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.yrs-admat

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.

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    Just another day with the Sons

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.

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    The Sons love you 10/26/16

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.

    yrs-fist
    The world will keep on turnin’

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.

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    Music video shoot for “Undefeatable” in Denver
  • 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.yrs-utah-lake

**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.**

/ZF/

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.

most-artist-shazamsThe 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.

/ZF/

APMAS FlyerThe 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.


Notable Performances

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.

Issues

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.

Good Charlotte

Good Charlotte
Much angst

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

Neck Deep
Their necks are so deep

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.

Scott Stapp
Scott Stapp Shreds

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.

“Wanna go to Alaska June 22nd?”

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.


Day 1 – A Formal Introduction

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KWHL 106.5 FM
  • Anger Management, the entity behind Road to Warped Tour, books us on radio station KWHL 106.5 FM to perform live and interview with Bob & Chad on the morning show.
  • The boys perform “Happy EX-Mas” while I film and photograph.
  • 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

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The Covenant House
  • 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

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Warped Tour 2010 in Los Angeles, CA vs. Warped Tour 2016 in Anchorage, AK
  • 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

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Beluga Point
  • 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

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Midnight in Alaska
  • 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.FullSizeRender_3

**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.**

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.

This is the guy that I probably ripped off.
This is the guy that I probably ripped off.

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.

Dear Diary: Why Aren't I a Rockstar yet? :(
Dear Diary: Why Aren’t I a Rockstar yet? 😦

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.

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Photo Credit: twitter.com/THAOphoto

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.

This s**t takes forever.
This s**t takes forever.

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.

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.

Arctic Monkeys
My Arctic Monkeys CD. Amish beard for scale.

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.

Old Record Player
Just listening to the new National record, no big deal.

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.

Dent May Vinyl
Aw shucks, really? Thanks, Dent!

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.

As an artist, you are your product. Your album, your live show, your image, your prose. Out of all of these factors, recent studies show that musicians earn the most income on the road. I’ve always been more of a studio geek than a stage presence, so in this article I’m going to focus on one of the most important products in the music industry: your album. First of all, let’s define album. Is it a single? EP? Full length? Is it digital, or on CD, or vinyl? You’ll likely want to choose the right kind of format for your genre; for example country artists are still moving CDs, many indie artists are selling large numbers of vinyl records, and digitial releases have never been more successful.

Once you’ve figured out what your release will be, you’ll want to start focusing on packaging. Packaging is the visual and physical representation of your product before it hits listener’s ears. Important aspects of packaging consist of cover art, track listing, and liner notes. Cover art is easiest to achieve with digital releases, as you often only need one image to act as the cover of your album. Track listing is also as simple as writing up a text document of the songs included on the album, which order they’re in, and each song’s length. Liner notes may take a little longer to create, as they include lyrics, credits, art and photography contained within a .PDF document. Barriers to physical releases (CD, vinyl, cassette) consist of creating front and back album art including barcode/UPC, designing the actual CD face, and artistically creating the layout based on the format’s physical space limitations. Not only are physical releases more costly to produce, but they often take longer to complete.

discmakers
DiscMakers has about a million options for physical packaging

In order to create a successful product, the music, lyrics, and recording quality need to be good, but I’ll leave that topic alone in the hopes that you’ve already achieved those traits before preparing for release. When you are finally ready, you can use the checklist below to narrow your focus.

– Your album is a single, EP, or full length
– Your product will be released digitally, on CD, vinyl, cassette, or all of the above
– You have album art/professional photography, track listing, and liner notes

Above all, you should only release your album once it’s ready. If the songs are poorly performed, or the art isn’t appropriate, the audience will recognize that and respond accordingly. One question I always ask myself is “am I proud of this?” If I am, then I can move forward. If I’m not proud of my work, I go back and tweak every little thing I can until I’m satisfied. I encourage you to take pride in your work and never try to run before you can walk.

Next Phase: Learn How to Price Your Album

Marketing is often known as selling or advertising a product or service, but it’s actually part of a much larger process. The marketing mix, or “4 Ps”, consist of product, price, place, and promotion; individual concepts which we will explore further in future blog posts. When you are ready to begin the marketing process, the first step is to define your target market. Your target market is the group of consumers who have common traits, needs, and desires. The essential question you have to ask yourself is, who are my customers? Males aged 18 – 25? Hispanic women? Jewish pre-teens in New York?

Marketing MixThe easiest way to define your target market is through demographics. A market’s demographics often consist of age, gender, race, occupation, and location. Other statistics included in a target market’s demographics are how they buy what they buy, where they buy what they buy, etc. If you’re a musician, how will your target market access your songs? Will they have enough money to purchase a vinyl record instead of streaming your album online? Do they live in the location in which you’re touring? Are they old enough to get into the club that you’re playing this weekend? These are all important things to think about when trying to increase your visibility among your target market.

Visibility is exactly what it sounds like. How visible is your music? Do music fans even know you exist? How can you increase visibility? Visibility goes hand in hand with reach. Reach is the total number of people that have been exposed to your music at any given time. Thanks to the internet, reach and visibility are limitless, providing millions of ways to get your music out to fans and gain new ones. Websites like Facebook, SoundCloud, and BandCamp allow for you to connect with consumers socially in ways that you never could have before, guiding them toward your brand and your products. Unlike the internet, geographical location can drastically limit your reach. For example, if you live in a small town of 5,000 residents and you’ve played the same bar every weekend for a year, your overall reach starts to dwindle as you begin to tap out your market. This is why touring is the most lucrative industry for musicians right now.

bandcamp
One last thing to think about before you begin your marketing campaign is branding. Your brand is who you are, what you represent, and what you hope to sell to your audience. A brand can be a lifestyle, a logo, or even a political or religious ideation. Just off the top of my head, California punk rock band Black Flag’s logo is something that has nearly transcended the band itself, representing “rebellion and anarchy” in the punk community and beyond. Branding can be one way to increase visibility, and acts as an overall component of every successful marketing campaign.

Black Flag logo
Next Phase
: A 4-Part Series on the Marketing Mix