A Conversation with William Shatner
Mike Ragogna: William Shatner! May I call you Bill?
William Shatner: Yeah, can I call you Mikey?
MR: Uh... Bill! How are you doing, man?
WS: I'm really good, thank you. Yourself?
MR: Very well, thanks. So William Shatner's no stranger to making albums, but this album seems to be a very prog-rocky, introspective album. So, this was the musical backdrop that was able to bring out the introspection you needed within your lyrics.
WS: Exactly, it's an extraordinary marriage between a music prodigy, Billy Sherwood and myself, who has been struggling to write something usable all my life.
MR: What began the process?
WS: The label, Cleopatra, for whom I did a previous album called Seeking Major Tom, asked me to do another album and I'm in love with making music like my puppies are in love with pillows, which they tear up. I just tear things up musically and wonder what I've done. I jumped at the chance to make another album and when he asked me what would I do, I had a creative surge and said, "I'll write about a guy on a beach who's in despair and it's an hour before sunset and through the progression of time and light, he understands the beauty of the world around him and regains his joy." Although, you the listener of the album might not understand, what I've done for me, it gave me a scenario, if you will, to write these scenes, which became songs.
MR: And it isn't just having snapshots of this character along the way, this character goes through an evolution by the end.
WS: That's exactly right. That's what I'm saying. He evolves, as we all have at one time or another, from looking around and saying, "What the f**k are the polititians doing? Why are we destroying the world? What's going to happen when the seas rise? What's going to happen when I die?" If we're conscious, we're all varying between optimism and pessimism all the time. That's what's happening here and I was able to write about it poetically and have a genius like Billy Sherwood put my words to music.
MR: Nice. Within every writer is his characters, so did you find yourself identifying with what you were writing about?
WS: Absolutely. All of that comes from my heart, absolutely.
MR: How heavy of a hand did you have as far as helping to mold what was going on with these tracks and guest artists?
WS: I had very little to do with the guests artists. The guest artists were contacted, sent the work that existed musically, what Billy had laid out as a bed to play off and many of them jumped at the chance to be on it. We heard musicians say, "I want to play on Shatner's album."
MR: What was your reaction to their performances in the end?
WS: Well, Steve Vai's guitar solo brings tears to my eyes. The evocative soulfulness of Dave Koz's saxophone solos just melt you. The music that these guys brought have characterized each song. I thought we needed variation and these guys brought that variation. I have nothing but the utmost admiration for Billy Sherwood. The musicians were spectacular and it's a confluence of this enormous talent that I feel humbled by in being on this album. Their contribution is so musical and so wonderful I'm in awe.
MR: And you acutlaly have friendships with some of these musicians, for instance, Vince Gill.
WS: Exactly! And Al Di Meola and I have never met but we have a mutual thing going on where I feel close to him.
MR: Yeah, and you may have one of the last official recordings of George Duke.
WS: I think it is his last recording.
MR: And the irony of him playing on "Where Does Time Go" is almost poetic.
WS: Exactly, the irony of it and the beauty of it.
MR: When you look at this project, now that it's a finished album, does it make you want to run and do the sequel? What does this do to ignite your music career further?
WS: I'll tell you, that's a really fascinating question and again, the people at the labels said, "Would you be interested in doing another album?" I thought, "What would I like to do? Would I like to write love songs? Would I like to do rock? I'm not sure what is the best expression within the context of what I can do." The beauty of what exists now in Ponder The Mystery was Billy Sherwood's ability to dovetail my words into music and the music into words so that everything is a cohesive whole. I had this thing I'd been doing for a long, long time, longer than most people realize, taking lyrics and making them into words, into literature. In fact, on my first album, I attempted to do literature into song and song into literature but nobody quite got it because it was off to a bad start. But there are some tracks there that are very interesting on The Transformed Man. But I've been evolving this thing where I believe language is musical and music is language for a long time. This is the highest level I've reached with this technique, if you will, this attitude in mind.
MR: And there are your other albums.
WS: Well, first level is the one I did with Ben Folds called Has Been. That album, I was very proud of. He, too, is a genius. I just lucked out with Ben Folds. He took my words and he made different songs. He had that magical creative thing that it is musically where he just created different songs, a different genre, western country, a patter, even one country song, which did very well. So I'm at another level now. Where the next level is, I've got to think about that. I've got to talk to people, anybody who knows more about music than I do, about where that would lead me. I'm hot on the trail. I'm pushing the envelope on this one and I don't want to go too far and beyond my own limits. What those limits are, I don't know, but there's a real sense of exploration here. I also wanted to mention that sense of exploration of being the lead singer in a well-known group of some fine musicians. I'll be playing in the Los Angeles area, The Saint Rocke, The Caribbean Club and The Coach House the 23rd, 24th, and 24th of October. We're rehearsing right now; I'm spending eight hours a day rehearsing our gig.
MR: And you had a chart hit with Joe Jackson.
WS: That's right! That's the cover song I was talking about; I had a hit with Joe Jackson. And come on, we're both screaming at each other! It's incredible.
MR: Apparently, you need to be writing, writing, writing. Does writing literature help fuel your writing lyrics for songs?
WS: I think so. A friend of mine wanted a blurb for a novel that he's collaborated on, so I'm trying to find a poetic way--do you know how to spell coelacanth? I'm trying to find the right words to say how unusal these two guys, Ehrlich and Tobias are. "More rare than coelacanths embracing" is what I came up. That's how rare the meeting of these two guys is in this book. I'm searching for that poetical expression all the time. "What is the best way to show you how rare something is?" Now, you've got to go look up coelacanths, which will educate you because it's a primitive fish that was discovered like twenty, thirty, forty years ago.
MR: Well, you've definitely enlightened me further on coelacanths. Hey, what music are you listening to right now?
WS: Late one night, I was shooting a film so I had to stay up. I took this iPod with four thousand songs that I'd never heard before, somebody else's musical soul, and I put in earphones and I played The Beatles' white album, which I had never heard before, and suddenly I got The Beatles. This is like ten years ago. I suddenly got The Beatles. That's how ignorant I am. Now, the adendum to that story is last week I sang "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" with Paul McCartney.
MR: [laughs] Oh my God.
WS: Does that blow your mind?
MR: Mind is blown.
WS: On stage!
MR: Where was that, oh by the way?
WS: The Shakespeare reading that Tom Hanks puts on every year. Pablo, as I call him, he has shared that he would do the segues between scenes of Two Gentlemen Of Verona. So I met Paul, who had heard my rendition of "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" and we did it alongside the Shakespeare stuff I was doing. It was a showstopper. It was incredible.
MR: Maybe Bill Shatner should record a full Beatles album. Maybe the white album!
WS: [laughs] Now, do I want to do cover songs, or do I want to write something else...
MR: What does the future look like for Bill Shatner?
WS: Well, I'm going to die.
MR: Yeah, we all die.
