of you ever saying ‘ ah, now I’ve made it’ or is that moot.
p ~ I get asked this a lot! For me, music is my spiritual path. Everything is tied together – music, spirituality and activism. When I am on stage, it’s a spiritual practice. Being totally present and authentic and vulnerable in front of a crowd of people is not so easy. It’s much easier to ‘perform’ – to adopt a persona and act cool. But that’s not really my interest. As Morrissey once said, ‘Seals perform’. I’ve been at shows and been completely humbled by the person on stage. That’s what got me into music and that’s what I’m trying to achieve – and it’s not something you can fake. So I guess that’s my goal. That and averting environmental catastrophe. And becoming enlightened. And having fun doing it.
As for fame, I struggle to be interested in it. I wish I was more interested in it really, I think it would get me out there more! I think it depends on your motivation. For me, I would like to have as many people into my music as possible because that gives me a voice to talk about things I want to talk about. Otherwise I’m just some nutter, jibbering alone in a corner.
But becoming famous is essentially about tireless self-promotion – it’s the ‘business’ part of the music business – and that’s my least favorite part of being a musician. It’s also something that comes and goes and to cling onto that as a goal is a hiding to nothing. I know people who are becoming famous, and I’ve known people who are famous, and also people who were famous. In the end, we are all just doing our thing and living our lives, day to day. That’s how you actually experience it. You get up, have a cup of tea, brush your teeth, breathe in, breathe out. The flow of life continues and feels as normal as your life right now. I’ve been in the cool places with the free champagne and it’s fun for a treat, but as a general lifestyle you are still essentially standing, sitting, walking or lying down. Drinking, eating, sleeping. How many people are playing your CD in their bedroom, or pointing at you when you walk down the street is quite an odd way to judge whether or not what you are doing has value. I try to keep my focus on this moment. THESE are the golden years!
ja ~ Is the music business different here in Canada compared to the UK? If so how and why did you choose Canada as your ‘other’ world?
p ~ Well, I have found it remarkably easy to get into the music scene in Vancouver compared with London. I think it’s quite a bit smaller for one thing, and you’ve got (or at least had, before they cut the funding) quite a bit of support for the arts here. Music BC does an excellent job, for example, as does Backstage Vancouver, and indeed Rave On Studios keeps on popping up on my radar!
I suppose one of the things about the UK is that there are a lot more people in a much smaller place, so there is a lot more opportunity to get in front of people and perform. I’ve heard quite a few people bemoaning the lack of venues in Vancouver, and I think that’s true. Though personally, I think that a venue is essentially a room that you can fit some people into. So musicians could be making their own nights in all kinds of places.
But in the end I think the business is about people making music and trying to get it out there to people who want to hear it. How that happens is changing everywhere, on a regular basis. The music world is in a period of massive change because of the internet and the rise of digital, and that is an international phenomenon. No one’s sure where the money is coming from these days, and that’s the same everywhere!
ja ~ What music are you listening to these days?
p ~ The Canadian music I like right now are Julie Doiron, The Rural Alberta Advantage and T.Nile (who I was lucky enough to have singing on my album). Other music right now – Speech DeBelle (Speech Therapy), Arctic Monkeys (first album), Belle and Sebastian (Boy with the Arab Strap) and Emiliana Torrini (Fisherman’s Woman).
ja ~ Do you believe people can still make a living in the music industry today?
p ~ Absolutely. I know quite a few people who make a living as musicians, but it’s tough. Most people who do it combine it with producing, sessioning for big acts, teaching and such like. And they are busy all the time, hustling hustling. I don’t think I know anyone who makes their living solely from selling CDs of their own music. I think you have to decide how important making a living from it is to you compared with making the kind of music that you want, and living a lifestyle that you enjoy. If you are happy to make radio-friendly, genre-specific stuff, ideally that people can jump up and down to when drunk, and you don’t mind being on the road a lot, you can definitely make a living from music. But anyone I’ve every spoken to about being a musician says DON’T DO IT FOR THE MONEY!!!
