Young Rising Sons is an alternative rock band from Red Bank, New Jersey who signed to Interscope Records in 2014. With label mates such as Eminem, U2 and Lady Gaga, the Sons have a lot to live up to. I was fortunate enough to spend ten days on the road with them in October 2016 as they embarked upon a west coast tour with The Moth & The Flame and 888 and what I witnessed each night was no less than spectacular. I saw a group of guys who are passionate, driven, and most of all, talented. The energy that they exuded on stage each night was infectious, and song after song found me dancing backstage, singing along to every catchy melody.
While the band’s music and live show impressed me, what captivated me the most was their attention to fans. The Sons family is widespread and far-reaching, and there was definitely a sense of kinship as fans lined up for pictures and autographs at the end of each concert every night. I heard stories of how the band’s songs helped people get through hard times, overcome their fears, and pursue their passions. I saw fans young and old come together to scream the words that reached into the very depths of their souls. As an outsider looking in, it was obvious to me that the Sons have something special.
Day 1 – Los Angeles, CA
I land in Santa Ana, California and take a scenic drive north to West Hollywood. Upon arriving at the venue, I reunite with tour manager Stephen Goldstein and the Sons, whom I haven’t seen since they toured with The Kooks in 2015.
I begin setting up drums and a guitar station side stage where I’ll be tuning and changing guitars for the band’s set each night.
The show goes off without a hitch and I spend the rest of the evening hustling CDs of the band’s latest EP “Undefeatable + 2,” which contains their most recent single, a cover, and an acoustic tune.
Bass player Julian Dimagiba’s birthday lands at midnight and we spend the rest of the night celebrating at a lounge on Santa Monica Beach. It feels good to be back in California.
Day 2 – Santa Ana, CA
After taking a morning stroll to shoot photos of the infamous Hollywood sign, I make my way to In-N-Out Burger for some lunch. It’s not as good as I remember.
I meet the band at Guitar Center where we gear up for the next run of shows. This will be a recurring chore as the band members require new drumsticks, guitar pics, cables and tuners on an almost every-other-day basis.
As we arrive at the venue, we realize that it is actually several venues in one. In the parking lot, a stage is being built for Bon Iver to play the next evening. Next door to our show is Taking Back Sunday, whom I have the pleasure of watching on and off throughout the night. Then there’s our room, which is a mid-sized venue and finally another outdoor space that seems to double as a sand volleyball court. Very punk rock.
This evening I actually have time to watch 888 and The Moth & The Flame perform and am blown away by the high standard of musicianship which I will be surrounded by over the next couple of weeks.
Day 3 – San Diego, CA
After waking up on a stranger’s floor due to an old Russian woman pushing an empty shopping cart outside of my window, I get an awesome home-cooked meal and have a chance to take in the scenery.
The band and I depart for the next show which is 21+, so the Sons decide to put on an impromptu acoustic set in the park for their underage fans. At the drop of a tweet, a slew of kids show up and the band again proves their dedication to the Sons family as they spend almost two hours performing, taking photos, and signing autographs for everyone who came out.
As we make our way to the venue, we fall into the similar routine of unloading, setting up, sound-checking, tearing down, setting up again, performing, tearing down, and loading up for the final time each evening. This is beginning to feel like work.
Day 4 – San Diego, CA to Phoenix, AZ
I try my best to get up early and catch a ride to the beach. This will be my last day on the coast before we head into the desolate interior of the American southwest. I make it to South Mission Beach and hike out onto a rock pier where I spend way too much time taking selfies and trying to figure out where that seal sound is coming from.
On an off-day like today, we spend seven-plus hours driving through the desert in order to make it to Phoenix for the next day’s show. Van time is bonding time and after only four days in, I’m beginning to feel like a member of the Sons family.
Day 5 – Phoenix, AZ
Because the guys in Young Rising Sons are the biggest sweethearts you’ll ever meet, they put on yet another free acoustic concert for their fans under 21 which takes place a few blocks away from the venue in a beautiful downtown green space.
We do another meet and greet and learn that one of the fans had also been at the Los Angeles show just a few days prior. He is one half of the Linford Twins, who covered Young Rising Sons’ “King of the World” for a reality television show competition.
The show at the venue goes well, but we get most excited about the amazing kale salad that the venue provides us for dinner. It’s the little things that count on the road, and eating healthy is one of them.
After packing up and having fourthmeal at a creepy, haunted, baby-doll infested former warehouse, we make it to our hotel in Flagstaff, AZ. The curious thing about traveling is noticing when the weather changes. Though it was nearly 100 degrees during the day, by the time we arrive and get out of the van, it’s only 49 degrees. Arizona is a strange place.
Day 6 – Albuquerque, NM
We wake up early and start making the scenic drive toward Albuquerque. This is one of the most beautiful drives as we see mountains, trains, rock formations, desert, and a guy driving a pick-up truck down the freeway without a tailgate, leaving his two dogs chained to the back of the bed.
There’s not much else to say about New Mexico.
Day 7 – Denver, CO
Denver is a beautiful place. I wander around the city with touring guitarist Max Dean, who is possibly one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. He decides to get a spontaneous tattoo and within 15 minutes he’s got fresh ink, the word “adventure” penned into his forearm. As we walk back to the venue, we pop into a guitar repair shop where the owner gives Max some free gear to repair his guitar. Max loves Denver.
The band does a photo shoot in the alley behind the venue with an amazing photographer named Nikolai Puc whose creativity astounds us. You can check out his work here.
As always, the band plays an amazing set with the aid of front-of-house engineer Shane Vetter, who has become a mentor to everyone on the tour.
After the show, we pack up and return to our hotel, but that doesn’t last long. Before we know it, we are back at Denny’s for the third or fourth time this week. I am sick of Denny’s.
Day 8 – Greeley, CO
Greeley is an interesting town. It was founded during the gold rush and even once housed German POWs during WWII. Everything about it screams “wild, wild west,” and as we are eating veggie burgers at an old saloon, a picture frame mysteriously flies off the wall. This town is probably haunted.
One of the more unique venues on the tour, the Moxi Theater turns out to be a blast. An old theater perched on the second floor, the space is large, inviting, and just kitschy enough to be cool.
This is, in my opinion, one of the most fun nights on the tour. Marissa of Ares Exposures takes a load of fun photos backstage which can be viewed here.
Day 9 – Denver, CO
The Sons wake up early to shoot a video for “Undefeatable” at the Decibel Garden, a recording studio space at The Lot @ RiNo, a multi-media collective based in Denver. The video shoot could not have been more fun and inspiring as all of the staff were professional, creative and kind.
A restaurant in Denver called Illegal Pete’s curates a “starving artist” program where they feed touring bands, but we fail to get a voucher on time. We go to Illegal Pete’s anyway and have some amazing Mexican food before we make our way to Utah.
Driving through the night, we catch glimpses of beauty through a desert rainstorm as we pass out-of-this-world rock formations and scenery. I earn five good samaritan points by letting a stranger in a broken-down truck at the rest area use my cell phone. After over eight hours, we finally make it to our hotel in Utah.
Day 10 – Provo, UT
Velour Live in Provo takes the cake for the most interesting venue on this tour. Provo is another town founded in the mid-1800s and the interior of the venue is decorated as such.
As this is my last night on the tour, I make sure to take it all in one last time; watching 888 and their creative live show, singing along with the Sons and enjoying my time as their tech, and watching The Moth & The Flame play to a sold-out crowd in their hometown.
The boys drop me off at a Sheraton in the middle of the night in Salt Lake City and I could not be more devastated. After spending ten days crammed into a Sprinter van with these guys, it feels more like leaving home than going home. I’m looking forward to the next adventure.
