Performer Magazine: October/November 2020

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THE MUSICIAN ’S RESO URCE

OCT./NOV. ‘20 FREE

BEN KWELLER On Navigating a Successful DIY Career in the Midst of a Pandemic

CATCH UP WITH THURSTON MOORE

MAXIMIZE YOUR BAND’S EARNING POTENTIAL

ATTRACT INVESTORS FOR YOUR MUSIC

THE FUTURE OF WINTER NAMM


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TABLE OF CONTENTS

COVER STORY

BEN KWELLER

by Benjamin Ricci

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4. LETTER FROM THE EDITOR 5. Book Review: Jeff Tweedy 6. Winter NAMM is Cancelled 8. How to Maximize Your Earning Potential

THURSTON MOORE

TABLE OF CONTENTS

VOLUME 30, ISSUE 5

DEPARTMENTS

by Michael St. James

10. Know When to Seek Investment for Your Music 12. How to Pivot Your Band’s Business

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14. Build a Fanbase Before Your Next Release 16. Artist Rights Alliance Responds to Twitch/Amazon 18. Key Insurance Concepts for Musicians

Cover

David Kemper

38. MEET YOUR MAKER: Mojave Microphones

BACKHOUSE

by Benjamin Ricci

40. GEAR REVIEWS: Taylor Guitars, Yamaha Keyboards, Dean Guitars and more… 48. FLASHBACK: Vintage EVH Ad

contents

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 3


LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

LETTER A

from the editor

s if 2020 couldn’t sink to any new lows…we just received word shortly before press that Eddie Van Halen has lost his long battle with cancer at the age of 65. To say Van Halen changed the world of rock and pop music forever is a ridiculous understatement. To say he influenced just about every guitar player to come after him is also selling short just how impactful his playing, songwriting and technical innovations have been to the world of music. In short, it’s almost incalculable how much of an effect Edward Van Halen has had on music. Period. I know for me, he was the main reason I picked up a guitar at age 11. He not only changed the way we played the guitar, he changed how we built the damn things – from direct mount pickups, to locking bridges, to wax potting and many more creative breakthroughs over the years. Eddie was a brilliant musician and songwriter, a once-in-a-generation talent who will be missed by all whose lives he touched. Our condolences go out to his family and friends, especially his son Wolfgang. Until next time, we’ll continue to dance the night away on those mean streets with as many atomic punks as we can round up. Happy trails to you…

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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Volume 30, Issue 5 PO BOX 348 Somerville, MA 02143 CONTACT

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, Bobby Kamaris, Chris Devine, Chris Nardone, Dave Cool, Don Miggs, Jason Peterson, Luke Mendoza, Michael St. James CONTRIBUTING PHOTOGRAPHERS

David Kemper, Laurent Orseau, Vera Marmelo, Carl Lender ADVERTISING SALES

William House Phone: 617-627-9919 bill@performermag.com © 2020 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.


REVIEWS

BOOK REVIEW Jason Peterson

Jeff Tweedy

How to Write One Song (Dutton)

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eff Tweedy has written countless songs prior to and since the inception of his first band, Uncle Tupelo, and through Wilco, Loose Fur, Tweedy, and his solo efforts (not to mention his recent collaborations with Mavis Staples). A struggling songwriter might think words and music have simply poured out of him for the past thirty-plus years in some sort of magical process they couldn’t possibly achieve.

But, as he describes in How to Write One Song, Tweedy has made a conscious decision to live in such a way as to encourage this musical output - from basing his schedule around writing, to challenging himself to write songs in as tight of timeframe as he can, to trying a number of different writing exercises (many of which he

A must-read for experienced songwriters and interested amateurs alike. breaks down in the book). And, as he shows throughout the book, most anyone can do this too if they open themselves up to it. This window into Tweedy’s writing life is both illuminating and inspiring. Much like his memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), Tweedy hammers home the message that everyone has the capacity for creativity and should pursue it in one way or another. With How to Write One Song, he makes this pursuit as clear as possible in the context of songwriting and offers a path to writing that song. And then another, and maybe even another after that. While there are concrete ideas offered for how to write both lyrics and music (the “Have a Conversation”

word game is a stand-out idea for reluctant writers, and the “Timer” idea is a writer’s block buster), the book reads more like an excited nudge to get writing from a true convert. Tweedy clearly believes that the fulfilment that creativity can bring to life should be experienced by all, and his passion is contagious. How to Write One Song leaves readers with the notion of songwriting as “...the joy of disappearing long enough to find something you didn’t know you had inside you.” With an explanation like that, and the powerful tools and encouragement Tweedy provides to get started (or keep going), any level of songwriter would be wise to give it a read - then put it down and get to writing. For mor information, visit wilcoworld.net. PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 5


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Winter NAMM Ca in Music Week Ann

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hile the news wasn’t a surprise, as we’re sure you’re well aware by now: W i n t e r NAMM 2021 has been cancelled. At least, the actual, in-person convention. NAMM does have some “virtual” conference events in the works, though details are a bit nebulous as of press date, and having spoken off the record with a few manufacturers, there is some genuine concern that anything virtual could take the place of live, in-person meetings, handson demos and meet-n-greets to secure sales for the next fiscal year. Part of what makes NAMM… well, NAMM is the ability to conduct face-toface business and keep dealers, customers and potential business partners in the know about your new products and sales strategies. And if that’s not happening, a lot of companies might start re-evaluating the actual ROI they’re getting from the annual event. If product announcements can be done virtually, and press releases posted to news outlets seconds after they’re written, NAMM is in a position where it must (now, more than ever) prove its value to the MI community at large. Subverting that live event for another “sit at your laptop and watch more streams” scenario could be a tough sell for potential “attendees” and especially exhibitors. The success of Believe in Music Week remains to be seen, but you can read NAMM’s press release in its entirety below: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with the health and safety of NAMM members as the first priority, NAMM is reimagining how to connect all facets of the industry while benefiting those most deeply impacted by COVID-19 with the launch of Believe in Music: The global gathering to unify and support the people who bring music to the world. Believe in Music, to be held over the week

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of January 18, 2021, will feature a mix of comprehensive programming and professional education at BelieveinMusic.tv, as well as an interactive marketplace to connect buyers and sellers – all designed to elevate the innovation and inspiration found across the industry while offering support for those most deeply affected by COVID. While not The NAMM Show or a virtual tradeshow, the initiative will meet the immediate business needs of NAMM member companies through thought-leader led education for all segments of the industry, networking and AI matchmaking, and business-to-business-focused opportunities to reaffirm and grow business connections, launch new products, share brand initiatives and engage with customers in realtime. Joe Lamond, NAMM President and CEO, says, “While it remains unsafe for us to gather in person in January, Believe in Music week will use new, intuitive technology to connect us all to harness the incredible energy that happens when we come together. With a robust marketplace to launch new products and share your brand story, Believe in Music will also feature networking and matchmaking for our buyers and our sellers, education for all segments of the industry, and live music and concerts. And just like at all NAMM events, these activities will raise awareness and financial support to serve our NAMM family across our Circle of Benefits model. Believe in Music week will be a critical step for our industry to help us prepare for the new year and new opportunities.” Tom Sumner, president of Yamaha Corporation of America, shares, “I believe there has never been a more important moment for our industry to gather, to conduct business, to inspire each other, to inspire music makers and to support those in our music family in need. That’s why Yamaha is excited to start working on our part of the new event from NAMM, Believe in Music. As an industry, we’ve always trusted NAMM to create gatherings that are safe, provide a conducive business environment and produce those surprise moments that we talk about years after the event. While I wish I could see you in person, I look forward to seeing you at Believe in Music.”

“We at Sweetwater as well as our customers look forward to The NAMM Show, yet with COVID, there’s been a lot of changes and we’ve all had to adapt in many ways… With each change like this there comes an opportunity and we’re very excited that NAMM will bring us Believe in Music,” states Mitch Gallagher, editorial director for Sweetwater. “While we can’t replace The NAMM Show, we look forward to all that this new platform has to offer including the ability to connect with our vendors, the opportunity for more of our staff to experience new products as they’re announced, the educational and training opportunities that Believe in Music will provide and so much more. By coming together for NAMM’s Believe in Music, we can all help support our industry and the world’s music makers. We’re looking forward to a great event.” “NAMM is and always has been about helping people make connections, advocacy for music and musicians, and bringing people together from around the globe,” says Shure’s Abby Kaplan, vice president of global retail sales. “Shure stands by NAMM in pursuit to continue that effort. Perhaps, this year, those connections will be even more important as we in the pro audio and live sound segment work at getting back to having live events and concerts. Certainly, we’ll miss seeing all of our retailers, distributors and friends in person, but we’re excited about ways we can deploy an equally compelling experience this year and into the future … This creates a new opportunity for all of us to work together, rebuild and come back better than ever.” The weeklong celebration will welcome domestic and international NAMM members from the music instrument, pro audio, live sound and live event industries, artists, media and policymakers, along with participants from GenNext (college music students and faculty), Music Education Days (school music administrators) and Nonprofit Institute (NAMM Foundation grantees and nonprofit affiliates). Emerging and established musicians and fans are invited to connect with brands and in special music-making projects and opportunities to showcase their talents and performances throughout the week, opening the potential to


gather music makers in a capacity not restricted by location.

was presented to the creative powerhouse behind Pensado’s Place, Dave Pensado and Herb Trawick.

The industry’s much-loved annual events will now take place during Believe in Music week, as well. The 36th TEC Awards will recognize the individuals, companies and technical innovations behind the sound of recordings, live performances, films, television, video games and multimedia. In 2020, Joni Mitchell was presented with the Les Paul Innovation Award, an honor that recognizes musical artists whose work has exemplified the creative application of audio technology.

The Top 100 Dealer Awards will also be celebrated during the week. Now in its 10th year, the annual awards honor music retailers who have demonstrated a commitment to best practices, creativity and innovation in retail.

The Hall of Fame Award, recognizing audio pioneers, as well as the music industry’s most accomplished producers and audio technicians,

Along with the award shows, music advocates will come together for The Grand Rally for Music Education. The annual event convenes music education advocates for a celebration of the benefits and pleasures of making music. In 2020, the Grand Rally welcomed 10-time Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin and Gimme5 for a special performance, along with a preshow

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ancelled; Believe nnounced

performance by The Langley Ukulele Ensemble, The Legacy Ukulele Ensemble and winners of the “A Cappella at NAMM” contest. Additional details of these events, receptions and other activities will be provided in the weeks to come. In his final thoughts, Lamond shares, “If there’s any one common vision, it’s that as a global community, we believe in music. We believe in the future of music and in the future of our industry, and in this moment, we will unite and support music makers around the world.” For those interested in participating or to learn more, please visit https://believeinmusic. tv to sign-up for future updates. PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 7


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13 WAYS MUSICIANS CAN EARNING POTENTIAL DU

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aking ends meet as an independent musician has always been a grind. Throw a pandemic into the mix, and you have no choice but to get creative about earning money online however you can. It’s a lot of effort, especially if you’re used to paying the bills with live performances. But the work you put in now to supplement your income will continue to pay off over time, long after the pandemic ends. 1. Sell your music direct-to-fan If you don’t already have a website, it’s worth the small investment to have a little slice of the internet that you own and control. You’ll be able to sell your music directly to your fans and collect

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email addresses in the process, which you can put to good use in the future. 2. Sell your music through online retailers Digital downloads have waned in popularity over the last few years, but they can still be a meaningful revenue source for musicians. Distributing your music to online retailers like iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp helps you come across as a more legitimate artist and gives your fans a convenient way to support you. 3. Sell merch through your website Selling physical goods like T-shirts, posters, vinyl, hats, and stickers are usually safe bets for an online merch store. But digital offerings like video lessons, sheet music downloads, or an e-book of your lyrics could also be fun

(and lower cost) possibilities to explore. 4. Make your music available on all streaming platforms These days, the vast majority of music listening is happening on platforms like Spotify, Amazon and Apple Music. Although streaming revenue isn’t comparable to what artists used to make selling physical albums, it’s a legitimate source of income you don’t want to miss out on. 5. Monetize your YouTube videos Anytime your music is used in a YouTube video — whether on your channel or someone else’s — you’re entitled to your fair share of the ad revenue it generated. A digital distribution company like CD Baby can help collect all the money you’re owed.


