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MusicWithoutLabels & Beat-Play Interview with John Swanson

Give us some background. Where are you from originally? Born in Enid, Oklahoma, raised in Princeton, Illinois

Where are you now? I live in Denver, CO.

How did you get there? I drove a Honda Accord

What Genre would you classify yourself as? Swing Jazz and Blues Singer-Songwriter

What is it that drove you to pursue a career in music? Pretty much every crummy day job I’ve ever had.

What it is that drives you individually as a musician? Crying babies, barking dogs, bills, complaining wife. (kidding! My family is the best!)

Seriously, I don’t really think anything drives me – being a musician and songwriter just is what it is and is what I am.  I wake up, work my day job, take care of my family…and then just about every other spare moment I have is spent listening, writing, recording, and playing music.  I can’t imagine any other world.

What struggles have you faced with having your music heard and getting your name recognized by outside markets?  

It’s really hard to get people’s ear – both industry people and music buyers.  Everyone knows CD sales are down and digital sales are up – seems like one needs to find a mix of both, along with licensing opportunities, and live performance revenue.  Most potential music buyers seem to be content to either listen to what’s currently on the radio or listen to their favorite oldies.  Those who are out there really searching for indie music and new stuff are in the minority – I know they’re out there – but they have so many choices on the internet now.  If I could just get their ear for a second… Other challenges would be similar to what other artist’s face I guess; small fish/ big pond.  There are so many other artists out there.  Technology has opened up the floodgates.  My style is very retro-but-with-contemporary vibe.  It comes from a different place than the big markets of today like hip-hop, new country, Pop R&B, nu-metal, top forty.  I don’t think it’s too eclectic though and fans of other styles would dig my stuff if they heard it.  I truly believe that.  But it all comes back to getting their ear and getting some momentum.

What kinds of things do you do to promote yourself? Live shows, E-mail blasting, Myspace, Broadjam, SonicBids, A&R Unlimited, Internet Radio, Garageband, collaborations with other artists.

Is there a predominant message you hope to get across in your songs? Well I do write a few “Boy meets Girl / Boy Loses Girl” songs…but mostly I like any other kind of tangible subject matter with characters, foods, drinks, bars, hotels, streets, cities, etc.  I tend not to be too political, spiritual, or emotional in my writing. I’d like to save the world but I have a kid to feed.   I know there are heroes and villains out there but most people I run into are neither – they’re just folks sitting next to me at the bar watching the ballgame, tapping on their Blackberries, and trying to win the lottery.  I guess if there’s a message in my songs it’s that I’m a lot like you; let’s hang out and have a drink together, and forget our problems for a little while.

What are your thoughts on the future of the music industry and where it’s going?

First, the industry (PRO’s, songwriters, copywriter legislation, publishers, labels, etc) has to get digital distribution figured out.  It’s still a mess right now.  From what I read, they are working on it.  Digital distribution will continue to grow and hard copy sales will continue to shrink. We have to come to terms with an equitable method of keeping a far price to the buyer, but understanding the huge profits that were captured by major labels in the records, tapes, CD’s…are not going to be there.  It’s digital now, let’s all get on board and distribute the profits equitably.  The record companies hate this because their profit was tied up in the mass production and distribution of the hard copy, and that’s going away now.  The have to come to terms with this and implement new models.  I think they’re coming around to it little by little.  It will all probably result in mergers of the big labels, and a constant popping up and dying off of smaller labels and independents doing their own marketing.

Are you currently unsigned, and do you plan on staying independent?  Unsigned, probably will stay indie.  But if there was an opportunity with a label I would definitely at least consider it.

What are your reasons for being an independent artist? No other choice right now really

Who are some of your favorite artists? Some of the short list would be…Dave Frishberg, John Pizzarelli, Frank Sinatra, Horace Silver, Charlie Parker, Wes Montgomery, Muddy Waters, Lonnie Johnson, Bennie Golsen, Beatles, Stones, Jim Croce, and Dave Matthews Band

Do you ever feel that people will be missing out on your music because you are not signed to a major record label? I think yes currently, but there is potential to change my recognition with or without a major.  But no doubt a major can still increase recognition the fastest.  They still have the clout, distribution channel, marketing /advertising channel, and connections to get the word out fastest about a new artist.

Your art can be very experimental. Do you ever wish there was an easier way to access the music you sample from, or wish that you had access to a huge library of undiscovered music, which is updated everyday by itself? There are plenty of sources for undiscovered music.  I’ve listed several above.  The problem is outside of I-Tunes, Rhapsody, satellite radio, and maybe a few others…all the web music hosting sites, internet radio, etc seem to be populated by 90% other musicians trying to market their own stuff.  Not the best potential buyers.  I would like to get some play in sites that are visited by non-musicians.

What would you say if I told you that there’s a new force in Independent Music that will give you all of the power of the Major Labels and more, while at the same time giving you complete control over all aspects of your musical career, and you will never have to sign a thing?

And you would have access to the worlds first ever audio component auction, where pieces of songs are sold off at auction prices to be repurposed in other songs.  What kind of impact do you think that would have on your music?

Frankly I’m kind of scared of this to tell you the truth, but I’m not exactly sure where you’re going with it.  IMO the music world needs less sampling and more originality.  But I would be willing to listen to more of these ideas before passing a final judgment. I would be interested to hear if the artist retains complete control of their actual songs, and is compensated on every purchase and play that the “sample” of their song is used; what control the artist has in approving or blocking the sampling; what kind of tracking is done for these things.

The only catch is you have to choose to use it to your benefit, or not.

Just go to Music Without Labels & Beat-Play to learn more!

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