|Alicia performs with The Volcano Diary|
As a musician who's been doing this for a number of years, how have things changed across your career, both in terms of how you make and release your music, and in how you've attempted to promote and advance it? What are some of the most valuable lessons/tricks you've picked up?
The most awesome, fantastic, and nightmarish event in my career was the advent of the internet. I started way back in 1997, before FB, Twitter, Wikipedia, Reverbnation, and MySpace. There was email and there were websites, which weren't very interactive and tended to crash while listening to MP3's (remember them?) if you stayed on too long. Before that I had been making cassette tapes of my songs in my tiny bathroom on my friend's 8-track recorder. That bathroom was fully tiled and created the best echo/reverb effect ever. I'm still trying to find a plug-in effect that can beat it!
I was raised by classical musicians who never touched a computer in their lives, so I had absolutely zero tech background to draw from as I slogged my way through the maze of the internet, and the various ways that the music business was working to stay one step ahead of it. I had had some radio play locally and on a few stations on the West Coast before internet radio but I was pretty frickin' pleased to discover there was some demand for my music online, on the early stations like mp3.com.
Once mp3.com took off it was like the gold rush; everybody wanted a piece of the action, and the industry responded accordingly. I started making records on digital recorders in people's home studios, because all that recording equipment was suddenly affordable. I like being in the studio a lot, but I work quickly, and it was tough on my patience back then while everyone was learning these new programs called "Logic" and "QBase." I was quite grumpy during that era.
These days when you Google my name you can find over 6 million results, which on a good day makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere. But the reality is that since music became "free" I know very few musicians who are able to make a living at it. I am fortunate enough to pay the bills through a combination of teaching, singing session work (adding my vocals to commercials and other people's music projects), and soundtrack work for film, TV, and Internet stuff. Live shows are my passion but they pay so little unless you're in a national touring band. Record labels--contrary to popular belief--are still very much alive, and they are the ones that sign and promote the bands you've heard of in the last 10 years. They also act as filters for music, though in many cases their taste is at best questionable and at worst horrific.
There are 2 things that I've learned over the past decade. The first is my great strength, which is that I can walk away from anything. If you mistreat me, if you disrespect me or my bandmates, if you do not honor the contract I signed or if you change it without informing my lawyer, I will take my toys and go home--and I will never look back. This saves me some headaches.
The second is that I am able to see into the future a bit and know which projects are worth my time and which ones aren't. I value my time. Granted, I get paid a great big hourly rate to sing on commercials, and I do that even when I don't really want to. But I also know in my soul how short this life truly is, and I (mostly) refuse to spend it on shit that doesn't make me feel sublimely on fire.