Dave Cool from Bandzoogle.com

6. Monetize your social media videos Many artists don’t realize they can earn money when their music is used in videos on Facebook and Instagram, just like on YouTube. Check with your digital distribution company to make sure they offer social video monetization. 7. Live stream your shows With no real sense of when the live music scene will be back in full swing, fans are more willing than ever to tune into live streams. Don’t be afraid to ask for tips if you’re streaming on a free platform like Facebook Live or Instagram Live. You can even experiment with selling fixedprice or “pay what you can” tickets for exclusive, intimate performances. 8. Set up an online tip jar Music fans are much more likely to financially support their favorite artists if they’re given a quick and easy way to do so. Bandzoogle members have already earned over $500,000 since mid-May through a new Tip Jar feature. If you don’t have a website with Bandzoogle, you can set up your own version of a virtual tip jar by sharing a PayPal.Me link, Venmo username, or

other link with your fans. 9. Launch a crowdfunding campaign A successful crowdfunding campaign takes a lot of planning, so don’t think of it as a quick fix that’ll solve your immediate cash flow problems. But if you have a big project on the horizon, crowdfunding can help cover the costs and engage your most supportive fans along the way. The key is to invite them into your creative process and build excitement by showing them what’s behind the curtain. 10. Sell fan subscriptions Most income streams for musicians are unpredictable. But if you’re up for the challenge of consistently churning out creative content, fan subscriptions could be your most reliable source of recurring revenue. Subscriptions, or memberships, give your most loyal supporters access to exclusive recordings, performances, videos, merch, and rewards, in exchange for a monthly contribution. 11. License your music Getting your songs licensed for films, TV shows, and ads is easier said than done, but even

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AN MAXIMIZE ONLINE DURING THE PANDEMIC

one placement could be a game changer for your music career. Some musicians earn most or all of their income from licensing alone. 12. Teach music lessons online Offering online lessons for your instrument, music theory, or songwriting can be a fun and reliable way to supplement your income. You can teach through an established platform like TakeLessons or Lessonface, or go the DIY route and teach over Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. 13. Partner with a brand Partnering with a brand might sound out of reach as an independent artist, but it’s totally doable if you have an engaged online following. Reach out to music companies or local businesses you love and see if they’re open to sponsoring a social media post. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dave Cool (yes, that’s his real name) is the VP of Business Development at Bandzoogle. Built for musicians, by musicians, the all-in-one website platform offers powerful design options, a commission-free music and merch store, mailing list management, detailed fan analytics, integrations with social networks, and more. PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 9


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AS AN INDEPENDENT A KNOW IF I’M READY TO 10 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


A major area for artists in the digital age to focus on is streaming. While there are over 150 streaming services globally, artists should primarily focus on Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music, as these three retain roughly 65% of the global music subscriber market share today. While people in the industry reference artists’ Spotify Monthly Listener metrics to gauge relative reach, artists should also be aware of their Followers, Fan Conversion Ratio, and Playlist Reach-Followers Ratio for a clearer picture of their current standing. Fan Conversion Ratio The Fan Conversion Ratio is a simple calculation of Followers divided by Monthly Listeners; this helps artists understand how effective they are in capturing their audience. Not all engagements are created equal, and artists with a higher Fan Conversion Ratio have a higher percentage of listeners that are fans. Generally, for an investment model to work, our team at AmplifyX looks for artists with a Monthly Listener reach of at least 50,000 and a Fan Conversion Ratio over 2%. Artists can calculate this from their Spotify for Artists account or dive deeper using music data tools like Chartmetric. At the end of the day, you don’t just want listeners, you want fans. Fans have a higher probability of streaming your new song 10 times in a month, buying your $50 merchandise,

engaging with your social media, paying to see your next concert, and investing in your future. Playlist Reach-Followers Ratio Another metric we analyze is the Playlist Reach-Followers Ratio, which indicates how leveraged the artist is through Spotify playlists. This is total reach from all the Spotify playlists the artist is currently on, divided by the current follower count of the artist. Artists with a very high ratio, say over 200x, are considered to be highly “leveraged” because their current reach is coming from playlists and not from a fanbase. Playlists are the new radio and they’re the backbone of how content is consumed today. Roughly 2/3 of the total time spent on Spotify is spent listening to playlists, according to Spotify. Playlists are a powerful medium to gain reach, and artists who’ve shown they can capture a following with that reach are more likely to be ready for investment capital. Social Media Social media can be a powerful tool to connect with and grow a fanbase. In a study from MusicWatch, 9 out of 10 regular social media users take part in music-related or artistrelated activity on their most-used platforms. Additionally, 63% of users say they’re discovering new artists on social media and almost 60% of social media users are streaming music after they see an update, tweet, or post from an artist. Social media and music have a unique harmony together, and we believe artists showing growth and engagement through both mediums have a higher probability of a successful career and are more likely to be ready for investment. As we focus on independent artists ready for an investment, our team generally looks at artists with at least 10k followers on Instagram and Twitter with an engagement rate of at least 2%. Live Streaming The COVID-19 pandemic has created an entirely new live streaming world for artists and fans. Platforms like Twitch, Fortnite,

Minecraft, Wave, Facebook/Instagram Live, and YouTube Live have attracted the attention of music fans across the world and connected them with their favorite artists. This is a gold rush moment in the world of content. Successful artists, as with their adoption of social media as a tool, should explore these platforms as a tool to connect with and grow their fanbase. The demand for content and connection has never been greater; artists that simply hop on a 30-minute Instagram Live session every week and engage with their fans have a clear advantage.

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hile not all entrepreneurs are artists, all artists are entrepreneurs. More specifically, an emerging artist’s career is like a startup: they must focus on having a great product to sell, connect with their audience, grow their reach, and invest into marketing and other key areas to strategically grow. Independent artists today can do this with very little money and now have the ability to seek investment to help take their business to the next level. But what key performance indicators (KPIs), or metrics, should artists focus on to assess if they’re ready to connect with investors?

Investment Model vs. Crowdfunding Model As artists think about their career trajectory and whether or not they’re ready for an investment, it’s important to make the distinction between crowdfunding and an investment model. Traditional crowdfunding gives artists a platform to ask for contributions and handouts in exchange for perks (t-shirts, unreleased content, concert tickets, etc.). The investment model carries a different mentality: artists think of themselves as startup businesses – where artists have the power to raise investment capital from their fans and a network of investors. In turn, fans have the opportunity to invest into the success and revenues of artists they love and support, while investors can support the artists that they believe have high growth potential. While investors will own a fractional piece of the artists’ future streaming royalties, artists will keep up to 90% of their monthly royalties, retain ownership of their intellectual property, and remain in full creative control over their future content. This is the essence of the AmplifyX model, and the dawn of what we foresee as a new age of engagement and empowerment between artists and their loyal fans. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Bobby Kamaris is the Head of Community Relations at AmplifyX, the only FINRA and SEC compliant platform allowing investors to build a portfolio by directly funding musicians. For more info, visit https://www.amplifyx.com

ARTIST, HOW DO I O SEEK INVESTMENT? PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 11


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Using Gratefulne Your Definition o

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few months ago, my life’s work was finally realized. One random weekday afternoon just driving down the road -- out of nowhere I realized… holy shit, I’m successful. Just like that. A life changing realization as boring and meaningless as it sounds. After more than ten years of hard work, focus, and uncertainty. There was no big check. No contract or deal. No “Eureka!” moment I’d always envisioned. Still, the same feeling of relief was there. To be clear, I haven’t made millions. And I’m still driving around in the same car I’ve

had for almost ten years. That said, I’m living a dream that I’ve had for most of my life. I’ve built a company that started out as a crazy idea in my head. I’m making a comfortable living doing what I love. I’m surrounded by a team of incredible people. And most importantly, I’m happy. How 12 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

the hell did this happen? Let’s start by literally defining the word success. Because at this point, most of us are more than aware of the paradox American culture has created. Constantly associating the word success with two things: money and power. Still, most of us struggle to shake this uninformed and naive perception. By definition, success: “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose” is an idea. One that is unique to every one of us. And one that has absolutely nothing to do with money. Of course, no one struggling to pay their bills would consider themselves successful. At the same time, most of us would say our purpose in life isn’t really to have millions of dollars. So then why do we spend so much time associating success with wealth? In my own pursuit of success, I’ve developed an obsession with learning about other people’s success. Success stories are always centered around two ideas: Hard Work (actually putting in the hours) and Consistency (never giving up). If you look hard enough though, there’s a third, arguably more important, component of success. One that’s a constant in the stories of successful people yet is rarely highlighted: Gratefulness. Everyone, literally everyone, you and I consider successful has built their career on the same foundation. The people we respect and admire who have overcome the odds following their dreams. Before they had the power, money, or fame. Even through the darkest of times. They all maintained an unusually positive outlook as they persevered and made it to the top.

Unlike hard work and consistency, gratefulness is extremely hard to fake by going through the motions. But just like the other two, gratefulness is a choice. A skill that is developed through habit. It goes hand in hand with passion. It manifests itself in so many different ways. It can be seen as a generally positive attitude, a willingness to help, respect for opportunities, appreciation for the work of others. It’s what enables years and sometimes decades of thankless and tireless work. It attracts people to your vision and just makes them want to be around you. But above all else, being grateful is the key to maintaining a healthy vision for success. While I’ve never been gifted a trust fund or been shown the back-door entrance for much of anything, I am extremely lucky. I was raised by a family that prioritized education, and I was given confidence at an early age that I could do anything I wanted to do with my life. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there are billions of people alive right now that would give anything to: a) know from experience what truly makes them happy and b) actually be in a position to spend their life doing it -- which makes me very, very lucky. If you’re someone who is also lucky enough to be pursuing their passion as a career, be grateful. Don’t get sucked into believing you’re also entitled to being rich. Always remember, when you love what you do. And you wholeheartedly appreciate the opportunity to do it. You’ve already figured out the intangible parts of success. All you have to do from there is put in the work and keep showing up. On your own journey to success, it’s important to also remember perfection isn’t the goal. No one should aspire to work 14 hours a day. Or to show up to the office seven days a week. Nor should anyone aspire to be constantly stuck in a world of unicorns and rainbows. Challenge yourself but know your limits.


