by Madalyn Sklar
What drives your music? When did you first know you had to do this thing called music or bust?
I think two main things drive my music. First I'm driven by the song writing process and the never-ending quest to write that "perfect" song. I love the potential and endless creative possibilities of not knowing what you are going to come up with next and always feeling there is room to improve. Second, I'm driven by the pure love of performing and being part of a band. After my last band, Slushpuppy, broke-up and my husband and I were busy having a baby, I thought I'd "take a break" from music.-- at least the performing aspects -- and it just felt like a lost some core part of me. A friend of mine even said "It's like Dawn isn't Dawn anymore" -- and that was my wake up call that I needed to get back on the saddle !
Describe your music style and name three musicians you have been inspired by and why.
My musical style is pure rock and roll -- classic rock, alternative rock, "pop" rock...basically anything that has distorted, chunky guitars and a great beat and strong memorable melody. Since I'm the lead singer, guitar player and main songwriter of the band, I have different musical influences for each piece -- but if I had to name top three: U2 , Foo Fighters and Pat Benatar --- all three of these have influenced me vocally, guitar-wise and in songwriting.
What's your ideal venue atmosphere?
My ideal venue is any place where there is an appreciative and attentive crowd that is there to really listen to what you are doing. I've played festivals/ venues with hundreds (even a couple thousand) of people and sometimes you don't have as satisfying of a gig as you do in the club where you played to only 20 people...because the audience of 20 was more attentive and there to really give you a chance and listen to your music...
Describe how your music career has evolved since you first started performing.
I've gotten a lot pickier with the gigs that my band will play. This is not due to being a "diva" or anything...but really more just a function of the fact that I am juggling a lot more in my life these days (a demanding day job and raising a family) and therefore have only limited, precious time to devote to my music. Also every time the band plays, I have to pay my side players and I have to pay a babysitter since my husband is in the band too --- so we really need to be careful about how much we spend vs. what we are making with the band. Sometimes I miss those days with my former band where we would literally just jump at any and every chance to play -- sometimes playing 4 or 5 gigs a week. Then on the other hand, I think that is also a sure fire way for an unsigned band to "burn out" -- these days you need to be more strategic about where , when and how you play. I also do a lot more acoustic solo gigs -- these are great b/c they don't cost me anything and I can have a greater flexibility to just show up somewhere on short notice. I used to be uncomfortable doing things without the support of my band behind me. Playing stripped down you feel much more vulnerable when you used to having all those loud amps and drums around you... but out of necessity I've forced myself to get comfortable doing it this way and it's been really good for me and well-received.
The other way my musical career has evolved is that I no longer am chasing around that always elusive major record label deal. The biggest mistake I with my prior band is that we never officially released a product -- we made "industry demos" and would shop them and then be completely at the mercy of all the labels. We would sell or give away those demos at our shows -- and since they weren't a complete packaged product, we always sold them for like 3 dollars.... we made at least 4 demos over the years and sold a couple thousand of them, but since we never had a UPC code or any way of tracking them...all of that went unnoticed and the money went to buy drinks, etc... instead of being systematically re-invested back into the band. I've learned since then to take more responsibility for the fate of my own career.
How would you describe the music scene in your area?
The music scene in the greater New York metro area is always a difficult nut to crack -- on the one hand, there are a ton of venues to play (especially in the city itself), but on the other hand trying to keep up with which venues are the "hottest" underground places to play is a daunting task. It seems to change weekly ! Secondly, there are just soooo many bands and musicians which makes the scene very crowded and very uneven. The clubs care more about how many people you can bring than how good you are. Quite frankly, it's not a great situation for the music fan -- Think about it, they come to a club to see your band play -- they pay the usually high-priced cover, then buy an overpriced drink, then the venue is usually running behind and the music fan has to endure one or more bad bands before getting to see the band that they came to see. Then the sets are only 35 minutes or so, so usually after that they want to stick around more...but again the band that follows may not be good. This is why what we always try to do is get on a bill with bands we already know -- or better yet, get the venue to let "us" book the entire night. At least this way we can ensure that all the bands are of the same caliber.
I live about 30 minutes outside New York City in a great eclectic town called Maplewood, NJ. There are a lot of musicians and music lovers out there and a bunch of us got together about a year ago to start a musicians collective called "Rock The House" NJ. We rent out the local community center and put on a rock show compromised of all local bands. It's all ages, so folks bring their kids. It's a great alternative to having to go trek into the city to see a rock show (and endure what I was talking about before). We've done 5 installments so far and have had over 200 attendees at each. We've just started to branch out and invite out of town talent onto each bill to keep the bill's fresh and not over exposure the same
What was the inspiration for your latest release?
