Today we've got the second installment of the handful of interviews I conducted for the Cheap Seats series. I've written about my old school friend Tyler Fortier's (Bandcamp, Facebook) music before, and back in September I posed to him a series of questions similar to those in the last interview. Just as all of the other interviews seem to have turned out, Tyler's offers a unique perspective and an emphasis on some of the constant challenges independent artists face and strive to surmount (with many of which I can seriously identify) on a day-to-day basis.
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?
Over the years I have become more and more self-sufficient. Each new project has a lower cost attached to it. Releasing music is easy. Promoting music is tough. I'm burnt out and can't imagine releasing anything anytime soon. It's a lot of politics. It's all about who you know. It's like looking for a job--sending resumes (press kits) to every city your traveling to. There is probably a 10% success rate in that. And out of the hundreds of people who read a review or see your picture or are even slightly interested, maybe one person will go out of their way to come to a show or go listen to music online.
Recently I've tried releasing digital singles because I wasn't having as much luck selling CDs as I wanted and going digital is a good way to keep overhead low. I hate digital though so it's hard for me to do that and I probably won't continue releasing anything just in a digital format.
What's been the most difficult challenge to overcome?
Performing intimate lyrical based music in loud and obnoxious settings for people who don't give a shit.
What's the best way to convert a new fan? How do you measure your progress--record sales, live show attendance, Facebook "likes," etc.?
I'm not sure. The best thing is seeing return people in your audience though, I know that. I don't measure my success because that's a fine and blurry line, but having people that were at a show 6 months ago come back the next time and say they've been loving the CD they bought is as good as it gets.
In your experience, what does it take to break beyond a fanbase of friends and family to one populated by people solely interested in the music?
That's a tough one. I'm not sure. There has to be an emotional connection made somewhere but as to how to do that, I'm still trying to figure it out.
How would you describe the Eugene music scene? How do you book your shows, especially when it comes to traveling outside your home base? At this point, would you say you're most successful regionally or online/globally?
There is a lot of good music in Eugene. Mostly empty venues though from what I can tell. It seems like everyone is having the same battle with getting people out to listen. To book shows, I research a lot on the internet and then send emails or call depending on the venue. I'm probably most successful regionally, though that doesn't mean too much. I do appear to have a small fan base in the Netherlands area as well, judging from online sales. Great bands out of Eugene: The Royal Blue, Leo London, Kingdom County, Tara Stonecipher and the Tall Grass, Scott Austin, Mike Surber, Beth Wood, and.....so many more but my mind just went blank.
What does it take to sell an album? What sells most for you, physical media or downloads? For you, are recording sales the goal, or are recordings more a piece of the overall puzzle in terms of promoting the music? Have you reached a point where the recordings pay for themselves, or are they a necessity you're willing to support yourself? Are people actually willing to pay for the music, or do they expect it to be free?
I'm not sure what it takes to sell an album. I sell most of my albums at shows. Out of town shows, that is. I can't sell a CD in Eugene to save my life but I sell a good amount when I travel. I don't know why. Recording sales are not my goal, but I'm proud of my work and I want people to hear it and like it, and I want to be paid what I think I deserve for the work I and everyone who contributed put into it. People do expect music to be free these days. I feel like a sex worker most of the time, folding up my tips after playing with extra emotion because I needed to make some money tonight and maybe if I just sing this part with lots of gusto, I'll make an extra $20.
How important are production values when it comes to your recordings? Your albums have spanned from lo-fi home recordings to more produced, professional products--do you think it's important to fans to have a polished, professional recording, or are they willing to sacrifice production values for quality content? Do professional production values manifest themselves in the finished product in a way that justifies their cost?
Production is the most fun part of making music for me. I'm always plotting the next big idea even when I'm still in the writing phase. It is very important. It is opening yourself up, connecting with a song on some unexplainable level, and understanding every word, guitar strum, and breath to the point that you know exactly what the song wants, what the song needs, and how to make that song sound how it was meant to sound even from the point of its conception in the pen-and-paper stage. I think certain songs need certain things and whether it is lo-fi or polished, the song will reveal itself to the producer in time. Fans or music listeners don't need anything. They just want a song they like and they don't care how it's done or what work went into it. People who like to dance want a fun beat to move to and people who like lyrics want to be challenged existentially. I think it is literally that black and white for a majority of “music listeners.”
When it comes to promoting an album, what avenues seem the most successful in getting the music heard? Do you do everything yourself, or do you get help from anywhere?
I haven't had much luck in promoting my albums. Local radio here has been super supportive, especially 89.7 KLCC NPR. Ninkasi Brewing has been a big supporter as well and I have had great support from The Eugene Weekly. As far as getting my music out to the masses though, I haven't had luck. Facebook is an awful way to do this, but it is the easiest way so I rely on that sometimes because I don't have time to do anything else. I think management is key for any serious musician. Everyone needs some knowledgeable cheerleaders on their team.
When do you decide it's time to head back into the studio? When you've got all the songs written...when it feels right creatively...when you've got ideas but not necessarily songs?
I'm always in the studio (aka the spare bedroom in my house). This is where I record all my projects as well as projects for my clients. Sometimes I will record a song when I deem it “ready” or sometimes I'll record a song when I am stuck melodically or lyrically with it. Most of the stuff I don't keep, but I am always recording songs and thinking as a producer--how can I construct them to reach their highest potential? In the last week I've been working on seven songs that I have recorded in the last two-and-a-half weeks (two of which are mine).
What keeps you going in the tough row-to-hoe that is the independent music world? Where's your inspiration coming from right now?
I don't have inspiration or hope as an independent artist, but I do have inspiration as a songwriter. The desire to always be better and never being satisfied with anything I do has been my inspiration and fuel for the last few years.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Don't let your ego get in the way and don't take anything too personally.
What have you been listening to this week? How do you seek out new music?
My playlist this week has pretty much been:
-Joe Pug's first two EP's, a record by Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris called Trio, John Prine - Common Sense, Van Morrison - Saint Dominic's Preview, Elvis Costello - Armed Forces, and in my car stereo is Saves The Day's first record: Can't Slow Down .
What's on the horizon for you musically?
I'm putting my music on the back burner and starting to work specifically with songwriters on their songs in the role of a producer and mixing engineer. My debut as a producer was with Mike Surber, who released is debut full length this past June. I'm currently working on Scott Austin's first full-length, as well as some EPs for three other clients.
Cheap Seats Part 1
Cheap Seats Part 2: Non-Commercial Music
Cheap Seats Part 3: A Day in the Studio
Cheap Seats Part 4: The (Un)Happy Accident
Cheap Seats Part 5: Mix Mix, Stir Stir
Cheap Seats Part 6: Kickstarter Campaign
Cheap Seats Part 7: Alicia Dara Interview