**Special thanks to Young Rising Sons and Max, Stephen, 888, The Moth & The Flame, Shane, Alex and everybody else I met on this tour who made such a positive impact on my life.**
Shazam is a mobile-based smartphone application that allows users to identify songs from radio, television and film simply by holding their phones toward the audio source. Though I use it sparingly, I’ve racked up over 100 Shazams in the past couple of years and I felt that it was finally time to pursue some of these artists. As I browsed through my list, I realized that there were several bands and even songs which I had captured more than once. In one instance, I even “Shazam’d” the same song three different times, leading me to conclude that it must have been something special. That song was “Soundcheck” by Catfish and the Bottlemen.
As I listened to the song with a new perspective, I spent the first 0:48 seconds perplexed. I didn’t really like it, and I couldn’t even remember having heard it. Then the chorus kicked in at 0:49 and I was immediately hit with an upbeat punk rock anthem that made me want to head-bang at my desk. The first chorus was short and sweet, and moved directly into the second verse within just 14 seconds. That verse already felt familiar to me and I enthusiastically hummed along while anxiously awaiting the next big chorus. The bridge hit around two minutes in and was as sparse as it was haunting. It built into an emotional and tense guitar solo which evoked scenes of chaos before returning to the familiar verse structure and a huge double chorus before ending abruptly.
The rest of my data was equally enlightening, as I found eleven artists in total whom I had Shazam’d more than once. Next up was Icelandic folk group Of Monsters and Men, followed by American-turned-English rockers Cage The Elephant. I quickly noticed a pattern in which 45% of my Shazams were indie-rock bands from the UK with California (36%) coming in a close second. At times it can be difficult to discover new music, especially with radio, retail centers and film replaying a lot of the same homogenous drivel. Shazam gave me the opportunity to identify the songs I liked and prompted me to discover and pursue these artists. Many say that technology is hurting the music industry, but with apps like Shazam, technology is only the beginning.
The Alternative Press Music Awards are an annual award show presented by Cleveland-based music magazine Alternative Press. The inaugural ceremony began at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014, and reportedly moved to Columbus this year due to the city of Cleveland hosting the Republican National Convention. Taking place at the Schottenstein Center just north of the Ohio State University campus, this year’s awards show encompassed live performances, video interviews, memorable speeches, and lots of playful banter between hosts Jack Barakat and Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low.
My favorite part of this year’s show were the performances, which made the event feel more like a music festival than a black tie affair. Ranging from 90s rock to metalcore and everything in between, the performances made what could have been a lackluster evening a night to remember.
Mayday Parade and The Maine feat. Stephen Jenkins (Third Eye Blind) – “Jumper”
Opening the ceremony were Mayday Parade and The Maine performing several of their well-known songs. The Maine, decked out in matching leopard-print suits set the standard for formal alternativeTM dress for the evening. Joined by Stephen Jenkins of Third Eye Blind, the set culminated in a joint performance of classic 1990s song “Jumper,” with the small percentage of the audience who were actually alive in the 1990s enthusiastically singing along to every word.
You should never judge a band based on what you read in the alternative tabloids. I spent years dismissing Issues based on clickbait articles and butthurt commenters. When the band took the stage I turned to my girlfriend and said “you would probably like this band.” Before their first song was over, I was hooked. They mixed metalcore with modern rock and R&B style vocals but did so seamlessly and without haste. The energy and genuine excitement that they exhibited not only lured me in to their music, but their live performance as well. Issues officially has a new fan.
Another band I spent years discounting was Good Charlotte (I’m beginning to realize now that I’ve been a pretentious music snob all my life). However, while performing songs from their latest album Youth Authority, I heard a much more mature and versatile band than the mall-core singles I heard in middle school. The few songs they performed were contemporary, relatable, and serious enough to be taken seriously. “Life Changes” is a standout, and I suggest picking up Youth Authority to see a new side of an old band.
Papa Roach feat. Machine Gun Kelly – “Last Resort”
We all remember screaming our lungs out to Papa Roach’s “Last Resort” when it debuted on MTV in 2000. Hailing from Cleveland, Papa Roach became a veritable force to be reckoned with on early to mid-2000s rock radio and MTV (before it went music-less). After performing another famous hit, “Scars,” the band invited Cleveland-native Machine Gun Kelly to the stage to shut down the house with “Last Resort.” The group had insane stage presence coupled with a song to which many of the audience members had strong emotional ties. Near the end of the tune, MGK even jumped into the audience, singing and moshing along while Jacoby finished the job. I texted my friends after: “I can finally die happy.” Ironic?
Best Vocalist: Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy Best Guitarist: Jack Fowler of Sleeping With Sirens Best Bassist: Skyler Acord of Issues Best Drummer: Christian Coma of Black Veil Brides Best International Band: You Me At Six Best Music Video: Panic At The Disco – “Emperor’s New Clothes” Song of the Year: Panic At The Disco – “Hallelujah”
Neck Deep is another band which gave me negative first impressions. When they signed to Hopeless Records a couple of years ago, the press release was coupled with the music video for “A Part Of Me.” That was the first time I ever remember feeling old in my entire life. I was only 23 at the time, but damn could I just not relate to what this kid from Wales was singing about. He was probably a teenager at the time, and the lyrical content and music video reflected that. After having won Best Live Band, the band took the stage to perform the following covers:
Green Day – “Welcome to Paradise” New Found Glory – “Hit or Miss” All Time Low – “Dear Maria Count Me In” feat. Derek DiScanio of State Champs Blink 182 – “The Rock Show” feat. Alex Gaskarth of All Time Low
The band finished their set with an original, featuring Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional. I was never more disappointed than when they exited the stage. I was smitten with the overwhelmingly fun atmosphere of their live show, and earnestly believe that they 100% deserved their Skully for Best Live Band.
Of Mice & Men
This is a group whose vocalist Austin Carlile introduced as being from “Orange County, California,” but who have their origins in Columbus. I spent years hanging around and playing shows with Carlile whose old band, Attack Attack skyrocketed him to alternative-level fame in the late 2000s. After leaving AA, Carlile headed over to Paper Tiger Studios to establish OM&M and begin the long journey to success a second time. I don’t think any of us knew that Carlile would become such a mainstay in the alternative and metalcore scenes, but as he reminded us with his lyrics during the band’s performance: “don’t you ever underestimate me.”
A Day to Remember feat. Scott Stapp (Creed) – “Higher”
As the night came to a close, the crowd anxiously awaited the headlining performance of Florida band A Day to Remember. A video soon came onto the JumboTron with the members of A Day to Remember lamenting that their singer was stuck in Houston, but the rest of the band would perform anyway. After a cringe-worthy skit and stalling by hosts Barakat and Gaskarth, the band finally took the stage and asked if any audience member could sing some of their songs. A man raised his hand and was given a microphone, responding firmly: “I can.” Well dear readers, that man was Scott Stapp of Creed.
Stapp took the stage and successfully began singing one of ADTR’s pop-punk songs, with looks of confusion and bewilderment from most of the audience. Again, much of the crowd wasn’t even alive in the 1990s, let alone would know who Scott Stapp is. Near the end of their first song together, Stapp stopped the band and suggested that they play something else instead. The entire saga being a hoax and publicity stunt, I was actually relieved when the group began playing hit Creed song “Higher,” instantly bringing me back to singing along to all of my favorite songs on 99.7 The Blitz when I was 11 years old. Imagine my disappointment when after the song was over, the real singer of A Day to Remember came onto the stage and the band played a legitimate set.
Best Live Band: Neck Deep Artist Philanthropic: Jake Luhrs for HeartSupport Most Dedicated Fanbase: The Ghost Inside Breakthrough Band: State Champs Best Underground Band: Too Close To Touch Album of the Year: Twenty One Pilots – “Blurryface” Artist of the Year: Twenty One Pilots
When it was all said and done, I was delighted to have attended this year’s Alternative Press Music Awards, getting to see some of my favorite artists perform and win awards, and being introduced to new artists I never would have previously given a chance. I realized that music is not bound by genre, stereotype, or its fanbase – it begins and ends with the connection that the music and the artists make with the listener and that emotional sentiment is without words. If the APMAs ever return to Columbus, I will be one of the first in line to buy tickets and support alternative music.
