Category Archives: Music

THE EUROPEAN CLUB CIRCUIT

After decades performing and recording in Southern California, guitarist-songwriter Jack Rivera has lately been jetting back and forth to Europe for small tours, club dates and festivals. Without a manager, a label or a touring band, Rivera has succeeded in cobbling together small tours as a solo artist and backing other musicians, relying on friendships (many through social media) and the fellowship of like-minded souls.

Starting out as a drummer for Los Angeles punk band the Stains while a young teenager in the early ‘80s, Rivera soon switched to guitar and was a member of popular ‘60s throwback band the Crawdaddys. He later formed R&B-influenced the Berry Pickers, and several bands followed, keeping him busy steadily performing and recording in Southern California ever since. But, starting in 2012, restlessness influenced his decision to look across the pond for new opportunities.

Music Connection: What brought about your first trip to Europe?
Jack Rivera: In 2012, I went to perform in England for the first time under my own name. That happened via MySpace, which was a major network for musicians at the time. I had a band called the Great Americans, and we had some tunes on MySpace. I became friends on the site with a British musician named Lance Hazelwood, and he offered to help me put a band together over there and book some gigs. I realized it was a good selling point for me not to bring a band, so I let it be known that I’d be like Chuck Berry––a guy showing up with a guitar.

MC: Did you audition any of these musicians online before going to England?
Rivera: No, just blind faith! I knew we were on the same page musically. I did research some of them on YouTube. It all worked out fine. We played eight or nine small club shows in and around London over two weeks. I played the Alley Cat, which is a club in the basement of what used to be Regent Sound, where the Rolling Stones recorded their first record! That alone was worth the trip!

MC: What promotion did Hazelwood provide? Did he act as your manager?
Rivera: He did what bands do—Facebook, flyers, phone calls. He wasn’t a manager; he was acting as a fellow musician and fan.

MC: How did you fund the trip?
Rivera: One of the clubs put up half of my airfare. We just did the usual band thing of staying where we could, getting around on our own. We were provided with some meals at the clubs, and drinks. I ended up with enough money to pay the band and came back with a little bit of dough.

MC: When was your next trip to Europe?
Rivera: In 2013, my friend Michael Rummans from the Sloths, a legendary ‘60s garage band, asked me to go over to Spain and play guitar with the Sloths for the Purple Weekend Festival, which is an annual Mod/’60s rock festival in Leon. For the festival, we were completely taken care of—hotel, dinner before the show, transportation. That wasn’t a solo gig for me, and again I came back with some money.
It was then that I met Konstan Chao, the promoter of the festival. He knew of me from the Crawdaddys, who were big in Spain, as well as Italy and Germany. The ‘60s garage rock thing is actually more popular over there than punk. He invited me to play the festival the next year.

Sometimes it’s difficult to get money in advance out of promoters, but he sent me a plane ticket, put me up in a hotel. So in 2014, I played the festival and he booked a solo tour  with an incredible band from Spain called the Limboos. I had stayed in touch with a bunch of Spanish kids I had met the year before, and they offered to back me up. We toured clubs all over Spain. We were staying in hotels, had enough money for meals, and to pay the band. Once again, I came back home with some dough.

Huka Entertainment runs four annual gatherings

I discovered live music at a young age. My first experience was Eric Clapton around 1983. I was addicted right out the gate.

Naturally, I wanted to get paid to be around music, so I worked in retail and did the college radio thing. One summer, I interned for a young man at Mercury Records who got paid to call radio stations and convince them to play his artists. I thought that was the coolest job in the world.

Riding Waves
[My mentor] said, “Pick five places you’re willing to live and write to the record companies and radio stations every week and eventually somebody will take your call.” Sure enough, the head of BMG in San Francisco saw on my resume I was a surfer. After about the 10th week, he took my call. He said, “Call me every week, we can talk about waves for a minute or two and when a mailroom job opens up I’ll give you a shot.”

Online Frontiers
I spent seven years working for record companies. After doing regional marketing plans and working to break artists at the ground level, I was offered the opportunity to head up the digital division. I moved to NY and found myself in what was the beginning of marketing online. It got my heart racing to think about how bands could better communicate with their fans.