WS: But not for a while. And as soon as I put the phone down, I'm getting on a private plane that's been sent for me, and my whole family's being sent to Oregon to a vineyard for a wine tasting and then a meal and then we'll all fly back. I'll go home, pet my dogs, remember my horses, pick up my wife, get my kids, get on the plane--which somebody else is paying for, which is really the best part of it--and fly to Oregon.
MR: [laughs] Bill, what advice do you have for new artists?
WS: Musical artists? I can't be so callow as to think I could offer advice for a musical artist, but I may be able to say to any artist, it's very difficult, following your dream is very rare, so make the best of it.
MR: Did you follow your dream?
WS: I certainly did.
MR: So what do you think of that dream so far?
WS: Well, I managed to pull it off, but there are thousands of other people that haven't, and that's the tragedy. You try to follow a dream and it gradually pales and then you wake up and the rent is due and you don't have the funds to pay it.
MR: On the other hand, iconic people like you who have contributed to the culture help a lot of people's happiness to get through that. Bill Shatner, I believe, has made an amazing contribution to pop culture. I think your voice, your image, and all of the characters you have played--especially James T. Kirk--is an amazing thing. I think a lot of people have found a little light at the end of their tunnels based on being able to identify with your characters, your works, and you.
WS: Well thank you very much, that's an extraordinary compliment and I appreciate it.
MR: By the way, I'm calling from Iowa. I've said too much.
WS: No kidding. I loved Iowa, but you know what I did there, right? [laughs] They still talk about it. But I've got to go, now.
MR: I know, thank you so much for your time, Bill.
WS: It was a pleasure, Mike, take care.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
ALBERT HAMMOND JR. ON AHJ
According to Albert...
"I decided to make a little video interview because I thought the way I'm seen by people is always very two dimensional. I'm hoping that this 3 minute video gives a little color into my experience recording AHJ. I really enjoyed it actually and I hope to do many just because they are so much fun. We took the train out to somewhere far away. To a far off Lyn called Brook. We made it back safe though. I assure you that no animals were hurt in the filming of this video interview. Now that it's so easy to film oneself and release it on the internet I hope I and others get to do this more often. Basically what I'm saying is Ricky (Mr. Gervais) wanna chat?"
A Conversation with Gary Burton
Mike Ragogna: Hey Gary, how are you?
Gary Burton: I'm doing fine, getting ready to start the tour. Tonight's the first night.
MR: Congratulations on that and speaking of tours, I see that the new album by the Gary Burton Quartet is titled Guided Tour. Do you want to take us on a little guided tour of the album?
GB: This is a band that started three years ago, originally just for one tour. I had just finished a two year long world tour with Chick Corea celebrating our thirty-five years of playing together and decided to get a band together again and do just a tour for fun. We did a month in Europe. This particular group had such a great chemistry, the balance of personalities and styles and everything. You don't get that ideal blend that often with groups, so I was really excited about it and we came back and recorded our first record together and then turned off and on during the year that followed. It was time to do a new record and do some more touring, so as with the first record, the emphasis was on making it a very shared experience with the band, so everybody writes and contributes music for the group and we recorded it in December and it came out in Europe in May because we did a month tour in Europe first, and now it's been released here in the States as we begin our US tour.
MR: Hey, let's get a little tour of these titles. My favorite one is "Jane Fonda Called Again." What the heck did she have to say?
GB: [laughs] Well, you know, I don't know Jane Fonda at all, and she didn't call, that was just a funny phrase I came across reading a magazine one day. I notice phrases and buzzwords and things that I think, "Oh, that might be an interesting title for the right tune someday," and I keep a running list of tune titles. In fact, Guided Tour was one of my titles on my list. Every now and then, I find the right song or the right occasion to use one and I've been wanting to use the "Jane Fonda Called Again" title for a while but I needed a sort of whimsical, light sort of tune for it, and this one finally filled the bill, so now I'll spend the next two years explaining it, unfortunately.
MR: [laughs] You'll also have to explain "Monk Fish."
GB: That was Antonio [Sanchez]'s song, he's our drummer, and I believe it's a play on words between Thelonious Monk and the fish called the "monk" fish. I haven't actually asked him for sure, but that's what everybody assumes, and I know that several interviews have mentioned it as a tribute to Monk and I thought, "Oh yeah, that's probably what he had in mind," but I haven't actually asked him. I just assumed that was the case.
MR: And we had another beastie appear, the "Jackalope!"
GB: Yeah, now that's written by a friend of mine, Fred Hersch, a wonderful pianist. I heard the tune on one of his records and I liked it and decided to do it. There is an actual animal called the jackalope, it lives in the desert or something. I guess since the tune has some odd time signatures in it, it sort of feels like it's jumping around some. I guess that's what the connection is with the title.
MR: How do you work with the band creatively? Is it that you have the framework for the song and then everybody adds their parts or is it written out?
GB: Both of those things happen, depending on the song. In some cases, somebody will bring in the song and have it all written out, the whole song, all the parts for everybody. In other cases, we start with what we call the lead sheet, a single sheet that just states the melody and the harmony but no arrangement, no separate parts for each player, and then we all run through it and start making up our own parts and suggesting ideas for an ending or an introduction or how to turn it into an actual arrangement. So it depends on the song. For instance, on this record, the first one, "Caminos," was pretty much all written out by Antonio; on the other hand, "Jane Fonda," I just wrote the lead sheet for the tune and then we played it and then we came up with the format and the choice of what to do for an ending and so on.
MR: By the way, another song that appears on this album is the song you did with Michel Legrand, "Once Upon A Summertime."
GB: Yeah, there's an old arrangement that Miles Davis recorded on an album called Quiet Nights back in the mid sixties, with Gil Evans' orchestration. I've always admired that arrangement of it and I was just thinking about it and picturing it with our group and picturing that we could do this by adding a second guitar part to add more "fill-in" sound, the acoustic guitar that Julian [Lage] plays as a second part underneath the melody that he also recorded. So that's the one standard or tune written by a major composer that's not affiliated with the band, but I said, "Let's try it and if it doesn't seem to work, we'll do something else." But it came out quite nicely.
MR: Nice, and I also wanted to ask you, who is this "Helena" Julian contributed to the tracklist?
GB: [laughs] Well it's actually Helena, Montana, and he wrote it while he was out there playing a concert with somebody, so he was there for two or three days, and for someone who lives in New York, to suddenly find himself in Helena, Montana, looking at the mountains and whatever, it was kind of a dramatic thing and he ended up writing this song. He kept calling it "Helena" and wondering if it should have another title, but eventually it just became "Helena." He just identified it as, "Well that's where I wrote the song." So it actually wasn't a person, it was a state capitol.
MR: I'm going to be facetious again by asking you about who's being remembered in "Remembering Tano"?
