by Madalyn Sklar
I've known Ryan Michael Galloway for years and not only is he an extremely talented musician but he's also a great resource for indie artists. He's written some really helpful books and hosts a nightly video blog. --Madalyn
First off, I’d just like to say that I have always been very appreciative of what you’re doing, Madalyn—both for women in music and for all the rest of us musicians. I particularly like the women-oriented focus, because I think that women in rock have not been well supported until you launched your efforts. Still, I haven’t heard you give advice that didn’t pertain to all of us, so your messages are universal. --Ryan
What drives your music? When did you first know you had to do this thing called music or bust?
When I was 14, I played an original vocal/guitar/harmonica song for a very loud and demonstrative high-school audience of about 500. It was a completely magical moment for me, personally. I stepped on the stage, the audience disappeared in the lights, and I felt like I was alone in the room. I almost went into meditation or tunnel vision while I sang. When it ended, the crowd roared with a sound that is still in my ears. I was totally hooked, and it has never stopped.
Describe your music style and name three musicians you have been inspired by and why.
This is an issue I have. Though I’ve been compared to James Taylor and Dan Fogelberg, I’m really a songwriter first and foremost. Way back when I was published by Columbia/Screen Gems Music, I was taught how to write songs, and it really didn’t matter what style. So it was rock, folk, jazz, country, and blends of all four. Consequently, when you listen to one of my albums, it sounds like a diversely programmed radio show, as opposed to a single artist. It drives record companies crazy because they can’t categorize it and market it easily. It also means I win my following one person at a time. My fans have to be open-minded, and it has certainly slowed my success. However, once I get them, my fans tend to stay around for a long time. They like the variety.
Joni Mitchell has to be my number one influence—including her transition from folkie to jazz and that marvelous in-between place in the albums “For the Roses” and “Hissing of Summer Lawns.” Her first producer was David Crosby of Crosby, Still and Nash—and he was another big influence for me in the merging of folk and jazz. CSN&Y also got me into harmonies early on. Then throw in the Jazz-Rock-Indian fusion of John McLaughlin and you probably have my three strongest influences. There are many, many more.
What's your ideal venue atmosphere?
I like small. Somewhere between 12 and 500 people, who have nothing to do but listen. Small concert halls, warming-up for dramatic plays, and house concerts. I like to connect with stories and emotion; to me this is the best way. The places I actually play, however, are usually small wine bars and clubs. That’s probably the next best thing, but people who come out to drink aren’t necessarily there to hear original music; they would rather re-live their memories. You have to work really hard over time to win them.
Describe how your music career has evolved since you first started performing.
I started seriously performing my first year of high school. I’m really weird though, and I have been inventing big projects for myself forever. I played with friends in a folk-inspired band called Breezewood for much of those four years. High school music theory really unlocked it all for me. I did my second year on independent study when my “final test” was to put together a small orchestra of 40 musicians from two different schools and perform 15 arrangements of my original songs. That’s when I found out it’s really hard to be the Project Manager, Conductor, and player all at the same time.
After high school, it was a series of harmony-heavy bands doing originals and covers of Eagles, Beatles, CSN, America, and the like. I LOVE harmonies, and am still enthralled with them today. I played in a number of bands, including Nic Danjer, Primadonna (which toured the east coast), and Promise out of Dallas. I can’t afford all the rehearsal time it takes to get a vocal band tight anymore, so I use the Digitech Live Vocalist 4 as a back up. It’s great, but not as great as ensemble singing and playing.
I’m mostly solo these days, but have great fun playing in Foundation, a band made up of the founders of the Collin County Songwriters Association. I also really enjoy playing with Chad Ireland on drums, and Matt Gaskins on bass, in a really nice little trio configuration. You can see some videos of us playing on Youtube from a taping at Drury University last year.
In the last five years, well past middle age, for some reason my voice is better than it’s ever been before. I’m singing stuff I only dreamed of in my twenties, my falsetto is strong, and I think my performing and audience connection has evolved to the best it’s ever been. I have a mild case of autism, called Aspergers Syndrome, and I suppose it’s taken me a while longer than usual to learn to read audiences. I’m pretty happy with the outcome, though.
How would you describe the music scene in your area?
Vibrant! There are lots of places to play live, and we have a number of songwriter groups and associations: the Collin County Songwriters Association (which I chair), the Dallas Songwriters Association, a Waxahachie-based songwriter group called Tredway and Friends, and several branches of the Nashville Songwriters Association. The local musicians who “get it” have really pulled together to be part of the local performance industry. We’re strong competitors, but we’re friends too. In the media, the local Public Broadcasting System (90.1 KERA) has launched a sister station (91.7 KXT) focusing on locally produced content, Randy Tredway’s Texas songwriter site http://www.InTheMusicRoom.com is getting 16,000 hits a month, and local bluesman, Michael “The Mudcat” Reames, is considering launching a local music television show shortly.
Up on the north side of Dallas, in Frisco, there are three booming music schools, including Neighborhood Arts and Music School (NAMS), Music Conservatory of Texas, and School of Rock. If you need a guitar worked on, you can talk to Anderson Guitar Gallery, now cohabitating with NAMS. They are all serving their niches, maintaining a friendly competition, and have been supportive of local live music and songwriters. I’m sure I’ve just mentioned a fraction of the scene.
What was the inspiration for your latest release?