I wound up on the programming side, because in ’97, when you were building web assets for artists to reach fans online, you were a video producer, an audio producer, a writer and an editor all in one. A bunch of us jumped to AOL and amassed an audience of 30 million fans.

Always-Connected Brands
I was hired to build an online strategy for Clear Channel, which is now iHeartMedia. I always appreciated the power of radio and thought there was a tremendous opportunity for radio to continue that relationship through the digital space. Giving listeners an opportunity to stay connected to their brands during the day made a lot of sense. We developed the strategy

and created the iHeartRadio app. I believe we forever changed the way radio is perceived, because radio is no longer about one exclusive delivery—it’s about the strength of the brand.

Location, Location
I was finishing my time at iHeart and thinking about what excited me. I met a guy named A.J. Niland through an industry friend. He had his eyes wide open to expand and was looking for a partner who could help him grow.

What makes our approach special is the destination locations we choose. We have three festivals right now. Our festival in New Orleans, called BUKU, is right on the water at Mardi Gras World, where the floats are built. That’s a pretty cool location to experience music. People have been vacationing on Florida’s beaches
for some time. To go to Ft. Lauderdale and have the biggest names in country performing while your feet are in the sand is pretty special. The same goes for our site in British Columbia [for Pemberton Music Festival]. It’s absolutely breathtaking. We’re sitting there in July on several hundred-acre fields looking at snow- capped mountains while we have 100 artists performing. It’s a unique experience to have a festival in such an amazing surrounding.

VIDEO ON A TINY BUDGET TIPS

No music-maker can afford to neglect the value and power of music video in today’s music world. Artists are making new fans and are even being discovered by major-label A&R scouts thanks to videos posted online. No one understands this field better than artist Ari Herstand, and he shares his hands-on, real-world knowledge with you in the following excerpt from his best selling new book, How To Make It in the New Music Business: Practical Tips on Building a Loyal Following and Making a Living as a Musician.

“Most of the time if you do a video, unless it’s a Kanye West video or something, it doesn’t have a real shoot. You scrape together a little bit of money and go out and do something.” – BEN FOLDS

It’s hard to look good on camera. And it has nothing to do with your looks. The act of lip syncing (and acting on cue) is incredibly unnatural. But then again, so is performing onstage in front of a bunch of people. It takes practice to get good at it. Whether you’re creating a $200,000 music video with a cast and crew of 150 union members or a $100 music video shot by your roommate with a cast and crew of your girlfriend, brother and mom, there are some key components that every video needs in order to meet today’s professional standards. You don’t need a ton of money these days to make a great-looking video. All you need is a great concept, people who know what they’re doing, a little bit of gear and lots of time.

The Concept
An inexpensive creative concept will perform better than a high-priced paint-by-numbers music video every time. So get creative. Obviously, if you’re making a video for an intimate piano ballad, you aren’t going to go skydiving for it. The concept, as creative as it may be, should match the song’s vibe, energy and feel. The purpose of a music video is to enhance the song. Not detract from it. A super creative video (that perfectly complements the song) is how you go viral. And it doesn’t need to be expensive. OK Go were the first to prove this with their “Here It Goes Again” music video back in 2006. The video, which got over 50 million views, helped propel the single to the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The video cost very little. It was shot with a single, stationary camera and had no cuts. No edits. The band did a choreographed dance on six treadmills. It matched the tone of the song (and band) perfectly.

Gotye exploded because of his creative, body-paint, stop-motion video for “Somebody That I Used To Know.” Sia’s near one-take video for “Chandelier” featured an uber-creepy, wildly talented and super captivating dancing 11-year-old girl. Kina Grannis spent over a year making her jelly-bean–themed stop motion video for “In Your Arms.” Black Keys’ “Lonely Boy” video is a single-take shot of a boisterous dancing businessman. Oren Lavie’s “Her Morning Elegance” video is a single-angle shot of a bed while the sleeping protagonist gracefully explores pillow adventures through fantastical wonderlands, all by the magic of stop motion photography.