Outside of being a musician, there are loads of opportunities to make a living in the music industry. It’s a big industry and is still worth a lot of money. But again, for the hours you put in, the money’s not great. And the better the money, the more like any other job it becomes. You can make good money being a music lawyer, for example. But you don’t spend much time listening to music.
ja ~ In the sea of artists out there now, with music so readily available, how do you create a fan base? How do you try and be seen?
p ~ Good question! Basically, not like everyone else does. That’s the only rule. Creativity is king these days. Strip naked, stand on the counter at the police station shouting “I love Padma”, while you’re friend films it. Then stick it on Youtube and issue a press release. Be sure to mention www.indefenceofthewild.com in your press release, and that the album is out in August. You could add that the CD version comes with a 16-page booklet of writings, and the dropcard is made of 100% post-consumer waste, and is embedded with wild flower seeds, so once you’ve downloaded the album, you can plant the card, water it and watch it grow! I mean, that kind of thing would be newsworthy, right?
ja ~ As an artist, what are you doing that is working, and what is something you have tried that has not worked?
p ~ I’ve noticed that what works best for me personally is to largely ignore the conventions and do my own thing. When I left the UK to go and live in the yurt, I attracted far more media interest than I did when I was gigging regularly on the scene in the UK. I was interviewed on national radio a couple of times and played a couple of sessions. It was an odd experience being flown into London after living such a quiet remote life, then being picked up by a BBC car and driven to a plush studio where everyone was very nice to me. All the while I stank of woodsmoke and my pocket had a hole in it from where the mice had chewed through to get to the candy I left in there. My life is often this weird mix of opposites!
So I think staying true to yourself is really important. No one is interested that you can be a musician just as well as all the other musicians out there. They want to see who you really are.
What hasn’t worked? I’d say leaving it up to other people. In the end this is my ride and I have to take responsibility for making it work. Sure I can get help from others, but I’ve found that leaving things up to ‘the professionals’ does not reap the rewards you think it will. You know you best. Learn from the wise and experienced, but don’t just leave them to it and trust that everything will go according to the plan you have in your head. You are the only one who has access to your head.
ja ~ What is your greatest joy?
p ~ A spring day at the yurt, when the chores have been done and you can just sit there all afternoon, communing with the universe.
ja ~ Do you have anything to share with up and coming artists, or music professionals etc, based on your experiences, that would be helpful? ie: on the road, live shows, in the studio…
p ~ One thing I’d recommend is BE NICE. I’ve met a lot of really friendly, positive people in the music industry. I’ve also met a fair few who seem to think that the way to be taken seriously as a rock n roll rebel on the way to stardom is to be a complete asshole. But that’s not how it is at all. People like working with nice people. And you will need a lot of people’s help between where you are now and fame and fortune. Most of the famous musicians I’ve met have been really nice people. I don’t know where the asshole musician myth came from, but we should collectively take it round the back and shoot it.
The other bit of advice I heard recently that I thought was good was ‘If your plan for success depends on you being discovered, it probably won’t work’. Making a career in music takes a lot of work over a period of time. If you are the exception to the rule, great! But don’t make that your plan. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun, by the way. If it’s the right thing for you, it doesn’t really feel like work.
ja ~ Thank you so much Padma, great interview!
If you are my age (ahem), and grew up in the lower mainland, you may have heard this man on the radio. I feel fortunate to know him as an industry colleague all these years later. He’s been around the block, so take it as gold people.
ja ~ Hi Paul, first let me thank you so much for taking the time for this interview, I know how busy you are these days! Can you tell us a bit about your background, and maybe your biggest accomplishment to date?
pl ~ Hi Jenn, thanks and sure!
I grew up like a lot of musicians do, playing top 40 in the bars when I was a teenager, and aspiring to do something bigger with my music.
I worked very hard as a young man, to write my own songs and take a shot a getting a record deal.
It eventually paid off and I was signed by Elektra and picked up by Bruce Allen Talent. Because of this, I managed to negotiate producer Bruce Fairbairn to do my record. We struck up a lasting friendship after that and he invited me to sing on a lot of albums that he produced.
After my album was finished I went on to tour with a lot of my hero’s…Bryan Adams, Joan Jett, Joe Satriani, Richard Marx etc…After that, I left Bruce Allen and Elektra and joined DangerDanger (Sony) and made 5 records with them.
I would probably have to say my biggest accomplishment, besides raising a family, would be taking a chance at a music career and having it pay off. It allowed a kid who came from nothing, a chance at seeing the world.
ja ~ Where are you at now in your career?
pl ~ I came off my last tour in 2004,and opened a studio in Vancouver. I now write and produce for other artists.
ja ~ Has the change in the industry affected you or the way you work in any way? More Internet collaboration etc, has the Internet brought you work?
pl ~ The Internet affected every recording artist from my generation substantially…obviously the loss of revenue was staggering to everyone, and record labels were unprepared to deal with the coming storm.