Many of the songs on the latest CD were the result of personal heartbreak -- but not from a romance as one might think, but actually from the breakup of my former band, Slushpuppy. That band was like my family. In fact, each of the members (all male) were like my songs... since it was before I had any children of my own, I definitely looked over and cared about those boys like I was their mother (or at least older sister :) When the lead guitarist and bass player when behind my back and started jointly plotting to leave the band -- I saw it as a real betrayal and was devastated. They had both joined the band after the group had already been out there for number of years, they came in at a time when the band already had label interest, had carte blanche playing the top venues in the airing, and was getting radio play. Looking back, I don't think they realized how lucky they were and how much effort it takes to get a project to even that level. They left for the promises of "greener pastures" --- which of course never ended up materializing. The story is actually quite tragic b/c my former bass player ended up in a sever depression that he was never able to climb out of....and in fact, he is no longer of this earth because of that sickness. Looking back on it now with clearer vision, I can see that it was all just self-sabotage behavior on his part , but at the time I took it all VERY personally. Songs like "Misunderstood", "We Are" and "See Me Fall" were all written as a direct response to their actions. At the same time this was happening, my two best-childhood friends (who married each other in 1990) decided to get divorced after 14 years of marriage..... so... let's just say there's a lot of darkness on that record, which is a little weird for me now because I'm in a much happier place. Some fans have commented on the disconnect between my upbeat, positive outlook and the dark, aggressive lyrical content on the CD, but that is where I was in my life then and an artist can only do their best to represent what is going on in their lives (and in their heads) at that moment. I'm now in the midst of writing many more upbeat and happy songs. I have a new song called "You Are My Everything" that is written for my husband (been married 15 years) and that's getting a lot of good response.
What do you think is number one for a musician to think about before preparing for a CD project and do you have any tips on saving time in the studio?
Do a lot of pre-production ! Let a non-invested third party expert (e.g. a producer) listen to your tunes and comment on them. As songwriters and musicians we get so used to hearing things a certain way sometimes you can't see accurately what the song may need --- e.g. removing a verse, adding another chorus, shortening a part... etc... I also think that we are so lucky today to have such powerful digital editing tools -- and given that a musician should really be focused on capturing the energy of their performance as opposed to hitting every note accurately. Those little errors can be fixed with the magic of the editing... but no amount of editing can capture the "magic of the moment".
What makes or breaks a musician just starting out in your opinion?
I can think of two things that will break a musician: 1) trying to keep up with the "jones" and following trends in the industry as opposed to playing what is "authentic" for that artist and 2) thinking that you can just concentrate on the "music" part of the music business and leave all the business stuff for someone else to do.
Describe your toughest moments in your quest for a music career and tell us how you overcame them.
Well the Slushpuppy break up was definitely probably the toughest moment. We were getting played on KRock, had Jagermeister sponsoring us and talking about adding us to the next Ozzfest... we had lots of buzz and momentum behind the band, and when the guys all up and quit I was so hurt and angry I just didn't think I had any fight left in me to keep going it alone. I needed to take a break and really look in the mirror and think about what I really wanted from this thing called music. What I found was that I wasn't really being authentic in terms of the music I was writing or playing back then. I was trying to be something I wasn't just to placate the other members of the band (that wanted the music to be really heavy, angst-ridden hard rock). So I decided to retire Slushpuppy and start my current band, NEW DAY DAWN with music that was created on my own terms. Now when I get up on stage, I don't feel like a phony.
What advice would you offer up and coming artists that get discouraged other than don't give up?
I would say if you are pursuing music primarily for the reasons of becoming rich and famous, then you should really take another look at it. There's certainly easier and more guaranteed ways to make a living out there. The best advice I can give is to continue to take a good hard look at yourself and decide whether you are speaking your truth. If you are speaking your truth than your music will resonate with others. Also, redefine success. If you are doing what you love... even if it isn't making you rich or famous... isn't that in and of itself "success" ?
Tell us something you want the music world to know about you.
I'm not only a musician and songwriter, but a corporate lawyer by day...and a wife and mother of a very energetic 4-year old. Specifically, I am the Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for NBC Universal Television. This means I spend my days negotiating and drafting contracts for multi-million dollar content licensing deals and I also am an adjunct professor at NYU where I teach a course called "Music and The Law". Of course my legal experience certainly helps when I'm doing the "business" side of music, but at the same time it also can be a hindrance. When people hear that I'm an accomplished lawyer, they will usually dismiss my music as just a 'fun hobby' --- that is until they hear it and then I get the surprised "oh my god, you are actually really good ?" I used to try to hide my multi-faceted personality ... but now I'm over that. I am who I am :)
What have you gotten out of being a member of the GoGirls community?
As Madalyn always says, you get out of it what you put into it and to be honest, I have only started really getting involved in GoGirls over the past few months. That said, I'm looking forward to all the wonderful opportunities to gain exposure for my music and establish an ever better support group. Knowing that there is a group of women around the country (and beyond) that all share a similar dream (in one form or another) and all are willing to help each other is really invaluable. I can't wait to get out there and play shows with many of them and to meet many of them! It makes it especially great that we are all women -- I think that as women we have a unique way of seeing and interacting with the world, and we also need each other (especially those of us in the rock genre) since the field is so dominated by men!
Check out the following links for more on New Day Dawn:
Copyright © 2009 Madalyn Sklar
Madalyn Sklar is a music business coach & consultant, blogger, social networks expert and author. She has spent over 13 years helping independent musicians and music business professionals achieve greater success in the biz. Her motto is: working smarter not harder. She also founded GoGirlsMusic.com, the oldest + largest online community of indie women musicians.
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Labels: Dawn Botti, gogirls interview, New Day Dawn