These videos were all created on a relatively low budget. But this takes convincing very talented people to work hours upon hours for free or very little. So, getting the right crew is crucial. To help generate inspiration and focus your creative direction, make a list of music videos you love that don’t look too expensive.

The Crew
Hollywood has special titles for every single person who works on a film set, from Best Boy and Grip to 2nd AD and PA. Two minutes of network television could take six hours and 100 people to create. Your music video doesn’t need fancy titles or craft services to be great. You need a dedicated crew of passionate people who all believe in the success of the video. For most of your early videos, you will wear most of the hats, but you will need at least a few people to help out. Learn as much as you can, though, so you can be as independent as possible.

Experience with voice maladies

Many years ago, that was a question I had, because I suffered with severe vocal problems. When this was occurring, it was when I was only doing a few sets per month of about 45 minutes in length. I didn’t think that was very much time, so I should not have been losing my voice, getting hoarse or having pain in my throat after a show. I knew in my heart that if this continued, I could never expect to tour or even do more than one show in a week! You see, after each show I would not even be able to speak the next day, let alone sing.

I was so frustrated that I began looking for help in any place I could. I went to many different vocal coaches, but none seemed able to even identify the problems I was experiencing. They couldn’t give me anything to correct it.

As fate would have it, I happened to stumble upon a seminar on vocal health that was offered by an ear, nose and throat doctor in Beverly Hills, CA. It was a free seminar, and since I was desperate, I thought it might be a good idea to attend. The expert was Dr. David Alessi. He told us that he was doing this because he had worked with so many stars in music, acting and public speaking and saw first-hand the devastation that poor vocal habits could inflict on the voice—and these can end careers if they are not corrected.

At this point, I had begun to discover many things about the physiology of the voice, or how the voice is supposed to work. I struck up a conversation with Dr. Alessi, who was impressed enough with my knowledge to offer to take me even further. He began to refer some of his patients to me who had experienced vocal damage and were in need of rehabilitation. Most times, the vocal problems could be corrected with surgery or drugs, but those solutions might only be temporary if the patient does not change the vocal habits that caused the problem in the first place.

When a new client came from Dr. Alessi, they would come with a letter that described their condition. The letters were written in medical terminology, which I did not understand at all. Now this was well before the resources we have now on the Internet, so I had to go to the library to research these terms so that I could understand them and come up with an individual plan for each client.

One day, I received a client from the doctor who had been diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia. I had someone in front of me who had completely lost their voice and could not speak. Now the real work began. I wanted to know how to rejuvenate the voice and keep it healthy.

Performing locally for years when a chance encounter

She landed a blind audition on Season 10 of NBC’s The Voice. The then 17-year-old blew away the judges with her folk-tinged version of Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Indeed, she had the honor of performing songs from some of her greatest inspirations, including Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Jeff Buckley. That got her to the 11th spot of the season before exiting the show.

But, instead of taking advantage of her newfound celebrity and moving to Los Angeles or New York, Keener returned to her small community and began to organically cultivate her fan base. A true DIY move.

Read More: New Music Critique: Emily Keener

Teaming up with local producer Dalton Brand, instead of a Hollywood hit-maker, allowed her to stay true to her roots as she recorded, co-produced and released her album Breakfast in November of 2016.

With the help of a PR firm, but no management or agent, Keener has since gone on to sell out shows in the Midwest and has begun to venture even farther, playing shows in larger cities such as Los Angeles and Nashville.

As she gears up for more self-booked tours in 2017, Keener will be rolling out self-produced and self-funded music videos to keep that organic momentum flowing.

At this point, I had begun to discover many things about the physiology of the voice, or how the voice is supposed to work. I struck up a conversation with Dr. Alessi, who was impressed enough with my knowledge to offer to take me even further. He began to refer some of his patients to me who had experienced vocal damage and were in need of rehabilitation. Most times, the vocal problems could be corrected with surgery or drugs, but those solutions might only be temporary if the patient does not change the vocal habits that caused the problem in the first place.