Suddenly all music was available for free. Lower level artists who were earning enough money and had promise to make more, were all of a sudden dropped, because financially, it made no sense for the label to keep developing them…and of course the bigger artists felt the squeeze too, and it meant that the majority of their revenue would rely upon live shows. Thus the birth of the 360 deal….
ja ~ speaking of the changes in the biz, do you see anything from where you sit, that is missing these days? Any integral part that needs to be brought back?
pl ~ I would love to see a label that had the balls to develop an artist or band over the long haul. I fear that there will be no more acts that have the chance to become the next Beatles, The Who, Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin etc., because labels are concentrating now more on just producing singles and it has become more of a “Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks” kind of attitude.
ja ~ True, yep. Given your vast experience in this industry, do you have anything to share with up and coming artists, producers etc. that would be helpful? ie: on the road, live shows, in the studio .
pl ~ Yes – Preparation is everything! Prepare before you go into the studio. “The Magic” only happens when you have enough of a vision to see it through. What I mean is, hear your song, record, E.P., whatever…and put it up against your peers…is it good enough? Have you spent enough time crafting those songs before you book the studio? Did you spend the time finding the right studio, engineer, and producer to bring your work to its full potential?
If you do all of this, then recording your songs will become a very enjoyable experience, if not it becomes a money wasting bad experience.
When it comes to Live Shows and touring, the way you market is crucial these days…I came up with a saying when I was young that I lived by for a long time. That was:
“Look at what every one else is doing, and then don’t do it!”.
And who I mean by “everyone” is the average joe musician who is out there slogging it away on the indie circut, or top 40,whatever. For the most part, these endeavors end up at the same plateau and never go any further. Unrealized dreams are sometimes the hardest thing to swallow, and even harder when you know that they died by your own hand.
Take the time to find out what successful indie and major bands are doing to market their product. Throw yourself against those kind of peers. You don’t have to learn every lesson the hard way…and review where you are at on a weekly, even daily basis. Monitor your successes and build on them. Analyze the things that didn’t work. Re-invent the way that you do things. A lot of creative people shy away from a business mind, but these days it’s quintessential to success.
Its funny, but there is a sense of irony here as well. The most creative people in the Business world are also the most successful. Apply your creativity to your business and marketing strategy and you just might have fun managing the other side of your career.
ja ~ Excellent advice Paul. Having said that, do you believe people can still make a living in the music industry today? In what part – as an artist? Producer, Manager?
pl ~ Of course, yes. But of course you have to be willing to take on the new challenges that face you in today’s market. You must have a true passion for this business, because it can be a long road until you make the kind of money that you deserve for the effort you put in. The exciting thing about today’s industry is that we are on the verge of the new model….the new way in which we are going to do business. When you think about it from that perspective, it’s a pretty exciting time.
ja ~ Agreed! Do you have one defining moment that changed the way you work?
pl ~ Certainly…the first time I stepped into a studio with Bruce Fairbairn…it changed the way I thought about recording.
ja ~ Aha! So many people would wish for a moment like that! And I have been asking artists, now or then, did you ever have a fight with ‘ego’? And if so how did you deal with it? I know you as a very grounded person.
pl ~ Not really too much…there are so many great writers, engineers and producers out there, it keeps you learning a thing or two about humility.
ja ~ Anything else at all you would like to get out there? The floor is yours, and I really appreciate anything you have to say or advice you can give. People reading this will be new artists as well as industry professionals.
pl ~ Sure! I would like to say to people, learn to love all sides of this business and stay current!! If you’re a writer…spend time discovering new writers and yet still learn from the classics, they always become new again if listened to with the right ‘ear’.
If you’re an engineer, learn from the Greats! Remember that the art of recording is still about the source, your ear and a few good pieces of gear…no plug-in is going to make your recording better and there is no such thing as fixing it in the mix!! Try to not rely on auto tuning plugins too much…work the artist to get the best performance and you will be happier later…Don’t be afraid to try something new, no matter how crazy you think it is…experiment, then you too may become a maverick in your field!
If you’re a manager, love your artist as a partner in your own business endeavors, and undying faith will get you both where you want to be…
ja ~ Thank you again Paul, every time we chat I feel as if should take notes, and this time I did. Brilliant.