GB: Ah, well, actually somebody corrected me; it should be "El Tano." That's the nickname for Astor Piazzolla, the master of tango music, because he was of Italian heritage and they called him "The Italian," which they shortened to "Tano." So he was "El Tano," "The Italian." That was his nickname that his musicians called him. When I played with him back in the eighties and toured with his band, somewhere along the way, one of the musicians was talking about him and called him that and I said, "Oh, okay, it's a nickname." So when I wrote this tango for the record, I had him in mind and in fact I heard a tango on the radio when I was in a restaurant having dinner one night and I'm guessing it was one of his songs. The bass line of the song stuck in my mind and a few days later, I was sitting at the piano playing around with it and turned it into this song, so I decided I should dedicate it to him, so it's "Remembering Tano." It should be "Remembering El Tano," as an Argentine friend of mine pointed out, but it's too late now, I named it in my own Anglo way, I guess.
MR: One of the songs on this album is called "Legacy," but that brings us to your own legacy, Gary, and therefore your new book Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey Of Gary Burton. For me, one of the most interesting stories was "The Girl From Ipanema," your playing that song in the movie Get Yourself A College Girl with Astrud Gilberto. Will you tell that story?
GB: "The Girl From Ipanema" became a huge hit and that meant that Stan Getz got hired in not only every concert hall and jazz club in the country, but even was requested to appear in two movies, one of which was this definitely second-rate movie they only ran in drive-ins called, Get Yourself A College Girl. We shot it on an old Elvis Presley movie set in Los Angeles. We were supposedly at a ski lodge and there was fake snow falling through the set window so it looked like we were in the mountains somewhere, and we played "The Girl From Ipanema" with Astrud singing as the stars of the movie, Chad Everett and Mary Ann Mobley, two names from the past, walked into this ski lodge and sat and watched us a little bit and then started a conversation with some of the other characters that were there. For someone like me, this was a pretty bizarre setting to be playing music in.
MR: And possibly the most memorable moment from that movie.
GB: [laughs] Well it might have been. There was almost no plot to this thing. Stan and I actually went to see it at a drive-in in Denver. We'd never found it anywhere but then I found it in a paper and it said it was playing at this drive-in. We had a night off so we drove the rental car out there and sat in the dark watching this thing. It turned out to be kind of a promotional thing for a lot of artists from the same record label. There were like ten different bands each featured at some point in this movie, each with the thinnest of plot lines and we were one of the many. It still runs on late night TV from time to time and people call me up and say, "I saw you with Stan Getz last night" and I know immediately what it was, it was College Girl.
MR: Well, I'm definitely going to go get the Blu-ray of Get Yourself A College Girl when we get off the phone.
GB: [laughs] I did finally buy one just to keep it in my collection. A few years ago, I decided to track down every record I've made over the years and make sure I have copies of the old ones and so on. I found most of them available on eBay as it turns out. All the early ones I could buy them for a dollar or two each, so I got the DVD as well.
MR: I can't believe that you'd ever let your Gary Burton Quartet records with you, Larry Coryell, Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow go away!
GB: That was the start, and you know, I keep coming back to it as the instrumentation that is the most flexible, adaptable, and so on. I've occasionally had piano players instead or horn players instead; I had a quintet for a couple of years at different times. But I just keep coming back to that same line-up that has worked so well for me. So when I was forming this current group, the reason I called it The New Gary Burton Quartet is that I hadn't had a band for a couple of years because of touring with Chick, so it felt like I was making a fresh start. I called it "new," although it's not so new, now. I've been doing it for three years with this group. So I guess the next record we make sometime next year, I'll have to just drop the "new."MR: Speaking of "new," when you play live with those guys, isn't it always like a work in progress on stage? Isn't always kind of new?
GB: Oh yeah. This is true of all jazz performing. You're always reinventing the song each night because you're making up new solo sections. But yes, definitely with this band because it's so interactive and there's such a high degree of rapport with each other, we can pull surprises on the other guys, you can change the normal flow of the arrangement sometimes and surprise everybody and they can roll right with you with no problem. That's one of the beauties of this particular quartet; it's so easy to play together.
MR: Yeah. Now speaking of "very easy to play together," obviously you have this longtime relationship with Chick Corea. Tell us about that. It's at least thirty-five years now, right?
GB: Actually, with Chick and myself now, it's forty-one years. We play every year, we do some touring every year and make a new record every five or six years or so. We've won six Grammy awards together for our records. I used to think we would eventually get tired of doing it and it would start to get boring or repetitive and we'd move on to other things in our career, but after we passed the twenty year mark and then the thirty year mark and so on, I sort of changed my mind and said, "I guess this is just going to go on until one of us falls over." It always seems fresh and exciting and fun, and as long as that's the case, I'm sure we'll keep on doing it. We've already booked our next tour, which is a big tour of Asia and Australia in next June. That's our big project for 2014.
MR: Now, 2013 also includes the release of your book Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey Of Gary Burton. Let's talk about that. That's actually the key, isn't it, "learning to listen"?
GB: Yeah, that became the central theme. I have three storylines in the book--my jazz career, my voyage of self-discovery you might say, finally figuring out that I'm gay, and then my emphasis on trying to discuss the creative process, how people have asked me for years, "How do you know what notes to play when there's no music up there? How do you know what the other musicians are doing? How does this work? I don't understand it but it sounds fascinating!" I've learned to talk about that and explain it to students over all of these years and I wanted to include that as a section of the book as well. They all relate to the title--learning to listen to the music, learning to listen to your inner person, and learning to listen to this creative ability that we have inside us. That's ultimately how I settled on the title. I didn't have a title for a long time and then it finally hit me one day that this sums it up.
MR: There are various pictures of you through the years on the cover. My favorite is you as a would-be young toreador.
GB: [laughs] Yeah, I was about eight years old then and my mother made the costume for me. I was only eight or nine, but by then, I was starting to play gigs, first on my own and then gradually with more members of my family. So that's how I started out. There was always a little bit of show business involved.
MR: And just for those three or four people who don't know, yet, what got you into vibes as opposed to the trombone or ukulele?
GB: [laughs] Mom and dad. They wanted all us kids in the family to take music lessons just as something to round out our lives growing up, and my older sister had already started piano lessons. My parents looked around and I was six and they discovered that there was a lady in the town we lived in at that time who played the marimba and the vibraphone and gave lessons, so that's where they took me. I didn't know one instrument from another at six years old so it was really coincidence that it was available and that's where the folks took me. We moved a couple of years later to another part of Indiana and I was on my own from then on. There was no teacher available, but I had learned to read music and I could get around on the instrument, so my father would just buy piano sheet music of songs he heard on the radio that he thought were nice and I would work out how play it on the vibraphone. I just kept doing that and giving performances for local churches and clubs and things until I discovered jazz, and that's when I got serious about the music. That really grabbed me and I was so excited about it that I really started working harder at it.
MR: And it had to be awesome to have George Shearing as one of your first encounters.
GB: Yeah. Imagine, I was nineteen years old and that was my first job. I had played a lot of local gigs and had even started making records by then, but I was still in school. So when I left school at nineteen, that was the first touring band I was able to get into, and it was one of the few bands that had a vibraphone in it, so it was, I guess, a natural that I would end up there. But it was a great introduction to the big times, as it were. George was a wonderful musician and ran his band in a very class way, very upscale. We played all the best places, the best clubs and concert halls and so on. So for that first year--which I was on the road with George for three hundred and twelve days that year--I've never had a year as busy as that in my whole life since. That was, in a way, a great introduction. I really got to see how it works.