When a new client came from Dr. Alessi, they would come with a letter that described their condition. The letters were written in medical terminology, which I did not understand at all. Now this was well before the resources we have now on the Internet, so I had to go to the library to research these terms so that I could understand them and come up with an individual plan for each client.

THE BRAVE NEW WORLD OF ARTIST MANAGEMENT

As the traditional music business has given way to the “new music business,” artist management has changed dramatically. Traditionally, a manager developed an artist for a record deal and, once signed, managed the relationship between artist and label. The label itself managed marketing, promotions, distribution, etc. But, given the state of the industry today, an unsigned artist may never sign a record deal and labels don’t always provide the services needed. As such, management’s role has evolved accordingly. Today the modern manager needs to do much more. Managers must not only be Internet savvy and entrepreneurial in spirit, but visionaries, too. To see how this is playing out, Music Connectioncontacted four successful managers to get their opinions on their expanded roles. Additionally, we talked with a prominent music attorney to see if there are issues, in this new music ecosystem, that everyone should know about.

Established by Grammy-nominated songwriter, producer and musician Martin Kierszenbaum, Cherrytree Music is an artist management firm, publisher and record label. The management roster includes renowned superstar Sting, Grammy-winning mixer Robert Orton, Platinum songwriters/producers Michael Einziger and Fernando Garibay and Tex-Mex/Country sensation, the Last Bandoleros. Over the last decade, Cherrytree Records has sold over 171 million singles, 33 million albums and received 31 Grammy nominations while launching the careers and music of maverick artists such as Lady Gaga, Feist, LMFAO, La Roux, Far East Movement and more.

What changes in management have you noticed over the years?
The music business is dynamic…it’s always changing, as is management’s role. Today, a manager is not simply a liaison between the artist and label––it’s a full-service job where we often function like a label. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the basic partnership between managers and artists.

How important are strategic partnerships with brands and other companies?
The right partnership can offer many options for the delivery, promotion and consumption of music. There are new platforms launched almost weekly, and managers must keep on top of that. Partnering with a brand can create new methods of expression, and tap into the cultural aspects of music.

How has the Internet changed management’s role?
The Internet is a double-edged sword. For the first time in history artists can record, self-publish and distribute their songs without label help. That’s a revolutionary change. The downside is that the Internet has enabled people to not pay for intellectual property.

How has management responded to the decrease in record sales?
We used to make way more money from sales. Now, it’s incumbent upon managers to generate income from a variety of sources. Multiple income streams are the name of the game today.

What sort of artist do you like to work with?
I like to work with artists who have an authentic vision and something to say. When I first worked with Lady Gaga, no one got her. But, I didn’t care, I followed my gut and it turned out great. I learned you can’t worry about what lane it’s in or who likes it.

The recording business looks robust of The chainsmokers

Music Connection’s annual Recording Studio Survey collects data regarding trends and activities at commercial recording studios in the United States. We survey studio owners and managers across the country, including those from major music towns. This year, almost 90 studios responded to our survey, with most reporting great news for 2017. In fact, the recording business looks robust. Indeed, the tumultuous years many studios endured appear to be over.

STUDIO BUSINESS LOOKS GREAT FOR 2017
After years of struggle, the recording studio business began picking up a few years ago and now, in 2017, it is thriving. Indeed, 66% of all the studios that responded reported an increase in business. That is the biggest increase we’ve seen since Music Connection started doing this survey.
Although recording budgets don’t match the heady days of the ‘80s and ‘90s, they are picking up and getting close to what they used to be. In fact, for the second year in a row our survey respondents noted that recording budgets are increasing! That’s a godsend for studios, especially those that rely on label work. Additionally, major labels are booking more time, while independent projects have increased, surpassing indie label work.
Due to the tremendous amount of competition in the marketplace, the need for professional and polished productions continues to be at an all-time high. Artists and producers have learned that high-quality productions get the deals, and the only way to get the quality you need to compete is in a professional setting.
Our survey shows how the turnaround that began a few years ago is gaining momentum. In fact, only a few (.04%) small studios reported a downturn in business. Overall, this year’s survey indicates that the studio business is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

LIGHTING UP WITH A NUMBER ONE DUO

This is high season for the Chainsmokers. The duo of Alex Pall and Andrew “Drew” Taggart is steamrolling through a vastly successful tour complete with a massive stage set––12 trucks, seven busses, 100,000 lbs. of lighting fixtures and an elevator with a DJ booth. The 2017 Grammy winners, whose ”Don’t Let Me Down” featuring Daya took honors for Best Dance Recording, are ruling the airwaves with singles like “Closer” and “Paris” from their No. 1 collection Memories…Do Not Open.