We’ve just begun our second album project with Troye and I can’t think how many times I have praised him and his work! He’s a real pro and is a joy to work with, just ask Mr. Mellencamp or Corey Cox.
This guy is one busy musician, but I was lucky enough to grab him coming out of Nashville sessions for a quick bit of advice for ‘up and comers’.
ja ~ Troye! I know you don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to chat with you about the music business and your experiences in it. First, can you tell us a bit about your music background?
tk ~ Hi Jenn, sure thing. My background is in music theory. Not so much classical, but how it’s used in jazz, pop, and rock songs.
Understanding scales and chords really got me past just reading music and took me more down a path of playing by ear and coming up with my own arrangements.
I took piano lessons from age 8, but by the time I was 11 or 12 I was noticing how chord extensions worked. My teacher didn’t teach me how to build chords, but did teach scales. For example, I would read some sheet music of a pop song that would have chord symbols and I remember seeing a Bb13sus4. I had no idea what that meant, but I played the notes that were written out on the sheet music and noticed the extensions from the Bb major scale. I loved the sound of that chord so much, I started transposing it to hear it in different keys!
Some people get “bitten by the bug” and dive into a certain artist or transcribe solos or whatever, but for me, it was understanding chords and scales.
ja ~ I have been talking to artists about wearing a lot of different hats these days, where in the past a label would take on all the work, and now it is up to the individual artist. Are you a jack-of-all-trades?
tk ~ Yes, Jack-of-all trades and master of one! I’m really just a piano player, but that has led to audio engineering, composing, singing and arranging background vocals, playing organ and accordion.
Whenever a young musician asks me about the biz, I make sure to let them know how flexible they will need to be. Yesterday I had to learn (re-learn) Bohemian Rhapsody to play with a violin soloist. Tonight I am playing with a country artist, and my next project is to chart some jazz tunes. I love all kinds of music, so being a session player is great for me. I would get bored with just playing one genre.
And yes, marketing is important, but that can be part of every gig you do. For example, if you get a call to play with a band, be a pro by being prepared, and then perform your best. You’ll meet other musicians that will notice how professional you are and will call you again, that’s easy marketing. Try to really listen and play what’s appropriate for the artist. If you can change styles by the way you play and the sounds you use, your chances of getting work will increase.
ja ~ I know the Internet has changed the music business in lots of negative ways, but is lots of positive ways as well. For example we work very well together over long distance, can you maybe talk a bit about working over the Net and add some key points that can make it successful?
tk ~ Yes, thanks to the Internet collaborations are now happening all over the world and it makes clear communication is more important than ever. You have to have a good understanding of what the artist wants. Having some musical references is a good idea since you’ll be working in separate rooms. For me, I’ll listen to the references, but always add something of my own. If I get an idea that takes me down a little different path, I’ll go with it. Fortunately, even if I think I’ve gone too far, I’ll send it off and usually get an overwhelming approval! Even if you have to redo something and dial it back a notch, the artist or producer will appreciate that you are invested in the project.
ja ~ Ok, now for emerging artists, do you have any advice on working in the industry today, new strengths that would be beneficial, it’s not like the old system where you just go out and play sessions or with your band and that’s it. I wonder if young people today even have that ‘rock star’ dream, or if their expectations are different?
tk ~ The “Rock Star Dream” has changed because of technology. We used to look at liner notes and wonder what these band members were like, and now we download songs, and if we want to see the band, we’ll go to our phones and see them in action, either in a playing situation or not.
My advice for a young artist would be to always bring your “A” game. Just because you don’t have a record company coming to a gig on a certain night doesn’t mean that someone won’t record your performance and let the rest of the world see!
ja ~ Ah so true! Not only their ‘A’ game, but their professionalism, even when starting out, I have seen and heard of some things new bands have done, and I know there will probably be some regret down the road. And speaking of new and young bands, do you have any tour or advice from the road? I think you are one of the busiest artists I know, and have a really busy road schedule!
tk ~ Haha yes!
As far touring tips I would say, don’t get ‘numb’ or ‘complacent’ when you play shows night after night. Remember that the people out there probably bought their tickets weeks ago and are expecting to see a concert, not just a band. You left home for a reason, don’t get distracted and make each show special.
ja ~ Wow, yes, ‘ You left home for a reason’, that’s a really good line, and great advice. Thanks for your time on this Troye, I know you’re busy!