That’s the text message I received back in January from my old bandmate, Tim Waters. He and Stephen Goldstein, our bass player from Someone Like You, rose from the ashes of our defunct easycore band to form We Are The Movies, an alternative pop-punk band based out of Columbus, Ohio.
Without hesitation, I immediately committed; because all I’d been hearing about for the past eight years was Alaska. Tim’s old band, Nothing Less, was a mainstay of the early 2000s Alaskan pop-punk scene, performing at the Alaska State Fair, Sullivan Arena, and the University of Alaska – Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses. Nothing Less went global in 2005 performing with the Vans Warped Tour across the United States and Canada and performing at such famed venues as the Whisky a Go Go in Hollywood and CBGB in New York.
I met Tim back in 2008 through a craigslist ad seeking a pop-punk drummer. Before I knew it, we had recorded an EP, had a couple of our songs on the soundtrack of the Best Documentary at the 2012 Mountain Film Awards, and were performing at America’s Longest Continually Running Music Venue, the Newport Music Hall. By the time 2010 rolled around, Stephen and I hit the road working for a magazine on Vans Warped Tour, working on the tour during the day and performing acoustic songs and promoting our album in the early mornings and late, late evenings. That summer took us everywhere from Boston, Massachusetts to the Mexican border in San Diego, California. We learned a lot about hard work that year, and that experience would come into play as we set off to Alaska to kick-off Vans Warped Tour 2016 at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
The reality of having to be somewhere at 9:00 A.M. reminds us that being on the road is no different than having a day job back home.
Day 2 – The Warm-Up
Anger Management books us another show, this time at the Covenant House, a safe refuge which provides shelter for homeless youth in Alaska.
GCI, Alaska’s premier telecommunications provider, co-sponsors the event and provides 50 free tickets to the Road to Warped Tour. This will be the first time many of these kids have ever seen a concert.
I join the band on tambourine and we perform an acoustic set between speeches from GCI representatives and Covenant House.
Afterward, the boys do a signing and photo op while I give away free merchandise and coordinate with GCI. The kids go wild.
Day 2.5 – Wicked Wanda
We hop in the van and head over to Chilkoot Charlie’s, or simply “Koot’s,” a world famous bar and music venue where the band will headline the Warped Tour pre-party. Catering is served and we have dinner and watch the newest Game of Thrones with a band from New York called Behind the Façade. Good times.
The boys take the stage around midnight while the sun still blazes overhead. I sell merch and take photographs. We meet a girl who offers to sell merch for us at the festival the next day and we acquiesce.
Everyone is surprised to see the band Sleeping With Sirens in our audience, only to realize that they are only there to shoot pool and probably didn’t even notice us performing. Stephen and I laugh about the time we got into a fight with some of their members in Los Angeles in 2010.
We head off into the night to stir up some trouble in a brand new city.
Day 3 – The Big Day
The sound of an alarm clock buzzing near my head is the worst possible thing I could hear after passing out a few hours earlier on a stranger’s floor.
We arrive early at Sullivan Arena and begin setting up the merch tent. The band performs soundcheck while I coordinate a professional photographer, catering, and freebies from the vendors.
We Are The Movies perform on the main stage. They are the first band to perform at the first Vans Warped Tour event in 2016. I poorly livestream the event over facebook and try to maintain the appearance of professionalism.
We spend the rest of the day hanging backstage with our favorite bands, hustling for enough money to get home, and making new friends from all over the world. Our merch girl turns out to be the best damn merch girl any of us have ever seen. She promises to show us around the city later and again, we acquiesce.
Day 4 – Nature Beckons
The next day is spent exploring Independence Mine State Historical Park in Wasilla. The views are breathtaking. We have a snowball fight in June. We drink water right out of the stream. We experience Alaska.
Later that night, Tim and Mike perform an acoustic set to raise money for an organization that teaches teens how to use multimedia. At this point, the band has made five appearances in four days. We eat our free pizza and drink our free wine as we have become accustomed to do.
The next several hours are spent moving from bar to restaurant to another stranger’s floor. It’s daylight before we blissfully drift off to sleep. We are beginning to get used to this.
Days 5 & 6 – The Tour Guide
Our merch girl turns out to actually be a legitimate tour guide with some serious expertise. We visit Earthquake Park, eat Thai food, see a moose, mistake a pod of Beluga whales for white caps, and spend the evening around a campfire singing Red Jumpsuit Apparatus songs on ukulele.
Day 7 – Home
Eventually we make our way to the airport. I have a layover in Phoenix while everyone else is at LAX. They see Charlie Day, while I see a desert. My girlfriend picks me up and I go back to normal life. Happy ex-mas, the war is over.
**Special thanks to Chris and everyone at Road to Warped Tour, Pat for his hospitality, Chloe for her skills and company, and Rosie for her food, drinks, and floor to sleep on. I will never forget you, Alaska.**
I first met Devin Shidaker of The Acacia Strain over ten years ago when we were both aspiring musicians in the local Columbus, Ohio music scene. In fact, if it weren’t for the ingenuity of Shidaker’s band at the time, I never would have made it anywhere as a musician. They opened doors for my band to perform in Canada, got us to open large shows for touring artists, and always lent a helping hand when it came to borrowing equipment, finding places to practice, and just having a good group of friends to hang out with. I was fortunate enough to run into Devin the other night at our local home improvement store, where we had both made our second respective trips for the day (because we are old now, and that’s how old guys spend their Saturday nights). Shidaker had just purchased a home and was trying his damndest to get everything moved in before embarking on the Summer Slaughter Tour 2015, which begins in Denver, CO on July 28th.
Devin was kind enough to do an interview with me about his current work with The Acacia Strain, his beginnings in Columbus, and what it takes to be a working musician in today’s economic climate.
ZF: You’re getting ready to head out on the Summer Slaughter Tour, which will take you all over the United States and Canada. What “behind-the-scenes” things do bands generally have to do in order to prepare for a tour of this scale?
DS: Right now I’m sitting in our tour manager’s basement in Albany, NY, waiting on everyone else to wake up so we can make the hour and a half-ish drive to western Massachusetts, where our van and trailer are located (at Vincent’s house). Then we get to drive back here, unload some gear at the practice spot we are borrowing for a few days (THANK YOU BORN LOW!), and get our set as tight as possible before our first show on the way out to start the tour. During the week, our tour manager will take a trip down to our merch supplier (who thankfully is local to us), and pick up a bunch of boxes, get them counted, and have things sorted to start selling on the first day.
As far as hotels are concerned, that’s something we generally worry about the day of, just because you never know what kinds of things will change in the time before or during a show. We used to stay at people’s houses a lot to save money, but it’s really a coin toss on whether or not you’re going to stay with somebody who is accommodating and understands that you are tired and need rest, or somebody who wants to have some big stupid party and invite all of their friends over because a band they like is there. Those nights were always interesting, even though we hated them. As you get older while doing this whole touring thing, GOOD sleep becomes much more crucial.
ZF: The Acacia Strain signed with Rise Records (now owned by BMG) in 2012, prior to you joining. How has working with one of alternative music’s premier record labels helped you better understand the inner-workings of the music industry?
DS: Working with Rise Records has been nothing short of amazing. I have been on multiple labels in other bands, and none of them hold a candle to Rise. Typically you hear about labels constantly battling with bands over things like royalties, creative control, marketing, recording budgets, etc. With Rise though, we have not once had a single issue. They support their artists 100%, we have the final say on everything we do, and when it comes to our music, not one time have they tried to change or alter our sound. Of course children on the internet with zero understanding of how the music industry works like to say that we “sold out” or that it sucks that we signed with Rise, and they couldn’t be more wrong. I honestly feel like we would have fallen apart by now if it wasn’t for the nurturing environment provided to us by Rise. What most people don’t get is that labels are essentially just a financial institution for bands, much like a bank. They lend you money to make your record or whatever else, and they get paid back through your sales. More successful bands pay their labels back much faster, so they are generally given more attention. What is cool about Rise is that it’s like working with a bank that’s owned by your family who will do whatever it takes to help you be successful. They don’t treat us like we are just a source of fast cash or a loss they can write off on their taxes. We are human beings to them and they do what it takes to keep us going because they invested in us as a band, not just our success. I’m glad to have learned that in 2015 there exists a label like that.
