Performer Magazine: June/July 2021

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THE MUSICIAN ’S RESO URCE

JUNE/JULY ‘21 FREE

Play the Streaming Game in 2021 Blow Up Your Music on TikTok Get a Fair Advance Deal

In The Studio With KRK

INTERVIEWS JULIANA HATFIELD LOU BARLOW SUNNY WAR

AJ SMITH

How an engineering background and West Side Story guided his journey as an award-winning multi-instrumentalist and songwriter


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

VOLUME 31, ISSUE 3

TABLE OF

CONTENTS

24 AJ SMITH

16 LOU BARLOW by Gus Rocha

20

by Benjamin Ricci

JULIANA HATFIELD by Vincent Scarpa

30

SUNNY WAR by Gus Rocha

DEPARTMENTS 4. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR 5. Record Review: Kevin Lawson 6. Update on Artist Rights Alliance 8. How to Blow Up Your Music on TikTok: Pt. 1 10. What’s Behind the Catalog Buying Frenzy? 12. How to Play the Streaming Game in 2021 14. How to Get a Fair Advance Deal

34

THE SIAM SINFONIETTA AND THE MAESTRO by Paul Spurrier

38. GEAR TEST: KRK Studio Monitors 40. GEAR REVIEWS: Akai, Eventide, AKG, PRS, and more… PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 3


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Volume 31, Issue 3 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 CONTACT

LETTER W

ell, the day we thought might never come has indeed arrived in many places, and we couldn’t be happier. As more states are able to keep their COVID numbers down and vaccination rates up, more and more of the daily pleasures we used to take for granted have started opening back up again. And of course, that means live music. For over a year, the country (and the world at large), has been sorely without the joys of live performances across the board. But now, a glimmer of hope, at least, that things are headed back towards a more normal status. We’ve heard from countless artists since the last issue was published who are resuming their tours almost immediately, are re-booking cancelled tours from the past year as well as festival dates, and also scheduling *new* dates well into 2022. So, all in all, at least as far as the musicians are concerned, the outlook is appearing to look healthier. And if we can keep it up, perhaps even (dare I say) back to full-strength by this time next summer?

from the editor

And while that is all indeed great news, not all is perfect. We still mourn the loss of so many venues who weren’t able to weather the storm and make it out intact from the pandemic. Far too many clubs and live music venues have shuttered forever, without the aid that was dangled, tantalized, and ultimately failed to materialize in time (if at all). And to that, I say, for shame. It’s a sad state of affairs that as of publication, it is reported that less than 1% of independent venues have received aid from the “Save Our Stages” pandemic relief funds. For those seeking more information, there is a great report in the Gothamist that outlines the problem in much greater detail. It’s a crucial read for our industry, and even more crucial that we continue to pressure our elected officials to make good on their promises. Stay strong, and I hope to see you all out there on the road in the months ahead.

Benjamin Ricci

ABOUT US / Performer Magazine, a nationally distributed musician’s trade publication, focuses on independent musicians, those unsigned and on small labels, and their success in a DIY environment. We’re dedicated to promoting lesser-known talent and being the first to introduce you to artists you should know about. MUSIC SUBMISSIONS / We listen to everything that comes into the office. We prefer physical CDs, cassettes and vinyl over downloads. If you do not have a physical copy, send download links to editorial@performermag.com. No attachments, please. Send CDs to: Performer Magazine, Attn: Reviews, PO BOX 348, Somerville, MA 02143 CORRECTIONS / Did we make a heinous blunder, factual error or just spell your name wrong? Contact editorial@ performermag.com and let us know, cuz we’re big enough to say, “Baby, I was wrong.” EDITORIAL SUBMISSIONS / In the words of our esteemed forefathers at CREEM: “NOBODY WHO WRITES FOR THIS RAG’S GOT ANYTHING YOU AIN’T GOT, at least in the way of credentials. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be sending us your stuff: reviews, features, photos, recording tips, DIY advice or whatever else you have in mind that might be interesting to our readers: independent and DIY musicians. Who else do ya know who’ll publish you? We really will...ask any of our dozens of satisfied customers. Just bop it along to us to editorial@performermag.com and see what comes back your way. If you have eyes to be in print, this just might be the place. Whaddya got to lose? Whaddya got?”

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Phone: 617-627-9200 Fax: 617-627-9930 PUBLISHER

William House Phone: 617-627-9919 bill@performermag.com EDITOR

Benjamin Ricci ben@performermag.com DESIGN & ART DIRECTION

Cristian Iancu

EDITORIAL ASSISTANT

Bob Dobalina editorial@performermag.com CONTRIBUTING WRITERS

Benjamin Ricci, Chris Devine, Eli Ball, Gus Rocha, Lesley Daunt, Matthew Aasen, Michael St. James, Paul Spurrier, Vincent Scarpa CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS

Florencia P Marano, Matthew Aasen ADVERTISING SALES

William House Phone: 617-627-9919 bill@performermag.com © 2021 by Performer Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher. The magazine accepts no responsibility for unsolicited recordings, manuscripts, artwork or photographs and will not return such materials unless requested and accompanied by a SASE. Annual Subscription Rate is $30 in the U.S.; $45 outside the U.S.


NEW MUSIC

RECORD OF THE MONTH Lesley Daunt

Kevin Lawson Now is Perfect

K

Kevin Lawson reminds us that “Now is Perfect” with his latest solo release.

evin Lawson stepped onto a stage for the first time in the 5th grade and hasn’t stepped off since (well, minus a pandemic). On his new album, Now is Perfect, that experience shines both vocally and musically. His unrelenting love for producing quality music is evident throughout the album. Adding to its lyrical and musical beauty is the fact it was conceived during the midst of a worldwide pandemic and the virtual shut down of North America. From the opening number “Take Your

Time,” a song reminiscent of early Goo Goo Dolls, Lawson lays out why he has amassed the respect of so many people in the music industry. Its catchy sweet chorus brings you in for a sing-along from the get-go. The luscious, spacious opening of the second song and lyrics like: “You needed space so you could breathe, now you’re a ghost that just won’t leave,” are surprisingly ironic for a track titled “The F Word” -- but irony is a common theme throughout the album.

recording. A standout is “Move On.” Lawson’s voice is the perfect marriage of grit and silk... like if Rod Stewart and Johnny Rzeznik had a baby. Songs like “Ain’t that a Shame” and “Be Back Home” show exactly why Lawson is a songwriting force to be reckoned with. Now is Perfect is a record full of heart and soul during a time when it is needed most and would be a welcome addition to any music lover’s collection.

There is a lot of atmosphere that really lends to the weight of the lyrics on this

Follow online at www.facebook.com/KevinLawsonMusic PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 5


MUSIC BUSINESS

ARTIST RIGHTS ALLIANCE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TED KALO TO STEP DOWN, WILL REMAIN ON HAND FOR TRANSITION

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he Artist Rights Alliance (ARA), an artist run nonprofit fighting for a healthy creative economy and fair treatment for all creators in the digital world, has announced that Executive Director Ted Kalo will be stepping down. He will remain on hand to assist in the selection of his successor and will act as an advisor to the organization moving forward. Under Ted’s guidance and leadership, the ARA has become one of the most respected and trusted voices advocating for artists and songwriters in the music policy landscape today. Recent ARA accomplishments include successfully advocating for the inclusion of robust songwriter protections in the Music Modernization Act and supporting the Copyright Office’s implementation efforts that led to the recent payment of nearly $500 million in “black box” royalties to the Mechanical Licensing Collective. “It has been an honor to serve the Artist Rights Alliance and to fight for a better future for the musicians and songwriters it represents,” says Kalo. “What makes ARA unique is that it is run by artists advocating for their fellow artists – a factor that made my five years serving as Executive Director particularly special. I am forever indebted to ARA’s artist-run board for their guidance, insight, and friendship. I look forward to the organization’s continued growth and success advocating for a more sustainable 6 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

music economy that better supports the people who make the music we love.” “Ted’s decision to step down as Executive Director of Artist Rights Alliance is a significant loss for our organization,” board member Rosanne Cash says. “His brilliance in matters of policy and law, coupled with his patient guidance and unwavering vision, gave so much wind to our sails and so much clarity to our mission of protecting and advancing artists’ rights. He will be deeply missed, but we are fortunate to have benefited from his wisdom and will always count him as friend and advisor.” “Ted’s departure is a huge loss for the Artist Rights Alliance,” says board member John McCrea. “At what was a critical and formative juncture for the organization, Ted was there to provide consistency, foresight, and unwavering dedication to the cause of artists rights. Although we are sad to see him go, we remain grateful for his well-timed but too brief tenure.” Upon launching the Artist Rights Alliance, Kalo sought to engage the creative community by establishing an executive board of musicians and creators as well as naming over 80 artist advisors. He oversaw campaigns and efforts that improved the current climate for musicians and artists, constantly

challenging unfair practices from the major players in music streaming and honing a laser focus on securing fair pay for creators. During the heat of the political landscape in 2020, Ted organized a nationally recognized campaign to pressure politicians to ask for permission before using artists’ music in political ads and events, enlisting Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler, Lorde, Pearl Jam, Sia and other internationally known musicians to sign off on a letter to congress. About the Artist Rights Alliance: The Artist Rights Alliance is an artist-run, non-profit organization fighting for songwriters and musicians in the modern music economy. It is led by a Board of Directors including GRAMMY winner Rosanne Cash, artist manager Thomas Manzi, John McCrea of CAKE, critically acclaimed Americana singer/songwriter Tift Merritt, award-winning producer Ivan Barias, world guitar innovator Matthew Montfort, and Indie label executive and musician Maggie Vail. ARA works to ensure artists are at the table when decisions are made on policies that affect their lives and livelihoods and empowers artists to advocate directly for themselves through classes, events, and presentations to demystify music, politics, and the spaces where they intersect. For more information, please visit: https://artistrightsalliance.org



MUSIC BUSINESS

How to Blow Up your Music on TikTok: Part 1 of 2

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ne of the producers/ artists we work with has over 150 million streams on Spotify. I tell you this not to brag, but to give you insight into how they got there.

Was it the music marketing on FB/IG advertising? Nope. Not a dime. Was it the branding around a hot new release? Nope, the album was released years ago. OK, pencils down. It was TikTok (mostly). But, how?

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You probably know TikTok as the short form video app filled with thirst traps, bikini bounces, beard worship, kinks, cosplay, and now, the generational wars. (Side note: GenX still doesn’t care about your jeans or hair, and Cheugy is just fine with us, we’ve been called worse). But for all of that video-centric content, the secret is - TikTok runs on audio. Spoken audio, recordings, and last but not least, song clips. Notice the difference, not songs, but “clips.” Whether it’s a viral dance to a hit, a challenge, or a remixed mashup, or that insane, “Oh no, oh no, oh no no no no no,” there is normally music

involved. This is not meant to be a user guide for TikTok. I’m going to assume you’ve wiped your eyes and looked up after blowing two hours scrolling through your feed laughing. But here are some tips for how to use it as a music maker. Here are some facts to consider. In 2020, over 70 artists were signed to major label deals directly from their TikTok. And these aren’t all young rappers, either. Someone we work with in his late twenties got a distribution deal for back catalog and a 1+ 1 from a major.