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ness to Reframe n of Success Chris Nardone, CEO and Founder of Venture Music

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5 Ways to Build Y Before Your Nex

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there.

s hard as it is to write a hit song, sometimes it feels like the hardest part is getting people to know it’s out

There are so many options to promote new music online that many artists feel lost and overwhelmed: Should I embed a colorcoordinated countdown widget on my band’s website? Or maybe create a Facebook event and invite all my friends? Should I write a press release and post it on my blog? Or maybe make a guest appearance on my cousin’s “Finance for 14 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

Urban Pork Farmers” podcast? Though some might say there is merit to any kind of marketing, we have seen artists find the most success by following a few simple steps. Here are the top five most effective ways to grow your fanbase before your next big music release: 1. Utilize a targeted advertising campaign to reach fans through social media. There is a reason major corporations pay millions for 30-second ad spots and online banners. Advertising works. There may be no

better way to experience a boost in fan growth than a smart ad buy. And luckily, you don’t need millions of dollars and a giant marketing department to see real results. These days, with as little as five dollars, you can find ways to advertise directly to a targeted online audience. If you know you have a great song that people will love, spending a little bit of money on internet advertisements before each song or album is released will give you an instant uptick in music fans. 2. Create consistent and engaging social


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d Your Fanbase ext Release Luke Mendoza, CMO at Beatchain are more likely to check back in on your posts on a regular basis. Your website may be the spot where you publish tour dates, song previews, and professional album art — but your social media is where you share your sleepy tour bus pictures, your #ThrowbackThursday middle school love ballad lyrics, and the cringe-worthy suave-pose pics that your mate swore they deleted. Fans love that and you will, too. 3. Connect with fans through new trends like livestreaming. It’s a relatively new tool to broadcast live video to the world on social media. Many of the top brands, artists, and media moguls are still getting their feet wet on how best to use Facebook Live or a live stream on Instagram. More important than choreographed dances or clever scripts, what you really need to focus on is a consistent presence (doesn’t hurt to have an HD camera either – luckily most modern smartphones can shoot up to 4K resolution). Set an appointment on your calendar and livestream at the same time every week (or every day!) Your fans will start tuning in, even if you only have a few minutes between studio recordings and writing sessions to play a mini concert, cover song, or even just a quick plug for your new album. There is no better feeling for a true fan than to feel like they are “in the know” and basically sitting in the studio with you.

media content. We can all agree that the music is most important — but in an age where trend cycles last less than a full workday, it can feel like an eternity for fans as they wait for your next single. One of the best ways to keep the connection between you and your fans alive, is to establish a consistent and compelling social media presence on every major platform. We have found that the best performing posts on social media for musicians tend to be off the cuff and genuine. And don’t forget to interact! If your fans know you’ll retweet them or like their comments, they

4. Simplify the music discovery process. Everyone loves convenience. Even cutting down on the number of clicks it takes to get to your music could be the difference between a lifetime fan and a shoulder shrug. Smart links give people just that — an instant landing page with every music platform where your music is posted. More and more media sites are offering this music marketing tool. If you post your tunes to Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, YouTube, and/or Amazon Music, why not make it easy on your fans when your album drops by posting and promoting a single smart link that allows them to pick their preferred streaming platform? Diehard fans will always find your music, but a hoard of casual fans may stumble onto your music if you make it easy on them.

5. Get fans excited for your latest release, before it happens. Speaking of easy, there may be nothing more convenient for a fan than one of the newest music tools available to musicians and marketers at every level — pre-saves. Imagine all your followers clicking a button on your website that says, “Pre-save,” and then finding that the very second your music gets released, it will drop directly into their Spotify playlist. It is the digital equivalent of being the first in line at a limited time only discount 60” 4K TV sale, without having to overnight on the cold, hard concrete of a Best Buy parking lot. There are a fair number of apps that provide this kind of marketing tool. Setting and promoting a pre-save campaign ahead of your release will see your songs make a far bigger online splash the day they drop. ABOUT BEATCHAIN Beatchain is a powerful new data science and digital marketing platform that will revolutionize discovery, marketing, and promotion in the music industry. Beatchain provides emerging artists with the right tools and guidance to build a supportive fan base, who gets everything directly from them: their music, content, tickets and merchandise. It was founded to bring all the tools together into one app and give musicians insight and control over almost every aspect of their careers, from their music, to their ads, to even their website.

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MUSIC BUSINESS

ARTIST RIGHTS A CHALLENGES BEZ ROYALTIES

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he Artist Rights Alliance, an artist-run, nonprofit fighting for songwriters and musicians in the modern music economy, released a letter to Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos following up on his controversial recent testimony regarding Amazon’s Twitch streaming service. Under questioning at August’s House Judiciary Committee hearing by Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), Bezos claimed not to know if Twitch – which his company has owned since 2014 – allows users to stream unlicensed music. ARA Board Member Tift Merritt called on Amazon to do better: “Jeff Bezos could not answer to Congress if Amazon’s Twitch live streaming service permitted its users to post unlicensed music. The music artists create is not only sacred in spirit and deserving respect — it also merits fair pay no matter where and how it is used.” The complete letter is below:

Dear Mr. Bezos, We are the Executive Board of the Artist Rights Alliance, a non-profit organization comprised of working musicians, performers, and songwriters fighting for a healthy creative economy and fair treatment for artists in the digital world. We respect Amazon and its many products and services that help fans and audiences find and enjoy creative works. We appreciate that Amazon offers a number of properly licensed streaming services. Amazon’s Twitch subsidiary, however, is not one of those services. We have closely followed the rising controversy surrounding Twitch’s hosting and delivery of unlicensed music and the company’s apparent unwillingness to do anything beyond the most minimal and inadequate effort to process takedown requests and shift responsibility for systematic unpaid use of music on the platform to its users. For this reason, we were grateful that Representative Kelly Armstrong raised Twitch’s licensing issues during your recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee. We were appalled, however, by your inability or unwillingness to answer even the most basic question about Twitch’s practices in this regard. Mr. Armstrong asked if it was correct that, “Twitch allows users to stream music but does not license the music.” You responded, “I don’t know” and said you would look into it. Given that Amazon is deeply involved in the music business with multiple overlapping products and services that involve licensing questions, including Prime Video, various Music services, audible books, and its massive Alexa and Echo home assistant business. The company has owned Twitch since 2014 — during which time the platform has grown into one of

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the “the most prevalent live music streaming medium[s],” including recently signing a multimillion dollar exclusive with the acclaimed rapper and record producer Logic. And Twitch itself has long been aware of its licensing challenges and shortcomings according to a recently surfaced memo on audible scanning operations sent to its users the year Amazon acquired the company. As Twitch uses music to grow its audience and shape its brand, the company owes creators more than the willful blindness and vague platitudes you offered during your Congressional testimony. For working songwriters and performers, fair royalties on a growing platform like Twitch can literally be a matter of life and death — the difference between having a place to live and homelessness and having access to health care or being uninsured. For other it’s the difference between being able to work as an artist or having to give up a lifetime of dreams. For all these reasons, we ask you to provide a public answer to Congressman Armstrong’s question — does the Twitch platform allow users to post or stream unlicensed music? If the answer is “yes” we further ask you to explain what you are doing or plan to do to proactively stop that from happening and ensure that artists and songwriters are paid fair market value for the work when it is performed on Twitch? Sincerely,

Ivan Barias Rosanne Cash Thomas Manzi John McCrea Tift Merritt Matthew Monfort Maggie Vail


MUSIC BUSINESS

ALLIANCE EZOS ON TWITCH

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 17


MUSIC BUSINESS

KEY INSURANC FOR MUSICIAN

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hen it comes to the new musical landscape we find ourselves in, insurance may not be top of mind for many artists out there. That said, we definitely think it’s smarter to be prepared for when touring and live gigs open up, than be caught flat-footed as other acts swoop in for festival slots with all their ducks in a row. But for a lot of live entertainers, it might be wise to take it back a step and explore some of the key basic concepts that musicians should know about insurance first, before they dive into the reasons why they should be lining up policy options now. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most important concepts you 18 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

should have a handle on before contacting an agent for quotes and policy comparisons. LIABILITY VS. PROPERTY INSURANCE Probably the most important thing to wrap your head around is what we mean by insurance. For our purposes, we’re talking about liability insurance for live musicians. Acts on the road, at the clubs, and on-stage at festivals. This is different than insurance that covers damage to your possessions, which typically falls under the umbrella term of property insurance. For musicians, this would be a separate policy that insures your instruments and gear against loss, theft and damages. And for a lot of us, luckily, our current renter’s or homeowner’s policies often offer coverage options (at least a minimal amount) for these items. But for

comprehensive coverage, there are companies out there specializing just in music gear. Oddly, in some jurisdictions, these protections might fall under a marine policy (yep, marine…like for boats. We were surprised, too!). All of that was a long-winded way to ensure (not insure, get it?) you know that for live performers, you want LIABILITY coverage, to protect you against things you might be…you guessed it…liable for during your performance slot. Look, the world’s an imperfect place (as if 2020 hasn’t already proven that), so things can go wrong unexpectedly, accidents happen and, in those instances, liability insurance can help cover expenses you’re deemed responsible for in the case you damage the stage, for example. Or if someone’s injured on account of something you did, or because of your direct negligence. Nasty stuff no one wants to think about, but wouldn’t


CLAIM VS. LAWSUIT “Cold War Kids at The Hype Hotel” by Nan Palmero is licensed with CC BY 2.0.

So, you know what liability insurance is as a general concept. If something were to go wrong, would you automatically be sued? That’s the fear a lot of artists have and in part, causes some trepidation even thinking about insurance. Insurance often triggers the word “lawsuit” in our brains, but actually it’s more likely a claim will be filed long before the “L” word comes into play. It’s generally (though not always) in everyone’s best interest to avoid suits, lawyers, trials and courtrooms as much as possible if a settlement can be reached before it gets to that point. That’s where insurance comes into play. Lawsuits are a drain on time, resources, money and (in a real way), anxiety. What’s a more likely first step is a claim made against you – in the example above where you perhaps damaged the stage of a venue or were responsible for someone’s injury at the show.

you sleep better knowing you had a policy in place to protect you financially than go out and risk it? Not to mention some bookings may require insurance anyway.

A claim is, at its most basic core, a request. A request for money, usually, to make someone whole for their losses. Now, your insurance provider may pay that claim, they might reject it, or they might work with you to come to some sort of agreement with the party that brought the

MUSIC BUSINESS

NCE CONCEPTS NS claim. But in most circumstances, they (and you) will work in whatever capacity possible to avoid a lawsuit. So, is there cause for worry? Well, nothing in life is guaranteed. But having a good insurance policy in place before you hit the stage should actually give peace of mind, not cause stress and anxiety. For more, head to performermag.com and check out our previous article “What’s The Difference Between a Claim and a Lawsuit?” where we explore this more in-depth.