MR: Was it just around the country or did you tour the world?
GB: We did a month and a half tour in Japan but the rest was all USA. George didn't like to fly, so he preferred playing in the US where he could mostly drive from city to city and only occasionally, he would have to fly, and he always hated having to do it. Somehow, he had gotten a fear of flying. But I started touring the world more when I moved on to Stan Getz's band after George. Then we toured Europe as well as Japan again and South America and of course the US as well.
MR: Right. And you're on early classic Stan Getz albums.
GB: I'm on some, but the biggest one, Getz/Gilberto, I joined the band about three months after he recorded that. Then the next few years, there's one called Getz Au Go Go that I'm on. I'm on the ones that were made between '64 and '66, but I missed the two big hit records he had, Jazz Samba in 1961 and then Getz/Gilberto in '64.
MR: Can you go into a couple of your favorite pieces that you've recorded? As you're casually thinking of your catalog, when do you go, "Ah, yes, THAT one!"
GB: In my history? There are two things that come to mind. I was asked this question not too long ago by someone and I had to stop and think for a minute. The first record I made with my first band. It was called Duster and that was the beginning of a whole genre of jazz first called jazz-rock and later fusion. It's a genre that sort of continues even to this day and my band was sort of the beginning of that. I get credit for that often. It's not often you get to start a new genre of jazz. There's only a new genre every decade or so and I was instrumental in that. My other record that I'm sure will be considered a classic if it isn't already is the first record I made with Chick Corea called Crystal Silence in 1973. Again, it was the launch of a new trend in jazz, which was playing duet format. We weren't the very first to do it, but somehow, our record popularized it and it's now increasingly common for major musicians to just play as a duo instead of with a full band. For Chick and I, of course, we've continued this on now for four decades and it's continued to be one of the mainstays of my career. But it was that first record that introduced it. Certainly, at the time, we thought it was just a one-time project and when the record came out, it was just on a little German label that didn't even have distribution in the US. You had to import it.
MR: That was ECM, right?
GB: Yeah. They were just getting started. It was either their third or fourth record they had made. So we didn't really expect there to be a huge response to it, but the record came out and we started getting calls to our agent and our manager saying, "We want to book this!" So we started playing concerts. I still remember the first one was at Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the University of Michigan. It had a surprisingly big turnout, and I said, "Wow, this thing is catching on!" Within a year or so, we were touring regularly with our duets, ultimately, all over the world as the years have gone by. So those two records probably stand out. They're a little bit like your children. I've made sixty-six records so far in my career as a leader, and there's something personal about each one of them that I feel nostalgic about. But in terms of impact and staying power, those two records, I'm sure would be singled out by somebody reviewing my lifelong output.
MR: I'm also curious, did you and Chick ever discuss being in Return To Forever?
GB: No, he had Return To Forever before we met. They were in like '70, '71, '72, and we did our record in '73 and by then, he still had the band, but they had now been together for a while and actually gone through a couple of configurations. One of the reasons I think it didn't occur to me to be in the group was that Return To Forever was a very electric band, very loud volume, amplified and all that. The vibraphone is not a very loud instrument. Because of the disparity of volume levels, it never occurred to either of us that the vibes would work in that band. In fact, that's one of the reasons that I didn't continue very long with the new genre of jazz-rock and fusion; it kept getting louder and louder as more bands became more rock-ified and everybody stepped up the volume. Even the rock bands weren't that loud in the beginning, but by the end of the sixties and going into the seventies, everybody had cranked up the volume to the deafening levels that we have today with pop music. But in fact, I remember the rock in the sixties when The Beatles first arrived and so on; it wasn't that loud. I saw many rock bands in small clubs before the big stadium concerts were a common thing and they were loud-ish, but it wasn't deafening yet. That came later.
MR: Do you have any advice for new artists?
GB: Well, yes. First is to not get discouraged easily. The music scene is in many ways a bigger market, a bigger industry than it was in my youth. There are more people following music and buying records and going to concerts and so on and it's also big around the world and not just in a handful of big cities here in the US. It's much more widely distributed. At the same time, the discouraging news is that the industry is going through a major upheaval on all stages, whether it's jazz or pop or rock or classical or whatever. The whole music industry is trying to figure out what the new business model is going to be. Just selling records is no longer the main avenue of people getting music. Downloading is increasingly common; iTunes has entered the picture, thank goodness. It's kind of kept the free downloading from becoming overwhelming. But getting your music to the public is a new kind of thing and we're all struggling. We're now using Facebook to try to get the word out about our records and our gigs and so on. I've got fifteen thousand followers on Facebook, for instance, and I know some other jazz people who have four or five times that many. I feel lucky to have fifteen thousand, frankly. But that's for people that get their information less from reading music magazines and more from looking at things online. So we're all having to learn of the new ways to get our music to the public. There's a public out there who loves the music! It's like all entertainment--whether you're planning to become a movie actor or whatever--not everybody makes it to the big time. But if you're truly inspired and can just feel it in your blood, that this is what you want to do, by all means, go for it. That's my advice.
MR: What's up with Gary Burton in five years?
GB: People sometimes ask if I have any more big projects that I haven't got checked off my list yet and that I'm anxious to do. I don't think so. I may stumble into something that I haven't thought of yet, but at this point, I've been asking myself, "Now that I've turned seventy, where do I go from here?" and I feel like I've built up a really great body of work and reached high levels of my career and I've been really fortunate to have accomplished all this. My goal now is to make sure I maintain it and I make the best of it and keep playing with the best players and make the best records I can make for as long as I can. There will come a time when I won't be able to function at the levels that I have gotten used to and I hope I'll know then that it's time to step back. I don't think that will come in the next five years, but you never know.
MR: Hopefully, that won't come until you're around ninety, maybe ninety-two.
GB: [laughs] Well my mother's ninety-seven, so chances are I'm going to be around for a while.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with Dave Holland
Mike Ragogna: So Dave Holland, what inspired this configuration of players to come up with your album Prism?
Dave Holland: It started with me wanting to set up a situation for Kevin Eubanks and I to get back together again and do some playing. We'd been talking on and off for years and the time was just right for us to do it last year, so we talked things over and we thought we'd move ahead with it. I was thinking about how in addition to Kevin and I, I'd like to have a group and what kind of sound I'd like to produce, also, more importantly, who I'd like to do it with, because the players always come first for me. The instruments, of course, are important and that's a part of the consideration, but it's very much got to do with who I'm wanting to play with and explore music with. So these things came together thinking about the instrumentation. I thought it would be nice to have a band, for a change, without any horn players. If I'm thinking correctly, other than the flamenco album I did called Hands this is the first album that I've done without any horn players. I was thinking in terms of the size I'd like to have, not only acoustic piano, but also electric piano, which would give some changes of color for the group, and, of course, drums. Eric Harland, the drummer for the band and I have played together quite a few times over the last few years in projects that I've been involved with. I love playing with him and he was certainly the first person who came to mind for this project. He's wonderfully creative and a warm, sensitive player; there's a lot of fire to his playing as well and he's a great listener.