On this afternoon, one day after the duo took home Billboard Awards for Top Dance/Electronic Artist, Top Dance Song, Hot 100 Song and Collaboration (for “Closer”)––in addition to performing “Young” on the show––Andrew “Drew” Taggart sounds energized and effortless as he calls in for this exclusive Music Connection interview. He begins by expressing his appreciation for an opportunity to talk to a music publication on the subject of music. “Sometimes,” he wryly notes, “people want to talk about other things.”

Music Connection: We have been reading reviews from the different cities you are visiting on this epic Memories…Do Not Open Tour that is taking you across the U.S. and around the world. It sounds as if audiences are really getting off on the spectacle that you are presenting.

Andrew “Drew” Taggart: We’re having a great time––it’s a very fulfilling show for us to put on. We brought on a band, but we still maintain the DJ set and vibe. It’s something very unique andan honor to be able to bring this sound and experience into Des Moines, IA and Louisville, KY, cities that probably don’t have a dance scene at all. I remember when other artists did that for me. It feels like we’re the first kind of dance music experience some of these people are having, and that’s cool.

MC: With the massive popularity that you’ve achieved this year, has there ever been any backlash from fans who might feel that your success with a wider audience has taken you away from them?

Taggart: I’m sure some people feel that way. I remember feeling that way about artists when I had discovered them through their earlier stuff. Now I’m in that position as an artist. We’ve been lucky enough to have fans for a couple of years, and in those couple of years we’ve changed. You have to respect your fans and where you come from, but you can’t let it hinder you or be imprisoned by what they think about you. I feel like every artist has to grow.

MC: You have a live band with you on tour, correct?

Taggart: It’s about 50/50 between the live instruments and DJing. We have a drummer, and we use a lot of synth and piano, because those are the instruments we use in the studio.

MC: Are you still using Ableton as your go-to digital audio workstation (DAW) program?

Taggart: Yes, some people work on Logic or ProTools or other DAW’s. I only know Ableton. It’s funny how it’s influenced how I create music.

TAKES TO WRITE A HIT SONG

An industry veteran––a songwriting mentor who has had years of experience grooming and handling multiplatinum-selling talent––gives you specific instructions about the art & craft of hit songwriting.

1. Be up front with your story.

Look at the first two lines of your lyric. Imagine someone came up to you and read just those two lines. How much has the, “who, what, where, why, and how” of the story been communicated? If you’re still lost after hearing those first two lines (i.e., you don’t know what’s happening to the protagonist or have any idea what the song is about), then a record executive, producer or casual listener will likely be uninterested in hearing more.

2. Make every line count.

Go to any of your lines. Read just that one out loud. Does it make sense? Could it stand on its own without the support of the preceding and subsequent lines? It should. Every line should present a complete and independent picture for your listeners. Every line should also ultimately speak to the title of your song. Your title is your theme, and good writing never strays from its theme.

3. Vary the length of your lines.

Type your lyric flush left on a sheet of paper (by the way, if your lyric doesn’t fit on one sheet, you’re in trouble). Can your draw a neat box around your lyric? How about your chorus or bridge? Do most of the lines hit the right side of the box? If this is true, then your song will likely sound monotonous. You need variety in the lengths of lines and patterns of lyrics. Look for a really ragged right edge as a sign that your lyrics are conversational and rhythmically interesting.