In my last band, all our label cared about was when we were sending them money, even though we were one of their biggest selling acts at the time. They didn’t care if paying them meant that we couldn’t pay our own bills or if we lost our homes. They didn’t care about us. If you know what a “360 deal” is, that’s what we were unfortunately duped into signing (prior to my joining). For those that don’t know, it’s essentially a way for a label to bend you over and fuck you from behind for the duration of your contract. Not only do they own the rights to our music, but they own the rights to our merchandise and a lot of other things. Everything has to be printed through them, and they get paid just as much as the printing costs, which we also had to pay for. That means our shirts are costing us usually more than double what the average band is paying to manufacture them, and that eats into any profit we would have made. That’s an example of a bad label that is struggling to adapt to the 21st century, choosing to drain the life force from young bands who don’t know any better in order to keep themselves afloat. It’s horrible and I don’t want to see any other young bands going through something like that.
“All of your fans are important, and if you can do something for them, even if it’s a small gesture, they will remember that you didn’t put yourself above them and you will have a fan for life.”
ZF: Your debut full-length album with The Acacia Strain was 2014’s Coma Witch, which peaked at position #31 on the Billboard 200 charts. What sort of effort is required of the band and record label when it comes to promoting an album enough to land it on the charts?
DS: I think that to get a record to do really well, there are a lot of things that need to fall into place. Your band, your management, and your label all need to be on the same page, because if any one of those three aren’t happy with something, your record isn’t going to get the 100% push that it needs to get out there. Your label has to be happy with the record you’ve recorded, your management has to be happy with the way your record is being treated by the label, and they have to be happy as well, and your band has to be happy with everything. If you think your record sucks, you’re not going to be motivated to give it the push that it needs, and the same goes for the people putting it out. If they don’t think it’s good, they aren’t going to want to dump a bunch of money into marketing it. I think it’s also very important that you have a fan base who genuinely cares about what you’re doing.
As a band that formed in 2001, we have been lucky in that every record we have released has outperformed the one that came before it, and that’s largely due to our fans and how rabid they are with supporting us. We go out of our way to interact with them without being one of those bands who put themselves above their fans as if they aren’t worthy to meet them. We don’t do the “VIP Meet and Greet” thing because I think that’s it’s stupid to charge people money to meet you. We hang out in lawn chairs outside of our trailer every day on tour, and if you really want to meet us, you can walk over and do it. We will never tell you to go away, and we will never be too busy to say hi. I think that it’s unwise to assume that your fans will be okay with paying to meet you forever. They might do it when they are young, but I think when they grow up they will remember things like that. “Hey, remember that time we had to pay an extra twenty bucks just to meet so and so for 5 seconds? Why did we do that?” All of your fans are important, and if you can do something for them, even if it’s a small gesture, they will remember that you didn’t put yourself above them and you will have a fan for life. That’s why our fan base gets bigger and bigger, and that’s the main reason our record did so well when we released it.
“We certainly don’t care whether or not our music is accepted by mainstream society, because this music isn’t for them, it’s for us.”
ZF: With the rise of streaming and resurgence in vinyl record sales in recent years, have you noticed a shift in the way fans consume your music?
DS: Streaming has done nothing but help us out since it became so mainstream. I feel like less people are downloading music illegally because they can stream it from any of the services out there that are reasonably priced. I personally use Spotify and I love it. I have access to the majority of things that I want to listen to, whenever I want to. And when I listen to music on there, it’s helping the artist, albeit in a very small way. Before that, bands didn’t get anything from downloading, and it hurt. You have some people who just don’t care, they just want it for free, and then you have people who try to justify it by saying things like “oh I’ll support them directly by buying a shirt”. It’s a little better, but it’s kind of like going to the grocery store and stealing all of the ingredients for spaghetti, but paying for the garlic bread. You’re not really helping out the grocery store that much. With streaming, now we’re at least getting something from a lot of those people. I usually make enough from streaming each month to cover my car insurance or something, which isn’t much, but it’s something.
With that being said, I think vinyl has had a big resurgence because people like how collectible it is. A record comes out and you have this big, beautiful artwork that you don’t get with a CD, and in addition to your standard black records, there are usually a lot of color variants that are extremely collectible. People like knowing that that record they bought only has 99 others in the world that are that color. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something. On top of that, I think that streaming and digital downloads go hand in hand with vinyl, because now you can buy that record without needing to actually play it on your record player (although you should!). Most vinyl come with a download card or a CD so you can put the music on your phone or iPod and listen to it wherever you want. So that to me makes vinyl the ultimate format right now. As a music fan, vinyl is like the coolest thing you can own.
ZF: There has also been a change in recent years with metal music becoming more accepted by mainstream society. Do you think this has altered The Acacia Strain’s fan-base over the years?
DS: I think people are slowly coming around to us, they just need to see us live to get the full picture. A lot of people will listen to your music and their first reaction is “I don’t even know what the fuck this guy is saying”, but then maybe they read lyrics or they start to get an ear for it and they can make it out more. With us though, the music and lyrics aren’t the full picture. A lot of people will read lyrics and take everything said literally, and not look any deeper. A lot of our lyrics are metaphorical, and if you look at them from different perspectives, they can paint a completely different picture than what you may have originally thought. Then if you come to one of our shows, you will realize that this band is about living your life with no compromise, not letting anyone but yourself dictate who you are going to be, and having fun. We aren’t trying to be more “brutal” than any other band, we aren’t trying to be flashy on stage, and we certainly don’t care whether or not our music is accepted by mainstream society, because this music isn’t for them, it’s for us. We play what we want to play, how we want to play it, and luckily for us people like it. If they didn’t, we’d still be doing it the way we want to.
ZF: If there was one thing you could change about the way the music industry operates, what would it be?
DS: I would really like more bands out there to bet on themselves. Too many bands that pop up today are just variations of other bands that already exist. There are a lot of talented people out there who will never reach their full potential because they want to play it safe and do things that have been proven to work by other bands. When a band comes out and does something new and exciting for the first time, other bands go “hey, we should do that!”, and then you end up with a bunch of clones that are talented, but they usually get overlooked or eventually fizzle out.
ZF: When you were an unsigned musician, your most popular band was 1931, which was hardly local. You toured the United States, Canada, and even had interest from across the pond. What were some of the struggles you faced as an aspiring artist which made you a more experienced musician?
DS: In 1931, there were a lot of opportunities we missed out on because we didn’t have the experience to know any better. We would get approached by brand new labels who also had zero experience, and we would be pumped because we thought “holy shit we’re going to get SIGNED!” Of course these “labels” would fall apart within a few months, and nothing was ever done by them to help us out while they existed. I think that 1931 was a learning experience more than anything. It taught me how to improvise on tour when bad shit happens, because as a young band with no money, you can’t afford to fix your van, you can’t afford to eat, you can’t afford to sleep, you can’t afford to do anything. So you have to learn to improvise to stay alive and stay on the road, and I think we did that pretty well for what we were. We lasted from 2004 to 2009 which I think is a pretty good run for an unsigned touring band.
ZF: After the breakup of 1931, you toured with Cincinnati-based band Rose Funeral, then eventually settled into playing with Earache Records band Oceano. How did it feel to finally be a part of an established and consistently touring/recording band?
DS: At first, it was awesome to be in a band that toured constantly and actually played in front of people. As time went on though I realized that I was on a sinking ship due to the treatment of the band from our label, the money we weren’t bringing in, and the time we didn’t have to work on music. The thrill of being established eventually wears off if things aren’t working out the way they should.