Whenever you release a song now, you must check with your distributor on how you can choose the 30 sec sample that DSPs use. This is crucial. You are going to want to find the 15 seconds or less of your song that you think could really go viral. Is it a lyric that describes something everyone does or goes through? Is it a weird vocalization that someone could make funny faces to? Is it a part that could easily become a dance? Pick this part, because this is what people will actually be using when they choose the “sound” for their TikTok, and it’s nearly impossible to change after it’s ingested. Get familiar with how “Sounds” work. Find a favorite TikTok, click on the bottom sound. That will take you to a page that shows all the videos using that sound. If you’ve never made a TikTok, click in the bottom center on the app, and you will see right at the top “Add Sound” which opens up a Search, Discovery, and Favorites. You’ll see all the sounds you are familiar with. But, in the search, look for your song, and that is how you add it. This will ensure it gets counted because it is tied to the file provided by your distributor. TikTok is really authentic, and for the most part, surprisingly nice and friendly. It’s important to understand that. If you are just promoting your music and don’t really interact with others, or worse, don’t understand and participate in the other trends, you are going to fail. We see it time and again.

There were 176 songs that were featured in 1 billion unique video views on the app in 2020 alone, and that number is growing. First things first, you ain’t gonna make the money FROM TikTok. There is a royalty share when your song is used a lot, but nowhere near what the value of streams are. This means, to really do this right, you have to have released the music before you do the TikTok. There needs to be somewhere for people to go to listen to the whole thing. If they like it, they’ll search it on their favorite streamer. This means that when you do your own music with

Some hints on picking parts of songs. Lyrics that match physical parts work really well. Lyrics that talk about who you are, what you like, where you’re from, or describing someone else. Lyrics that talk about getting fucked up really work well. Lots of drunks and stoners on TikTok. Weird sounding vocals- high pitched voices, bad singing - are everywhere. It’s sad, but it’s true. The key to any virality on TikTok is not just sharing, but stealing, or interpreting. It’s when other people use your sound and do their own video of it. They have more followers than you, then their followers have more than them, and that’s how it happens. This is why “Challenges” work. Because the original video may not even have that many views, but it will be tied to the original audio when someone clicks on the “sound” to use it, and bam, another view and so on, and so on. So, if you’re going to survive and thrive on TikTok,

it’s not like the other social media channels, you actually have to care and be there. Here are a few more strategies. You don’t have to show your face to use your sound. Go to use a clip of your own song on something that old people do not understand. Anime is a great place to start. Take a clip, put your sad sappy song to it. Same thing with showing action on the street or something in your funky in your house.

MUSIC BUSINESS

TikTok, it may blow up and get your followers, but it basically won’t make you any money. Even if you are part of the Creator’s Fund, you really need to be doing hundreds of thousands of views to see any real revenue. And as the TikTok says, “it’s a full-time job…”

Start a challenge with your sound. It could be a dance, but more likely it’s a trick or a drinking game or sliding into a wall. When you find a trend like the “dead sweatshirt” one that isn’t reliant on a song, always use one of your songs, even if the audio is down. Find influencers who will use your music to do a dance or as background in one of their videos. It will cost you anywhere from $30$1,000, or more. This is product placement, and you’d be surprised how well it works. One of our artists bumped their streams and YouTube channel by over 50,000 based on one usage. Look in the bios of the people you follow, and you will often find their info for business. Send them a 15 second clip and ask for their rate or offer them $50-$100 per 100,000 followers. You can also look on SubmitHub for these opportunities. Try to isolate which Tok your song fits into. Is it WitchTok, CosTok, HorseTok, DadbodTok, GeriatricMillTok? When you find the niche that your 15 sec clip fits into, it becomes gold. Look, the songs you have out right now, just might not work on TikTok. You could create a single or an EP that shoots for this. You could create another artist name on your distro and focus on these. Just be aware, your music may not work, yet. But, maybe you do have a part of a song that will? Maybe after a while on TikTok, you will be able to write one, because you’ll know what would “work perfectly here.” The biggest takeaway I can give you is to have fun and join in on the fun. If you make this all about your music and money, it won’t work. In Part 2, I’ll walk you through some strategies to starting your own TikTok music maker channel, which will also blow up your music, and maybe your music career. ABOUT THE AUTHOR -Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 9


MUSIC BUSINESS

What’s Really Be Music Catalog Bu

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ll of the music industry is wondering why these classic catalog artists (Dylan, Paul Simon, et al.) are selling for 18x25x multiples. Well, there is no one answer. One is taxes. Another is streamlining the estate process for wills and inheritance. In some cases, it’s stagnant management of their catalogs in lieu of pushing younger, hotter, genres and artists. Yet another is the decreasing viability of live touring for these artists. Catalogs generate income in two major ways. One is in the form of royalties from spins and streams, mechanicals, and public performances collected by the PROs (ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, GMR). The other is in sync. Basically, when a song is used in a commercial, movie, video game, etc. Well, if you follow streaming, you know those rates are horrible across the board, there is little 10 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

transparency, and crucially, there is simply no incentive for the Spotifys of the world to serve you old music, so they don’t. These genres just aren’t as popular on interactive streaming. But over time, these royalties still add up, they are just a slow trickle. How does an artist increase those royalties? Touring or a residency. If a legacy artist goes on tour, it results in more radio spins in each city they visit, more YouTube views, more sales (merch, VIP packages etc.), and more syncs. The artist and the music become freshly relevant. But, with COVID, these huge package tours are dead on the vine. And once things get going again, it’s unknown what the capacities and extra value tickets sales will be. Now, if you’re 75, do you want to wait 3-5 years to find out? Probably not. Let’s look at taxation. The new administration is definitely raising the capital gains tax. This is something that people like you and me aren’t really affected by. But, if you have assets to sell

that are valued in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, it definitely matters. A capital gains tax is applied to the profits earned on the sale of an asset once they are actually sold. This has been locked in at 20% for years, but the increase may be as high as 43.4%. Say you’re Bob Dylan selling your catalog at a reported $250 million. The difference in tax right now vs. when the change comes in would be: $50m in taxes (netting $200m), or $108.5m in taxes (netting $141.5m). That’s a big deal. The better question is why a company would buy the catalogs of older artists and I am here to tell you why. Death. I know, I know, it sucks to talk about. But Dylan and Paul Simon and Stevie Nicks and so on... are in their 70s and soon to be 80s. One thing Michael Jackson taught everyone is his music started making more for the estate in the 5 years


MUSIC BUSINESS

Behind the Buying Frenzy? following his death, than it did in the 10 years prior. Bowie, Eagles (Glenn Frey), Prince, all entered the charts after their death when they had been nowhere near those numbers - in some cases, for decades. Now, this is mostly for the very top artists with name recognition and built-in fan bases for life. All of their catalogs make a certain amount of money in royalties every year, and yes, that number may be decreasing on one side (sales) or another (publishing) depending on the environment. But there is built-in revenue and the surprise viral hit every now and then from social media (Cranberry juice, reaction videos, etc.). But the truth is, when they die in the next 1015 years, and some will be sooner than that, the catalog holders can expect to get a growth value that year alone of 54.1 percent following his or

her death, according to Open Banking Report. In some cases, streams go up 2,700% - 7,000% in the same week. Same with royalties from increased radio play. Same with SoundExchange. Same with HFA licensing new covers or tribute albums. And then there are the Master/Syncs for nostalgia. That’s not all. In many of these cases, they bought the entire catalog. That means a ton of unreleased music (like Prince’s vault, but not nearly as much material) that can be packaged and sold/licensed later on. This drives nostalgia buying, and it increases the value for super fans who think they’ve heard everything or own every album. It doesn’t stop there. Every single year on the anniversary of their deaths, especially in milestone years like “5 years since they’ve been gone” or the “the 10th anniversary of (artist’s) death,” the catalog gets massive bumps over and

over. Keep in mind, this doesn’t happen when they are alive. Did you listen to Paul McCartney’s latest album on his birthday? These are specialty deals, and they most likely have specialty marketing plans in place for these eventualities. Yes, you get your multiple for normal earnings, but you can also count on maybe 20-30 years of nostalgia buying. And if you do not believe that, just know that Kurt Cobain died 27 years ago. Read that again. TWENTY-SEVEN. So, that’s why the buyers are swooping in. Is it a risk? Sure. But a fairly good one, if money is your motivator. All the more reason to hold on to your catalog rights as long as you possibly can. ABOUT THE AUTHOR -Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 11


MUSIC BUSINESS

Playing the Streaming Game in 2021

A

little inside info for my music makers.

I often get asked, “What exactly do I have to do to become successful by releasing music this year?” I get it, everyone wants THE answer, they want it to be simple and doable. Unfortunately, the way the music streaming system is set up is just not simple, nor is it easy, and for many, it’s not even doable. You asked for it, so here it is. I am not going to name the company, but I’ve been given permission to share this with you in the hopes that some of you understand how much work goes into the process and perhaps you can copy the plan because around here, we believe there is plenty of room for us all to be successful. Maybe you could start your own music label, too! Understand that this doesn’t include live performances and touring; that is a whole different agenda. So, if you really want to be a fulltime musician, making your living off music, and doing nothing but making music, here ya go. This is from Chris, a friend who runs an indie distribution/publishing group. They get roughly 12 million streams a week, cume. That’s around $50,000 per week. Most of

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their roster is making $2k per week. Here’s what they do on a DAILY basis. Label/Group side: • S lot releases for distribution (5 weeks out minimum), use matrix to start process • Curate two new playlists including their newest releases and like artists • Record 5 videos, short form for Reels, TikTok, etc. • Two hours of playlist research - genre specific with followers of 2k, 10k, 20k, 100k+ • Reach out to playslisters on social and email • Two social media posts about artists and releases within that week • File registrations PROs, MLC, LODs and ROs for SoundExchange, HFA • License covers with HFA or publishers direct • Field sync requests, generate sync opportunities with aligned music releases • Two outreaches for brand integration - artist specific. • Artwork for upcoming releases - album covers, ad design, social posts • Combine artwork into ad set creation. • Reach out to touchpoints - music media, TikTokers, bloggers, influencers, brand managers • Run and manage an array of YouTube ads: 4-5 at a time (budget- $20/day per artist, $150/

day during release week) • R un and manage an array of FB/IG Ad Manager ads: 15-20 per day (budget - $20/ day per artist, $120/day during release week) • Generate producer and Ft./ remixes for upcoming release - slotted 4 weeks into release. • Work with video editors on Official and Lyric videos for upcoming releases • Scout talent using matrix of Spotify popularity and rising index. • Update Chartmetric, Soundcharts, MusicPlay Expected of up-and-coming artists: • T hree social posts (content) per day, platform dependent. • Must interact with at least 5 followers/fans DM, PM, hit their page. • Interact with same-genre artists, three a day • Create two pics and one video per day (three on TikTok) • Must be working on a new song every week. Goal is one finished every 3 weeks, 5-6 week lead time for release post-mastering. • Turn in one line every day - lyric or audio • Work on a cover to pitch. • Generate video ideas for music lyrics. • Usually coordinate with touchpoint outreaches to personalize messages


MUSIC BUSINESS There’s more on a monthly basis, and it increases around release pushes, especially the first three days, and then the first two weeks. But this is EVERY DAY. If you are independent, you are the Label/ Group AND the Artist. That’s a lot of work. So, there it is. Your roadmap, your answer. That’s exactly how it’s done. I’m going to caveat this a little. While this is the dominant way to build fan bases and streaming revenue currently, it ain’t the only game. This works if you plan on feeding the machine new music every five weeks, if you plan on branding constantly with new merch and videos, if you plan on touring - and that all demands you have money budgeted. You also kinda have to want to be public and allow yourself to possibly become famous if it works, and everything that comes with that. However, the downsides: that means dealing with tons of trolls, haters, and harassment on your socials. It means depression. Too much social media simply means a worse mental outlook and that’s just true. For women especially, this means unwanted dick pics, sexual harassment and nasty DMs.

