It's a perfect summer Saturday evening in Mansfield, Mass., and Carolina Liar lead singer Chad Wolf is hanging out backstage waiting for soundcheck. From his relaxed attitude, you wouldn't know how hard the members of Carolina Liar worked to get to this point. Whether it meant leaving the safety and comfort Atlantic Records to pursue music on their own terms or packing up a Prius and hitting the road last-minute to convince Kelly Clarkson they would be a good fit for her tour, the quartet fought at every turn to stay afloat. But a chat with Wolf tells more than just the story of their journey; it shows how the music industry is changing today, and the many ways in which it is the best possible time to be a fan.
Wolf and his bandmates have had a busy summer, using their nights off of the massive Kelly Clarkson and The Fray co-headlining tour to perform in smaller venues nearby. But in just a few short hours, they'll be hitting the stage in an arena that can hold almost 20,000. For Wolf, it's all about balance.
"You're at a small place you learn how to play like it's a bigger crowd, in a big place you try to make it feel like a smaller crowd," he says. "You do everything you can to keep that sense of intimacy as much as you can in both places. So going back to a small place you take that feeling that you have, keep that, and then bring it here and then try to give somebody in the smaller place the big show that you bring out here."
With ticket prices rising and the economy forcing individuals to save their dollars more and more, major artists have begun to hedge their bets when it comes to touring by pairing with other headliners, taking an ego check in exchange for a check they can deposit at the bank. That's how this summer you get Jennifer Lopez and Enrique Iglesias, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, Linkin Park and Incubus, or in this case, Kelly Clarkson and The Fray. Not only does this allow for fans to get more "bang for their buck," it can also create an atmosphere of friendship and fun that translates from behind-the-scenes to front and center.
"Everybody's been really cool on the tour, everybody's just been hanging out and being nice to each other," Wolf says. "It doesn't always... you get a lot of crazy egos and stuff. Especially as an opener, you don't have to be nice to the opener, but they have been."
So collaboration is key when it comes to touring these days, but how do fans discover new music in the first place? Well, if Carolina Liar's experience is any indication, video really did kill the radio star. According to Wolf, television placements can be attributed to "at least half" of their success.
"All of the sudden you're capturing an entire audience that normally you wouldn't be able to catch when they're all together," he says of having their music on shows such as One Tree Hill and Lost. "It's kind of like a new version of radio: people have their favorite radio stations but you're meeting millions of people. Instead of just kind of a localized audience, you're meeting an entire nation."
With traditional music pathways like radio shrinking and suffering majors eager to keep up with trends, conflict has befallen many artist-management relationships when it comes to image and sound. But while for some musicians leaving a label is either done forcibly or in anger, for Wolf, the experience was a sad one. He praises the people working behind-the-scenes as "die-hard music fans" and admits he misses their enthusiasm.
"It was our whole thing, we want to become a band that's actually signed to a major label, that's something you really work for all those years and then all of the sudden you're like, now we don't want it," he explains. "But the flip side is being free, being able to exist and only needing permission from ourselves."
Through it all, Wolf and his bandmates have kept an easy-going attitude and a smile on their faces, choosing to focus on the many laughs they had along the way (including playing on a two-story inflatable waterslide with members of the entire tour) rather than the hardships.
It's time for soundcheck at this point, and Wolf weaves his way through crew eating dinner, smiling and waving to The Fray as the headliners relax before their set later that night. What the future holds for Carolina Liar no one knows, but for now, they're going to enjoy the ride.