CONCLUSION You’ve heard us repeat it a million times, but to be sure, always check over your insurance policy and ask your provider to answer any questions you may have. They have the answers, trust us. The best policy (no pun intended) is consult a professional whenever you’re in doubt. Stay safe out there and look for more tips in the months ahead. The world might be scarier right now but being caught flat-footed is even scarier. And in the meantime, check out www. kandkinsurance.com – you may qualify to get a quote or even purchase insurance online.

If you remember nothing else, keep this in mind: property insurance covers your STUFF, and liability insurance covers the results of your ACTIONS. That’s they takeaway here, and an important distinction when shopping around. Likely you’ll want some form of both, but liability insurance is something that has the potential to cover much larger damages – say, for medical bills, as an example, compared to a $500 guitar that your renter’s policy is covering after flood, fire, theft or other damaging act (pro tip: always check your policy to see exactly what’s covered and what’s not). We all know medical bills can add up to huge figures, and liability insurance can be a saving grace when faced with a catastrophic situation. PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 19


SPOTLIGHT

Thurston Moore Vera Marmelo and Laurent Orseau

Michael St. James

Indie Vet Opens Up About New LP and Surprise Project

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SPOTLIGHT PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 21


SPOTLIGHT

R moment itself.

eally good art is often shaped by the time in which it’s created while also reflecting on how the world it exists in is changing, and if you’re lucky, shaping the discussion of the

Thurston Moore’s 7th solo album By the Fire, released September 25th on his own Daydream Library Series label, is now part of this global conversation that we are all having in 2020: the pandemic, personal loss, climate crisis, isolation, anger, frustration, anxiety, uprisings for justice, political unrest, numbness, institutional decay, 22 OCTOBER./NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

hopefulness, melancholy, and for some, a little weight gain.

Shelley (Sonic Youth) and Jem Doulton sharing duties on drums.

It’s a soundtrack for the time we are meandering through, for all the conversations we are all having. There are no grand calls to action or answers here, nor are there meant to be - this is the music you put on when you think about the world we live in and maybe try to imagine a different one.

The album blasts off with “Hashish,” a straight-up rock guitar chugger with classic Moore stacked-note countermelodies that will welcome any Sonic Youth fan right back into the room. Followed by “Cantaloupe,” a druggy, ’60s acid-rock riff featuring lines like, “tiny sun dancing like a raw egg,” and you feel like you’re settling into a grungy album of old, but you’d be wrong.

By the Fire was recorded earlier in the year in North London and sequenced just before the lockdown. Moore is joined by Deb Googe (My Bloody Valentine) on bass and vocals, James Sedwards on guitar, Jon ‘Wobbly’ Leidecker (Negativland) on electronics, as well as Steve

Here’s where the storyteller, the composer, the poet, the free spirit in Moore takes the reins. In a world of 3:30 minute singles, we’re treated to soundscapes that run 12, 13, even 16:49 minutes


I was fortunate to chat with Thurston Moore to get his thoughts on this creation, the pandemic, and another surprise project he’s working on. Performer Mag: How did you accomplish getting an album recorded and released during all of this pandemic madness?

long. In an industry that proclaims the album is dead and singles rule, we get 9 songs which feel sewn together with the same thread, comprising 1 hr and 23 minutes of music. Atmospheric stories like “Sirens” are drenched in sonic discord, with distinct sections of rising tension and release punctuated by a sweet little vocal section at the 9-minute mark. Standouts like “Locomotives” and “Venus” (an instrumental) feel fueled by a sense of chaos and destruction delivered through speedy strumming, overloaded amps, and crashing cymbals. Then there’s the sweet surprise of “Dreamer’s Work,” which no doubt should (will?) be sync’d to a weepy montage of looking back on the main character’s life in a future movie.

to share stories about him around a campfire at night, with the flames crackling, and I thought it was really affecting. It was really sweet, and that image stuck with me. It just sort of made me think that, regardless of what happens to us as a society, we will always have to reach out to each other, and see how each other’s thing is. I wanted to talk about how songs are shared around a campfire, much like how Native Americans have passed the story stick around. PM: Well, now that the stick in your hand, what are you saying?

Thurston Moore: Well, I had all these songs together before there was any “so-called” lockdown, you know, a name I don’t really like so much, kind of a prison term. I was just thinking of putting a record out sometime this year, and it probably would have been more towards either the end of the year or just after the New Year. That was the plan. But as soon as I found [us] in “lockdown” and I had all this music, it kind of really just defined how I wanted this record to appear, which is right now. And so that’s what happened. I made a decision to get it sequenced how I wanted and I just sort of put my foot down and said I want this record out, ASAP. Which is, of course, in music industry terms, means many months later.

TM: I was really thinking about the value of communication that is so essential to the human condition. There may be some loners around the planet for what it’s worth, but essentially, I find that people desire company, and need communication to connect to this unity of the species. This unified language of the species, the language of life. And I was just sort of thinking about how that is being challenged to such a degree with a natural born virus that comes out of some kind of mistreatment of the natural world. You know? It attacks only our species and no other species is dealing with it. The animal world doesn’t deal with it, the plant world doesn’t deal with it. It’s just the human species that is getting this attack.

PM: Interesting that the music matched the moment -- did it define which tracks were included or left out?

So, I’m exploring how we, as humans, who were being informed to isolate and distance, need to communicate and how it got ramped up to such a degree when this first happened, and everybody reached out to each other through technology. Again, this is our campfire. We’ve been able to develop this technology to the service of saving our sanity.

TM: It definitely defined how I wanted to sequence it and tell a story of this very emotional arc that I felt existed in the narrative of all these songs. So, I sequenced it and packaged it with this title, in complete regards to what was going on. I first started calling this record By the Fire– and it wasn’t the initial intention of the title–but it was at a time when I started seeing there was this anger from so many in the United States and around the world. It’s being fanned, because it definitely is a fire, by the people in charge. So, when I was thinking of names for the album and what it should feel like, I was thinking of fire, the fires being set in the streets. Fire as a cleansing tool where things can rise out of ashes and be renewed with new intelligence, hopefully. PM: So, the name fit perfectly, but what was the initial origin of naming it By the Fire? TM: I tell the story about how I saw this image in a film of people sitting around a fire talking about Joe Strummer. It’s called The Future is Unwritten. It’s really good, and there was a device used in it where the filmmaker Julian Temple got all the musicians who used to play with Joe Strummer in a regular rock and roll outfit called the 101ers before he was a full-time punk rocker

SPOTLIGHT

It’s not for everyone, a lot of good art isn’t. This isn’t music for jogging, although a few tracks would be great for kickboxing. This is music for people who like to slow down and just listen to music. I know, weird huh?

PM: So many of us haven’t played live in a while and normal touring seems in the distance. Playing live is how so many make a living in this industry, how are you handling it, and what are your plans to get back out on the road? TM: We played at Rough Trade East for an hour last week, it was the first time they had

“I have a bit of a hopeful view of us getting through this. Humanity has gotten through so much before.” PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 23


SPOTLIGHT

“You can’t roll a joint on a download, you know?” done it since the pandemic. It was a streamed live concert. I did it with Deb Googe and my drummer, Jem Daulton. We did a really tightened up set. It was rather surreal. We haven’t played together as a group for a couple of months. But it was good, I think. I am planning on doing a short European run in November. The gigs I have booked all have no people or are very socially distanced and safe, streamed regionally. These venues are really hurting, some of the revenue that comes into the gig will go to supporting the life of these venues, and we’ve got to keep these places breathing until we can all sort of get back in the pool. I have a bit of a hopeful view of us getting through this. Humanity has gotten through so much before. But this is a crisis unlike any other because it is compounded with a climate crisis. I think a lot of what happens in the next few

months is really critical to what happens in the next decade. Your song “L’Ephemere” was included on Bandcamp’s Good Music to Avert the Collapse of American Democracy compilation album in early September 2020 to benefit Stacy Abrams’ organization Fair Fight, which is working for fair elections around the world. This album is coming out right before the U.S. election, it’s in the conversation. What shapes your thinking about the artist’s role in being involved in politics at this moment? TM: I have a firm belief that anybody who makes art, who makes records, makes music, makes film, makes visual art - if you’re going to have your work, regardless of your discipline,

where money or some kind of social exchange is trading hands, it’s essentially, inherently, a political act. You’re sharing this personal emotion, and that’s a dialogue being made public. It’s political whether you want it to be or not. And so, when I think about putting a record out as a political act, I think, “Well, how can you sort of stand by your own ideology and have a value that is worth sharing with other people?” And so I think with age, I’m 62 now, I’ve learned that there’s a responsibility that is good to be aware of, and to focus on when releasing work. I never thought about that at all so much when I was in my early 20s and going forward in Sonic Youth. I was just going by the seat of my pants in a way and I didn’t think about the political ramifications of anything. Of course, as Sonic Youth became more mature, we got more politically engaged with some of our songs and some of our interactions with different activism measures. But I never really thought about the group, or the musician, or the actual work, having a political value until sometime later. Especially now, I really do see it, and that was another reason why I wanted this record to come out now, as soon as possible. PM: Here at Performer we’re kind of gear junkies, what’s your setup to write at home? TM: I live in a building with a series of flats, so I can’t be too loud. I have this great little Roland Cube, it’s the size of the proto-typical breadbox. It’s a cool little hardcore industrial amp I can fit in a suitcase. I started recording on a little digital Zoom 8-track, which is new to me. I usually like to go to a studio that has an engineer there, I have never liked having the apparatus at home. I like my home to be the library, just to kind of write and read. I have an electric Fender 12-string from the late ’60s and a Martin 12-string acoustic.