For the keyboards, I immediately thought of Craig Taborn. I worked with Craig many years ago on a James Carter project. James was recording and I guested on a few tracks on that. That was my first project with Craig, but I've followed him closely and been a fan of his for some time and I just thought he would be a perfect addition. So that was how the personnel came together, and then the other part of this was also the idea of really representing everybody compositionally as well, because I liked very much each person's compositional style. We each have a different way of composing and different ideas that we put out. I thought this representation of everybody in the compositional area too would give us a really nice range of music to work on and develop.
MR: Nice. While I wouldn't really say this is a prog-type project, it does seem to cross over into the fusion category. Do you feel when you were recording that you were maybe revisiting a lot of the fusion experiences that you've had over the years?
DH: I can't say I was thinking about revisiting, because that's not really in my range of thinking. Usually, I like to think about things moving forward. As I said, it was just an idea that was based on people and then the music that would be appropriate for that and the sound of the band really developed from the rehearsals and the music that we brought in. I think certainly the instrumentation is one of those things that perhaps hints at that idea of it being someway connected to my earlier work, particularly with Miles. I think that's more the instrumentation of the group. I like to think of the music as being "as-of-now." That really wasn't part of my thinking.
MR: When you have this configuration and you're in the studio together, what's the degree of improvisation? I'm imagining a lot of it is improv, but somebody has to come in with a composition. How does a session normally go as far as tailoring a song? Arrangement-wise do you write it down? Do you feel it and just keep rehearsing it and then record?
DH: The first thing we did is we had some rehearsal time. This was prior to doing quite a lengthy summer tour. As I've done with all of my recordings, I always like to actually put the music to work on gigs and have a chance to develop it. So it's a sort of organic development of the music over a period of performances, and then I go in the studio and capture that and document the music after it's already had a chance to be played and developed. The process that we used, everybody came in with their songs and each person would talk a little bit about how they imagined the piece. But I think we all write in a way that allows for a lot of room for input from the players. I think that part of the tradition of writing for a jazz improvisational context is that you don't want to necessarily define every aspect. For instance, I don't write the drum beats that I want Eric to play on the pieces. I might talk a little bit about the groove, but I let him figure out how he's going to interpret that.
That goes for pretty much the way we approach developing the pieces. Once we've got a feeling for what the written material is, I think it's a group process, really, with, of course, a lot of input from the composer. But everybody in the band is very open and it's really an idea of developing it as a group. So in the process of then playing the composition, we see areas and we start to say, "Okay, well maybe we can open this part up and maybe at this point, the drums can solo over a riff." We'll come up with different ideas as we develop the rehearsal. Those things then get used in a gig and then maybe on the gig, you start to say, "There are some other ways we could do this, how about if we try it this way?" It's an ongoing thing and, in fact, we're still tweaking and changing the music. Sometimes an idea comes up, something will happen on a gig for instance, and you'll say, "Hey that was kind of a nice moment, maybe we can develop that as part of the structure." That's something I always saw with Miles' group. It was a work in progress. From gig to gig, the pieces would develop and take on new aspects and new moments would be created that might be then made a part of the form that we might use for the performances.
MR: Were there any surprises when you were recording the project?
DH: I get surprised every time we play. When you're working with people of this caliber, they're constantly pushing the creative edge of what they do and we're looking to, of course, keep change happening in the music, keep it developing. It's just a natural part of how this music's played, I think, traditionally. You don't go up and play the same type of solo every night. You might try and find different ways to cover the tune from one night to the next, so there are often surprises, yeah. The surprises are in the way an interpretation might go down. Kevin [Eubanks] might come up with an interpretation of the melody that hasn't happened before and you say, "Wow, that really is cool, it sounds great," or Craig [Taborn] has an idea of doubling part of the melody at one point or changing the octave; all kinds of things happen. This, to me, is part of the joy of playing music with such great players. It's a thing where nothing happens the same exactly every time we play.
MR: You mentioned Miles a couple of times. I'm not going to ask for a complete history lesson, but I'd love to get your thoughts on some of the players that you've been a sideman to in addition to your other recordings, for instance, playing with Miles or Herbie Hancock or whoever.
DH: Yeah, and not all of them are famous people, because as a musician, you know sometimes it's not always the ones that have got name recognition that can give you a great gift of teaching you something and showing you something. I was thinking back to my days in England and people who were generous and nurturing of my raw talent and kind of helping me learn the ins and outs of performing and playing and all the subtle things that you learn from players of more experience. As far as the people that are well known, of course, Miles was very important. As a twenty-one year old musician, to have an opportunity to play in a band that was playing on that level and with that degree of forward motion creatively and then to be standing on stage next to a group of players like Miles and Wayne and Tony Williams, and at the very beginning, with Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea... But to be around those people and to have your creativity pushed to that degree is a great lesson for a young player. Watching Miles put the music together and the way he was able to, with a very light touch, often, just kind of shape the music but really give a lot of creative responsibility to the players so that they had a chance to really delve into what they could do and what they could bring to the music. These were all really important things for me to be around at that stage in my career.
Other players I played with, of course, I had a wonderful time with. Even before I came to America, I'd had a chance to play with Joe Henderson, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, several other great American artists as well as a lot of great English players. Just being around that amount of experience was fantastic. After Miles, I had appeared with Stan Getz, which was wonderful. It was quite a dramatic change of direction. I'd gone from Miles to a band called "Circle" that Chick Corea and myself and Anthony Braxton the saxophone player and Barry Altschul the drummer put together and we were together for about a year and a half doing very exploratory jazz and very exploratory improvisations. From that, I went to playing with Stan who is one of the great lyricists and an amazing player to be around and delving back into a slightly more traditional approach to the music. After that, I spent several years working both with Anthony Braxton and his groups and with Sam Rivers who was a very important person for me to work with and who just gave you a chance every night to completely do whatever was on your mind however you wanted to approach the music. We rarely used written music, so every night was improvisation. The challenge that brings to create logical form within a totally improvised setting was great.
I also had a period with Betty Carter who, for me, was one of the great experiences. She was an amazing artist, a great musician, a great bandleader, the way she nurtured the young players that came through her band and taught them the real subtleties of accompaniment and how to build and create the dramatic changes in the music as you play; she was really special. After I'd worked with her, we remained friends and she gave me really wonderful advice when I moved into being a leader in my own right in the early eighties and all the doubts and things that you go through when you make a big step like that. She was so encouraging and gave me such great advice and was really helpful, so I can't say enough about Betty. She was a great lady and that was a great experience. Then I got back to playing with Herbie in the nineties and Wayne Shorter. Those two musicians, to me, are at such a level of creativity, and I think all of us who played with Miles all got fired up about that whole idea of just trying to keep developing, keep moving the music forward. Those two musicians have done so in such an incredibly creative and individualistic way, so that was a great experience for me. The list goes one. I hate to keep doing this because I'm leaving off people all the time that I care about.