It also means, in my opinion, that you may become a boring fuck or worse, completely jaded. To write great songs you have to live a life, and not just a music life, as anyone who has been in the cycle of recording and touring will tell you. No one wants to hear another “turn the page” song. You have to date, go get drunk, meditate, go see art, travel, be present with your love - in other words, get off social media. You have to be curious about life and topics and the world to have a voice in your songs. So, it is a balance. Also, imagine the burnout of doing this every day for 2, 5, 10 years? And that’s not to become rich most likely, that’s just to make a good living. You know, like $30-50k before taxes, depending on how many are in your band. Is it what you really want? It may be that a better path for you is to direct all of your efforts to sync. Writing and recording for specific music projects that do not depend on promoting streams or YouTube videos. Building a valuable catalog that can be licensed again and again while you sleep and live a life. There’s an art and a hustle to that as well. And you still have to play the streaming game to a certain extent. But the downsides are fewer and less personally taxing. Although, you need to get used to hearing “No, pass” a lot and not take it personally.

I get it, it’s hard. This music industry world of no barriers means you can–and must– do everything, or build a team who can when you can afford it. But, you don’t have to. You can still write, record, produce and release the music you want - exactly how you want. You don’t need data and market research. Drop it and tell your friends and fans. Book some gigs and slug it out. Have a few jobs and save up to do it again in a year or three. You can absolutely do that. Those lists are for those who want to make music their career. Full-time. Every day. Every night. Those who say it’s all they can do. Those who enjoy making a creative business grow. Those who want to have fans around the world to tour to. Those who want a growing tribe of people who take this musical journey with you. There are always exceptions to the rule. You do it your way. I’m just giving you insight into how it’s being done today. ABOUT THE AUTHOR -Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development. PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 13


MUSIC BUSINESS

KNOWLEDGE IN ADVAN FINE PRINT AND GET A F W

ith all the legitimate criticism of record deals we’ve heard in recent years, advances have gotten a bad rap. They aren’t the kiss of death for an artist; when done right, they can benefit your career. “Advance” shouldn’t be a dirty word, though as a music professional, you owe it to yourself to learn what makes an advance helpful versus shady. Not all advances are created equal. Advances can be helpful tools when they’re the right fit for what you want to accomplish as an artist. But you often need a scalpel, not a chainsaw. You can tell what tool you’re being handed by looking closely at your agreement. Whether from a music company or a finance company, advances generally come with all types of fine print. That’s not bad in and of itself; agreements are complicated because life is complicated. Fine print demands close reading, and you should never be afraid to negotiate. I’ve worked as a producer and in finance, and I’ve seen a lot of contracts. I’m going to share some of the basics of how advances work and what you should look out for before you sign for one. Below are three crucial questions to focus on, as you look through that contract. Who’s actually giving me the advance? Sometimes you’ll look at your contract and see something interesting: The distributor/platform offers the advance under a separate financing company using their brand name, like “Distributor Capital, LLC.” Why do you care? Now you have two contracts with two different companies, one for distribution and one for the advance. And what happens if the distribution company or platform tanks? That separate finance company, run by people you do not know, will continue to control your music and royalties. It may be nearly impossible to get them on the phone if you need help or have concerns. You want to know who you’re dealing with. You’re offering them extensive access to your assets and your creative life. You may not want to go through with the deal if you can’t have that assurance.

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Eli Ball, Lyric Financial Can the agreement holder sell the rights granted them? An agreement may allow the company issuing your advance to sell the rights you granted them under the agreement but doesn’t give you the same rights. This means you, your music, or your future royalties may be sold off to someone you don’t know or don’t like without your consent or knowledge. In other words, you are trapped. Think Taylor Swift’s very public beef with her first label, Big Machine, over the sale of her masters to a manager she had a contentious history with. These struggles can feel devastating and can seriously throttle your career. What’s this actually going to cost me? Think of this from multiple angles, all of which should be considered before deciding if the deal makes sense for what you are trying to accomplish. There are a few factors you want to be clear about before signing on the dotted line. Monetary: You need to understand clearly how much money the advance will actually cost you and how it will be recouped. This cost isn’t the same as the APR (annual percentage rate) you’d consider for car loans, credit cards and mortgages since a) advances are not structured as loans (debt) and b) they are generally nonrecourse, meaning you are not personally liable for repayment. If the advance is from a music company (distributor/label/publisher), ask if it’s recoupable. If so, at what percentage rate and based on what measurement (gross sales vs. net sales after marketing costs, and so on). What other expenses can they charge you as recoupable? If the advance is extra-contractual, meaning it’s in addition to any advances guaranteed in your agreement with them, does it extend the term of your agreement until you are recouped or increase the cost of their service? How much better of a royalty rate could you get or how much lower could you get them to go on their fees, if you simply took an advance from a financing company like Lyric Financial? Does that higher rate or fee you are paying for distribution to get an advance continue for the length of the contract (3-5 years) or just until you recoup?

MUSIC BUSINESS

ANCE: HOW TO READ THE A FAIR ADVANCE DEAL If the advance is from a finance company: What is the breakdown of the costs you are paying (finance fees, processing fees, bank transfer fees, all the fees). If they won’t state these charges clearly (in plain English and in language you can understand) then run—don’t walk!—the other way. Payment: Can you repay your advance more quickly than projected without penalty? Does that reduce the cost of the advance? (Hint: it should!) Power: This is an important one and it’s easily forgotten as you try to evaluate a deal. Does taking the advance give the company leverage over you in terms of creative or marketing control of your brand or your music? Security: Many finance companies take control of your artist account by asking you to give them Power of Attorney and/or control of your login and password to monitor your royalty revenues. The problem here is if they are bad actors, they can use that POA or those credentials to block you from monitoring your royalties. And that in turn means you have no way to tell if they are being straight with you or accounting to you accurately and fairly. No matter what kind of advance you’re looking at, remember, the company making the advance is in it for one reason. They are in business to make money for themselves. They are not in business to make you money. The bigger the advance, the bigger the expectations and demands from the company. The long-term effect on your life isn’t really their concern. But it should be yours, and if you approach an advance with clear eyes and enough knowledge, you can strike a deal that makes sense for your long-term goals. If you approach an advance practically, you can wield this business tool to your advantage. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eli Ball is founder and CEO of Lyric Financial (lyricfinancial.com), the longest-running music financing company with 15 years and $100 million in financing to its credit.

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SPOTLIGHT

Lou Barlow and the Quest for

Change Amidst Chaos Gus Rocha

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known, he proves unafraid to commune with the specter of boredom and dissatisfaction that seemingly roams so freely across the current landscape. The result is a record that whispers quiet kernels of truth to the attentive and sensitive listener. I had the chance to speak to Barlow and discuss his lifelong obsession with recording devices and the role that “messiness” plays in making a solid record. We also talked about a newly released Dinosaur Jr. album and his plans for the post-Covid future. At what age would you say that you developed an interest in music?

F

ew musical artists from the last few decades have been as prolific as Lou Barlow. Ever since alt-rock luminaries Dinosaur Jr. burst onto the scene with their eclectic-sounding debut in 1985, the Massachusetts-based multiinstrumentalist has been featured in close to 25 full-length albums. These are primarily the result of stints in three different bands over a period of 30 years but have lately come to include a growing body of solo work beginning with 2005’s lo-fi folk record Emoh. Not only is Barlow

spent time moving around the Great Lakes before his parents finally settled in the Pioneer Valley region of western Massachusetts. It was there that from an early age, he began to develop an unnatural interest in his father’s tape recorders which he used to make sound collages. These early experimentations with analog recording devices had a profound impact on Barlow and informed his lifelong passion for home recordings as well as his appreciation for the DIY aesthetics that define his trademark lo-fi sound. For Barlow, tape machines and home recorders are essential elements of what he considers an immediate and relatable approach

“One of the main functions of my music, at least for myself, has been just to talk myself down.” one of the most sedulous musicians currently working, his penchant for exploring a wide range of sounds and genres reflects a musical appetite that’s equally omnivorous. Born to a large Midwestern family, Barlow 18 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

to art and storytelling. And this principle appears as the cornerstone of his latest album, Reason to Live. A collection of candid and quiet moments, the record finds Barlow at the tail-end of a period of inner growth and self-reconciliation. Without eschewing the caustic sincerity for which he’s

Well, I loved music when I was a kid. When I heard punk rock in the very early ’80s, I started to see that there was this movement of kids about my age that were putting out records, and it seemed kind of exciting to me. So, I formed a band with a kid I ate lunch with in high school and we put up an ad at a local record store looking for a drummer, and that’s when we found J Mascis and we formed a hardcore band. I guess it just seemed like something to do and something to be a part of, but I wouldn’t have imagined that it would become my life’s work. Even in the early days of Dinosaur Jr. I would never have imagined that it was something that would sustain me. It certainly gradually took over my life until it became my life. Did you grow environment?

up

in

a

musical

I have no professional musicians in my immediate or extended family. My parents come from families that had six or seven kids, so I’m the only musician in my family. But my parents did force me to take guitar lessons when I was seven. My mom forced me and it was kinda brutal. She wouldn’t let me quit, and I thank her for that because it taught me all the basic things. I learned all kinds of different ways of playing. Were there any specific artists that influenced you growing up? I loved pop radio. There was a friend that every week I’d go sleep over at his house when we were in fourth and fifth grade and we would just wake up on Saturday mornings and listen to the entire Top 40. At that time I also started buying singles. My parents would give me a dollar every time we’d go to the store so I could buy a seveninch record. I would just collect seven-inch singles and listen to them on my little turntable in my room. I’ve read that you started making home recordings at an early age. Can you tell me a bit about that?


Were there any bands that shaped you when you were coming of age, or that influenced how you perceived music? Definitely, The Ramones. And I also saw the B-52s and DEVO on Saturday Night Live around 1978 or 1979. Those were really intense experiences because I was pretty young, and it all just seemed really radical and scary. And I got bit by this new wave and punk rock bug. And then when I moved to Massachusetts, I discovered all these college radio stations that were playing some of the most cuttingedge music. I listened to Joy Division, Gang of Four, Dead Kennedys, and the early Dischord Records bands like The Teen Idles. I also bought this record for one dollar that had everyone from The Residents to Renaldo and the Loaf, MX-80, and Snakefinger and it was just mind-blowing so strange and beautiful. You once said that “messy” records are close to your heart. What do you mean by that? Well, messy brings out honesty. What I loved so much about the music I was hearing growing up is that it felt impulsive. It just seemed incredibly honest. When you hear someone like Black Flag it just sounds like someone just got tantrums set on records and it’s just incredibly honest and exciting. Your new record Reason to Live has been described as a statement of preference for ‘sincerity over anger or venom.’ Do you agree with that? Yeah, I’m not really into anger so much. Anger is kind of a dead end. It’s something you can respect or draw upon and definitely address, but it’s not particularly constructive. I usually try to articulate my emotions to myself in order to calm myself down. One of the main functions of my music, at least for myself, has been just to talk myself down.