ZF: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that it was pertinent for you to tour as much as possible, something you weren’t getting from Oceano. In an industry as unstable as independent music, how did it feel to make the jump from leaving one band for another?
DS: Making the decision to leave was not an easy one to make. As I said before I could see that the ship was sinking for me, and if it got to a certain point I would have to quit the band and get a job at home. I can’t sacrifice my well-being to go on tour and make no money just because it’s something I love doing. Luckily I got the offer to be a part of TAS, and after a lot of deliberation in my head everything fell in to place and I’m where I am supposed to be right now. It was a difficult decision to make because I consider everyone that was in Oceano with me family, and it’s hard to leave your family. But they all understand and thankfully things are on the upswing for them. Their new album is fucking awesome.
ZF: Do you think it’s possible for aspiring musicians to juggle a day job with their music career?
DS: It’s possible but it’s extremely difficult. Most places don’t want to hire somebody who is going to leave constantly. They don’t see you as being reliable. If you can find a place that will let you tour, hold on to that job for as long as is humanly possible. TAS is by no means a huge source of income for all of us, so when we aren’t on tour I still struggle to make ends meet, and it’s something I wish I didn’t have to do, but such is life.
ZF: You and your wife live in Ohio, but the rest of The Acacia Strain are from Massachusetts. What is it like balancing family life and coordinating practice, writing, recording, touring, and general band business from several states away?
DS: It’s kind of a headache. We are actually spread out all over the place. I live in Ohio, Vincent lives in Massachusetts, Kevin lives in New York, Griffin lives in Iowa, and Richie lives in California. We don’t have our own practice spot because we’d be throwing money away on something we never get to use. We have to meet up a few days before a tour starts so that we can rehearse, and if we’re writing, we have to all go to a central location so we can work on things together. It’s a headache because nobody wants to be away from home when you aren’t making any money, but we do what we have to. I miss the days where 4/5 members of my band lived in the same neighborhood and I was able to have band practice whenever I wanted to in my own basement. Life was way easier back then!
ZF: You’re slated to spend the entirety of the month of October touring across Europe. What are some of the barriers for bands to play in foreign countries?
DS: If you’re somewhat established, a lot of the things like visas and gear rentals will be handled by the agency bringing you over to play, that being said, it’s still a headache. There are a lot of things that can really fuck up a tour that people don’t realize. For example, if you have any sort of criminal record and you try to get into Canada, chances are you are going to be denied entry. I have lost count of the number of friends I’ve had over the years who couldn’t get in because of something stupid from their past that comes back to bite them in the ass. The same kinds of things can happen going overseas as well. It’s not as strict with getting in, but if you’re bringing any gear over, be prepared to have it scrutinized and be ready to get screwed by people at the airport saying that you have to pay extra money to transport it or that you have to pay customs fees. I’ve been lucky so far, but luck runs out. Language barriers are a pain in the ass so if there isn’t somebody with us who can speak the language, I don’t even try. I took German for three years in high school, and it hasn’t helped me once in Europe.
“People in this industry respect people who respect themselves.”
ZF: Do you have any words of wisdom for current aspiring musicians?
DS: Anyone can “make it” if you work hard enough at it. The industry is all about working hard, who you know, and how they know you. What I mean by that is that somebody who knows you as a hard worker who will bust your ass for them is going to be the most willing to help you succeed in whatever it is you’re trying to do. The music industry is built primarily on relationships between people, and you want to have good relationships. Don’t burn bridges that you may need to cross in the future. With that being said, don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel you’re being taken advantage of. People in this industry respect people who respect themselves.
The Acacia Strain are currently on the Summer Slaughter Tour which will make an appearance at the Northland Performing Arts Center in Columbus on August 3rd. Tickets can be purchased here.
When I was a teenager, I started hanging out at a hole-in-the-wall dive bar on campus called Bernie’s to see punk rock shows. About 12 years later, an old friend convinced me to go to a local show at the old watering hole where I randomly met Matt Jensen, drummer of local punk band The Scratches. Jensen performed that night first with his side project (going by band name Earthworm Tim at the time), and later with The Scratches, who put on a punk rock show truly fitting for the atmosphere. It wasn’t until later that I realized I also knew the band’s bass player, Darby Antle; having met him at ComFest many years earlier. Since seeing The Scratches for the first time, my girlfriend and I have seen them around town several times, playing venues all over the city and truly paying their dues.
I sat down with Mr. Jensen recently to discuss some of the best venues in Columbus to see local bands, and it was only fitting that we started with Bernie’s.
Crowd Type: Punk. Says Jensen: “If you want to feel like you’re going to a true punk rock show, you should probably go to Bernie’s. You’ll probably get your teeth kicked in and a broken nose.”
Music Scene: Mostly locals. Some touring bands, but not as many as there used to be. Punk rock is the mainstay, but on any given night you can find anything from alternative to hip-hop.
Bar: Bernie’s bar is tiny, crowded, and usually only staffed by one person at a time, but it’s probably the cheapest domestic beer you’ll find in the area.
Average Admission Price: $8, and the occasional free show.
Food: Though colloquially known as just Bernie’s, its full name is actually Bernie’s Bagels & Deli/The Distillery. During the day, Bernie’s is just like any other campus deli serving affordable sandwiches, soups, and sides to Ohio State University students.
Parking: Not the best. If you’re lucky enough to find a meter on or near High St., you had better take it. Otherwise, you’re relegated to driving through neighborhoods filled with frat houses trying to find a spot to wedge into. If you have money, (what punk rocker does?), you can park at the OSU Union parking garage across the street for a few bucks.
Stage and Sound Quality: Much like the bar, Bernie’s stage, if you can call it that, is small and backed into a corner. Rising only a few inches off of the ground, it puts enough distance between the fans and bands for nominal comfort and boasts two large PA speakers. Though the sound quality is not the greatest, the performing bands sound very authentic and live- which only adds to the experience.
Takeaway: Bernie’s is the place to be if you want to see an authentic punk rock show. Find a decent place to park and bring a few bucks for beers, and you’re likely to have a hell of a night.
Crowd Type: College crowd. Shows are ages 18+, with a big presence of students from Ohio State University.
Music Scene: Anything goes. You might have touring bands, locals, electronica and dubstep, and acoustic music all in the same weekend. S&G’s slogan is “we treat bands like rockstars,” offering a green room backstage with private bathrooms for performing artists as well as couches and a TV, which helps bring a lot of bands (and their fans) coming back.
Bar: You can expect a fully stocked bar with average “campus” prices. There are generally a few staff on hand who offer good service and treatment.
Average Admission Price: $7, with several free shows each month.
Food: Just like Bernie’s, most people leave the “café” out of the Scarlet & Grey Café’s name. Though the menu is small, patrons can choose from pizza, burgers, fries, and wings, adding to your typical college campus bar experience.
Parking: Parking is available on many of the side streets off of High St., and will usually require driving around 3 or 4 blocks on a busy night to find a good spot.
Stage and Sound Quality: The stage at Scarlet & Grey is noticeably big, with drum risers and enough room for a full-sized band to perform with all of their instruments and have room to move around. Jensen says that S&G has some of the “best lighting and sound” of the many venues The Scratches have performed in Columbus.
Takeaway: Scarlet & Grey is a good venue for an all ages (18+) show, has a great atmosphere for the performing bands, and you can see touring artists there without having to go through the hassle of TicketMaster.
Crowd Type: Post-college adults there to hear local music. Located between downtown Columbus and the Brewery District, Jensen usually finds the crowd to be around 25 – 30 years old.
Music Scene: Mostly local rock, alternative, and punk bands. Just like Bernie’s, you’re likely to hear a lot of unique music from Columbus’ underground scene.
Bar: Micro-brews, local-brews, and popular domestics are staple finds at Victory’s bar. Prices are a little higher than your typical dive bar, but remain standard for any local music venue in town. Fully stocked and spacious enough for comfortable seating.
