I recently made friends via Twitter with musician Eric John Kaiser, a native Parisian who now lives in Portland, Oregon. Like many who make a living full time from music, Eric is a busy person, juggling several different sources of income, as you will read below.
Eric has managed to successfully carve out a niche for himself in the Portland musical ecosystem playing “French music” several days a week. I thought it would be helpful for other musicians to read some of the smart and practical things he does to find, classify and promote his local and regional gigs. I also feel it is worth highlighting how Eric does business as a musician: he treats bookers and the other musicians he works with respectfully, fairly and professionally.
Question 1: Tell our readers a little about yourself: your music, where you are from, and how you ended up in Portland.
EJK: I’m a professional singer-songwriter originally from Paris, France, now based in Portland, Oregon, USA. After doing over 350 gigs in France and several records, in the summer of 2006, I followed a girl from Portland whom I met in Paris. Now I tour mainly on the West Coast, Idaho and Montana, in Louisiana and in Quebec and some parts of Canada. I also go back to France to tour once a year. I have released, at this point, three full length albums and three EPs. It’s been a great musical adventure so far.
Over time, I’ve learned that I needed to be flexible and be able to play solo gigs, as a duo with my accordion player or play with my full band.
You’ve probably heard people talk about how if you’re “serious about your music career” you should move to Nashville or LA.
I’ve been thinking lately, however, about what makes my hometown of Seattle such a great incubator for talented musicians.
It’s not just the recent blockbuster success of (multi-category) Grammy winners Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. A lot of really great music and music production has come out of Seattle over the years. From the Kingsmen and Bing Crosby to Jimi Hendrix, the Sonics, Quincy Jones, Heart, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Queensryche, Mudhoney, Tingstad and Rumble, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Danny O’Keefe, Alice Stuart, and Kenny G all the way to current success stories like The Head and The Heart, Brandi Carlile, Blue Scholars, Shabbaz Palaces, Allen Stone, Kris Orlowski and Shelby Earl. (I’m not even counting Dave Matthews, although he does live here.)
Here are some of the special things about the Emerald City which make it a better environment than Nashville or LA in which to nurture a music career:
This past weekend I saw the Lego Movie. It’s a fun movie – more than just a 90 minute commercial, as FastCompany wrote, (really, I promise). Now, I rarely go to see movies, so it’s even rarer that I actually like one.
Will Ferrell has a great (non-animated) role, and Morgan Freeman shows off his considerable deadpan and off-the-wall comedic skills. Is there anything Morgan Freeman doesn’t narrate these days? If you’ve never heard him narrate his own life, I’ve embedded it below. It’s hilarious. But let’s get back to the movie.
I think in all honesty, the Lego Movie’s target audience is GenY parents and Baby Boomer grandparents more than children. I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie creates a boom in adult Lego construction. If you’ve read anything about Lego recently, though, they have been amazingly astute at marketing their products in the past ten years. They didn’t exactly need the movie to sell their products.
The movie is packed full of sly inside jokes and life lessons. I thought I would pluck just a few and write them down, trying not to spoil the movie for you, in case you haven’t seen it:
- Encourage creativity in yourself and others. Be patient. Like Vitruvius was with Emmet.
- Sometimes an empty mind can be the most fertile place for ideas to appear. Also, like Vitruvius said.
- Stay flexible so you can adapt to change on the ground. Keep moving forward even when you don’t know what’s going on. Like Emmet did.
- Sometimes a little anger accomplishes a lot. You don’t have to be happy all the time. Like Unikitty.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone else just because you think it’s cool. You’ll attract the wrong kind of people. Like Wyld Style (AKA Lucy).
- Teamwork and collaboration can build things no individual can. Like Emmet showed the team.
- Sometimes the most mundane idea can save the day. Like the double-decker couch.
- Maybe someone who is standing in your way just needs a little encouragement and love. Like Mr. Business.
- Even the most ordinary creator is special. You just have to believe in yourself. Like the cat poster said.
- The prophecy is just made up. You make your own destiny. Like Morgan Freeman (AKA Vitruvius) said.
I think this is the shortest blog post I’ve written in quite a while. Perhaps there’s a lesson in there for me, too…
Would love to hear your thoughts, comments, rebuttals – as always, please leave a comment below.
Sometime in the summer of 2013, I decided to join The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), AKA The Academy®. I had heard it was a great way to network with other local musicians – including Seattle’s own Grammy®-winning writers, producers and artists like Sir Mix-A-Lot, Eric Tingstad and Sue Ennis.
Then, in the fall, on a lark, I decided to see what it was like to submit my music for the 56th (as they call it) Grammys. Just for fun, mind you, and to learn. I have no delusions of grandeur left about the music industry. Well, maybe a few.
The Grammys are the biggest honor in music you can get. I thought it would be interesting to participate in the process and see how it really works first hand, for an indie and from the inside. No PR machine, no label, no manager.
First, I did some research on indie artists who have gotten nominated. There’s been a lot of controversy in recent years, with EDM artist Al Walser and Americana artist Linda Chorney top of mind. This post is not about the controversy of the voting process, however. Believe it or not, this post isn’t even going to cite Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, although Seattle’s own hometown indie artists were nominated for seven (seven!) Grammys, in case you’ve been living under a rock this year.
What is most interesting to me are two things I discovered.
One is a shift, at least for the indie artists, away from the private Grammy365 website to social media sites like Facebook to promote their nominations. Social media is having an effect even on crusty and fairly closed organizations in the music industry like NARAS.
Second is the sheer explosion in both the number of Academy members and number of submissions for nomination, as more and more amateur recording artists and producers have begun creating and marketing their music. This has created not only technical issues for the Academy and its members’-only website, Grammy365.com, but it has also made the annual listening and promotional process within the voting members much more challenging.