A theme that you seem to come back to in the record is the idea of embracing chaos and change. How important is that to you both as an artist and as a person? I think that accepting change is pretty important. And not being overwhelmed by chaotic circumstances is also important. I’ve had mental health episodes in my life and addiction, chaos in other words, and so I’ve spent a lot of time trying to find a thread in what’s going on to sort of keep myself together. Was the album recorded at home or in the studio? Is this your “quarantine record”? I’ve always recorded at home. One of the last records I made back in 2014 or so was done in the studio, and so after that, I made up my mind long before the quarantine that whatever record I made next would be recorded at home because I like my home recordings better. I have more control and can be more extreme or impulsive. It’s also cheaper. So, I wouldn’t say that this is my “quarantine record.” With all that said, though, I usually gather all my home recordings and I take them to the studio to mix them there. You just put out a new album with Dinosaur Jr. this past week, Sweep It Into Space. Were both albums recorded simultaneously? Yeah. There are songs on my solo record that were potentially going to be Dinosaur Jr. songs. I think I brought five songs to Dinosaur Jr., but we only managed to record three before the quarantine. At that time, one was unfinished and two were done so that’s what we got. In fact, the title track from my solo record, “Reason to Live,” could have actually been a Dinosaur Jr. song.

What’s on the horizon for you? Are you taking this record on its own tour or are you gonna plug it on tour with Dinosaur Jr.? Dinosaur Jr. is on the calendar and we have dates that are listed. So that’s definitely happening. But as far as what I’ll do with my own stuff, I’m not really sure yet.

SPOTLIGHT

So, my parents had a portable tape recorder and at that time we lived in Michigan and our entire extended family lived in Ohio. This is around 1968 or so, and my dad would make cassette letters that he’d send back to his mother. We would record all kinds of stuff. We would do fake wrestling, and as I got older that evolved into me recording stuff around the house. One of my cousins who lived in Ohio also had a recorder and I remember being at his house and him making all these weird voice effects with it. So, when I got back home, I figured out how to run my portable into a console stereo that we had and just started making these collage pieces. Then when I was around 11, I learned how to layer the tapes and then started to make guitar recordings. I just loved the way it sounded!

Can your fans expect another Sebadoh record in the near future? What about a Folk Implosion reunion? For Folk Implosion, John and I have actually reconnected during quarantine. He’s been sending me some music and I’ve been trying to make something out of that, so we’re in this cool back-and-forth thing right now. I could definitely see us putting a single together. Any other plans for when the world goes back to normal? I just got a hold of a couple of home tape recorders recently and I want to see if I can maybe make collages again. So, I’m thinking it might be really fun to start songs on tape and transfer them to my digital stuff and see what…I can come up with.

Follow on Instagram: @loubarlow

How do you approach your songwriting in each band? Is the process different depending on the group? Mmm…it depends. With these last two records, a few of the songs could have gone to either band. I’d say about seventy percent of my songs are written on four-string guitars. Usually, I separate the songs based on whether they were made on a four-string or not. If they were, then I usually bring them to Sebadoh or use them for a solo project. Do you have a preference for any of these processes in particular? To me all songs are created equal. I feel like every song has its own little life and potential or limitations and I see them as my little creatures each with their own life. I just wish the best for all of them.

LOU BARLOW REASON TO LIVE STANDOUT TRACK: “REASON TO LIVE”

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main photo by Matt Lambert

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SPOTLIGHT

Mouthful of Blood: An Interview with Juliana Hatfield Vincent Scarpa

On May 14th, American Laundromat Records released Blood, the nineteenth studio album from the accomplished and fearless singer-songwriter Juliana Hatfield. It’s a rollicking, untamed set of songs — highly danceable until you catch yourself actually listening to the lyrics as opposed to just hearing them. Hatfield describes Blood as her most misanthropic record to date, and I had the chance to speak with her via phone to talk about the thematics of this record, her outlook on the present state of things, metaphorical violence, and more. Vincent Scarpa: How has your pandemic been? I’m curious to hear how it’s shaped your creative practice. Blood is testament to the fact that you were, in fact, able to produce music, but I wonder if you could talk about how — if at all — these disorienting times came to affect that process. Juliana Hatfield: It didn’t really affect the writing process too much. I guess it just slowed the recording process, because I had to figure out while I was doing it how to record into my laptop when the studio, I like to work in closed down. I wanted to keep working, so I had to record at home. That was a big learning curve for me. A lot of frustration figuring it out. But I was able to learn what I needed to know by doing it. Engineering kind of wiped me out. It depletes

me; the non-musical part of recording saps my energy. Some days I would work for very short amounts of time on the actual recording. So, yeah, the process of recording the album was drawn out because of that. But creatively, I feel like I’m impervious to anything, nothing stops me. I’m actually inspired by limitations and challenges. I feel more free when I have more boundaries. For me, if I have financial limitations, in terms of the amount of studio time I can book, I’m forced to make creative decisions quickly and sometimes that’s really great, because I can’t second-guess and overthink. I’m working in this space that’s halfconscious, half-unconscious, so my instincts are really guiding my choices, and that’s always a good thing. VS: Were there surprising benefits to recording outside of a studio proper? JH: Well, I have recorded at home in the past. I used to have a great eight-track machine that finally broke, but I made a couple of albums on it — the Wild Animals album and the Peace and Love album. But those were mostly acoustic stuff, and this was something different. I put off learning GarageBand for a long time, I just sort of scoffed at it. GarageBand, it’s gonna be so dumb, it’s not gonna be cool. And the built-in sounds, I’m sure

they gonna be crap and nothing like the real thing. But when I was trying out the guitar sounds, there were a couple that I actually kind of liked, and I used them a lot. There’s one guitar sound — I think it’s called “world’s smallest amp.” It’s got this sort of cruddy-sounding, slightly muddied, distorted sound that I like. Being able to use the built-in sounds, just to plug my guitar right in, was convenient for me because I do feel selfconscious making loud noise in my apartment with my neighbors around me. But I couldn’t get all of the sounds I wanted inside of GarageBand, so I was glad when the studio opened back up and I was able to overdub some stuff there with loud amps and drums, real drums. VS: And you play the drums on this record, right? JH: I play a bunch of drums, but there are a few songs that also have some programmed drums that were done by my friend Jed Davis in Connecticut. He helped out with some of the recording, and he built up some pretty elaborate drum tracks on a few of the songs. The ones that I play on — when I record at home, I like to start with a really minimal drumbeat and then I start adding onto that; one that plays the same loop over and over again. And then I like to go into the studio and add real drums on top of that. So, when I’m playing drums, my playing is very PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 21


SPOTLIGHT

minimal groove. You can tell which of the tracks I’m playing on, because Jed’s programmed drums are much more elaborate and involved. VS: One of the things that strikes me about Blood is the stark contrast between how the music sounds and how the lyrics land. It’s a rewarding record to listen to in that respect, in that we’re continually asked to examine the intersection between melody and mood — which creates which, and to what extent can one lull the other into abstraction. It seems purposeful on your part, the decision to have these fun, danceable melodies stand in opposition — or is it opposition? — to what you’ve called the “damaged lyrical content.” Can you speak to that dichotomy a bit? JH: It’s really not so purposeful. I seem to have a knack for these buoyant melodies that come from some joyful, innocent, incorruptible place inside of me, and there’s a bottomless well of those melodies that come bubbling up. So, I just like to take advantage of them and use them, that’s what comes naturally to me. But, yeah, I guess there’s also a rebellious side to me that wants to defy expectations that a song with dark lyrical content has to have dark musical accompaniment. I just think that’s dumb, and it’s a cliche. They’ll teach you that in music school — they teach you about genre, about style. How to play in certain styles. This is how to play R&B, this is how to play jazz, this is how to play country, this is how to play rock. And I think that’s all just so dumb. I don’t like genre and classification. I like the idea that my songs end up sounding so bubbly and pretty while, you know, talking about sticking a knife in someone’s neck. I think the rebel in me likes that juxtaposition. There’s something boring about darkness and darkness together. And I’m also not 100% dark in my outlook, and the especially violent songs on this record are comical because they’re so over the top. And if

rage. You seem to be looking at a precise kind of violence in your song “Had A Dream,” in which you chronicle a visceral and vicious dream — importantly not referred to as a nightmare, as in your song “Nightmary” — and remark that “it was a very American dream.” Can you unpack that song a bit for us? JH: Well, some of the violence is old-timey, you know, quartering someone. It’s historical

“There’s also a rebellious side to me that wants to defy expectations that a song with dark lyrical content has to have dark musical accompaniment…” they sounded dark or dirge-like, that would just take all the comedy out of them. VS: I want to talk about violence a bit, too, which can sometimes exist alongside 22 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

punishment. What I really meant by “it was a very American dream” is that this is a really violent country. There’s more guns than people. And just look at the news lately: there’s a mass shooting every day. There’s violence all around

us, everyone has a machine gun — that’s all I need to say really. That line is a reflection of how much violence there is out there, and how it’s just ladee-da. I mean, the number of guns — it blows my mind that there are so many people who are buying guns and are so la-dee-da about it. It’s a violence-filled country. VS: I admire that you never treat that violence as banal, as it so often seems to be treated in this country. It takes a certain kind of perseverance to stay alive to the fresh horror of it, and you do. JH: If you see violence in person, how can you be immune to it? Fortunately, I rarely encounter real violence in my life, but when I do it’s always so shocking and disturbing. I don’t even like it in movies; I have to close my eyes. VS: Is there any sense of catharsis in channeling that disturbance in these songs? JH: I guess there is, yeah. With the overthe-top violent imagery. And then I can sing it and think of whoever I’m most angry at. I can insert anyone into those violent fantasies, and it’s soothing in a way, I guess. But in real life I don’t want to do violence to anyone. VS: It’s interesting to see this record


SPOTLIGHT and Pussycat as bookends of the Trump era, though of course they’re so much more than that, and about more than that. (I’ve long argued for the political nature of all your music, whether it be front and center or a more covert kind of personal politics.) Were you still feeling some of the rage we talked about when we spoke together in promoting Pussycat? How had your outlook changed, if at all, as we approached the end of the Trump presidency and entered the present one, into which this album is being released? A song like “Nightmary,” in which you describe “hour after hour bombarded by lies / it’s a desecration of your mind,” seems to testify to some lingering — and certainly justified — rage. JH: The album is definitely inspired by the last four years and all of the ugliness and all of the dirt that floated to the surface. Now it’s all out there, floating around. All the rocks that have been overturned, all the scum that floated to the top. And now we’re living with it, and we have to deal with it — or not. I’m really glad that there’s new leadership, but I don’t feel like that solves anything, really. Well, it solves one big problem, right? But most of the bad guys still need to be punished. And the songs “Chunks” and “Had a Dream” are about that; about wanting those guys to be punished. And that still has to happen. There’s a lot of unfinished business, and ongoing corruption and lies and murder and greed. It’s not ending because we have a new president. I think this album is my most misanthropic album of all of them. I’m not kind to my own self on this record. I think I came out of the past four years with this feeling that it’s more clear to me than ever that people are not going to leave this

world a better place. People can’t be trusted to do the right thing. People are selfish. Humanity, as a whole, is going to ruin this world. It’s happening. And we can try to do the right things, we can try to change, but ultimately you have to contend with the fact that people are selfish and we’re on kind of a downward spiral. We can make little fixes, elect different presidents, but it’s a Band-Aid on a deep wound. VS: I love, love, love the single, “Mouthful of Blood.” I think it’s one of the best songs in your catalogue now. And what I love about it is that the song gets to have it both ways — yes, the chorus is “I bite my tongue, my mouth’s full of blood,” but you’re singing that very line, open-mouthed. I once wrote, of you, that your radical audacity was precisely this: that “even if her mouth is full of sutures, Juliana Hatfield finds some way to still and always be singing.” So, it was happy-making to encounter this song which seems to posit exactly that. There’s an expression of reticence, of fear, of withholding, but there is still expression. Does that resonate with you? JH: I think with that song I was trying to defend myself preemptively from criticism of “Chunks” or “Had a Dream,” because those are the songs that I think are going to get me in trouble, if anything gets me in trouble. [“Blood”] is also talking about how there’s no room for nuance anymore. You have to be on one side or the other, and everyone just pounces on a side so they can defend their position. So, I guess I am trying to have it both ways, but I guess that’s what artists get to do. I’m in a lucky position because I don’t have so much scrutiny on me. Like, I’m not Taylor Swift. So, I can be a little more free with

my expression because I don’t have the eyes of the masses and the mainstream media looking at me very closely, or at all. And that’s a unique position — one that allows for metaphorical knives in necks.