Average Admission Price: Free
Food: Adjacent to the music room, Victory’s offers an in-house pizza place with subs, sides, and all your favorite pie varieties. Prices are average and service is tableside.
Parking: This may just be one of the most convenient venues for parking. Because most of the businesses in the area close down at night, Jensen finds the area to be “safe, with great parking at the meters on High St.”
Stage and Sound Quality: The stage is a little small, and forget about seeing the drummer once the fog machine comes on, but Jensen describes the sound system and lighting as an “awesome experience for both fans and audience.”
Takeaway: If you want your audience to have a good time, be well fed, and have a great selection of drinks, Victory’s is the place to be.
Crowd Type: A marketer’s dream. Being a part of the PromoWest family, the Basement attracts fans of all ages who attend to see national and international touring bands. Jensen feels “you’re more likely to find a commercial target audience there than locals just there to drink and see their friends’ bands.”
Music Scene: DJs, indie, electronic, pop-punk, rap, etc. Mostly touring bands, but PromoWest is very good about getting locals to open, such as when The Scratches opened for Anti-Flag last month.
Bar: Long and shallow, the bar offers a lot of seating and several TVs to watch the stage or something else on television. Jensen describes prices and selection as “typical for any music venue, with big brand drinks and quick service.”
Food: Though the venue itself doesn’t provide food, it is connected to the A&R bar upstairs which serves Mikey’s Late Night Slice; arguably one of the most popular food truck enterprises in town.
Parking: Jensen describes parking in this area as another safe bet, with parking garages across the street on Neil Avenue as well as a large lot behind the venue.
Stage and Sound Quality: Being a part of the PromoWest family, The Basement offers “a nice stage with great lighting and a professional sound engineer.” The stage is sunken, unlike almost any other venue in Columbus, but still provides an interesting experience.
Takeaway: The Basement is not your local mom-and-pop venue. It is professional, commercial, and you’re far more likely to walk into a show from a touring band than a local.
Crowd type: Without sounding cheeky, the crowd type at Ace of Cups is your typical college hipster.
Music Scene: Popular local groups, some touring bands, mostly indie and alternative. The Scratches played there once, so sometimes pop-punk.
Bar: Ace of Cups is certainly unique in this article as it probably provides the most imports, micro-brews, and other rare finds for beer connoisseurs. Prices are what you would expect to pay for an imported lager from The Netherlands, but having a wide selection is a distinctive factor.
Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free comedy show.
Food: Though AoC has eclectic food finds such as sweet coconut rice porridge, easter pie with kale salad, and vegan empanadas, Jensen was quick to remind me of the cornerstone campus establishments in the area such as Hounddog’s Pizza and Mikey’s Late Night Slice. Ray Ray’s Hog Pit & BBQ also delivers to AoC’s parking lot each weekend.
Parking: There is a small parking lot available, but once it fills up, you’re back to circling the neighborhood to find a side street to park on.
Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen described the sound quality as good, with a big, wide stage which gives the audience a better chance at visually seeing the bands.
Takeaway: This is a bar for the in-crowd. Micro-brews, indie bands, and food you’ve never heard of will leave an inimitable taste in your mouth.
Crowd Type: A “noticeably younger crowd, with hardcore, pop-punk, and other alternative bands.” When discussing the crowd, Jensen and I both felt that the crowd was very inclusive and friendly.
Music Scene: The Spacebar definitely caters to local bands, as the one time that I was there, members of local bands who were not performing that night made up a large population of the audience and even staff. Jensen describes the music as having “a lot of locals, some touring bands, and other popular bands from the Midwest. Lots of acoustic, alternative, and pop-punk.”
Bar: Fitting to their name, this venue has an excellent bar tucked away at the back of the room. “There are a lot of craft beers on tap as well as popular domestic beers.” Prices are average or even a little higher than average, but you definitely get what you pay for.
Average Admission Price: $7, and the occasional free show.
Food: Though the venue doesn’t have food available, the building is right next door to Mikey’s Late Night Slice (which I’ve plugged three times now in this article).
Parking: There is a small lot, but typical to campus, you’re more likely to find a spot on one of the residential side streets.
Stage and Sound Quality: Jensen describes the stage as “big and open, with good sound quality.” He also mentioned that the owners of the venue were still in the process of acoustical soundproofing, as the Spacebar was recently renovated from now-closed venue Kobo.
Takeaway: “It’s a nice little place to play or see a show, with a good atmosphere and newly-renovated improvements upon the old venue.”
You can catch The Scratches at their next performance at Vans Warped Tour in Cincinnati on July 16th on the Ernie Ball Stage or tune in to 99.7 The Blitz Local Stuff to hear their latest studio single, “Left Sunk In.”
Ten years ago, distribution was one of the main reasons artists needed record labels. Of course their marketing and recording budgets didn’t hurt either, but that’s what crowdfunding is for today. Just like crowdfunding, independent artists now have access to channels of distribution outside of the major label supply chain. The simplest and most direct of these channels consist of free streaming websites such as bandcamp, SoundCloud, and ReverbNation which allow artists to create profiles, e-mail databases, sell music, and interact with other artists and fans alike.
All of these actions are a form of direct marketing or personal selling. Direct marketing bypasses the supply chain completely, or “cuts out the middleman” by going straight to the consumer. If you’re as old as me and ever used MySpace, I’m sure you’ll remember how many bands became successful simply by creating social media profiles and interacting with their fans in real time. This type of direct marketing was free, added value to the customer’s experience, and allowed the artists to become their own managers, publicists, and distributors. Though MySpace is no longer the internet powerhouse it once was (R.I.P.), there are other methods of distribution which do similar things.
The first aspect of distribution is to set a goal. Do you want all of your fans with smartphones to be able to purchase your music on the go? Or do you have older fans who would like to buy a physical CD at a store or concert? Maybe you’re extremely hip and are offering vinyl through mail-order. Believe it or not, some major radio stations are now playing local and independent artists as frequently as national ones and maybe you’d like to get yourself a slice of that market share.
Successful distribution requires having a plan in place which allows you, the independent artist, to distribute your music at the lowest possible cost to the largest possible audience. For organization’s sake, we’ll break the channels of distribution into two categories. We’ll start with digital by covering streaming and purchasing, then move to physical where we’ll cover brick and mortar stores, radio, and selling merchandise at concerts.
Like I said before, the melting pot of social networking sites, artist profiles, and e-commerce has met at a crossroads and churned out sites like ReverbNation and SoundCloud. These sites stream music, which simply means that listeners can play the music for free on their websites. Other programs such as Spotify, Pandora, and Rdio offer similar services, but are organized differently, have smartphone applications, and may offer membership costs for more premium services. Regardless, if your goal is to put your music in the hands of your target market without any financial return, then this is an excellent route to take. As we discussed in the pricing article, the freemium model can be a great marketing tactic which drives fans to your concerts and other merchandise.
If your goal is to have a financial return on investment, then that is where iTunes, Amazon, and other digital retailers come in. As I’ve mentioned before, these do not cost a lot of money, offer instant gratification to smartphone users, and are reputable retailers which add authenticity and credibility to your brand image. Of course there are websites which offer both streaming and the ability to purchase, and I’ll have to admit that bandcamp is my personal favorite. Bandcamp allows for artist and fan accounts, has a smartphone application, and costs the independent artist next to nothing to use.
The internet is not exactly tangible, and sometimes there’s nothing better than hearing a new song on the radio, seeing a band live and picking up one of their CDs, or digging in the crates at your local indie record shop. CDs and download cards are products which can easily be sold at your concerts, as setting up a merch booth takes little effort and can offer excellent visibility, opportunity, and revenue. It has also never been easier to place your products on the shelves of brick and mortar stores such as independent record shops, coffee shops, and other small businesses in your community.