My latest release is currently available in digital release only from Songslide.com, or slightly lesser quality downloads are available free on my website: http://www.ryanrocks.com/
. It’s called Rock the Big House Down, and it is inspired by the indie music revolution. The title song is about taking the music back from the record companies and making it our own again. It’s truly the theme song for everything I’m doing in educating fellow musicians, and it led to my nightly v-log post at http://www.wedontneednostinkingrecordcompany.com/
. If you’re on Facebook, you can follow all the blogs by being a fan of http://www.facebook.com/nostinkingrecordcompany
. I’ll remind your readers that I have a number of books and programs out—all part of the Gigster Clinics Series. Titles include “Hits and Heartbreakers: Songwriting Fundamentals for Love or Money,” “The Band Promotion Turbo-Charger: More fans, more fame, more fortune,” and the “Gigster Clinic Textbook,” among others. This is all what I consider “nuts and bolts” stuff about putting your band together, selecting PA and lighting equipment, promoting your act, and some stagecraft. The books can be found at http://www.GigsterClinics.com.
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?
Planning is totally key, then sticking pretty close to that plan in execution. If you’re on a budget (who isn’t?) the studio is not the place to do all of your creative stuff, so keep that to a minimum. The goal is cost/time control, because the typical engineer is going to let you rack up as many hours as you want. If you’re doing it all yourself, you’re in real trouble—no one is keeping score of the time and it could go on forever.
One of these days I’ll finish my book on how to be your own producer. In the meantime, I generally:
-Establish my songlist and arrangements
-Rehearse my musicians (whenever possible)
-Record the rhythm section—bass and drums—with a scratch (temporary) vocal and guitar. If I’m working on multiple songs, I try to do as many rhythm sections as possible to save money. Drums can take hours to get sounding right, and even if you use electronic drums as a shortcut, it’s going to take a while. Imagine how much it’s going to cost if you have to re-set the drums for every song on the album.
-Layer on the basic instruments like guitar, piano, organ, horn sections, orchestra
-Add the lead and background vocals. I like to double and triple the background vocals for that CSN/Eagles/America sound.
-Add lead instruments
-Add embellishments like sound effects, rhythm and musical additions
-Mix the songs
-Correct any discovered mistakes
-Listen on various systems
-Master—where I send it to another studio to get an extra set of “ears” on it and make adjustments to the audio curve.
As much as I believe in producing yourself, a co-producer is really helpful. Someone who is honest enough to say, “I just didn’t believe that last take,” or “you hit a sour note,” is invaluable. My usual engineer is Ron Logan out of Desoto. I have also done some work with David Williams at Vault Studios in Houston. I consider both of them my co-producers when I work with them. They both have great patience and excellent ears, and they’re both musicians.
What makes or breaks a musician just starting out in your opinion?
Professionalism. You have to say what you’re going to do, and do it—just like a job. Even if you’re not being paid, by the way. Professionalism also means taking charge of your audience’s experience. Like bringing SOME kind of stage lighting when you’re playing solo in a dark corner of a club. If the club doesn’t “get it,” who suffers? The artist and his/her audience, that’s who. Do the best job you can, even if it’s not in your job description.
Describe your toughest moments in your quest for a music career and tell us how you overcame them.
A number of years ago, a record label famous for KC and the Sunshine band decided that they wanted to branch into rock and roll. They signed my band to a two-year contract, and promptly went into bankruptcy within about 30 days. That left us completely locked up for two years, unavailable to sign a record contract with any other label until the time expired. We simply toughed it out and kept up our live playing and writing. However, I recommend that artists—young and old alike—subscribe to a pre-need legal program of some kind, so they have someone to review contracts from a legal perspective, and help out when things get more serious. Here in Texas there are some free artist-oriented legal services available through the Texas Music Office. If that’s not available, or not enough, programs with a wide variety of protections—not just those to do with the music business—are available nationwide and in Canada for $17 - $26 a month. That’s pretty cheap to have a law firm with attorneys in every specialty (including copyright) at your beck and call to review legal matters, write wills, and send letters when you have an altercation with a club owner.
What advice would you offer up and coming artists that get discouraged other than don't give up?
We all hear the stories about James Taylor who made it at 17, or the Beatles who came onto the scene all at once. People who really take off young are largely flukes—it’s like winning the lottery. And how much money they make is entirely over-estimated. The Beatles were more of an example of how it is and was. They spent years honing their skills in Hamburg and bonding as a team before they made it. In the indie world, for sure, it’s about lasting for a long time. Outlasting everyone else in the process. Don’t wait for a record company, manager or producer. Become those things for yourselves, find your own “voice,” and build your own fan-base. Don’t stop. If you think you’ve tried everything, trust me you haven’t. With your own fan base, signing with a record company becomes a choice, not a requirement. You may find that staying independent makes a whole lot more sense when you look at how much you’re NOT going to make off the deal.
One more: choose bandmates and partners who are stable, even if they’re a little less talented. Nothing is more likely to trip you up than a talented jerk that you can’t work with, or someone strung out on drugs or alcohol. This is your career you’re talking about.
Tell us something you want the music world to know about you.
This year I was nominated for 2009 Texas State Musician. Willie Nelson won, but my standard joke is, “at least this year he can say he beat Ryan Michael Galloway. And I wish he would. Every time he plays.”
I’m here to mentor as much as I’m here to write, record, and perform. To me, it’s always been about service, whether it’s to my fans or my colleagues. As generous as I’ve attempted to be, I find my fellow musicians have always been amazingly willing to share of themselves in even larger ways. What comes around truly goes around.
Let me put it another way. My email is Ryan@RyanRocks.com
and my phone number is 972-841-0226.
Websites to check out:
(my main portal)
(music business education)
(fan page, including nightly v-log posts)
(v-log ground zero)
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.
You can reach Madalyn at MadalynSklar.com
or madalynsklar AT gmail.com
Labels: interview, Ryan Michael Galloway