Follow on Instagram: @julianahatfield

JULIANA HATFIELD BLOOD STANDOUT TRACK: “MOUTHFUL OF BLOOD”

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SPOTLIGHT

AJ SMITH How an Engineering Background Shaped One of Today’s Most Promising Artists

Benjamin Ricci

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SPOTLIGHT

A

J Smith is jack of all trades, and well, a master of them all, too. Starting off his professional career on an engineering path, he found himself pursuing music and songwriting (and thank goodness, because we’d be missing out on one of this generation’s best talents). We recently had an opportunity to work with AJ as part of our Elixir Strings ‘artist of the month’ program, and loved the videos he participated in so much that we just had to sit down and learn more about him. Presented here is a portion of that interview -- we hope you enjoy. Let’s take it back – you were born in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, right? Yeah, right outside of Denver. Did you have a musical upbringing? My godmother taught lessons –it’s this whole story, I ran away from home, as they say. I snuck out while my mom was in the shower and took the family dog down to my godmother’s house. I would sit in the window well and listen to the piano lessons that she was teaching, like two houses down. And my parents would be freaking out, like ‘Where’s our kid?’ and that’s where I was [laughs]. A few 911 calls later… How old were you? Three [laughs]. They make better child-proof locks now. So that’s your first exposure to music? Yeah, and we had a family piano that was upright, in the house. I was fascinated by it…and my godmother started teaching me, which was awesome. And my parents took me to see a show – Yanni was performing at Red Rocks, it was the first concert they took me to. I was like five. So, I got to go see Yanni, and there was a violinist there and I was like, ‘Mom, can I please play the violin?’ you know…as a kid who has no concept of how much things cost. [laughs] My mom was like, [quietly] ‘We’ll figure it out, I guess.’ And they did, which was awesome. I’m really lucky to have parents who were able to make it happen for me, in terms of getting me some instruction as a kid. I went to summer camp a few years later and I had saved up all my lawnmowing money and brought it with me…It was like $150 but it felt like I was the world’s richest man, and I blew all my money on an acoustic guitar.

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SPOTLIGHT Well, it’s a good thing to spend money on when you’re a kid, I suppose. Oh, yeah. So, at this point, you’re already into piano, violin, and guitar. Nowadays, you’re up to almost a dozen instruments or so. Just you just keep accumulating talent over the years? [laughs] [laughs] Yeah, especially with stringed instruments. Once you know one, it’s quite quick to learn another and get good at it. Violin is probably one of the harder ones, the bowedstinged instruments, so going from that to a fretted instrument like a mandolin…it’s the same tuning but it’s fretted, so it’s way more forgiving in terms of intonation. So, then it’s just a matter of figuring out picking technique and things like that. At a certain point, you took a less musical path and entered the world of engineering. Can you walk us through that, as well? It’s interesting because I think they’d work different parts of the brain… Music is very creative, engineering can be creative. Music can also be very analytical. In high school I got this internship with the

U.S. Navy Research Lab, working there with infrared sensors. I had been doing computer programing on my calculator so I would program games on there for me and my friends. That way when I was in class we could be playing games instead of paying attention [laughs]. From there

I still do code and program my own Ableton rig set, but the choice [to do music] was kind of interesting. It was the West Side Story orchestral suites that were pivotal in the decision for me. I was playing at the Kennedy Center, and we were playing the suites and gets to the part musically

“I have songs in my head that I want to get out into the world that have been entrusted to me as a creative…” I applied for the internship and simultaneously I was also a young associate to the National Symphony Orchestra, so it wasn’t like I forgot one path while pursuing the other -- they were both in D.C., so I could go from one to the other. So, I worked at the research lab and wrote some algos that were used for years. Which was pretty cool. When do you decide to go for music full time?

where it’s just beautiful, stunning, it’s one of my favorite pieces of music. And I’m thinking, ‘Do I go to NYU to study music, or do I got to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to study engineering?’ I felt like I was getting pulled in two different directions. Weirdly enough, I didn’t get into the Peabody Conservatory for composition, there were going to have me do it for violin performance. But that’s not really what I wanted to do. I wanted to write music. So, I was sitting up on that stage PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 27


SPOTLIGHT while playing and pretty much started crying when we got to that part of the song, it was like a moment of clarity for me, like how could I ever give this up? I have songs in my head that I want to get out into the world that have been entrusted to me as a creative by whatever in the universe. I felt like I had to do it. Up until that point, you were really a performer. So, when did the songwriting enter the picture? If I’m being completely honest, I wrote a lot of songs but didn’t realize songwriting could be a path or career. And also, I was a little afraid to tell my parents that I wanted to become a songwriter or rock star…the classical direction felt safe. ‘Oh, I’m going to school to study film scoring.’ That felt like a direction. But I knew then that’s not what I wanted to do, I was faking it to myself to make my 28 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

parents happy, while still fulfilling some sort of creative career. It wasn’t until my junior year at NYU when I was playing a song for one of my film scoring assignments, it was supposed to be a standard, not an orchestral piece. And my professor was like, ‘Maybe you should take the songwriting class next semester. I feel like this is more [for you.]’ I ended up taking his advice, and it completely changed my life.

That’s got to be a major validation for you…

A semester after that, Glenn Frey’s daughter went to NYU, and he stopped by the songwriting department, and he came and talked to one of my professors and he would come in to listen to students’ songs. He became sort of an adjunct professor for songwriting, which was the coolest experience to have. He heard a couple of us, and took us under his wing, worked with us in the studio, and invited me to open for The Eagles. He was just an awesome mentor and taught me a lot about songwriting.

[editor’s note – it was at this point that I, as the interviewer, went on a long rant that was tangentially related to the conversation, buy wholly uninteresting to you, the reader. We’ll pick it up a few moments later…]

When you get somebody who’s done a lot of awesome stuff, and they go, ‘Oh, that’s awesome.’ It means more than…you know, I struggle with ‘imposter syndrome’ as much as anybody. Having that and the mentorship to come out of it was more than just validation.

Where are you at today with AJ Smith, the musician/songwriter? I spent the first part of the pandemic livestreaming every day or every week, so I got kinda streamed out pretty early. I kept


SPOTLIGHT it up for a long time, and I felt like I was playing all these songs I was writing, but not releasing them because I wanted to wait until I could tour. But I ended up putting out a song anyways, called ‘Billy Joel,’ which caught the attention of the real Billy Joel. He liked it, and wrote to me and everything, and mentioned the possibility of opening for him when live music opens back up, which would be amazing. Now that everyone’s getting vaccinated, it seems like it’s coming back, but until I’m on that stage, I’m gonna knock on wood [laughs]. OK, so you’ve got the Eagles and Billy Joel on board as cheerleaders. Are you gonna shoot for McCartney next, or what? [laughs]

Follow on Instagram: @ajsmithmusic

AJ SMITH “ROOMMATE” [SINGLE]

That would be awesome, too. I’ll take all of it! [laughs] PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 29


SPOTLIGHT

Sunny War Gus Rocha

Florencia P Marano

For Punk-Folk Guitarist, Optimism and Survival Go Hand in Hand

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SPOTLIGHT PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 31


SPOTLIGHT

“Always try things you haven’t tried and be open to new things.”

S

ydney Ward isn’t your typical blues guitarist. Raised in a musical family between Nashville and Detroit’s music hubs, at an early age she developed a unique acoustic guitar style. Influenced by such diverse genres as bluegrass, punk, and Delta Blues, she has come to gain notoriety for her ability to fuse some of the more technically challenging aspects of bluegrass picking with the spiritual catharsis associated with acoustic blues. An optimistic and free-spirited type who’s survived periods living and busking on the streets of Berkeley, and who’s spent most of the pandemic assisting the homeless population in her newlyadopted home of Los Angeles, Ward is the epitome of Millennial contradiction. At 30, she’s both socially conscious and politically active, as evidenced by her involvement with the Los Angeles chapter of Food Not Bombs. Yet, she remains ambivalent about allowing her activism to seep into her music. Nevertheless, throughout Covid, she’s stayed busy and committed to both endeavors. Her fourth and latest LP, Simple Syrup, was released last March under the moniker of Sunny War. A collection of snappy and breezy blues-fueled numbers, the album is a testament to Ward’s ability to combine seemingly disparate musical elements

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that create a unique and distinctive sound while simultaneously invoking the emotive quality found throughout the Great American Songbook. I caught up with Sunny War to discuss her musical influences, activism, love of Bob Dylan, and her views on finding success and fulfillment in today’s underground scene. How old were you when you first discovered your love for music? I started playing when I was seven, but I wasn’t really passionate about writing songs until the ninth grade. That’s when being a teenager was really overwhelming, and I had to lose myself in music to try to survive everything. That’s also around the time when I started paying attention to lyrics in music as opposed to before when I mostly listened to things that were melodic. Do you come from a musical background? What type of music were you exposed to as a child? I definitely had a musical background. My uncle is a classical bassist, and my stepdad was a singer for a rock band, and his friends would be around and play guitar. So as a small child, I grew up seeing people playing and writing music together. And then, my mom would also take me to shows when I was a kid in Tennessee.