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SPOTLIGHT I have my signature Jazzmaster here. It’s not in production anymore, so that’s kind of cool. I have a really early Jazzmaster from ’58-’59. Jazzmasters begin in ’58, which I like, because it was the year I was born. Those are primarily the ones all the time to write on. I use the two different Jazzmasters in two separate tunings. The 12-strings are usually in open tunings, D# to A# to F#. PM: Have you been writing a lot of new material? TM: Lately, I have been writing a lot, not just music. Since I’ve had this downtime, I have been able to put down these historical thoughts on paper. I’ve been creating a manuscript about being a musician as a teenager and moving to NYC, and what all these documents meant to me, like the recordings and the literature. Talking at length about that and how those things informed one to get engaged with other people with similar interests and create a band such as what Sonic Youth became. So, I have this manuscript called “Sonic Life” that I’ll probably publish next year. PM: Performer readers are independent musicians, and you are somewhat of an indie guru - what are your thoughts on streaming

vs digital, and breaking in the business today? What should the “kids” be doing? TM: When I talk to young musicians, who ask me about these kinds of things, I basically say, you have the privilege of working in two different streams. You have the digital stream, that is completely an open library, and it creates a situation of equal value that’s for all the musicians who work within it. The other stream is like the physical world of actually using your own money to create a vibrational gift item, which is like the record, cassette, CD, book, fanzine, or whatever it is. With putting music on Bandcamp you have the ability to promote it in any way you want, but your existence is really nonhierarchical; and I found that to be really refreshing. Now, within the physical realm, I always say make something. Because you can’t download an actual record, you can download these songs as content, but you can’t download a vinyl record. Right now, I think we’re kind of in this really cool place, you know, where we can actually sort of still make records, books, and fanzines, etc, and still utilize the online world. Do both. I mean that stylus rubbing across that vinyl groove is something that is only genuine in the physical world, something for people to put

in their hands and make that connection. You can’t roll a joint on a download, you know? Linkfire for By the Fire all platforms: https://thurstonmoore.lnk.to/ByTheFireWE

THURSTON MOORE BY THE FIRE STANDOUT TRACK: “HASHISH”

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SPOTLIGHT

Ben Kweller Benjamin Ricci

David Kemper

The Indie Entrepreneur on Jump-Starting His Career Again After a Near-Death Experience

26 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


SPOTLIGHT PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 27


SPOTLIGHT

Kweller scowls at us for digging up this old press photo

B

en Kweller needs no introduction…but he deserves one, so here goes. The mop-topped indie kid who broke onto the scene with Radish two decades ago is now, without question, one of the best pop songwriters of his generation. We don’t know how he’d like being described as pop [we didn’t ask], but damnit if he hasn’t composed some of the slammin’est, catchiest songs in recent memory. Everything on his 2006 self-titled LP is flawlessly written and builds upon the brilliant Sha Sha and On My Way that came before. Then we were treated to an equally compelling foray into country territory, followed by the severely underappreciated Go Fly a Kite. Kweller is back this fall with a new slab of vinyl (on Coke-bottle green wax, no less), and we caught up with him in his Texas home to see how he’s coping with the state of the world, how he’s managing to stay creative and why he can’t get better high-speed internet out in the sticks. Hey Ben, I’m really psyched to talk to you. It’s funny, as an “indie- preneur,” as I like to call myself [laughs]…I think it’s pretty good, I coined that shit! I went to [your] website and immediately saw some nerdy things that I’m like, ‘Ooh! I gotta read that article about key insurance concepts for musicians!’ [laughs] You know what? We try to make insurance fun! You sure did, and I also enjoy that you got a kick out of the word ‘inland marine’ much like myself back in 2002 when I first had to get inland marine insurance for the first time. I appreciate you what you guys are doing because it’s very much the world that I live in ‘cause…one of my favorite things is mentoring other artists, as well. And I’ve been able to do that with the Noise Company, which is my label and management company and there’s real world situations that are otherwise super boring that we have to deal with as musicians. You know, you mentioned something important a few minutes ago, which is “if you’re going to make this a career” -- because there’s a lot of bands who get into this and they think, “Oh, it’s all gonna be fun and games, trashing hotel rooms…and they don’t really understand that this is a business and you have to treat it as such. I know. I totally know and that’s really the number one thing that I first tell up and coming artists when they come to me. ‘How do you do it? How do you last in this world and keep making the music you want?’ and my main thing is I first say

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SPOTLIGHT

if you’re good at something else, you might want to pursue that. You know, at first just to see. But if you don’t have a backup plan and music really is THE thing, then now you’re talking, you know, because that’s kind of how it has to be. So, do you think it’s detrimental for artists to have a fall back? Does that mean that they may be not as committed as going full-steam ahead? No, I don’t think it’s detrimental. In fact, I think a fallback is great because chances are music as your primary [career] is gonna be very difficult, you know? And I’ve had lucky breaks here and there, but I’ve been so freaking persistent, you know? There’s so much to it and every artist is so different…I came up in a much different time, as well. You know, there wasn’t social media in the early 2000s. When I was coming up in New York and it was me and the Strokes and the Moldy Peaches and that whole garage revival thing that was happening, it was really just stapling flyers to lampposts. So how were you distributing stuff back then? Because I seem to remember getting a hand-burned CD-R of your stuff passed to me in a dorm room, in maybe 2000 or 2001… [laughs] Yes! I mean that was it. That was burned off of my first Macintosh computer. I had a blue and white Power Mac tower. I wanted one of the fruity colored iMacs, but the guy at the Apple store -- I don’t even think they had Apple Stores! -- no, it was just a computer store. And he said if you do music, you really got to get the tower. You can upgrade the megabytes and all that and at the time it probably seemed really fast with only like a few gigs, you know? [laughs] Oh yeah, I remember those old G3 Towers with like a 300-megahertz processor. That was it! Power PC! It had the little hinge on the side, you could open it up. That was it, man. Well, it was kind of crazy because before…it was my band Radish when I was a teenager and when I moved to New York in 1999, technically we were still signed to Mercury Records.

it to the record label, and they didn’t know what to do with it. And Mercury got bought by Polygram or Universal bought Polygram? Some big corporate merger happened. And there were all new people that came in. And no one wanted to do anything with Radish because they were like, ‘We didn’t find you. It was the old regime that signed you.’ But they were like, maybe we can do something with you - ‘we’ll see’ - and so it was kind of the typical major label ‘sit around and wait’ [thing].

Yeah, so you had label support behind you, right?

So, I eventually got frustrated with that, and I started recording my own songs on that blue and white Mac, and I burned CDs and the first quote, unquote real one, was called Freak Out, It’s Ben Kweller. And that one…I actually mass produced like 1000. And that’s the one that got in the hands of Evan Dando. He was the first connector that really changed everything for me.

Well…Radish did. We had label support for one album. And then we wanted to spread our wings and I wrote this complete opus, it was a double album with 18 songs, and I delivered

Because up until that point it was all just music industry people that were kissing my ass and all this bullshit, but when Evan got a copy of the CD-R, it was actually this artist that I

respected and looked up to… So, that was real validation for you? Exactly. And since then, you’ve been pretty much DIY for the most part. Is that right? Yeah, pretty much. Pretty soon after that, ATO Records was starting out and one of the founders of that label, Michael McDonald, not from the Doobies! He came up to me at a gig that I was playing with Evan Dando and Ben Lee, and he said, ‘We’re starting a record label with Dave Matthews and we really love the CD and we’d love to talk to you.’ And I basically signed right away with them -- like the day that I signed the release papers for Radish, I signed as a solo artist to ATO. Then we went on to obviously put out [the next few records] and that was it, at that point. We decided to move to Texas, my wife and I and we had our first son Dorian. And my deal was up with ATO in 2008 or 2009… So, I did one more record with ATO and I wanted to make this country record because my whole life, I would always write different songs and kind of put ‘em PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 29


SPOTLIGHT

own thing? It was just time to do my own thing. I love ATO. I’ll always be an alumni of ATO. I was their first signing…their first worldwide signing. They licensed a David Gray album which did so well for them and that really was their infusion to go kick ass as a label. And that will just always be something that we’ll both share together, you know? I just wanted control, you know. I’m a very inquisitive person. I like to know how shit works behind the scenes…even if it’s ugly and dirty…I want to see it. I wanted to know that if something is gonna fail, I at least want it to fail on my own terms and know that we gave it our best shot instead of just being another artist sitting on the sidelines hoping that someone else is going to make something happen on my behalf, which I feel like at that point I had been doing, you know? There’s things that I loved about being on a label, but what I’m able to achieve with my team now and really being a business owner, as cheesy and horrible as that sounds, I’ll take that over anything else any day.

in different buckets and every once in a while, a country song would pop out. And then after my self-titled record was done, I’m going through my notes and I was looking at the country album list and I was like ‘Oh, Shit, man, I should just record these.’ I did my first four albums in New York City, grew up in

and recorded Changing Horses -- and at that same time in the back of my head I knew that it was the last album with ATO, according to the contract – we had a great tour, toured all over the world on it, and it was really fun to introduce a bunch of these indie rocker kids -- my fans -- to the pedal steel and Dobro. Everyone was like, ‘Wow, you’re making country cool. How did you do that?’ I’m

Was the first thing you did on your own Go Fly A Kite? Yeah, and that almost brings us up to present day. That was only a couple of years ago. So, I’ve got to ask the big question. 2020’s been kind of a cluster for most people. How have you been holding up? And is that kind of what spurred the new record? Or was it

“I just wanted control, you know? I’m a very inquisitive person. I like to know how shit works behind the scenes…even if it’s ugly and dirty…I want to see it.” Texas, thought it would be nice to kind of get out of the city, and obviously if I’m going to do some country music I might as well get back to my homeland of Tejas.

like, country IS cool, man! [laughs]

already in the works…

After that album cycle, we had a sit down together and decided to start our own label.

Yeah, I was actually gearing up -- 2020 was gonna be super kick ass...

So, we actually rented out Spoon’s studio in Austin, which is one of my favorite studios here

Did you have any lingering issues with ATO or you just felt it was time to do your

Did you have a tour planned like everyone else?

30 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


That was actually the biggest bummer for me personally, just because I was so excited for that, and he’s such a great writer and a great friend. And that invite meant the world to me, and hopefully we will make it happen again. But yeah, it’s kind of funny because me and Lizzy were kind of laughing about it last night. Everyone is obviously asking [us], ‘How is the music business,’ you know? And it’s almost like we’re so used to reinventing the wheel… Who were the first people to pop up with a new business plan [when COVD-19 hit]? It was all these bands doing live stream concerts or saying, ‘Alright, I gotta make a buck somehow. I’ll figure out Zoom, sure.’ Exactly! Were you able to record the entire record before things shut down? I finished it right before the lockdown. And I was able to get it mastered during the lockdown because that was easy. The guy that always masters my stuff is Howie Weinberg. I love him and at this point I can just send him stuff and I don’t even give him notes anymore, he just knows what I like to hear. He’s a beast. So here’s for all your readers who are interested in the behind-the-scenes stuff… Basically, the way it works is you can submit one track to editors and you hope to get playlisted and that really is the new name of the game -- getting on playlists -- so a few years ago when this became clear that this was how the DSP’s were basically conducting their business, all the hip-hop artists and pop artists were like, ‘Why would I upload my whole album to you if I can only submit one song for that playlist? You’re only gonna listen to one song, why give you my whole album? I’m just gonna keep giving you singles.’ And so that really is a big reason that we’re back in the single culture, which in a lot of ways I love, man! Me too, sometimes I love just stacking up a bunch of 45’s and running through them, you know? Yeah, exactly dude! And it’s kinda cool. I dig it -- I love the album as an art form. I’ll always love albums and there’s nothing like a good album but I’m afraid the attention span of people is just diminishing…which kind of brings me to how I’m

rolling out Circuit Boredom. Are you doing it one track at a time? Well, I have done a single here and there and I’m building up…basically kind of dripping out singles, but I’m releasing physical first. We just announced the vinyl pre-order. And you’re getting that pressed locally, right? Yeah! We have a new vinyl plant that’s really cool. It’s called Gold Rush Records and they’re here in Austin. It’s an all-woman run business. Karen the owner, she used to work at Google and Google Music. So, she comes from a complete digital background. Similar to kind of the story behind my new album, I mean her whole thing was she was fed up with digital so she went completely the opposite way. And then we’re gonna drop the album digitally on the DSP’s on January 1st to slam the door on 2020. So literally at midnight when everyone’s awake, the new Ben Kweller album will be live on all the [services]. Hopefully it’ll bring us better luck in 2021 than we’ve had this year.

producer, he called me up. ‘I know you’ve been super depressed. You don’t wanna do shit, I get that. But I also know you have all these songs. Just come to my house, to my studio, let’s just fuck around in the studio for a day. Just see what happens, ‘cause maybe you’ll have fun.’ He was just trying to help his friend out…So I went over there, and we started recording stuff.