MR: No, it's cool, I insist!
DH: Jack DeJohnette was a great friend, right from the beginning. We met in England and he was kind enough to let me stay at his apartment in New York when I first came to New York and was somebody I could talk to about all the challenges that I was facing living in a new country, and all the things that were happening in America in the late sixties were very dramatic. Our musical relationship has just been a wonderful part of my experiences, playing with Jack. From the very first time we played together--the jam session in England, in 1967--it felt completely right. It's like putting on an old suit of clothes; it just fits you perfectly. It felt right from the very beginning. So he's been a very important part of it, too. Kenny Wheeler, a great Canadian trumpet player who lived in England for a long time... Kenny as a composer, an arranger, an orchestrator, wonderful big band writing... I learned so much from playing Kenny's music as well and getting on the inside of it and seeing how he put it together. The list goes on.
MR: You mentioned Betty Carter molding you and giving advice earlier. May I ask what advice do you have for new artists?
DH: Follow your dream and realize that you've got to work really hard to develop your music and to maximize the potential in the gifts that you've been given as a musician. That's only the starting point. You have to really be searching, be curious, be investigating the music and finding out the things that resonate with you. What makes your music strong is when it really comes from a genuine place where you're passionately engaged in the ideas that you're trying to develop. The other advice that I give is to get out there and play with as many people as you can. Certainly, as a young player, you have to get as much experience working with all kinds of different players, different kinds of music, different levels of playing. Learn to work with not only the players that perhaps are easiest to play with, but also find ways to make situations work that aren't always so easy. Get out there and work with other musicians. It's very important to be attached and be a part of a community of musicians, not just for what you'll learn from that, but also the performance opportunities that come out of that. Finally, I would say that you've really got to take responsibility, not just for the music, these days, but also for pursuing outlets for what you do and creating a fan base, using social networks and all the things that are available to independent musicians now, which were not available when I was a young player that give us a great opportunity to deal directly with the people that might have interest in what we do. We have to take full advantage of that and be prepared to do some work other than just working on the music, to develop your understanding of how the business works, how the publishing business works, and that way, you can really maximize the potential that you have as an artist.
MR: Dave, you'll be touring in support of the album. Do you prefer live over studio?
DH: You know, they're two really different mediums. I have to say that there's something about a live audience and the live situation that is energizing. No matter how much I've worked in the studio, there's a sort of freedom that you feel when you're playing live that is sometimes hard to reach when you're in the studio. But on the other hand, I love the process of recording, of sometimes shaping the music in a way that is going to make sense for presenting it on a CD or vinyl format, considering how the tune might be structured to be more appropriate for that medium. So that whole thing is great and it's really important to be able to document the things that you're doing and to have a snapshot of the different stages in the music that you're working on.
MR: What is Dave Holland's life like this time next year?
DH: I'm doing more touring. This time next year, I've got three really main projects that I work on--actually four now--and I've got work planned through the end of next year with all four of them. Of course, Prism figures quite prominently on that list because it's really my current project and we're planning on a follow up recording so we're going to be starting on some new material in the next six months or so. There's a duo that I'm doing with the great pianist Kenny Barron that we started about a year and a half or so ago. We've done some touring and we've done some gigs with the duo. We're planning a recording probably for December or January of this year with that project. The third project is the flamenco project with Pepe Habichuela, who's really a great figure in flamenco guitar playing. He's a Spanish gypsy. He comes from a long line of really wonderful players. We did one album called Hands and we're working on material for a second one and I was just touring with that earlier this year. Finally, there's the ongoing project which is very dear to my heart, which is the quintet that has been together for fifteen years with Chris Potter on saxophone, Robin Eubanks on trombone, Steve Nelson on vibraphone and marimba and Nate Smith on drums.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
SANDRA LILIA VELASQUEZ OF PISTOLERA'S "CHEERLEADER"
photo credit: Shervin Lainez
According to Sandra Lilia Velasquez...
"I wanted to write a feel good song that everyone could relate to. After being a volunteer musician in hospitals and playing 'Stand By Me' to hundreds of patients, I was struck by how moved everyone was by that song. Who can't relate to wanting someone to stand by them? I get it. The chorus in 'Cheerleader' says, 'If you try your best then I will cheer you on.' It's a universal need to want someone to believe in you when you are trying your best. I wanted the video to be simple, in black and white, and just let the song stand for itself."
10/14 - San Francisco, CA -The Elbo Room (w/ Snow Angel)
10/15 - Sacramento, CA - Sol Collective
10/16 - Santa Ana, CA - The Copper Door
10/17 - Los Angeles, CA - Eastside Luv (w/ Irene Diaz)
10/18 - San Diego, CA - Voz Alta (w/ Sure Fire Soul Ensemble)
10/19 - Tucson, AZ - Solar Culture (w/ The Tryst)
10/22 - New York, NY - Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 1
A Conversation with Pink Martin's Thomas Lauderdale
Mike Ragogna: Thomas, I'm calling because I want to know why in the world Pink Martini wants us to Get Happy.
Thomas Lauderdale: Well, things are pretty bleak in the world right now. The idea initially was to create an irresistible album that's uplifting and hopeful despite everything we know and everything we've been through and everything we'll be facing years ahead. It is sort of uplifting, it's not deliriously happy because I couldn't manufacture that, I couldn't quite get there entirely. But I think that hopefully Pink Martini has always been for many people a tiny glittering beacon of hope.
MR: That's true, Pink Martini, in general, mostly has an uplifting sound.
TL: Yes. We've been inclusive along the way to all kinds of people, really, from conservatives to liberals and everybody in between, and people of different ages and different cultures and all of that. It's somewhere in-between "It's A Small World" by Walt Disney and The Muppet Show and maybe a tiny little bit of Lawrence Welk.
MR: And conservatives and liberals alike would probably get a big smile out of "Smile" with Phyllis Diller. What's the story behind that one?
TL: We were playing at Disney Hall on New Year's Eve two years ago and our friend Kim Hastreiter, who's the editor-in-chief of Paper magazine in New York who also plays glockenspiel with Pink Martini, I knew that she was good friends with Phyllis Diller, so I begged her to introduce me to Phyllis in the days following our performance. So she did and we went out to Phyllis' house for dinner. She made us chili. In her recent years, she's been a painter so there were hundreds of paintings on the wall, each with a price tag. You'd take her paintings off the walls and at the end of the night, you'd be tallied up, you'd write a check, Phyllis Diller would sign the paintings and then off you would go. So I bought a whole suitcase of Phyllis Diller paintings. As we were talking, I suddenly realized, knowing her history and how she recorded several albums in the sixties and seventies and was a pioneer in comedy and she studied classical piano in Lima, Ohio, I asked her if she would consider recording a song for our album. With the good counsel of her friend, she was convinced to do it. Within twenty-four hours, we decided the right song was probably "Smile" by Charlie Chaplin who was a friend of Phyllis Diller's. It's so evocative and such a bittersweet song; it's sort of perfect. One month later, our engineer Dave Friedlander and I flew down to LA, set up an impromptu recording studio in her living room and she recorded without hesitation "Smile."