At what age did you start playing the guitar? I got a guitar when I was seven but didn’t really start learning until I was ten when I went to a kid’s lesson at a community center in Nashville. The guitar teacher, his name was James Dixon, and he was a blues guitarist. Electric blues guitarist, and he was amazing. He was like a BB King kind of guy. At that time, I was already playing fingerstyle, and he would tell me ways to improve it and really encouraged me to keep playing and taught me other styles too. That’s also around the time I learned to play “Blackbird,” and also started mimicking one of my stepdad’s friends who was a banjo player, especially the fingerpicking. What’s up with your stage name? Is there a story or a meaning behind it? I’ve had the nickname Sunny since middle school, and my last name is Ward, so I kinda thought that “War” sounded better than Sunny Ward. It had more of a band name to it. You have a very peculiar story because you spent some time living on the streets in Los Angeles. Was it right before you began making music? Can you talk a bit about that experience? I had a folk-punk duo already before I started


How has that experience influenced your songwriting or the way you approach your music? I think it’s helped it because I had a lot more time to think about things I probably wouldn’t have thought about if I lived a more normal life. There was a lot of traveling and meeting many people like train hoppers, and their life philosophies really shaped me because it felt like they made sense. It was like a lot of what people like Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan would sing about. At least that’s how it felt to me. Your newest album, Simple Syrup, was primarily recorded before the pandemic. In it, you and your producer Harlan Steinberger chose to go for a minimal approach that used just the core of your live band. What drove that decision, and what was different about recording this album as opposed to your previous ones? I wanted to play with the band that I had just started playing with and that I was hoping to go on tour with. I wanted a sound that reflected what we were like as a live group on the road, and that was a hybrid of how the three of us sounded together. As far as how the recording went, I’m not good really at telling people, “this is what I want you to play.” I just know what I’m going to play. So, we usually just played together a lot and waited till things just morphed together eventually. The track “Its Name Is Fear” was the only one recorded during the pandemic. I’ve read that it has deep personal significance for you. Can you tell me a little bit about that? It’s about Covid, and I wrote it in the first two months of lockdown. A lot of it has to do with all the paranoia that was going on around that time. How there was a lot of different and conflicting information about the virus and what was happening, and how there were people who thought it was some kind of conspiracy. There was a lot of information overload, and the song taps into that for sure. In your songs, you’ve often been quite outspoken about social issues or the state

of society in general. Would you consider yourself a socially conscious singersongwriter in the vein of Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, or Dylan? I don’t know. Not really. I feel like they made it a point to talk about certain, specific things. They were committed to discussing social change and all, whereas I’m not committed to anything. I like to just write about whatever is going through my head at that moment. It could be love songs, for instance, but there’s no true commitment to anything in particular. I’ve read that you’ve often said that you feel a kinship towards artists like Elizabeth Cotten or Mississippi John Hurt. But as far as current artists and genres, who do you admire or draw influence from? I don’t really listen to music that’s similar to what I play. I listen to a lot of ’90s crust punk and rap. Also, a lot of dancehall. I also like a lot of Brittany Howard’s solo music or Valerie June’s early albums, but for the most part, I listen to music that’s really loud and has a lot of yelling and blast beats. We’ve mentioned Dylan a couple of times now, and the video for “Mama’s Milk” seems like an homage to the old black-and-white short he made for “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” Whose idea was that? It was my idea. I’ve always loved Bob Dylan, and when I was a teenager, I became weirdly obsessed with him as a writer and just in general. Growing up, I was really into the younger Dylan, and I felt like there was a huge connection, and I wanted to write like him and as much as he did at that age.

volunteers, and people can go on our Instagram page, which is @LAFNB. We have all of our links there. Every Wednesday at noon, we go to Gladys Park in Skid Row, and I think it’s a good thing because people are now used to us being there, and we’ve created a sense of community. And it’s good because I used to see people in tents every day and I always wondered why there wasn’t any help for them. When I used to be homeless in Berkeley, I would get many of my meals at Food Not Bombs, and I felt like L.A. needed a chapter. Like there was a need for community outreach. Now, fortunately, we have two, and it’s a good thing.

SPOTLIGHT

sleeping on the streets. It was me and my one friend from high school. Also, a lot of the other bands out here in the punk scene on the West Coast were squatters. And at the time, my mom and stepdad had divorced, and she was getting sober, and the both of us were living in a sober-living home, and that’s when I started to drink a lot. I started feeling like I would possibly get her kicked out of our living situation, so I felt like it was best for me to leave. Especially because I was making good money busking and all my friends were ‘gutter punks,’ so I was into that counterculture too.

Any advice you would give to any young or up-and-coming artists? Always try things you haven’t tried and be open to new things. Definitely take advantage of the internet, whether it’s having a Patreon or a YouTube channel, because that goes a long way. And then, try to create a community, even if that means having monthly shows in someone’s backyard. Do whatever you can to reach people and do it independently and for yourself. People that love music love finding new bands, even if it is at a barbecue or backyard, and if they like you, they will follow you on social media or even support you by buying your music on Bandcamp. So just work on an underground community.

Follow on Instagram: @sunnywarmusic

How does it feel to know that you might finally be able to bring the new record to live audiences? Do you have any dates planned, or what’s the year looking like as Covid restrictions ease up and live music resumes? I’m actually not going to play that many songs from Simple Syrup. Not unless I have gigs as a trio, and most of what I have right now are gigs as a duo. I honestly don’t want to play these songs without drums, so I’ll likely stick to other songs when my drummer isn’t there. As far as touring, a lot of stuff has popped up. We have a tour as a duo in July and then one as a trio in August. I know that giving back to the community is something you’re big on, and for a while now, you’ve been working with the Los Angeles chapter of Food Not Bombs. Can you talk about that? Is there anything about that project that you’d like to share with your fans or audience?

SUNNY WAR SIMPLE SYRUP STANDOUT TRACK: “LUCID LUCY”

Sure, we’re always in need of donations and PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 33


SPOTLIGHT

T

hailand has thus far been lucky in avoiding the level of COVID fatalities that other countries have seen.

But this has been achieved by imposing curfews, lockdowns and travel bans.The economic impact has been catastrophic, particularly in a country which depends on tourism. Tourism receipts have plunged 72.8%. As in many countries, some of the groups most badly affected are those which are not seen as ‘vital industries,’ and these include the arts. The Siam Sinfonietta was established in 2010 by Thailand’s renowned composer Somtow Sucharitkul to provide intensive professional training for young musicians. Unlike other youth orchestras which are seen as an extension to the educational syllabus, the Siam Sinfonietta is a performing orchestra which aims to introduce its members to the discipline and dedication required by a musical career. It has always remained fiercely independent, accepting members from all backgrounds, all educational qualifications, and all parts of the country. There is no lower age limit - the only requirement is talent. Each year auditions are held. Even incumbents must re-audition. And when members reach their 25th birthday, they must resign. The results have been remarkable. Two years after its launch, the orchestra won first place at the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival. In the years since, the orchestra has performed at Carnegie Hall, Berlin, Prague, Bayreuth and earned many honors. But of course in 2020, that all stopped. The Sinfonietta’s celebration of Beethoven’s birthday, its plans to complete the full cycle of 10 Mahler Symphonies, and the latest installment of Somtow’s own operatic interpretation of the ten lives of Buddha - all had to be cancelled. Somtow was worried for his musicians. With universities and schools offering only on-line studies, venues shut, and bans on groups of 20 people, group practice was almost impossible. By December, the orchestra had not performed for more than six months. But it was not just the missed opportunity for practice that worried Somtow. He sensed a growing malaise, boredom and depression amongst the young musicians. Whereas he had initially been concerned at the effect of lockdown on their musical development, now he worried for their mental well-being.

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SPOTLIGHT

An Orchestra and Actors in Thailand Combine Efforts to Relieve the Pressures of COVID-19 Lockdown

PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 35


SPOTLIGHT He expressed these concerns with his friend Paul Spurrier one day. Paul, a British-born filmmaker who has lived in Thailand for almost twenty years had similar tales of woe to tell, of technicians who had not worked in months, of actors who could no longer find an audience, of equipment companies with millions of dollars of equipment sitting idle. And then they realized that while it was actually illegal for groups of musicians of over 20 to gather, the government had recently permitted larger groups of performers to gather when in the production of a television program or film. (The government wisely realized that the public might tolerate lockdown and even unemployment, but they would not stand being deprived of their nightly soap operas). The Siam Sinfonietta could rehearse, perform and record if it were in the production of a film. But what sort of film could combine the talents, skill and efforts of the young musicians of Thailand and the film community? Somtow Sucharitkul, while often known as the man who brought 300,000 people together 36 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

to sing the Royal Anthem on the King’s Birthday, and Thailand’s most prolific opera composer, has an entirely different alter-ego as S.P. Somtow, the author of the classic rock-and-roll vampire series ‘Vampire Junction’, and the creator of the ‘Mallworld’ science-fiction series. Paul pitched to Somtow the idea of ‘The Maestro’ - a B-movie homage - the tale of a frustrated composer whose career is in the doldrums and who cannot find an orchestra willing to perform his latest and greatest symphony. When COVID strikes, he lures the bored musicians to his country mansion, where he forms his own renegade orchestra. But as his genius crosses the line into madness, he becomes increasingly demanding, and it is all bound to end in tears. Somtow found the idea intriguing. After all, what composer wouldn’t dream of a captive orchestra whose members could not escape, and who could be physically punished when playing less than perfectly? But Paul had one condition; Somtow must play the role of the Maestro himself. He insisted that there was only one person in the world with

the musical pedigree and who could portray a character walking the fine line between genius and madness. Unfortunately, since the Sinfonietta’s concerts had dried up, so had funding and sponsorship. To make ‘The Maestro’, Somtow had to make many phone calls to his most dedicated supporters. He had always insisted that the Sinfonietta should operate as a professional orchestra, and he insisted that all participants in ‘The Maestro’ should receive a fee, however small. The project was given a boost when Paul also made some calls to Thailand’s top actors. Vithaya Pansringarm starred with Ryan Gosling in ‘Only God Forgives’. Sahajak Boonthanakit will soon be seen as a main character in Ron Howard’s ‘Thirteen Lives’. David Asavanond took home the Thai Oscar for his chilling performance in ‘Countdown’. Michael Shoawanasai starred in cult film ‘Adventures of Iron Pussy’, co-directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. All agreed to take an enormous pay cut to support the project. The Goethe Institute allowed the orchestra to record in their hall.


SPOTLIGHT It was clear from the start that the music would be vitally important.

to tell the Maestro that his harp parts are impossible to play.

Somtow would have to write and record the movement of the Maestro’s Symphony that he eventually performs before those scenes could be shot. This led to an unusual decision - to record the entire musical soundtrack of the film - over an hour of music - before the film started production.

And actors became musicians. David Asavanond had to learn how to conduct an orchestra, for his role as rival conductor Walter Paisley.

This required a level of collaboration between director and composer that Somtow thinks is unprecedented. Paul created charts with descriptions of the scenes that had not yet been filmed, and with timings of the actions in the film. Somtow had to effectively score the film to a timed edit - except that edit existed only on paper. Musicians became actors. Soprano Jirut Khamlanghan played the young Maestro’s abused mother. The orchestra’s concertmaster Phongphairoj Lertsudwichai plays a pianist who suffers the fury of the Maestro after he is caught playing ‘Chopsticks.’ Takkamol Duangsawat is the harpist who has the gall

Actors were given intensive musical training and musicians attended acting workshops. Paul says, “We’ve all heard the stories of how a musician stood behind Alan Rickman and put his arms through the actor’s sleeves, so he could convincingly play the cello in ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’. But we had a whole orchestra. We had to do it for real. At first, we noticed that the ‘actors’ and the ‘musicians’ kept to their separate groups. But as they realized that they had to form a cohesive group, the barriers broke down. Musicians helped actors to actually feel the music, and actors helped musicians to expose their personalities to the camera. We soon found that actors who had never listened to classical music found a new appreciation, and that musicians learned to project a confidence that may even benefit their future performances.” As filming commenced, everyone’s biggest

concern was that a third COVID wave was forecast. If the number of cases rose any higher, the production would be shut down. From an initial schedule of eighteen days, the number of shooting days was cut to fourteen. Filming was completed shortly before the third wave did indeed hit in April. ‘The Maestro’ will now have to wait till the third wave passes until it can be shown in Thai cinemas. It will be the first Thai film to be released that was produced during the COVID period. It is also the first Thai film ever to feature a full orchestral score performed by Thai musicians. But to Somtow Sucharitkul and the Siam Sinfonietta, it will be best remembered as the project that enabled them to stretch their talents, exercise their musical muscles, and stay sane in the midst of COVID. For more information, please visit https://www.facebook.com/ietta PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 37