SPOTLIGHT

Exactly. I had great touring stuff through the summer and actually perhaps biggest of all -what I was most excited about, was I was flying to England to write with Ed Sheeran for his new album. And that got cancelled. I was supposed to leave like March 20th -- it was right, RIGHT when everything happened.

And I was like, ‘Oh my God, OK, this feels good.’ I basically called up John Kent, and I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s set up the drums and the Marshall stacks for old times’ sake and see what happens.’ So, he comes over and we started jamming in the barn and I felt like I was 15 again. And I’m like, ‘OK, I can do this.’ So, John and I went back to Dwight and we booked two weeks and banged out this album -- just him on drums, me on guitar and singing live. Were you ready or were you still apprehensive getting back into it? I got more and more ready as time went on…it has been really inspiring. The creative mind never sleeps. That’s it, dude!

I know, I know, hoping so! Recording [the new record] was a little different because basically I recorded it with me and my drummer John [Kent], who was actually the drummer in Radish. Long story short…My family goes on vacation in New Mexico and Liz wakes up in the middle of the night…Something’s horribly wrong, like I feel really sick and so I stood up and fell to the ground immediately and we’re all feeling like we’re dying. Long story short, it’s carbon monoxide poisoning. We were in this little cabin on top of a mountain in New Mexico and ambulances finally arrived and we go to the hospital for days. We’re on oxygen -- it was a nightmare and the doctor’s like, ‘You guys were 15 minutes away from not waking up.’ So, I get home and I called [everyone on the team] like, ‘I’m done, cancel everything.’ I almost died and I just I don’t wanna leave the house. I’m just done, you know? Weeks turned into months. Months literally turned into years. I don’t know how it happened, but I just was so depressed and had serious PTSD from this experience. I didn’t want to record. But every once in a while, I’d write a song. And so, it would actually give me…every time I write a song it’s like, ‘Whoa. OK, my old friend songwriting.’ It’s still alive, you know? ‘So good to see you, Mr. Songwriting.’ At some point my friend Dwight Baker, really great

Follow on Instagram: @benkweller

BEN KWELLER CIRCUIT BOREDOM STANDOUT TRACK: “AMERICAN CIGARETTES”

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 31


SPOTLIGHT


SPOTLIGHT

BACKHOUSE Asbury Park Rockers on Trying to Make a Band Work in 2020 Benjamin Ricci

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 33


SPOTLIGHT

B

ACKHOUSE is an energetic new rock band from the New Jersey area, who we recently worked with on a cool video project for Electro-Voice (so if you haven’t checked those out yet, head to our YouTube channel). We recently caught up with Taylor from the band to learn more about how they started, how they’re staying sane during a pandemic, and their plans for the future.

south of Asbury Park. There’s a pretty healthy music scene in Asbury Park.

I would love to give our readers a little bit of background on the band for those who might not be familiar. Can you let us know where the band came from, and what kind of stuff you guys play?

So, we looked for a drummer for the night and tried to throw it together and we were able to do so. We threw together a little set for a Halloween show locally and we didn’t have a band name or anything like that. So, you know where Kyle and I were living is a carriage house or also known as a back house.

The general sound is kind of like a Lo-Fi rock or Psychedelic type rock, you know? Sometimes we have heavy songs and sometimes we have ballad, soft-type songs and jams. We started in Bradley Beach, a town in New Jersey that’s just 34 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

So Kyle, the bass player, and I were living together at the time and jamming in the nights and stuff like that, and an opportunity came up where one of our friends was like, ‘You know, you guys should play a show.’ The songs you got…are pretty good and you should perform them live. You know, we didn’t have any intention at that time to really try to propel the songs were playing.

Oh, OK, cool. So, we just were like alright, so we’ll be BACKHOUSE. You know, where everyone you

know comes to either hang out or visit us. So yeah, we kinda just labeled ourselves from where we lived and where the music came from and we did our first show and when the curtain pulled, we kind of looked back at each other like, ‘OK, I guess we’re a band now’ [laughs] Maybe this is a thing? [laughs] Yeah it was a pretty interesting experience, you know. I mean, I had always tried to play in bands and record music, but it’s a very hard thing to do and to keep going with the groups or other individuals, or even just yourself. So, this just kind of happened…organically and we’ve just kind of been rolling with it and that’s how we connected with you guys.

We put out kind of a big call to arms for bands across the country to test out the Electro-Voice gear. And you guys are one of the entries. I don’t even remember what was so appealing about your entry form. But


SPOTLIGHT I remember thinking, ‘Alright, I gotta put these guys on top of the list ‘cause they’ve got something to offer and I really liked your personalities. I thought that came through the application and like you said, we teamed up and we did those videos [on the PA system]. Speaking of which, the PA system would probably be a great thing to be taking out for live gigs right now if they existed. What are you guys doing in the pandemic to further the band? I know you’ve got a new single coming out... Yeah, it’s actually it’s out on all platforms [now]. And tonight I will actually be doing a live stream from the recording studio that we recorded the single at and that will be streaming on Jam in the Van and Orange Amplifiers Facebook and YouTube channels. Very cool. And what’s the name of the track? ‘Key of Orange.’

Excellent, so ‘Key of Orange.’ We are going to share that on our social platforms, too. So if you’re [reading] this in the future, do a quick search. You’ll find the video -- which I’ve seen stills from, by the way, which look pretty cool. You wanna describe the video a little bit to those who haven’t had a chance to see it yet? Yeah, so the video comes [this month], and it’s kind of like a modern art installment, you know, with a lot of really unique concepts that unfold, and each member has their own unique small story within the music video. And then there’s some really exciting stuff that happens at the end that we can’t disclose yet, but… I will say there is orange paint involved… Yeah, there is a little bit. [laughs] And what looks like a lot of shenanigans… Yeah, definitely.

So, shenanigans and orange paint. Got it. Let me ask you something from a band perspective, because there’s a lot of artists who are in the indie/DIY scene. When you go to do music video, can you breakdown how that process works for bands who are looking to do their first video? Like, where does the concept come from? How do you hook up with, say, a video producer or director, videographer? Maybe walk us through that process a little bit… Well…we’ve never really been in this position before. Everything kind of grew to this and we happen to have friends that do production, so we’re kind affiliated with people in a production company, which is Howl Peak Productions. We’ve been doing all of our media with them. And we work together on storyboards, but mainly a lot of the creative art and film direction is led by them and their storyboarding. Of course, they work with bands and you can throw in a lot of your own vision into it they find a way to make it work so that it’s conceptual and you kind of get some of what your vision is [in there]. PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 35


SPOTLIGHT If it’s a certain shot or certain colors that you want to involve, or something, you know? So, we’ve done two music videos with them and they turned out great. And I’ve actually seen other music videos that they’ve done that they’re working on now that are not finished, and those ones might be the best ones yet. So, I think future of the music video thing for us is…on an incline as well as the natural growth of the band. Are you guys releasing the single as a tease to new record or is it just gonna be standalone type thing? I would say that we’re still figuring it out -what we’re gonna be comfortable with rolling out our songs and our media. But it’ll likely be more singles ‘cause we’re still a fresh band and we’re still just growing so before we do a full length, I think we want to grow a little bit more. So, probably to be expected [are] some more singles, but then probably after that maybe sometime in the spring or summer -- early next summer 2021 –we will probably have an EP. So, maybe we’ll drop another single and then another single on the day that an EP comes out…A lot of music videos are definitely gonna be on the horizon. Are you guys finding it’s difficult to get 36 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

together and do that stuff now or is it pretty easy for you guys where you’re at? Yeah, I would say that I think that everyone’s kind of finding a way to still function, you know? We started to get together a little bit before we did the campaign with you guys, because we got Jam in the Van, approved to be on their live stream -- which was just their Instagram. So, we started to see each other and figure out how we could do music from 6 feet apart, you know? Essentially, we live in the same house, so we’re [always] together now and we’ve actually played live shows this summer, outside along the water

We have the best of both worlds; we had the live stream thing going and we had a live audience and we even had a contest that we were part of that we actually won. You guys are in the New York, New Jersey area -- is live [music] starting to come back? I’m not familiar with the opening procedures there. It’s probably different all over. Everything was outside all summer. So, if you were able to get booked you were playing outside; nothing was inside. Either the day or a few days

On making music in the middle of a pandemic: “I think that everyone’s kind of finding a way to still function, you know?” here in Jersey. They allowed 25% capacity for restaurants and we were actually booked for an indoor livestream. So, we have actually played.

before we did that live stream is when the local governments said that we could have 25% seating capacity filled inside, unmasked.


SPOTLIGHT So that’s pretty recent, then, within the past week or two? Yeah, and it’s a pretty nice feeling, I gotta say, and relieving to get to that point where some people can be inside sitting at a table with their mask off…taking in music with other people that also have their mask off. Yeah, we found interesting ways to keep busy…online and we did a couple of different streams, and we’re starting to see shows come back…we didn’t see as much of that as we thought that we would. Yeah, I think people are taking an abundance of caution with those sorts of things, which is probably for the better. I know every band wants to get back to playing live, but event organizers and even the underground organizers, I think, are probably playing it close to the vest in exercising caution for shows that they probably normally would have done under different circumstances. Yeah, I have to agree with that. So, assuming the world gets back on track at some point in the near future,

what do you guys hope to accomplish? Or what do you guys see yourselves doing over the course of the next year or two? If the world does open up and venues get back on track. Is there touring in the future, is there more recording in the future? Well, now we’re rehearsing and recording every week and we will be until the holidays.

Follow on Instagram: @backhousetheband

And trying to just shape and finish stuff that we have started and track out some new songs and just see how we feel about how they sound and about releasing them. As far as touring and booking? Absolutely, I think that we’re in a really healthy ecosystem in Asbury and…I think we wanna swim out of the pond that we’re in and…into some other waters. Austin, LA…Different music cities. Well, I for one hope that things get back on track soon, so you guys are able to do that. We’ll see you all in the bright future, and if you’re interested in anything you’re hearing, we’re @backhousetheband on Instagram and BACKHOUSE [all caps] on Spotify and iTunes, and we’ll have a lot of cool videos on YouTube in the near future.

BACKHOUSE KEY OF ORANGE [SINGLE]

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 37


MEET YOUR MAKER

GEAR REVIEWS 38 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


I

n this month’s Meet Your Maker column, we get to know the story behind one of the audio industry’s best mic manufacturers, Mojave Audio.