MR: You also have the ever awesome Rufus Wainwright on a couple songs, "Kitty Come Home" and "Get Happy/Happy Days."
TL: Yes. Yes, yes, yes. I met Rufus when he first came to Portland on his very first tour. My good friend Gus Van Zandt who lives in Portland called up and said, "Yeah, there's this guy named Rufus Wainwright who's coming to town, do you want to go?" So that's where I met Rufus, and whenever he came to town, I'd always come and take him around town and introduce him to cute boys. In the recent years, he's become even sweeter and nicer. I think he's a total genius. I think Rufus Wainwright is just incredible. I have such a huge amount of respect for almost everything that he does. For as long as I've known Rufus, I've also liked the song "Kitty Come Home," which was written by his aunt Anna McGarrigle. When I first heard that song, I thought it was about cats and sort of whimsical, about a lost kitten or something. Then Rufus said, five years after I'd listened to the song, that actually, it was written by his aunt as a plea to his mother Kate--Kitty--to leave Loudon [Wainwright III] and come back to Canada and bring her children Rufus and Martha. So it's much sadder and deeper than a song about a lost cat. So he knew that I loved the song and once he agreed to record something for our album, I asked if he would consider "Kitty Come Home." I said, "Clearly this is your family, this belongs to you and I totally understand if you don't want to record this song with us and I almost feel somewhat weird about even asking." But he did say yes. So backed by the great-grandchildren of Maria and Georg von Trapp who are now living in Portland, Rufus recorded "Kitty Come Home," and I think it's really, really gorgeous. We sent mixes and copies to Anna McGarrigle to get her approval. That family, that whole cluster of McGarrigles and Wainwrights, and now Rufus is a father because the daughter of Leondard Cohen asked him for his sperm and got it, so he has a child with Leonard Cohen's daughter. Isn't that amazing?
MR: That is amazing. It was pretty damn bold for somebody to have taken on Judy At Carnegie Hall as well as what he's done throughout his various projects.
TL: Yeah, he's daring. He's totally daring. He takes risks and sometimes they're reckless, but I think that in the end, he's just going through life without a lot of apparent self-doubt whereas a lot of people, I think, are constantly positioning themselves for this or that. The way that he worked in the studio, he was there until the finish trying to figure out the right way to record all of these songs that we recorded. The couple songs that were not released that we recorded in that same session, one was a German song first performed by Hildegard Knef and the song is called "Für Mich Soll's Rote Rosen Regnen," the translation is "For Me It Will Rain Red Roses." He recorded it because it was Jörn, his husband's birthday, and it's Jörn's favorite song. He just plowed his way through the German, we got a German language teacher in there and we just did it and it turned out so well. He also recorded a version of "Blue Boom," which is stunning. That may come out on a future record. But just watching him work was incredible because he was so committed to getting it just right and not knowing what the "just right" was, but knowing when we'd gotten there.
MR: The first half of your album is kind of "worldly," was that an intentional thing, or did it just happen to end up in sequence.
TL: Wait, does that mean that the English songs are all towards the end? Are they all clustered together?
MR: Sort of, yeah.
TL: Oh, that's funny, I didn't even think of that. Wow. That's interesting. That is fascinating. Actually, if I had noticed that, I think I might have changed the order. That's interesting. No, especially with this album it's all over the map. We've got like fifteen different singers including the Von Trapps and there are all these sort of disparate things that are kind of coming and going. I guess I just tried to use my gut instinct and the melody and mood of each song sort of predicated what was going to come next. At one point, "Zundoko-Bushi" was earlier in the sequence and I just felt like it was too aggressive to come too early, so we put in "I'm Waiting For You," the Chinese song with Meow Meow followed by "Omide Zendegani," the song in Farsi. Hold on, I'm in a cab hurrying towards the airport, we're going to Turkey today. The order of the songs really makes all the difference. Aside from the songs themselves and what they sound like, it's the most important aspect of an album, the order. There's a sort of ballet to it.
MR: You did the same thing as far as the sequence on your retrospective. I particularly liked the way that it conceptually flowed. As you were just saying, I agree, the sequence is as important as the message being delivered.
TL: It's totally important. It's like lighting in a room. Who wants to work under fluorescent lighting? I think this has a nice kind of glow to it. Hopefully, the album does have this kind of glow. There are certain albums that I might want to redo if I could, but mainly, I feel like the order has been pretty good on most of the records.
MR: Tom, what advice you have for new artists, oh international cavalier artist that you are?
TL: Well, I would say be prepared to be broke for a decade, say yes to everything, work with people who are better than you, be sure to go to lessons occasionally just to brush up and make sure that you're not becoming a sloppy bohemian. What else? Don't assume that people are going to come to you, go to them. Like when the band first started, I realized that there was a whole sort of patron and matron set that would never go to a rock club, so I would take Pink Martini and set up in the dining hall in the fanciest restaurant in town at the time, Zephyro on Saturday night at midnight, and we'd do late night lounges in this fancy restaurant and play for all the patrons and matrons of Portland. That was very helpful, actually, just in terms of reaching a broader audience. So I think you have to be sort of inventive about how to reach people. Everybody thinks that somehow they're going to become rockstars overnight. I don't know why anybody would want to be a rockstar overnight. There seems to be very little loyalty from moment to moment. Our crowd is a different crowd than the pop crowd. I have a feeling that Lady Gaga in three years will be nowhere. She'll be playing casinos. Not really, but you know what I mean? It's all so fleeting these days. I think that it's a good idea to have a strong base, an intensely loyal fan base. It's the NPR crowd, the Starbucks crowd, but not just those crowds. We're popular with both camps of Texas, the really conservative people and the very liberal people. If there's nobody else in between, we don't worry about that. [laughs] And we're popular in Utah! I think what I like about the fans and what I would advise is this, "How accessible is it to people?" I think at this point, this culture could use as much music as it possibly could and can stand because we need to have these tiny moments of joy amidst a world of suffering. More people are broke and more people are hurting. It's kind of a ridiculous culture right now.
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
A Conversation with TuneCore's Jamie Purpora
Mike Ragogna: Jamie, how long have you been working for TuneCore?
Jamie Purpora: I started in March of 2011.
MR: And what are your primary duties?
JP: I run the publishing administration division.
MR: What does that entail?
JP: Basically, TuneCore was a distribution platform, a very successful one, and the artists were often songwriters who didn't have any representation for their publishing rights. I was at Bug Music for seventeen years running all of their admin, and TuneCore approached me to build an admin model for their customers.
MR: Bug Music, right. You have a history of being artist and writer friendly, don't you.
JP: Yep, you got it.
MR: [laughs] Jamie, are artists that come to you already established or...?
