Newsletter: November, 2011

Newsletter: November, 2011



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The Vault, November 2011: So you wanna be a rock star?
From Guitar Hero to American Idol, rock stardom is something lots of people dream about (although according to our interview subject this month, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be). Even though you might not crack the top 40, technology makes it easier than ever to record music, find an audience, and even make money from it.
Photo of Chris Ballew by Brian Kasnyik
Interview of the Month: Chris Ballew
(Photo by Bryan Kasnyik)
This month, The Vault interviewed Chris Ballew, leader of multi-platinum rockers The Presidents of the United States of America and known to the under-five set as Caspar Babypants. We talked about how important it is to put the “music” part of the music business first.
The Vault: You’ve seen the music business from many angles…from busker to rock star to performing music for little kids. What’s your advice to kids who are interested in pursuing music as an occupation?
Chris: Adjust your notions of success to be attainable within your sphere of influence. Early on in my career, I adjusted my idea of success to be the following: write songs, play songs, record songs, and hand out recordings. I could actually do all those things on my own. I felt completely successful, because I was attaining my goals. So, I was relaxed and free and able to be creative.
The Vault: How has technology changed your ability to make a living with your music?
Chris: I’m a thousand percent empowered by technology. With Caspar Babypants, I am in total control of my business in a way that is super relaxing. There are new ways to make money as a musician, and it’s fantastic. But the best way is still to play on the street and put your hat out. You play your song, people give you money, done. That has never changed and it never will change.
The Vault: A lot of people are attracted to the idea of being a rock star. What do you think of that?
Chris: Get a job slinging ice cream. Nobody wants to hear this from someone who has been successful, but being a rock star is not that great. You were in your bedroom playing your music and suddenly you’re a multinational corporation. I lost all the carefree days that inspired the music, all the time with family and friends. All I gained was money. Money doesn’t solve your problems. If you’re irresponsible with ten dollars you’re going to be irresponsible with ten million. Of course, some people have different experiences. For me, I’m more comfortable in a punk rock, DIY kind of setup.
The Vault: Although that success has probably given you a certain degree of freedom.
Chris: Yes, success has given me time. Time is the most important thing you can buy with money. Don’t buy a car, buy a year. When I was in Boston, I would paint houses all summer and buy myself a winter of freedom. It’s an amazing gift to give yourself.
The Vault: How did you learn to do what you do?
Chris: Playing on the street and on the subway was a huge classroom. I learned what makes a busy person stop. It’s like this: songs are like the wire and the point of the whole thing is the electricity in the wire. Songs are to a happy crowd as a wire is to electricity. There’s an SAT question in there somewhere.
The Vault: What’s different about singing for children compared to adults?
Chris: It helps me hone my aesthetic choices based on my clear understanding of who I am singing to. In some ways, though, it’s the same as singing on the subway, except kids are even more honest. If they say they love a song, it’s real. They can’t schmooze.
Thanks, Chris! Biz Kid$–want to check out some of Chris’s music? Visit www.babypantsmusic.com and/or www.presidentsrock.com
Digital revolution
Before the rise of computers, it was a lot harder (and more expensive) to record and distribute music. Today, one person (maybe you!) can record, mix, and master an album in their bedroom using a cheap computer and distribute the music on the Internet using anything from YouTube to iTunes. This makes it easier for people to get their music heard, but also increases the competition.
Plunging profits
This shift has transformed the music industry. Digital music files are easy to download, which many people do without paying for them. It’s also easy for people to purchase individual tracks instead of a whole CD. As a result, music industry revenue has dropped from $14.6 billion in 1999 to $9 billion in 2008. Most big-time rock acts make their money from touring and selling t-shirts and other merchandise.
Read this Wikipedia article to learn more about the digital music revolution:http://bit.ly/rPybMZ
Creative solutions
For artists, the digital revolution has given them a lot more freedom—both creatively and in how they run their businesses.
Make money making music
Making a living from music isn’t easy, but it’s not as hard as some people make it out to be. You just have to be creative in choosing a career. Here are ten ways you can make a living from music that don’t require you to hit the big time.
Rock star for a day
Ever wanted to try playing in a rock band, but not sure where to start? See if there’s a Rock Camp for Girls in your area. These camps empower girls with workshops and technical training with musicians who really know their stuff. Check the Girls Rock Camp Alliance to find out if  there’s one in your area.
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