GEAR REVIEWS

KRK V4 MONITORS STUDIO TEST 38 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


GEAR REVIEWS

M

y name is Matthew Aasen, a teen pop musician, songwriter, and producer from the Washington DC area. A few months ago, Performer Magazine and KRK hooked me up with some dope KRK V4 Series 4 studio monitors to unbox, integrate into my home studio setup, and review. I’ve had the speakers for a while now and I absolutely love them. Check out the video series I put together for Performer’s YouTube channel to see more of the monitors in action! Right out of the box, the monitors had a clarity and fullness that blew me away. Before even adjusting the control panel, they sounded great. I tested the speakers by playing my recent single, ‘Giving Up (On You),’ because it worked as a great reference due to my familiarity with the sound of the track. In addition, due to the speakers being powered, I was able to remove a power amp from my signal chain, improving the simplicity of my setup and eliminating a weak link in my studio’s sound. I set up the speakers in my studio, taking advantage of the extensive control panel on the back, and got right to work adjusting them for my specific environment. My first major project using these speakers was mixing Ache Harvest’s recent single, ‘Red Eye.’ The track had a natural and laid-back style with an attention to detail that the accuracy of the monitors helped me pursue. I had a great time mixing with these speakers. They allowed me to trust what I was hearing, unlike my doubts caused by my previous passive studio monitors. It was great to be able to trust the sound, which allowed me to mix more confidently. Since then, the speakers have been a part of

my everyday workflow. I’ve used the speakers in countless writing, recording, and producing sessions. They’ve delivered clear sound across all frequencies that simply helped me do my job better. The speakers have helped me develop my mixing skills by removing roadblocks typically caused by poor monitoring, especially when it comes to the world of home studios. In addition, I’ve found myself being more inspired to work on audio and video projects since I started using the KRK V4 Series 4 speakers. At the end of the day, having high-quality studio monitors is essential to any home studio owner, whether they write, produce, track, or mix. Being able to trust your monitors is crucial. Not only do the V4 Series 4 speakers deliver on this, but they also come packed with other features like a built-in decoupling pad, a robust XLR/TS combo jack for balanced hookups from my interface, and controls to help you customize the speakers via easy knobs on the rear, in order to tune to your unique space. Due to their compact form factor and high-quality sound, the KRK V4 Series 4 studio monitors are a perfect option for the modern home studio owner.

ADDITIONAL LINKS: KRK V4 VIDEO SERIES WITH MATTHEW AASEN:

www.youtube.com/user/performermag ‘Giving Up (On You)’ by Matthew Aasen matthewaasen.fanlink.to/givinguponyou ‘Red Eye’ by Ache Harvest https://acheharvest.fanlink.to/redeye

PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 39


GEAR REVIEWS

I

n the world of standalone samplers and drum machines, Akai has certainly made their mark on the industry with over 30+ years of MPC innovation. One of THE go-to instruments for drum beats, sampling and loop creation, the MPC One represents the pinnacle of stand-alone hardware for beatmakers, and songwriters alike (more on this in our next issue, stay tuned). Construction-wise, the new MPC One is built like a tank, and the pads have that signature Akai feel and response. They’re velocity sensitive, but not rubbery or bouncy like other pad-based grids we’ve tested. So if you plan on testing your finger drumming skills, you should have no issues here. Yes, people on forums might quibble that the pads are every-so-slightly smaller than others in the range, but honestly after about 10 seconds, your muscle memory kicks in and it’s frankly a nonissue. Looks-wise, the review unit we received sports a new retro-flavored skin, which is a cool, grey throwback to the vintage MPC brethren of years gone by. Digging into the software, we just feel more at home than on a Maschine. And while that might be personal preference, we do prefer having the option of untethering from a computer to make beats and string entire songs together without the need for a PC. Having a stand-alone workflow is what the MPC is all about, and the touchscreen and updated OS that Akai have developed are both…chef’s kiss. On the rear, you’ve got your ports for you

main line inputs as well as full-sized MIDI plus CV/Gate, which makes this a great way to rig up your modular kit and control external synths pretty easily. Synth heads will also adore the automated sampling features so you can fire up your fave hardware patches, like we did with our Moog Sub Phatty, then easily import them across the keyboard and map the sounds to the grid. You can also easily adjust scales and one-pad chords on-the-fly, which means you can take your favorite sounds to-go, without lugging all your keyboards, AND be able to lay down parts quickly and easily without an external MIDI controller. One small gripe is the lack of microphone inputs and even a phono input for importing vinyl samples to slice up, but keep in mind this is the entry point for the MPC family. You can easily sample vinyl through the line inputs, and we even output line-levels from our mixer to get vocals loaded and ready for chop sessions pretty easy. So, there are workarounds. If you want a piece of gear that can serve as the centerpiece of your beat-making production hub, this could be your gateway drug, no questions. And if you need a few more perks, like phono inputs or a battery for true mobile production, check out the MPC Live II. But we think the MPC One hits the sweet spot for those getting into programmed drums, sampling, and backing tracks. We even think it might be a killer DAW replacement for solo artists – which we’ll cover more in-depth in a future column. Benjamin Ricci

PROS

easy to use, standalone production, great pads and included sound sets. CONS

some features only found on higher-priced models (phono and mic inputs, battery, speakers) STREET PRICE

$899

AKAI MPC One Retro Edition 40 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


GEAR REVIEWS PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 41


GEAR REVIEWS

FERROFISH B4000+ Organ Module

W

hen it comes to getting a true Hammond organ sound, nowadays your only real options are either software-based plug-ins, or big clonewheel keyboards that emulate the famous tonewheel sounds of yesteryear. Well, these aren’t your ONLY options anymore: enter the B4000+, probably our new favorite way of coaxing classic organ sounds from a tiny little module that can sit atop your MIDI controller. While we appreciate things like the Yamaha reface YC (which, incidentally, is about $200 cheaper), it just doesn’t have the flexibility that most true performs are after. And the miniature keys are no help, either. You’re likely gonna want to get another full-size MIDI controller to use the darn thing, anyway, so there goes any savings. So, what’s an organist to do? The B4000+ puts true Hammond tones into a small-format module, that’s easy to hook up via MIDI, and which contains a TON of tonal variety via its built built-in DSP. The best part is that unlike the reface keyboard, you have real drawbar action (not tiny faders), and this is where it shines. The interaction between the stops and the sound is instant, and inspiring. Much like the larger offerings from, say Crumar and their MOJO 61, it’s this back-and-forth interplay between the drawbars and the chosen sound that really allows the Ferrofish unit to outclass not only the reface, but any plug-ins you may have tried.

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Sound quality is truly outstanding across the board and dialing in your desired tone is a simple matter of adjusting the aforementioned drawbars and using the on-screen display and rotary knobs to adjust parameters. The layout and UI are simple enough for anyone to pick up without needing to consult the manual, and the sheer number of options is deep without being intimidating. That’s a tricky balance, and we appreciate the effort that went into designing such a powerful yet easy to master module. The on-screen display, while a bit small, shows you your drawbar settings and other parameters, and you can even dial in fx like Leslie swooshes and overdrive on-the-fly. Overall, we’re in love with the B4000+. We’ve tried a number of organ solutions over the years, and since space and money are both considerations for our own office studio, this is the perfect option if you’ve already got a fave MIDI controller to hook it up to. You even have the option of adding both an upper and lower manual since there are two MIDI ins on the rear. While we’d love something with true waterfall keys, the reality is that for many players, they just don’t have the space or cash to set up a full modern Hammond rig. And for them (and us), this is the perfect solution. We love it, and we think you will, too. Benjamin Ricci

PROS

excellent sound, easy to configure, tactile drawbars CONS

small-ish, but clear/bright screen. STREET PRICE

$599


T

racii Guns has been a gunslinger from day one, from the unsigned days of Guns N Roses, to the hard rocking LA Guns, and more recently, the Brides of Destruction. His playing and attitude are anything but subtle, and his signature Kramer Gunstar model reflects a unique blend of 80’s style, with a modern edge that’s far from a throwback. Right out of the custom shaped gig bag, the black metallic finish that covers the mahogany body really captures the eye, and the silver ghost flames add a cool hot rod touch. There’s plenty of sparkle in the finish, perfect for stage lighting. The chrome Floyd Rose 1000 trem and other metal hardware really adds in the high-performance aesthetic. To add in some practicality, the hex wrenches reside at the back of classic Kramer headstock, each secured with a small set screw, so you’ll never be at a loss for tools in a pinch. The business end of this guitar is the neck. Featuring a 3-piece maple set-neck design, with a super accessible neck joint for easy access on the upper frets. The fretboard is also maple, sporting 22 jumbo frets, with a shredder-approved 25.5 scale length. The slim C profile has a 12.6 radius that feels modern and smooth without feeling too flat. As Kramer is under the Gibson family umbrella, the pickups are Epiphone Probuckers. A very unique feature is that each pickup has its own volume control, with push/pull pots enabling the pickups to be split into a single coil mode. The 3-way toggle resides at the lower front point, which might seem far away on paper, but feels close enough for quick pickup changes. We gotta admit, the Epi pickups have come a long way over the years, and the newest iteration of the Probuckers can compete with any other brand on the market. They may just represent the best value in humbuckers today. No small feat. One very cool aspect; while this is a signature guitar, there’s no over the top branding. There’s just a simple “TG” on the truss rod cover. This is always a great bonus to a player that might like a guitar, but maybe doesn’t want to feel like they’re not standing in the shadow of someone else’s name or style. Once we had our test guitar in our hands, it felt fantastic. The neck didn’t seem thin, and the maple board was silky smooth across the fretboard with no dead spots or issues. It’s the kind of neck that makes the player take chances, as it feels like there’s no restrictions. The body

shape may take some getting used to, and while the star shape balances well, the upper rear point is really pronounced, and we had some close calls between it and the edge of our recording desk, so be spatially aware!