JP: In the beginning, TuneCore was an avenue to get your music released. As you know, in the old days, we sold our CDs and cassettes out of the back of cars or even used websites to sell them. So TuneCore was built so that for an upfront yearly subscription fee, we'll put your songs on Apple, Amazon, Rhapsody, now Spotify, and countless other digital platforms to make your music available to everyone. That's one copyright, and that's one way that artists and songwriters make money, through the sales of their downloads or physical records or streams, et cetera. With the publishing administration platform, there's a separate right for you as the songwriter and publisher that generates revenue as well. To pick up that revenue is much more complicated than a direct store relationship. When you distribute stuff through iTunes, you give it to Apple, Apple gives you the money, you give it to the artist. Through the publishing rights, due to the different laws of publishing around the world it's a more complicated thing to get. You have to have the songs registered outside of the store. It's a completely different pathway to shake the trees for that money. So the basis, the first initial point of this was to do that so everyone could get what they were due. The second point was the creative element of publishing, which is two-shot songs for film and TV uses to basically protect them by having the songs registered prior to the sales, which is even better. It's a combined effort to basically support the songwriter along with the distribution. So those two copyrights are covered.
MR: Am I wrong or does this seem to benefit more established artists than not?
JP: No, no, it benefits all. Every time your song is downloaded on iTunes outside of the States, there's a royalty that's separate from the sale revenue, that's for the composition. Millions and millions of dollars are sitting because nobody has representation. You couldn't go to Warner or Capitol and get an admin deal if you sold a few thousand units. They're not going to answer the phone. This way, you sign up, and we built it online. At Bug, I had maybe ten or fifteen administration deals we did a month and they were all paper. Every publisher did it in paper form. We've built this online, and we're getting five to six hundred signups a month.
MR: But that is somebody who has assets they've already taken to a certain point in order to accrue royalties. Does TuneCore also assist the new artist in trying to help them figure out a way to place their assets so royalties can build?
JP: Yes, absolutely. If you also distribute through TuneCore, you have our admins build a licensing website that we've made available to all of the TV and film supervisors. It's sortable by genre and it's a one-stop shop. Usually, any of these places where you can license the publishing and the master recording together are usually libraries; this is all original music. It has over a hundred and fifty thousand copyrights in it right now, which we're scanning through and that just launched in July.
MR: Is there a certain fee that people have to pay in order for you to be working this stuff?
JP: No, it's part of the administration agreement.
MR: Then is the paradigm of TuneCore one has to listen to the music and decide, "Yeah, we can do something with this," therefore similar to the old school way of doing it?
JP: No, no, it goes in there. It's up to the film supervisors.
MR: I understand that, but say I'm an artist and I come to you and I want to put something up online. What do I do? I contact you after I put up a video on YouTube or after I have a Soundcloud upload, et cetera? It seems like you have to be in a place of at least some success in order to accrue significant royalties.
JP: Well, again, it was built as a distribution from the beginning, to get the things out there. It's a DIY artists' platform. What the publishing administration thing does is not only make sure you get what you should get as a songwriter and publisher, but at the same time, it's making your songs available to the people that want it in a TV show or on a commercial or in a film. We don't vet it as far as whether we think it's good or not. It's the supervisors who go through there. We've made it sortable by genre, all those types of things.
MR: Do a song or artist's prior success come into play at all?
JP: Not necessarily because we've had things that aren't big sellers, but they happen to be what the supervisor was looking for when they just came out. It's not really about anything except for helping these songs find the right place and doing it in a way that helps thousands of people instead of a couple hundred. We've built a digital world where basically we put everything out there for the film and TV community to sort through and find what they need.
MR: All right, so I am a music director for a film and I want to go to TuneCore, what do I do? Walk me through it.
JP: We've most likely already hit you up and invited you to the site. If not, you basically get a username and password because this is only open to the supervisors. You sign in and then you can search by genre. You see who's doing well on iTunes in the catalog this week and since inception. You can also choose by genre and several other things--by artist, by songwriter if you already know they're a TuneCore writer or artist--and it gives you those options. You're looking for something to replace something else with and that's usually the case with those guys. This helps people find that stuff.
MR: So lately you guys are doing something new in the publishing area. Can you go into that?
JP: Yeah, what's new about it is it's basically available to everyone. You can sign up no matter who you are as long as you have something out there or if you're getting ready to put something out there you can sign up and do it. There's no longer a gatekeeper; we took the gates out. Anybody can get in and we shake the trees for your money. We register your songs in over sixty countries, and we register them within a week. Also, there's back money. If you've had sales over the years, some places will go back five years and get that revenue for you. Most people don't realize they even miss it. We had one writer that got four thousand dollars out of Canada instantly.
MR: What do you think is the future for TuneCore? Where do you think you'll be expanding from here?
JP: It'll expand into YouTube monetization, it'll expand into whatever road music goes down. Right now, streaming is heavy, streaming is part of the future; YouTube is heavy, YouTube is part of the future, it's wherever it will go. Helping artists get their music to those places, one, and two, helping them manage the rights to their music, which is the pub admin side. If you don't have representation, it's not going to be as successful and you're not trying to reap the benefits of your work. It's really that simple. I'm a musician too. I've been doing that for twenty-five years in LA. I've been working in this business for over twenty years and I've seen it; artists can come and go but the publishing rights and the administration still generates them revenue years later. You never know when something's going to pop up. You never know when all of a sudden, someone starts using something that, for the most part, no one was paying attention to and then something breaks loose. Its revenue keeps going on and on and on. What artists don't realize is they think they get money just from live or from sales. There's also publishing, there's merchandising. There are so many pieces and all of those pieces together are what help make an artist successful. We're tying most of those pieces together in one place.
MR: Nice. This now ties into my traditional question that I have for everybody. I think we just got some, but what advice do you have for new artists?
JP: Find your audience. We're giving you the tools to be represented and to be distributed and possibly even to be discovered by the film and TV community, but you have to find your audience. Whether it means you have to play a bunch of local gigs, whether it means you have to push harder on a social media platform, you have to find your audience, you have to find who likes you. Once you find that, I think that's the key. It used to be that the record label would help expose you to your audience. Now that the gates are down and the "record store" shelves are endless, you have an opportunity to take advantage of that by using social media platforms to find your audience. That's the key. Where you're playing, who you're playing for and who you're pushing your music to is ultimately what's going to help you succeed, I think.
MR: Do you see anything on the horizon that's yet another source of income for writers and publishers?
JP: I think it's a combination of all these things. I think it's not just one thing. Like the economy, you don't point at one thing that made it go bad for a minute or made it get better. It's a combination of all of those things. There are thirteen royalty types just for the composition of a song that was written. You secure yourself through all of those; you make sure you register everywhere and you make sure of the publisher of the record and the songwriter of the record everywhere that could possibly generate revenue. You hedge your bets that way and by having an administrator you're covered that way. Nobody knows what's going to come up next but by having everything protected, registered and set you're going to be in a good spot when that does happen.
For more information: http://www.tunecore.com
Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008