I was fortunate to grow up on the west coast at a time when there was always folk music being played, everywhere. I can’t remember my earliest memory of this artist, but I do know that most recently she donated a song to our 4th volume of the Very Vancouver Christmas album, in support of the SPCA, last winter. Shari Ulrich has heart….but I already knew that!
ja ~ Hi Shari, first of all thank you so much for doing this! I am speaking with lots of artists and industry professionals, trying to get some advice for up and comers. It really tough negotiating your way around the industry these days, but I know there is solid advice out there, that still holds true; so in stating that maybe let’s start with how the changes in the music business have affected you as an artist personally?
su~ For me, it’s a pretty graphic change, since I started in the world of the record labels as the gate keepers, and album recording only being done in expensive studios (hence he reliance on the pockets of the record labels to be a recording artist). On one hand, it’s given me direct access to my audience, and potential audience, as it has every artist. And with the concurrent advancements in recording technology, it has removed the need for the funding from the record label to make it possible to record. So in many ways, the effect has been very positive. It puts all the power in the hands of the artist.
The downside is – EVERYONE can make an album so the market is flooded with vanity projects, and I DO long for the days when I had a record label looking after all the promotion. Despite the access to the world via the Internet, it’s a full time job positioning ourselves to be heard and discovered. So much of my time goes into business and away from the creative side.
ja ~ That’s true it takes a LOT of time, especially to get the ball rolling. I guess you really DO need to be a businessperson, marketing expert, social media pro and jack/jill-of-all-trades..can you talk a bit about all the different things you are doing… and things you have had to learn along the way?
su ~ I’m not crazy about the pressure that we all face to be enrolled / registered/ and ‘membered up’ on every on line music promotion site. But I do think the empowerment of artists to create their own careers is a positive thing. I’m just kind of weary of the relentlessness of the maintenance of the promotion and booking machine. So all that has been a necessary learning curve. The aspect I most enjoy is all I’ve learned about recording along the way and the ability to have full creative control in the comfort of my own home.
ja ~ I know you have just released your new album, do you have distribution or are you doing it all on your own?
su ~ I have distribution, but it doesn’t come with the almighty promotional machine. So yes – I’m doing it all on my own.
ja ~ Speaking of the changes in the biz, do you see anything from where you sit, that is missing these days? I’ve been asking artists if they see any integral part that needs to be brought back by any arm of the industry from agents/venues to musicians etc? I guess I want to say, in this Internet music age – what are we forgetting?
su ~ In some ways, I miss the “gate keepers” because it created a natural selection that made more room for the cream to rise to the top. But of course, along with that were a lot of parameters about who was chosen that was only about money. And it’s been proven that the promo “machine” can pretty much make ANYONE a household word.
On another note, I’m still a huge believer in live performance being the heart of music. And for recording, I still favor the delivery system being physical as well as virtual – that the full artistic expression having a visual component is a formidable “value added” asset for both consumer and artist.
ja ~ Do you have anything to share with up and coming artists, producers etc, based on your experiences that would be helpful? i.e.: on the road, live shows, in the studio…
su ~ Wow….BIG question! How to simplify…
Be yourself – that’s your biggest asset – no one else has your voice – literally and artistically.
Being in tune cannot be overrated.
Talk to your audience and open your eyes. Otherwise you render them just voyeurs to your experience and you break the circle that can be created in live performance. Otherwise, just sell them a CD and go home.
ja ~ Oh that’s a good one, yes, it’s the audience connection that makes all the difference. In the sea of talent out there now, how can a person build a face-to- face fan base?
su ~ One face at a time – in person.
ja ~ Do you have one defining moment that changed the way you work?
su ~ My formative years were spent playing with Pied Pumkin, which was all about spontaneity and the joy of making music. That set me on a path of understanding the importance of being in the moment while performing, and the importance of the audience having a fully enjoyable experience.
ja ~ What music are you listening to these days? And what do you think about Vinyl trying to make a ‘come back’?
su ~ My latest fave is The Weepies.
I understand the charm of vinyl – having been raised on it myself and being a recording artist who started out when there was ONLY vinyl. Having the bigger canvas for the artwork was great. BUT, it IS an inferior medium for archiving a musical performance, degrades easily, and is certainly a step back ecologically.
ja~ Thank you so much Shari for the chat, loads of good and important insight here! And thank you for your music, it means a lot.