As far as getting your music on the radio, there are two radio stations right here in Columbus, Ohio which often play local music. In fact, in researching for this article, I was surprised to see my former bandmates from Someone Like You in rotation on 99.7 The Blitz Local Stuff with their new group We Are The Movies. Another admirable local radio station is CD102.5 who plays local indie rock on their Frontstage program every week.
Another method often unknown to many independent artists is licensing. I could write an entire article about this and probably will someday, but the bottom line is this: if you simply want your music to be heard, you can partner with a publisher (or become your own) and license your songs to movies, TV stations, and companies who play music in restaurants and shopping malls. This type of distribution pays a royalty, and allows for the general public to be exposed to your work. As you may have realized by now, distribution comes in many different shapes and sizes. It all depends on your target market and what is the best way to reach them. As technology changes, so will the supply chain, but the end goal will always be the same: to have your voice heard.
One of my earliest musical memories is watching Michael Jackson videos on TV and begging my dad to tape them and painstakingly write down all of the lyrics so I could sing along. He didn’t hesitate to buy me a guitar, and didn’t scold me when I never touched it and asked for a drumset a year later. I ended up playing drums in various bands for about ten years before I picked up guitar and vocals around the year 2008. I remember telling all of my friends that I was going to release a solo album, and I honestly really tried. I’ve probably written 20 – 30 songs a year since then, but have never really been satisfied or had the time to pursue releasing a proper album.
All that changed a couple of years ago when I woke up in the middle of the night in a tent in the mountains of West Virginia with a tune running through my head. I had fallen asleep the night before listening to Rufus Wainwright’s latest album and thought maybe for a second that whatever was stuck in my head was simply a reincarnation of one of his songs. Conveniently I had brought my ukulele and iPhone camping with me, as I never leave home without them, and started demoing this song, much to the chagrin of my neighbors (which is a whole other unbelievable story).
That song turned out to be “Wrecking Ball,” which is my first proper solo release and single which is now officially on iTunes, Spotify, and the like. It’s the first song I wrote where I didn’t poorly rip off Neutral Milk Hotel or attempt to sing high-pitched whiny pop-punk songs just to fit into a mold which didn’t fit me. I also recorded, mixed, and mastered all of it myself, except for the help of audio engineer Ryan Liptak (of Happy Tooth & Dug fame) who recorded the drums and lead guitar.
In the year 2015, I set one and only one goal for myself: to finally release my solo album. I even came up with a fancy name, “Some Things Never Change,” which is spot on considering this has been my great white buffalo for the past six years. I’ve written and demoed the majority of the songs, buying fancy recording equipment and trying to push myself to the outer limits of my comfort zone. It has been rewarding and stressful all at the same time, and when you actually think about everything that goes in to making an album, it can certainly seem daunting.
The first step in creating an album is being a competent musician. In all my years of private lessons, practice, ripping off my favorite bands, and trying to create a niche for myself, I finally feel competent enough as a musician to be able to write a decent song. I usually start with a lyric, or a “hook,” craft a melody based off of that, then pick up an instrument. My go to instrument is usually guitar, ukulele, or piano as of late, and helps me craft the chords with which the song will take shape.
Then I do a free-write to help me fill in the lyrical holes, and basically just journal like a sixth-grade girl until I pull something from deep enough within to be taken seriously as an artist. Being a marketing graduate, I crafted a press kit with the quote “lyrical topics include accepting your past, fatherly advice, marriage and income inequality, suicide, and of course a self-deprecating song about hipsters.” Pretty serious stuff, right? It’s not all bad, I did attempt to write a self-deprecating song about hipsters, but honestly it seems so gimmicky and vapid that I’m not sure it will even make the cut.
So I’ve got the bare bones of the song done; chords, melodies, and lyrics, and the next thing to do is to record a scratch track or demo track. These two are not technically the same thing, but I’ll often demo a song and use it as a scratch track later when I’m recording the master. Many engineers and musicians will tell you to always record drums first, and I’ll have to agree with them. Trying to record drums over anything is a serious pain in the ass, even if you’ve followed your metronome like a robot. But music isn’t robotic. Music ebbs and flows and is rarely static.
I always record drums first, and always close enough to a click that it sounds like I know what I’m doing. I guess I forgot to mention the step where I also have to write the drum part. One summer when I was on Vans Warped Tour I spent the whole two months without access to recording gear, so I would listen to my acoustic demos and tap out drum parts with my hands or think of them in my head. I remember my bass player asking me with a genuinely confused look why I always listen to myself. He must have thought I was extremely self-centered. Well, he wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that.
I write and record the drums, and then it’s off to the races with the rest of the rhythm tracks. I lay down a rhythm guitar, bass guitar, scratch vocal, then I start crafting my leads. I never truly appreciated leads until I joined the band Someone Like You and we recorded our debut EP as professionally as we could afford to. I watched our three guitarists come up with lead after lead and heard them seemlessly melt into the verses and choruses, adding texture, melody, and harmony to an otherwise bland rhythm guitar.
Once I have all the leads written, I record the main vocal, add some harmony, back-ups, and listen to the song on repeat enough that if it were on Spotify I’d be rich by now. The next phase is mixing and mastering, which is honestly so much of a science that I wouldn’t do it justice by discussing it here. I add some compression, equalization, reverb and delay, adjust the levels, and once all that is sorted out I start the mastering phase. When mastering, I always refer to the phrase “Radio Ready” to compare my final mix with what one might hear on the radio. Is it loud enough? Have I panned appropriately? Is it clipping anywhere? What about unwanted noise, or even sounds getting lost in the mix?
Mixing and mastering is probably the hardest part of the whole album process, as you can never truly be done mixing. I learned early on to realize when something is the best it’s going to get and just roll with it. Once I’ve got the masters, I can start uploading them to bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, and get my wavs sent off to iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and other digital retailers. At this point in the game, I’ve spent practically no money on recording as I already own or borrow the instruments, have cheap home recording gear, and most websites and retailers are free. I’ll spend about $20 getting CD Baby or TuneCore to put my music on iTunes, but it’s not a bad return on investment.
Artwork and photography are a very important visual representation of your music. I’ve got a decent camera and some free editing software, and can easily come up with some promo pics and album artwork. In the day and age of digital purchases, artwork is less important, but it’s not difficult to create something professional on your own in one evening. Next I’ll take my camera and make some YouTube videos, lyric videos, or promotional videos, throw them up for free online and publish them to my social media accounts.
I went to school for marketing and public relations, so it’s easy for me to come up with branding, distribution, press releases and media kits. I work in business administration so I’m able to stay organized and within budget. I’m just a kid from a small town in Ohio, so trust me when I say that if I can do this, anyone can. Getting out and playing shows is the next step, and honestly networking is key. Music is all about community and one of the most valuable lessons I learned playing in punk rock bands is that we all look out for each other. Trading shows with bands or getting added at the last second is common, and concerts are one of the most important means of keeping the momentum of your music going.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. You’ll likely have to invest some money before you even get started, and be prepared to make a lot of personal sacrifices (sorry babe). I can only imagine that I won’t earn much income with my music, and having a day job and a personal life can hinder that even more. The important thing is having fun, not putting too much stress on yourself, and sharing one of the most basic human rituals with others. That’s why I’ve decided that in 2015, I’m finally going to release a new album for a new year.
Do you remember your first real concert? By “real,” I mean the first time you ever went to see a band you actually liked, not like the time my parents took me to see Cheap Trick at the State Fair, or even that time I accidentally saw LeAnn Rimes at the amusement park (it was not amusing). No, I’m talking about the first time you actively pursued a band whose music meant something to you and having an unforgettable time at one of their shows.