David Royer started Mojave Audio in 1985 in the garage of his house. The location was Fullerton, California, and Mojave Audio was a one-man, custom pro audio gear shop. David is best known for his ribbon microphone designs with Royer Labs, but he originally started out designing and building vacuum tube microphones, mic preamps and compressors for engineers in the Los Angeles area. Since the mid 1990s, David’s custom Mojave products have been used on a number of wellknown recordings and have achieved legendary status among a small circle of high-end engineers. Mojave Audio Inc. was launched in 2005 to bring David’s condenser mic designs to the world. What makes Mojave different? A Mojave microphone’s journey begins and ends in Burbank, CA. US made Jensen transformers

and NOS (new old stock) tubes are shipped offshore and mated to capsules and bodies, according to David Royer‘s design specifications, at a highly respected factory that David has worked with for over 15 years. All Mojave microphones are constructed with respect to David’s unprecedented research and attention to electronic design and quality. After assembly, they are shipped back to Burbank for extensive QC inspections. Prior to packaging, every mic is burned in for 24 hours, tested and personally listened to by David. Very few companies (and none in Mojave’s price range) invest so much in the audio components. The high-quality Jensen transformers alone cost more than many import mics. The NOS tubes are military spec. The FET’s are top quality and the resisters are custom made. At Mojave, it’s a given that no sacrifices are made in the critical signal path electronics. This hybrid of domestic and overseas manufacturing allows us to make superb microphones that are affordable without compromise.

GEAR REVIEWS

with MOJAVE AUDIO

MOST POPULAR MODELS MA-300 – Tube LDC, MA-301fet – SolidState LDC WHAT MAKES MOJAVE SPECIAL 1. Designed by David Royer – Winner of the 2013 Technical Grammy for his revolutionary work with Royer Labs. 2. We are engineers. We only build microphones that we will use -proudly. 3. Big Jensen Transformers - made in USA. Size matters! 4. Only the finest military-grade fets, transistors, resistors – custom made in the US to David Royer’s exacting specifications. LESSONS LEARNED FROM RUNNING MOJAVE 1. Meticulous attention to detail! 2. Multi-tasking 3. Even after 15 years, we’re still learning from David Royer about microphone design on a regular basis.

Visit www.mojaveaudio.com and follow Mojave Audio on Instagram @mojaveaudio PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 39


GEAR REVIEWS

TAYLOR GUITARS GTe Urban Ash Acoustic Guitar

I

t’s no secret, Taylor makes really nice guitars, and we’ve had lots of experiences with them, from their hyper exotic to their more affordable models. Now they are back at it with an entirely new model, the GTe (with an “e” for electric), bringing a smaller body size that still has a big, full sound. The GT is meant to be a smaller alternative to their GC line, but still bigger than their GS; with a 24 1/8” scale length, it feels very comfortable. Players who love the sound of acoustics but know how unforgiving they can be scale-length-wise, take note. This is the one for you. As for materials, the top is solid spruce, and it’s supported by their C-class bracing, which is a new asymmetrical design, and is derived from their awesome V-class bracing. What that translates to is maintaining structural stability, while allowing the lower frequencies that usually get lost on smaller bodied guitars, to still resonate and project. Ash is used for the back and sides, but not just any ash. In a big eco-friendly move, Taylor has sourced this wood from trees scheduled for removal from municipal areas in Southern California. Stepping further into some more not so common materials, Eucalyptus is used for the fretboard, bridge and peghead overlay. Tropical mahogany is the core neck material. Typical Taylor touches are present such as the subtle inlay markers, black purfling on the top edge and 3-ring koa rosette. With a satin finish, the grain patterns feel nice and brings an overall natural appearance throughout. This is certainly a love at first strum instrument. Right out of the box, the neck just

40 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

feels right. Try playing an entire set if you’re not used to an acoustic, with a full-scale neck, heavier strings and the tighter feel -- simply put, it’s tough. Our reviewer plays in an acoustic cover band, and usually after an evening’s practice, hands and calluses say, “no mas.” After a night of playing this guitar, it was a breeze. There’s no big loss of the lower frequencies, even with the smaller body size, and the top end still sits nicely in the mix. It’s comfortable enough, where a player usually may use a capo to make things easier, to forego one with this guitar, and use barre chords without any issue. It’s virtually a no-cheat acoustic. Electronics wise, it has Taylor’s Expression System 2, with their preamp, and behind the saddle piezo pickup. This system is found on Taylor’s higher end guitars and sounds fantastic here as well. The EQ is very present with plenty of room for tweakability, with a simple volume, treble and bass control. Plugging it in to even a basic PA system, the ability to blend, as well as stake out sonic territory with another acoustic guitar in the mix, was a real pleasure. If there is a category of “workhorse acoustic,” this is the definition of it. Players who want an easier playing acoustic, or electric players that don’t want to fight an acoustic, and still sound great, this is for you. The smaller size is travel friendly as well. Even better is the street price -- it isn’t going to make your credit card cry, at just $1599. It’s definitely a reasonable price, considering Taylor’s typical build quality and excellent sound. It’s well worth booking that unplugged night; your hands and ears will love it. Chris Devine

PROS

Great feeling, long playing, excellent electronics, affordable, eco-friendly CONS

None. STREET PRICE

$1599


GEAR REVIEWS

C

ROCK N ROLL RELICS Revenge Guitar

lassics are great, but finding a way to step outside the box, while maintaining familiarity isn’t easy. Billy Rowe’s Rock N Roll Relics have been doing just that, making classics that have the look and feel of vintage styled guitars, even down to the distressing and aged patina, but avoiding the headaches. Their Revenge model we were sent for review is a big, bad, beefy rock machine.

there’s some shifting needed. Not here. You get the big tone that comes from a big neck, without having to compromise any playing techniques. With 22 medium jumbo frets, and a 24.75” scale, the feel is very familiar in that sense. One more thing about the neck; the scarf jointed headstock. This construction technique takes the fear of those “did I bump it?” moments, that usually mean a snapped headstock, out of the picture.

At first look, it’s kind of a blend of an LP and a Firebird, and a lil bit of RD Artist thrown in for good measure. The black limba/korina body has a raised center section, but it’s a set neck construction. Normally with odd body shapes, things tend to tilt a bit -- not here, as the balance felt normal.

A single 3-way toggle sits on the lower bout’s pickguard, while the butt end has the volume and tone controls for the pickups, which by the way are Seymour Duncan Antiquities. These sounded really, nice. With a great top end chime, and big lows. These also had a nice vintage wear on it.

As we mentioned, RNRR does the aged/ distressed/patina approach. Some players like it, some don’t. With the natural wood and clear finish, applying this approach makes it very subtle. Yes, some edges are a bit rough, and the finish doesn’t look like it’s under glass. Oxidation is present on the metal parts, but nothing that inhibits functionality, so it really feels like it’s been played for decades and looks like it’s, well... right. This neck is big, like a baseball bat for Andre the Giant. However, here’s where Rock n Roll Relics gets it right, where other companies miss; it’s a compound radius fingerboard, with 10” at the low end, and 14” at the high. This makes it a big neck that’s completely playable all along the fingerboard. We’ve gotten some guitars in with big necks, which is great for low end and low string riffs, but go to the higher registers, and

Bridge wise, it’s an ABR-1 style with its familiar tailpiece counterpart. With brass bridge saddles, even unplugged, the clarity and warmth were noticeable. At the other end, a set of Kluson 3 + 3 tuners. Plugging it into a variety of amps, pedals, plug-ins and sims, this thing kicks butt! As we mentioned before, big necks like this usually love low end riffs, but paring it with the vintage style pickups, it favors those big and open driven tones. Think Palm Springs desert rock. Dialing in a Marshall sound on our Strymon Iridium, and we’re quickly covering everything from silky smooth solos in the 60s, along with 70s style crunch. Diggin into a bit more gain, it seems to get sweeter. It sits really nicely where punch is the driving force, not over-saturation.

inspired instrument with premium materials, and premium electronics. It’s not an imitation, it’s a foreword version of familiar, with a few twists n turns that make this a modern classic in its own right. Chris Devine

PROS

BIG, amazing neck, big rocker CONS

Slightly pricey, but you’re not overpaying for quality like this STREET PRICE

$2799 (includes case)

The street price may look big at $2799, but you’re not overpaying. It’s a handmade vintagePERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 41


GEAR REVIEWS

MOJAVE AUDIO MA-301fet Large-Diaphragm Condenser Microphone

M

ojave Audio’s developed a big reputation for high quality microphones in a very short time, and being a sister company Royer Labs, they are upholding a tradition of high-quality components, and high-quality sound. [ed. note – see this month’s “Meet Your Maker” column for more info] The MA301 we received is a large diaphragm, multi-pattern, solid state microphone that’s based off of their MA-201, but has some added features. With selectable 3-position pattern control covering Omni, Cardioid, and Bi-directional modes, a 15db pad, and a switchable bass roll off control, the 301 takes things to the next level. The innards: a 3-micron gold sputtered capsule, add in a Jensen audio transformer, along with Military grade FET (Field Effect Transistors). To top it all off, low noise resistors that are custom designed for this application. We’ve seen similar design specs and component approaches used before in other microphones, and it yields positive results with the 301 here, as well. Our first application was trying out some vocals. The first thing we noticed at how quiet this was, even when applying gain at the mixer, we were amazed at the clean and clear signal. Now we know not every microphone works well with every kind of vocalist, but the articulation in this setting was phenomenal, there’s no real coloring happening here either. If the vocalist leans into this with their delivery, there’s no issue of distorting the diaphragm, and it maintains overall tonal feel without any notable proximity effects in normal use. A vocalist who works in a rapid fire, multi-syllabic sound (modern hip-hop, we’re talking to you) will really appreciate the focus this mic has. This then took us down the road in trying this as a voice over mic. Yes, there are more inexpensive mics for this, and we’ve tried some good ones, but again, the delivery of definition and positive response was shockingly good.

the higher volume levels were no issue no matter where we placed it around the cone. However, we really liked using this as a bit of a room mic, backing it off about three feet, and putting into Bi-directional mode to get a nice room sound. If you’re into the “let’s record in the bathroom” kind of approach, this really opens things up to those natural ambience moments that plug-ins just don’t accurately capture [yet]. OK, here’s where the road splits though, for the home recording enthusiast, this is a serious step up. Yes, it’s a bit expensive for a lot of “project studio” setups, but it’s worth it. Ever wonder why you’re not happy with the mic’s you have? Well take a look (and listen) at this one, and you’ll see why. It’s pro, not pro-sumer. For a serious studio there should be at least one of these (two would open up more options for stereo piano, and drum applications) in the mic locker. It’s good to have a mic that serves many masters, and this one does it oh so well. If you’re going to invest in one really good mic to kick off your mic locker, this would be an excellent choice to start with. Chris Devine

PROS

Plenty of functionality, sounds great on instruments and excellent on vocals CONS

None Moving on to acoustic guitars, we tried some of our faves: a Taylor GT, A PRS, and an inexpensive Mitchell Grand Auditorium. Yes, it’s not a surprise the Taylor and PRS sounded great with this mic, but it really delivered a nice top-end ring to the low-cost Mitchell, while maintaining a very pleasant low-end response. This also did not disappoint when applying this to electric guitars. Our Fender Blues Jr test amp sounded great; we did a close mic placement, and again, 42 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

STREET PRICE

$999


GEAR REVIEWS

YAMAHA YC61 Stage Keyboard

T

he new Yamaha YC61 is quite the beast – a 61-key clonewheel-style organ and piano combo that takes cues from some existing Yamaha instruments (like the CP73) and retains the feel and sound the Yamaha audio team has become known for. Why did we mention the CP73? Well, we got a little déjà vu opening up the box. It felt like we had already reviewed this keyboard not that long ago, so much so that we had to do a double-take and make sure they didn’t send us the same product twice. The CP73 was the same price, if we recall correctly (which we frequently do not, to be fair) and although it featured another octave, it also offered up electric piano and organ tones with a similar-looking control layout and all-black aesthetic. You’d be forgiven if you made the same mistake we did. If there was one negative we have for the YC61, it might be that marketplace confusion sets in pretty easily when similar looking products come out in a relatively short timeframe, with similar functions and pricing. Just a bit of constructive feedback for the folks at Yamaha… That said, the keyboard does perform amazingly well. The action is great, the sounds you can coax from it are outstanding and its sits very well in a mix (both live and in the DAW). Like the CP boards, this is primarily set up as a knob-per-function instrument, meaning you can really start tweaking in real time straight away, and get the tones you’re looking for without too much effort. That said, there is a decent amount of menu-diving necessary for more advanced stuff, and the screen is fairly small. So that’s a bit of a bummer, but not too bad.