I was just starting university in the early 90′s when this artist’s career took off – literally. Not sure what else to say, but here he is, a few years later, making me a fan all over again, but this time it’s not just the man and the voice, it’s the toys that I can relate to! Here he is folks Superman himself ~
ja ~ Hey Brad, first of all thanks for taking the time to do this! Most people in Canadian music will know who you are, and can read your bio, but for something different and a little more personal can you start by telling us a bit about your background, “waaay” back?
br ~ Yes, I’d love to. My grandfather, Phillip Crook, (my mother’s side) played the accordion. He carried it EVERYWHERE during WWII, which is no small task. My other grandfather Jim Roberts (my father’s side) played two mouth organs simultaneously; his wife, Maude, played piano; and Maude’s sister Evelyn, the mandolin. The three of them used to drink gin and stay up all night singing, much as I would many years later.
My father, Norm Roberts, taught me to play piano, and my mother, Eunice, was a born singer, and has perfect pitch. So yes, music goes “waaaay” back in my family.
ja ~ Yes, I’d say it’s in your blood! Jumping ahead now, and completely changing the subject as I am wont to do – have the changes in the music business affected you as an artist?
br ~ The change in the music business has affected everyone as an artist. I don’t mean to sound glib, but that’s just the way it is.
ja ~ Yes, duh, silly question – but regarding the changes in the business, do you see anything from where you sit that is perhaps missing these days? I’ve been asking folks who have been in the industry for a while if they see or feel any integral part that needs to be brought back, by any arm of the industry from agents/venues to musicians etc? I guess I want to say, in this Internet music age – what are we forgetting?
br ~ I think that the longer musicians can’t feed themselves playing music – primarily because of file-sharing – then they will stop writing music. Recording artists can no longer rely on the intellectual copyright laws that once protected them. These laws may have worked well in the days of music books and vinyl, but they don’t begin to cover the Internet and it’s implications on publishing royalties.
ja ~ Well put, we really don’t have much protection out there right now. The Internet is a big place.
Given your vast experience over the past 20 or so years, do you have anything to share with up and coming artists, producers etc., which would be helpful? ie: on the road, live shows, in the studio…
br ~ The most important advice I can give to anyone is remember that your best bet to make money is by touring and selling t-shirts. T-shirts have a good mark up – much more so than CD’s. And the experience of a live show is not downloadable. However, even here, many bands are glutting the market with touring for this very reason, and consumers don’t want to spend their entire entertainment budget on what can be costly concerts. Cleary there are many variables.
ja ~ T-shirts ok (and please gang no more black t’s – creativity sells!) In the sea of talent out there now, how do you think an artist can build a fan base? Or do you even think it’s necessary, to have a live audience fan base?
br ~ The only way to build a face-to-face fan base is the old fashioned way: go out into the world and play for them, face-to-face.
ja ~ Do you have one defining moment that changed the way you work?
br ~ When I saw that I could not make a living doing music, I reprioritized everything, including how I work. This meant the following change: unless I could make a record for no money down, I couldn’t work.
ja ~ That will be hard to hear for a lot of new artists – but true.
I read on your blog about ‘truck stop yoga’, I am always searching for advice on staying healthy on the road, can you give us the run down on your yoga and any other health advice?
br ~ I invented truck stop yoga on two simple premises. One is that if you keep your back to the wall while doing the poses, no one can sneak up on you from behind, so you can’t get sucker-punched or buggered. (These are real concerns!)
The other is to take postures that involve opening up as many parts of the body as possible: hips, chest, shoulders, back, hamstrings, etc. While some poses are very focused on opening up one specific part of the body, other poses aim to really give the whole body a deep stretch in one feel swoop. I look for those poses.
The easiest one is to stand with your back to the wall, take your legs wide, link your hands behind your back, and, folding forward, bring your outstretched arms with you as you go.
ja ~ Hahaha – back to the wall got it. Ok and on a lighter note: what music are you listening to these days?
br ~ Beethoven’s late string quartets. Very pretentious, I know. But I love that shit.
ja ~ Is the new album going to be released on vinyl?
br ~ I wish! Too expensive for my little operation.
ja ~ Brad did you know that you can hook up your twitter and facebook accounts so you only need to write in one place and it updates the other? (I’ve noticed you’re low on tweets!) How do you like all of this social media?
br ~ I suck at social networking, but I try. I’m on facebook and twitter. I also do a blog for my website.
ja ~ Well you’re looking great these days, stop over if you like when you’re in Vancouver this October and thanks for the little chat – I love the new album!
br ~ No Jenn, thank YOU! Great questions. Hope I gave you what you need.