All the way back in the early 2000s when I was just a young chap, I picked up a sampler album at Hot Topic (I know) called Pure Punk Rock by Punk Core Records. This disc contained many of the bands I would worship over the next few years, drawing me closer and closer to the dingy, dirty, run-down dive bars that I would frequent throughout high school. The sampler contained a song by a band called The Unseen, who was a pretty straight-forward street punk band from Boston (sidenote: their bassist has since written a pretty entertaining book which you can check out here). A couple of months after starting my freshman year of high school in the autumn of 2003, this thing called the internet told me that The Unseen were coming to my town. They were playing at Newport Music Hall, a place I had never heard of, but would later go on to perform several times myself.
I worked up the courage to ask my parents if I could go to the freak fest, and sheepishly inquired if they had ever heard of the Newport Music Hall. Both parents laughed and reminisced that they had spent many a night there when they were younger, but seemed a little reserved at letting 14 year old me attend the show. We somehow worked it out that my mother would take me (so punk rock) and my best friend’s mother would attend as well. I checked out the lineup online, and the headlining band were Dropkick Murphy’s who I had heard of, and the opening band were called Roger Miret and the Disasters.
I had never heard of the opener before, but this was my first big chance to discover some new music so we arrived early. My mom and her accomplice each grabbed a beer, which was a sight I had only seen a few times in my entire life up until that point. Immediately the mood changed and I sensed that it was going to be a fun night. My friends and I went into the pit and tried to act like we belonged there as Roger Miret and the Disasters started and put on one hell of a show. They were high energy, catchy, and unlike any other punk band I had heard at that time.
After their set, my mother and I were hanging around the merch booths when an older gentleman approached me and complimented me on my The Clash back patch. I said thank you and the three of us sparked up a conversation about older bands and who were our favorites. I didn’t even realize it, but I was speaking to Roger Miret, the singer of the opening band (and for all of you hardcore kids out there, also THE VOCALIST OF AGNOSTIC FRONT). My mother and I spoke to Roger for a while and before I knew it he was giving me free stickers, patches and pins, and once he found out that I had a couple of friends with me, went back to his merch booth and gave us even more goodies. This absolutely blew my mind, as everybody around me had neck tattoos, leather jackets and mohawks, and to be honest, I was a little frightened. This bad-ass looking dude not only turned out to be a perfect gentleman, but left me feeling included and inspired to be a part of his community.
The Unseen played next and I had a wonderful time pogoing, skanking, circle pitting, and picking up my fallen brothers and sisters off the ground. It was everything I ever wanted and more, and cemented the idea that this is where I belonged. I would later go on to see The Unseen about a million times more and had some excellent conversations with their drummer Pat, who was yet another amazing dude willing to spend his time talking to a random teenage kid like me. The Dropkicks went on last, and as I’m sure you can imagine completely blew my mind. By the end of the night, I was on stage with the band and a bunch of fat, drunken, sweaty Irishmen singing songs arm in arm and having the time of my life. It was and will remain one of the most memorable nights of my adolescent years.
Exactly four years later, in October of 2007, I was playing drums in a hardcore band who had seen mild popularity playing around the Midwest and Canada. Our band was asked to be the openers for an all-day hardcore music festival, whose headliner would be Agnostic Front. Nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks when I thought about how just four years earlier I was an awkward kid going to his first punk show and now had the opportunity to play with a band whose vocalist had a major impact on me. I loaded up my gear and hit the road for Dayton, OH where we were to go on around noon.
When my band played, there weren’t many people there, aside from a couple of other bands. We gave it our all and still had a wonderful time, and got to see a lot of other great bands throughout the day. Agnostic Front closed the night, and were really a sight to be seen. Everybody in the venue was going absolutely insane, moshing, singing along, and you could tell that this band meant a lot to everyone there. After the show ended, I had to make my way back toward Columbus and was unable to catch up with Mr. Miret that night. I doubt I would have had a chance anyway as he was the most popular man in the room, but I really felt like things had come full circle. I learned a valuable lesson about the relationship between artists and their fans, and remain grateful for what Mr. Miret taught me: don’t forget about the little people.
I think it was in Texas in the spring of ’06 when I bought the Arctic Monkeys CD Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not; which went on to become the fastest selling debut album in British music history. I also picked up an Anti-Flag CD, Coldplay’s live album, and I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning by Bright Eyes that day. I’ll never forget the smirk on the cashier’s face when he said I had an “interesting” taste in music. I had actually been introduced to Arctic Monkeys a year prior when a friend gave me a mix CD with one of their songs on it. Remember those? I found some of my favorite music through mixes.
After reading this article on The Guardian, I was very impressed to learn that in the UK, the Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, AM, was “the biggest selling vinyl LP of 2014.” The article also mentioned that vinyl has become “an attractive format for object fetishists and committed fans.” Now object fetishists and committed fans are two completely different types of people, so I had to find out: who is buying vinyl records?
I don’t have a Facebook account and as you get older your friends generally start to move on with their lives, so I posed a question to an online vinyl record forum: “Why Do You Buy Vinyl Records?” I didn’t expect to get much of a response, but the one that I did get was not only qualitative, but quantitative. Perfect strangers opened up to me over the internet detailing exactly how they listen to records, their childhood, what their hobbies are, and what kinds of music they listen to.
You can probably guess who the majority of vinyl consumers are: 20-something men in major cities with enough disposable income to afford the average $20 record. If you guessed this, then you guessed correctly. What astounded me however were the vast lifestyle differences and reasons for purchasing that varied by respondent. Approximately 76% of my audience were males between the ages of 25 and 39, with all other respondents being female (obviously) and/or between the ages of 18 and 24.
Sound was first recorded in 1857, which was over 150 years ago. The tail end of vinyl record sales slowed in 1996 with just over one million units sold, so what does that say about the staying power of vinyl? The majority of my respondents were still teenagers when vinyl “died out,” yet somehow still find themselves drawn toward this mysteriously popular format.
So what caused this shift back to traditionalism? Was it Napster, KaZaA, or SoulSeek? How about iTunes, Zunes, or CD players? Or maybe it was the final nail in the coffin: YouTube, Spotify, or Pandora. I can’t say for sure, but after reading some of the responses to my question, I found that the main reason for this shift was the physical and emotional connection that the listeners felt to the music on the record. If we look at the timeline mentioned above, from vinyl to CD, and Napster to Spotify, let’s think about how this affected the artist. In 1996, bands were selling vinyl and CDs for upwards of $20, but today they only get paid mere pennies for however many hundreds of times their songs are streamed on Spotify.
The second highest response to my question was to support the artist. Bands clearly aren’t making any money from streaming, and they definitely don’t have major labels backing them any more, so where is their revenue coming from? For some lucky artists, it’s coming from their vinyl record sales. 21% of my respondents purchased just to support the artist. Two of the other major responses to my question were that listeners are buying vinyl for the higher audio quality and physical packaging.
Some of the more interesting lifestyle statistics I gathered from my audience were geographical location and annual household income. Most lived on the east coast of the United States in major cities, some were unemployed, and others made almost $200,000 per annum. Music has always been something that brings people together, and often transcends cultural and socio-economic barriers. It was really exciting to see so many people from different backgrounds come together just to talk about their love for music. Many of them talked about the feeling they get of nostalgia or warmth once they touch the needle to the record, or how much closer they feel to the artists that they love.
The artists have noticed this cultural shift too, and have started to give back to their fans. Record Store Day is usually the third Saturday of April, an international holy day for musicians, fans, and record store owners alike. Many bands release special records and CDs and even perform concerts at independent record stores all around the world. It has become a unique and important observance for die-hard music fans allowing them the chance to collect rare memoribilia, meet the artists they love, and provide a revenue boom for small businesses and independent musicians.
Though music may be seen as a commodity to many, to others it is life. The anticipation running through their veins as they tear off the shrink wrap, pull out the liner notes, and delicately place the needle on the track. Turning the lights down low, the bass and treble up, and simply enjoying being nowhere with only your favorite song as company. I’d like to say that the recent uptick in sales of vinyl records is not a trend, because trends don’t last for 150 years. Trends come and go as technologies and cultures change, but one thing that will always remain the same is the connection that we feel to the music.