4. Vary the number of lines between chorus and verse.

Count the number of lines in each of your verses. Now, count the lines in your chorus. If they’re exactly the same (e.g., 4-line verse and a 4-line chorus), then you’re probably not contrasting enough between the two sections. That contrast helps the song feel fresh and exciting when played.

5. Match the beat between verses.

Count the number of beats in the lyric of verse 1, line 1. Now, count the number of beats in verse 2, line 2. Do they match? What we often see is something like 8 beats in verse 1, line 2, and 13 beats in verse 2, line 2. No way those extra 5 beats are going to fit comfortably on the melody you worked so hard to establish in the first verse.

6. Give yourself a title of power.

The position of your title tells the listener what your main point is. There are certain power positions in a song, all dependent on the structure you set up. Is it a verse/bridge structure (A,A,B,A)? Then your title will be in the first or last line of the verse. Think of “Yesterday” by the Beatles. Exceptions are rare, and require strong melodic emphasis to counteract the weaker positioning.

For a verse/chorus structure, the power positions are at the beginning or end of the chorus. Pick one for your title. Keep in mind that repetition of the title can work here. Think, “Yellow Submarine,” by the Beatles.

MAJOR LABEL ARTIST GOES INDIE

Sheila Nicholls is a self-professed “post-atheist,” with an inner spiritual and socio-political compass that directs her music and her life. The former Brit, who now resides in Los Angeles, has put her time in with the major label system. She released three albums during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, had a deal with Hollywood Records, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, toured with k.d. lang and had a big hit, “Fallen for You,” which topped college charts and was featured in the film High Fidelity. After a few years away from the business Nicholls is returning with her fourth album All of Nature, distributed by Dash/Go.

Music Connection: You recently returned to live performance, with a successful show at the Hotel Café in Hollywood. How’d it go?
Sheila Nicholls: We had a really good time. I feel really confident. I did take time off so I could get some perspective and then throw myself back in it. Because it’s really obnoxious to think you can sing songs and get a lot of people to listen and give a shit.

MC: Interesting perspective considering all the performance experience that you have.
Nicholls: Well, I came from a place where if you wanted to become a songwriter you might as well have said you wanted to be a lion tamer. It was considered to be arrogant. How dare you aspire?! We didn’t grow up with the American Dream. It was a lot more provincial where I came from. But I think this body of work is some of the best stuff I’ve ever done and I’m feeling really good right now.

MC: What was it that took you away from music? And what’s inspired you to return?
Nicholls: I was in a very complicated marriage that was a bit distracting. I had a child. There was a lot of contemplation. My songs are a reflection of my life, like a lot of songwriters, I guess. It’s important to me that my writing is not forced. Living in L.A., many people write so formulaic because they wanna make money from it. For me, music delivers itself from some ephemeral place and you are the vessel that’s sort of there to receive it and take it from the invisible and make it visible. For me it’s important to not force that.

MC: Your latest album, All of Nature, is very musically and lyrically diverse.
Nicholls: Thank you. … I took a lot of time on this. And I’ve been really lucky to be  surrounded by amazingly brilliant people. And you have a lot more freedom on the final piece if you know how to write, engineer and produce. And I try to stay in many of those roles as much as possible. In the end I have something I can love and deeply respect.

MC: Was this your first self-production?
Nicholls: Actually, my first record was self-produced before Hollywood Records picked it up, and we put some overdubs on it. I was very much schooled by the patriarchy of my own childhood. And then watching Ani DeFranco do what she did, I’ve really been determined to wear as many hats as possible. You end up with an experience where you’ve created something as pure as possible. That’s not to say you don’t want to collaborate with people. You can’t be closed off, and it’s good to get other people’s opinions. But to make final de-cisions is important to me because I grew up in an environment where women were not even allowed an opinion about certain things. So I push myself to make those choices.

MC: What can you tell us about transitioning from a major label or distributor like Hollywood Records to becoming an indie artist?
Nicholls: I think they always knew I was an indie artist from the beginning. The first record did really well on the Top 10 college charts. And I think that was something they really liked about me. But, when you get into the corporate element, the bottom line is money. That can, over time, play you a little bit. And you have to keep your wherewithal for sure.