Extended: Buffalo News Interview

Here is the extended interview I had with Buffalo News Music Critic Jeff Miers. This was the basis for his article and profile about me.

1) Do you think that the lot of the independent musician has changed considerably in the past, say, 10 years? Is it the case that, where once you could be in one band and concentrate on that, you now need to diversify the portfolio, and involve yourself in several different situations simultaneously?

NS: Yes, I think that, due to the decreased demand for real honest-o-goodness LIVE music, “bands” cannot get the work that they once might have. Most bars/clubs play pre-recorded music – be it a DJ or digital radio, etc. So, there is a real diminishment in the demand for live music. And even there, it’s generally the same cover bands that fill what niche is left. The “cover” part is nothing new or bad but the decreased size of the market niche has made success more elusive for anyone but the established or, oppositely, flavor of the month cover bands. This has also squeezed out anything more left of center, idiosyncratic, or specialized. Again, this is not a value judgment, this is just the reality of the situation. The good news is that some venues, like Stillwater, are realizing the value of live music. The Party Squad, in our capacity there, is helping to revive the notion that live music really is best and that cover bands are as respectable as is the quality of their music. If it’s good, it IS good! On the other hand, yes, I have to continually engage with and cultivate as much musical work as I can in many different avenues and genres.

2) If this is the case, has it put additional demands on your musicianship? If you need to be able to contribute something to a specific musical situation at a moment’s notice, does that mean that you need to be reasonably well-versed in a broad base of musical styles?

NS: Yes, seeing that this is the case – and that I NEED to survive these rough waters – I need to do EVERYTHING I can to attempt to successfully fulfill any musical need that comes along in the marketplace. That does mean making every effort to become fluent and competitive in every avenue of musical endeavor – from jazz to hip hop, from music education to music production.

3) Is it also necessary for the modern independent musician to be acquainted with at least the basics of engineering and production?

NS: It sure helps! Let’s face it, musicians have never had much extra money available for producing recordings or demos. In the past, you had to outsource this to recording studios – and that was extremely expensive and somewhat unreliable. Now, because digital audio and computing is so advanced – well beyond the million dollar analog studios of the past – you can exploit unlimited recording possibilities right at home. This has changed the entire landscape of the industry and a musician’s role in it (it’s obviously devastated the traditional studio business). This has not only opened up opportunities for artists to producer their own recordings at home but also opened up market space for a home studio engineer like me to work with and produce artists who, as of yet, don’t have the studio equipment, software, skill set, etc., to do recording on their own. Personally, this has allowed me to get in on the action as far as producing, arranging, programming, mastering – you name it – within this emerging home studio niche.

4) Is it possible to make a living as a musician in Buffalo? Do you think it’s tougher here than in other cities of comparable size?

NS: I don’t know if places of comparable size are better or worse. I suspect that certain areas – Austin, Las Vegas, Tampa, and many others may have particular market needs, musical cultures, and unique demographics that add energy to their live music scenes. However, comparing Buffalo to large cities like New York, LA, and Chicago, it can actually be easier to get paid a fair wage as a rock or jazz musician, say, and to cut out an identity – become a big fish – in these very mid-sized ponds.

5) What projects are you currently involved in?

NS: I’m currently freelancing with a variety of projects. I play in the “house band” collective, Party Squad, at the restaurant, Stillwater, Thursday through Saturday. I am finishing up an EP for the band Floozie (see: http://www.floozieband.com/). I released a single that has become a favorite sports anthem for Sabres fans called “Game Time” (with the duo, Perpendicular – see: www.myspace.com/perpmusic). I will have a progressive hard rock album released under the moniker, Invisigoth (ProgRock Records – see: www.progrockrecords.com) in late May. I am just beginning to score a documentary on Alcatraz by filmmaker John Paget. As well, I just wrapped up authorship of a book for Adams Media (see: http://www.adamsmedia.com/), co-written with my brother, Eric.

6) Do you believe it’s still a reasonable hope for an independent artist to “make it” the old fashioned way – by working hard to hone their craft, making as professional quality recordings as they possibly can, and hoping for the attention of major labels?

NS: I think anything is possible! However, I’d have to say that the old model is quickly evaporating – and, with it, those opportunities. The keys to success are the same though. You have to offer a musical brand that the public wants, is hungry for, and makes them feel that they are finding/exploring their identity through their association with. As much as musicians hate this, music and its affiliates (fashion, image, politics, to name a few) is a product – unless you are making it for just your own enjoyment. If you seek to make a career out of it, you had better offer something that is the best and most attractive example in whatever genre you are working in. The one great thing about today’s music business model is that particular niche genres can, more easily than ever before, find and connect with their particular audience. So, in this sense, we have a superlative business environment for artistic expression – due to the ability, through the digital interface, to home in on your exact target audience and market – and a real possibility to make a living through that. …and do this while circumventing the dying music label structure – that tends to siphon off, through accounting malfeasances, the profits your music is actually generating.

7) Has the age of digital transfer of music helped or hurt the independent musician?

NS: If I had to come down on one side of it, I’d have to say it’ll hurt it and actually does threaten the whole notion of intellectual property. In some cases, there have been benefits – in the sense that it has allowed music to proliferate in the free market of ideas. But, by that exact same token, one’s music becomes, for all intents and purposes, public domain. It can’t be controlled as property and thus bought and sold. The whole enterprise of making a fair profit from selling your hard work as creative artifact, albeit digital, is obliterated. This can really have the effect of wiping out the whole “new economy” which is all digital property rights based. So, in the short term, yes, perhaps, file sharing and the like is good for emerging artists and art forms but, in the long run, it may spell doom for property rights as a whole – and that would be a very bad thing for all musicians and for everyone.

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