If you need an organ on the go, you can go with one of Hammond’s more recent digital offerings (though they’re pricy) or the Crumar Mojo, which we’ve also tested (and loved). The Yamaha features a similar waterfall style keybed for those palm grease runs, which is great. And the drawbar controls are actually pretty good, too (not as good as the Crumar, but good – the Crumar also didn’t require a screen). This is where the chief difference in the CP and YC can be found – the CP doesn’t have drawbar sliders, but does feature some basic organ sounds. Of course, the Yamaha does have a leg up on other modern clonewheel machines in that you can split some FM tones in the mix, or some strings, brass and pads on top of the traditional clonewheel sounds. That’s a nice touch if you’re comping and filling out the rhythm section as a single keyboardist. Without being in the marketing room at Yamaha HQ, I take it the CP is more for piano sounds, and the YC is more for organ sounds (at least this seems to be the convention with Yamaha – see the recent Reface line and other classic lines from yesteryear that adhere to this standard), although there is so much overlap in design, feel and sound engines that I feel like two separate instruments could be seen as a bit unnecessary in the lineup, unless I’m missing something. The keyboard certainly plays and sounds great, and it feels great with that waterfall keyboard, so if you are in the market for a realistic organ sound with TONS of versatility, this is definitely high on the list. I just wish they had taken the best of both instruments (YC and CP) and simply made one killer app to rule them all, so to speak. Benjamin Ricci

PROS

Great action, feel, sound, waterfall keybed, and drawbar controls CONS

Menu-diving, no MIDI thru port STREET PRICE

$1999

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 43


GEAR REVIEWS

DEAN Icon Select Flame Top Guitar [Ocean Burst]

S

ince the late 1970’s, Dean Guitars have added a modern edge to classic guitars; contemporary electronics, upgraded appointments, and designs that took things up a notch. They offered up an alternative to industry standards, while still maintaining the feel of familiarity and playability. This modern Icon is no exception. Starting off with materials, the first thing to notice is the blue and green tinted arched maple top with 5-ply binding, which is quite stunning. The back is mahogany, which is very dark, almost black in appearance. With 22 jumbo frets, the 24.75” scale length feels great, and balances well. Rosewood and mahogany comprise the neck construction, and the pearloid neck markers fit in with the design nicely. It’s a neck-through design, with super easy access to the upper registers. The back area of the neck that gets the most use is done in satin finish and is silky smooth, the remaining areas are done in gloss. To top off the headstock, the Dean logo sits over a blue burst finish with black Grover tuners. Add in more well-done binding on the neck and headstock for a very classy touch. At the other end? A beefy tailpiece and ABR-1-style bridge finished in black. The electronics look simple, but the Seymour Duncan APH1’s Alnico magnet neck pickup, combined with the SH5 Custom in the bridge position are anything but “standard” -- with their exposed zebra coils. A 3-way selector, along with a master volume and tone round things out.

44 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE

At first grab, the neck is super comfortable, and all up and down the fretboard it played beautifully. It came strung with D’Addario 9’s, which were very slinky, but they held tune nicely. Going through a variety of guitar amp (and pedal) situations, as well as plug-ins in a DAW, this is a refined beast that loves getting aggressive. Cowboy chords certainly feel big and open like an arena rock dream. Get into chunky power chords, and it’s straight and responsive. Leads sit very nicely. It’s not so sweet, it’s got that extra edge to let you know where it is in the mix. Even with higher gain settings, the volume pot has a lot of range, dialing it down gave a really nice and chimney sound, and with a quick roll of a pinky, it went into roaring in a snap; it’s fantastic to have that tactile ability. Even though it’s certainly slanted to go for a modern, harder sound, being able to lighten things up without changing patches or presets is a nice feature. The neck pickup is a tad dark, but not in a bad way -- with some dirt on it, this characteristic is very noticeable, but in cleaner settings, it balances out nicely, on its own, and doesn’t overpower the bridge pickup with the selector in the middle position. A lot of players might look at a sub-$1000 guitar and immediately think, it’ll need at the least a good setup, and more than likely, I’ll have to swap out the pickups and upgrade some hardware to get it to play and sound good. Right

here, out of the box, it’s done, ready to gig, no need to tweak, so get that out of your head. For a player who wants a great feeling guitar, with a modern and aggressive approach, this nails it. No need for mods or anything, just throw on a strap and get to the gig [or livestream, or whatever the hell it is we’re doing in 2020]! Chris Devine

PROS

Great neck, awesome finish, premium pickups and hardware CONS

None STREET PRICE

$949


GEAR REVIEWS

CORT KX500 Etched Guitar

C

ort has been making well made, reasonably priced instruments for decades. With their new KX500, they put all the cards on the table, and it’s a modern guitarist’s dream. The flat/satin black finish is quite striking, with the grain pattern of the burled ash top etched in. The back is a nice red mahogany with a winered satin finish stain that again allows the player to feel the natural grain patterns and textures. Ash is an excellent tone wood and pairing with mahogany is a great natural EQ formula -- plenty of warmth, plus a sharp top-end attack. The 24-fret neck is at a standard 25.5” scale, with a fairly fat, but not jumbo fretwire, and the Macassar ebony fingerboard has a nice and flat 15.75” radius. Bespoke mini teardrop fret markers make this look hyper slick. Speaking of slick, the 5-piece neck has a combo of maple and purple heart, giving it a super stable and rigid construction, along with a light satin finish. The headstock also has the same textured approach as the body, with a 3 + 3 configuration of locking tuners. Bridge wise, the stop tail, string-through design is a favorite of ours due to its stability, and easy to re-string on the fly approach. The electronics are top notch, with Fishman’s Fluence pickups. The volume control is a push/pull affair, allowing the player to switch voicings, while the tone control’s push/ pull puts the pickups in a coil split mode. They are active electronics, but an easy access battery

compartment is on the back of the guitar. We haven’t had a lot of previous experience with Fishman’s Fluence offerings, but these really sounded amazing. Plenty of aggression, but still maintained clarity. Dial the volume back, even with super saturated amp settings, and everything cleaned up nicely, not classic or vintage, but a cleaner and warmer response that sits in the spectrum. They certainly made us rethink what active pickups can do, as some players have historically found them sterile. Let’s be clear, this is no vintage affair, but the dynamics and attack response are a lot more natural overall. Simply put, this is a shred machine. The hyper smooth and thin neck meets the body at a minimal neck joint, meaning no big adjustment to maneuver technique after the 14th fret. The action on this is low for super easy string skips as well. There’s really nothing to get in the way, playability wise on this. Dialing in the gain with our Revv G4 Pedal (this is excellent for high gain tones), this was hyper easy to get into rapid fire low string riffs and beefy aggressive rhythms. Leads have a real tight response and snap overall, while maintaining balance, and not getting brittle or harsh. Our test model came with D’Addario 10’s, but players who like to tune lower, this feels like this could easily deliver some low-end audio assault with a heavier gauge.

aggro/heavy metal beast that’s refined. Cort may not have the attention of other well-known brands, but that’s the only downside. The upside is, this isn’t your parents metal, it’s yours... Chris Devine

PROS

Unique finish, super nice neck, excellent electronics CONS

May get overlooked STREET PRICE

$1099.99

Modern player’s, take notice -- this is a prog/ PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 45


PODCASTS...

...ARRIVING 2015 s tform

st pla podca

major on all #PodOutWithYourRodOut


W

e’ll make this one short and sweet. You’ve just upgraded to a new laptop for the home studio. And you’ve got a bunch of gear, accessories and peripherals to plug in (not to mention SD cards from your digital camera). OK, hotshot – you’re out of ports. What do you do? What DO you do? Luckily, the folks at OWC have made it stupid simple to solve this problem. We’ve run into it here in the office, and popping a new OWC Thunderbolt 3 dock on the desk has been a lifesaver. It’s barely bigger than a paperback book, it hooks up with one cable without any drivers, and it finally allows you to put all your periphs back into play without a silly daisychain of dongles, adapters and other MacGyver’d solutions. The front houses two card readers, USB slots for your gear and power charging, and the rear sports a ton more open ports for more USB 3, optical audio output (remember that oncestandard feature, Mac users?), wired networking, Thunderbolt 3 and display connections. Whew! Like any good command center, the OWC

dock comers in industrial grey and…well, another shade of grey. But that’s OK – function over style, I always (sometimes) say. And since this beast clocks in under 300 bucks, it’s sleek enough for us to forgive it’s utilitarian aesthetic. You even get a Thunderbolt cable in the box, now that’s a big plus! Benjamin Ricci

PROS

CONS

STREET PRICE

adds extra ports to your computer, no fuss no muss

none

$279

GEAR REVIEWS

..

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

PERFORMER MAGAZINE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 47


FLASHBACK 48 OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2020 PERFORMER MAGAZINE


Remote-Mountable Receiver Units

Anywhere Wireless

System 10 PRO Digital High-Fidelity Wireless Systems As the digital high-fidelity wireless system that works anywhere, in any situation, for anyone, System 10 PRO is the easy choice for 24-bit, interference-free performance. Operating outside the soon-to-be-restricted 600 MHz band, and featuring groundbreaking remote-mountable receiver units and the simultaneous use of up to 10 channels, System 10 PRO gives you the flexibility to work on both large and small stages with confidence. System 10 PRO installs quickly and efficiently in your live rig and requires no special technical know-how to operate. It truly is the wireless system for any band anywhere. audio-technica.com


Find your s ta g E and

Lose yourself effortlessly in the bright tones and just right feel of Elixir® Strings. Night after night, gig after gig—express yourself with the consistent playability of Elixir Strings.

E n g i n E E r E d F o r g r E at to n E a n d l o n g l i F E GORE, Together, improving life, ELIXIR, NANOWEB, POLYWEB, OPTIWEB, GREAT TONE • LONG LIFE, “e” icon, and designs are trademarks of W. L. Gore & Associates. ©2009-2019 W. L. Gore & Associates, Inc.