GEAR REVIEWS

KRAMER Tracii Guns Gunstar Voyager

The Floyd Rose 1000 paired nicely, and there’s some things no other trem can handle, from simple shimmering flutters to more extreme dive bombs. Its floating configuration allows some pull up, but still felt stable with some heavy palm muting and wild bending. We ran the test guitar into a variety of situations: a Strymon Iridium, a PRS Archon 50, as well as IK’s Amplitube 5. Each yielded great results. One thing that really stuck out was the smoothness of the neck pickup on its own; it had a fullness that didn’t get dark or foggy. There was an inherent sweetness that made this our choice tone for leads that maintained sustain nicely. The bridge pickup was no slouch either, there was plenty of cut and definition on its own for aggressive rhythm attack and leads that sang and didn’t get shrill or nasty in a mix. The new Kramer offerings are not just a nostalgia trip for the older crowd. Modern players like unique shapes, and usable tones, and anyone who passes on this is going to be missing out. Out of the box all a player really needs is a cable, a strap, and preferably a high gain amp setup to start melting some faces. Chris Devine

PROS

High performance hot rod look and feel, excellent upper access neck joint. CONS

None. STREET PRICE

$899

PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 43


GEAR REVIEWS

AKG K240 MKII Semi-Open Pro Studio Headphones

W

hen it comes to professional level headphones, the options are almost mind numbing -- both design and cost wise. Thankfully AKG has a reasonably priced set of semi-open headphones that can be a great addition to your studio situation. For instrumentalists who want to hear a bit more of the outside ambient environment, open backed versions make sense, compared to the “lock out” type feel of closed back headphones. AKG started with 30mm transducers with their Varimotion diaphragm for the internals, and the leatherette ear pads are replaceable. The head strap is quite comfortable and adjustable for long sessions. Included is a detachable 10’ straight cable and a 16’ coiled cable. There’s less coloring overall with these than other models we’ve tested in the price range, and for mixing applications where it’s not intense, like an ambient soundtrack or more natural sounding instruments, they’re great. It’s a nice and yes, “open” sounding. Along with a head strap that doesn’t feel like it’s a helmet, it makes for a more comfortable experience. Tracking wise, if you’re

44 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

in a room with another player or instrument, and have the tendency of pulling one side off of an ear to “hear” the room better, you might find that habit going away. The balance of the room vs signal is quite nice overall, and provides a unique experience vs. typical closed-back monitors. Using these as a personal monitoring for an amp modeler is also nice, with no issues of audio fatigue even during long sessions and practice. A great application of these is having a mix playing back in the room, over the monitors at a louder than normal volume, while listening through the headphones. The listener gets the room’s thump, against the more direct approach directly in the ears. It can help nail down what’s a room issue or a mix issue. And the more tools in your arsenal, the better. Overall, they’re a nice and comfortable set of headphones that are great for mixing, tracking and playback, and they won’t destroy your budget. If you have a set of closed back headphones, great. But a set of these brings in a whole new experience that’s useful and musical for the serious user. Chris Devine

PROS

Super comfortable, great natural sound. CONS

None. STREET PRICE

$155


GEAR REVIEWS

T

he new PRS Archon is available as a 50-watt head with two separate cabinet choices: a 1x12 and a 2x12, or as a 50-watt 1x12 combo, which is the version we got to test out. Each channel sports a Volume, Treble, Middle, Bass and Master Volume, along with a bright switch. A global Presence and Depth control covers the overall high and low-end response of the amp’s sound. The back panel features additional speaker out options at 4 and 8 ohms, as well as an effects loop and bias jacks. Speaker wise, it’s sporting a 70-watt Celestion V-type. The bright switches do make a difference; on the clean channel, we really found the bright switch did bring in a lot of presence, and when paired with a drive pedal, was a nice touch, adding in just that little extra without having to mess with the EQ of the amp or the pedal. It’s noticeable on the lead channel, just adding a bit of kick that’s not harsh, but allows for some noticeable cut. The Presence and Depth control really interacts with the EQ quite nicely. We found they helped tune in the overall top end and lowend thump, and didn’t thin out or muddy the overall tone. It certainly gave an added touch of adjustment. We found it was best to start at noon on both, then adjust as needed, per the room’s feel. The tubes are by JJ, with six ECC83S tubes in the preamp, with a pair 6CA7’s in the power amp section. The 6CA7’s are supposed to be a happy medium between 6L6’s and EL34’s. While they do have a bit more lower end roundness, there’s certainly a EL34 flavor that seems to find its way through the mix. It’s not a bad thing, as that

PRS Archon 50 Combo Amplifier EL34 bite and attack really gives an aggressive definition. 50 watts is plenty, with no issues of volume or clarity, headroom wise. We put the test amp through its paces with a few PRS guitars; a 1993 CE24, Mira maple top, and a SE277 baritone. Yes, it paired nicely with those guitars, that’s a no brainer. We also ran our Partscaster Strat, a Tele and a Kramer Tracii Guns Signature into it, and were also pleased with the results. The big signature of any high gain amp is articulation, and that is present in both channels. There’s no big overcoloring of the clean channel to fight against or compensate for. Increasing the volume really brings in a fullness and depth that is robust and well defined. On the lead channel, the articulation was phenomenal and crisp throughout, with chunky rhythms sitting right where they needed to, while lead parts didn’t get fizzy or hissy even at maximum gain settings. Single coils didn’t get shrill in this area, the bite was still there, but not the shriek. Getting great lead tones was just plain easy, with plenty of gain for sustain and thickness across the board. On both channels the EQ was very flexible; players who usually push the highs and lows in drive settings will find that bringing in the midrange wasn’t an issue. It provides a more musical focus, rather than “honk.” Yes, you can go super saturated, and scooped, but the added midrange created a fuller sound, with depth and definition. Don’t sleep on the mids, people! It can do modern, but classic drive sounds that are on the high gain side are also easily obtainable (think late 80’s). It really makes this an amp for a guitarist who needs great drive tones that won’t sound dated in a couple of years.

Regardless of gain options, the pedal platform concept is an option most players can’t dismiss, so we paired it with our Nobles ODR-1 mini, and on the clean channel, we got the flavor we desired from the pedal’s drive, along with the articulation of the amp’s EQ. Using the bright switch in this setting helped set the desired tone easily. We also paired it with the lead channel, using the pedal as a boost and were surprised at how it just accentuated the EQ a bit more, giving a “3rd channel” feel to the amp in a practical sense. High gain amps used to be the territory of large heads, mega power amp tubes, and massive wattage. PRS has shown that you can get those characteristics in a small 50-watt combo that’s priced for the player who wants the tones easily, without any hassle. Versatile enough for both studio and stage, we heartily recommend it. Chris Devine

PROS

Articulate, excellent EQ, perfect cleans, lead channel is glorious CONS

None. STREET PRICE

$1199 PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 45


GEAR REVIEWS

EVENTIDE UltraTap Multi-Tap Effects Pedal

T

he control layout of the new Eventide UltraTap pedal is a step up from typical small format delays, with Mix, Taps, Length, Feedback, Spread and Taper adjustments. Each knob is doing double duty, with a well-lit “shift” button that lights up to let you know if it’s the primary or secondary function that’s being tweaked. Tone, Slurm (+1 for Futurama reference), Pre delay, Chop, Uutput Level, and Speed/Rise/Release dig into the deeper manipulation.

switching, with the ‘Tap’ also doing double-duty, allowing the player to scroll through five presets on the pedal.

Going into each control’s specific functionality here will read like a manual, but the big takeaways were how the slurm, chop and speed rise and release functions worked together to really change it from a typical delay device. There are 64 delay ‘taps’ available, which means the delay can be subdivided into separate repeats, and those repeats can be manipulated into rhythmic elements or even smeared (or slurmed), creating cool modulation effects. Changing the LFO of the repeats brings in rhythmic aspects, allowing the unit to act like a modulation unit, incorporating tremolo and chorusing. The tremolo type effect is quite intoxicating, and with full control of every aspect, it means not having to deal with an analog unit that can’t sync up to a track’s BPM.

It can also be run at instrument level, like a typical stompbox, but selecting it to line level function makes it perfect as an external effects device in a patch bay type setting. If you’re a set it and forget it delay user, move on, this isn’t your daddy’s delay. This is a fully loaded device that can manipulate time like a sci-fi villain, and might just be your new favorite synth accessory, to boot.

With a mono input, stereo outputs, and expression connections on the back, as well as USB connectivity, Eventide has a device manager application that allows for parameter editing, preset management and overall control of the device. There’s separate bypass and tap tempo 46 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

For the more analog user, Eventide provided “cheat sheets” that slide over the pedal, and gave setting ideas to kickstart the experience -- but we found that Eventide’s Device Manager really helped in understanding how all of the effects worked, and the presets also provided a good guide as to where to start.

Sound-wise, the overall audio quality is perfect, and is what you would expect given Eventide’s history. If the Edge had this pedal in 1978 his head would have popped. The ability to have the bounce of the delay be part of a sound is nothing new, but Eventide makes it feel like it’s more practical to the player. The swells add such a change to a typical guitar sound that it’s like a new instrument. For the user who really wants a fully functional and controllable delay that’s also pedalboard-friendly -- this is it. We can’t recommend it enough. Chris Devine

PROS

Fully adjustable delays (and more), hyper functionality, excellent audio CONS

Could be overwhelming to the casual delay user STREET PRICE

$279


GEAR REVIEWS

T

PROS

Simple, compact, great audio CONS

None STREET PRICE

$299

RODE Wireless Go II System

he new RODE Wireless Go II package includes two microphone/transmitters with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, each with their own snap on windscreen. With spring loaded clips they can attach to a piece of clothing (a jacket’s lapel, for example) like a traditional lav style mic, but in this case, the mic and transmitter are all in one! These Wireless mics send their signal to a receiver, and acts as a controller for the microphones. There’s a small display screen showing level, wireless signal strength and battery life, which is about seven hours per charge. What’s quite amazing is the size of these units, they are small enough to fit both transmitters and receiver in the palm of the hand! Recording is pretty easy overall, and out of the box we had no issues, with 40 hours of on-board record time it’s quite powerful, and for additional editing options the audio can be split into separate channels, or even just hard left/right panning for giving that “in the room” feel. For additional control options, and under the hood features, RODE has that covered in an app; “Rode Central,” which allows for firmware updates, exporting audio and easy adjustment of the transmitters and receiver. The big key is this system can be paired up as an on-board mic system for a DSLR camera -- simply connect the receiver into

the mic input of your camera, and now interviews can be done with two separate mics. This configuration can also be applied to smartphones or tablets, however you will need specific adapter cables for your device(s), for connectivity. Overall, the audio quality is very good, and in a space with background noise, there was plenty of separation between the sound sources. The ability to have this audio quality embedded in the video file, and not have to sync up audio and video made this a pretty great tool. It makes the interview process seem more natural, rather than an interviewer pushing a mic in the face of a person each time a question is asked. We wouldn’t be surprised to see YouTubes on the floor of NAMM next January using these for interviews, considering their small size, light weight and functionality (not to mention affordability). For video podcasts, and live streams with multiple mics and no mess of wires, microphone mounts and such, these make a lot of sense. We’re hard pressed to find a simple, small rig that makes doing high quality audio something that’s less of a technical process, and more of a fire and forget system that allows the user to just get to work. We know from experience that these new RODE units will come in handy for our own A/V productions this year. Highly recommended. Chris Devine PERFORMER MAGAZINE JUNE/JULY 2021 47


FLASHBACK 48 JUNE/JULY 2021 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

Ed. note -- we’ve come a long way in the past few decades, but what’s crazy is you can still get a guitar for $250 bucks that’s probably built just as well as some of these old-timers. Thought you’d all get a kick out of this throwback ad from yesteryear...


Versatile High-Fidelity Wireless 3000 Series expands the possibilities of performance

Interchangeable capsule options

audio-technica.com

• Class-leading, extremely wide 60 MHz UHF tuning bandwidth for maximum versatility • True Diversity operation reduces dropouts • Unique multifunction button on the handheld and body-pack transmitters can be used to switch to a backup frequency should interference be encountered • Automatically adjusts squelch setting to maximize range while minimizing potential interference • Frequency scan and IR sync for ease of setup • Handheld transmitter offers industry-standard thread mount for use with six interchangeable A-T microphone capsules, as well as other compatible capsules • New rugged cH-style screw-down 4-pin connector on body-pack transmitter


GOOD TO GO WHEN EVER • WHERE VER

A passion for playing means that inspiration can strike anytime, anywhere. With Elixir® Strings you know that when you pick up your guitar it’s going to sound great—time and time again. That’s because our featherweight coating protects your strings from the elements, keeping corrosion away and allowing your tone to sound great for longer, in any environment.

Elixir Strings. Performance-ready with long-lasting tone. GORE, Together, improving life, ELIXIR, NANOWEB, POLYWEB, OPTIWEB, GREAT TONE • LONG LIFE, “e” icon, and designs are trademarks of W. L. Gore & Associates. ©2009-2021 W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.