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Geoffrey Keezer: Making, And Controlling, His New Music

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People are mystified by the whole process of creativity and art. ArtistShare appeals to me because this process invites the audience along from the beginning to the end.
Geoffrey Keezer Pianist/composer Geoffrey Keezer has been playing piano since age three and has been on the road since 1989 when he joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers after a year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Over the years, he's recorded steadily and played with numerous jazz luminaries including Ray Brown, Diana Krall, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Kenny Barron, Chick Corea, Benny Green, and Mulgrew Miller.

But of late, things have changed for Keezer. In a few different ways.

He moved from New York to San Diego a couple years ago. Last winter he became a father. He discovered interesting music from Peru about four years ago and is in the process of developing a recoding stemming from that. He's off the road, enjoying a more sedate home life while working on the project.

Like most musicians, he also realizes that the music business, and the way music is made and marketed, must change. Technology has made old ways of doing things, and the companies that controlled them, practically obsolete. With that, however, is a new artistic freedom for musicians. There are new challenges for so many who are outside the realm of record labels. But challenges traditionally spawn innovation. Keezer is developing the project, to be called Aurea (after a Peruvian lily), on his own, via the ArtistShare system. It's an interactive model where fans participate and fund the project at various sponsor levels, as the artist develops a recording project unfettered by people in business suits telling them what songs "sell" and what songs don't. Composer/arranger Maria Schneider brought ArtistShare to the forefront when her Concert in the Garden album (2004) won a Grammy award without a single unit ever hitting a store shelf. All copies were sold via her website, and the production expenses came from patrons who joined the effort via her website. They were able to "watch" the whole recording process as it developed.

"Honestly, I think I may have quit if I hadn't found [ArtistShare]," Schneider told All About Jazz in 2007. "That thing made it possible for me to record this music and not only pay for my time and pay for the musicians, but make some money, help support what I do ... If I hadn't had that website, I don't know. The whole thing I'm doing now on the Internet. There's no way that would have happened with a record company, I'll tell you that. I was doing nothing but losing, and busted my butt trying to make those [previous] records and making nothing. It's really turned my life around."

Keezer is a friend of Schneider and has also participated on ArtistShare projects of trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (At Sea, 2006) and guitarist Jim Hall (Free Association, 2005). "I liked the way it worked," says Keezer.

Keezer references a speech by a noted marketing expert Seth Godin, who touts that the music business must make bold changes to be relevant in this new era. "What he's talking about is a business model for music that's going to need to happen in the wake of all the record companies going down the tubes. He's not promoting ArtistShare per se, but what he's talking about is exactly what ArtistShare is. It's more about the community ["tribes" is Godin's euphemism] selling not just the music but offering the entire process as the product," says the pianist.

Chapter Index
  1. The Process
  2. The Music
  3. More Music
  4. Origins
  5. Adjusting
  6. Entertaining


The Process

It's a very interactive system, where fans get to peek in on the process, reading notes written by the artist, or, as in Keezer's case, listening to him talk about things (since he doesn't really like to type). There is both audio and video related to the recording of Aurea, which is still not complete. A fee is charged, and there are different levels, but that helps support the project. It also gives fans a level of participation never before experienced. Record labels, naturally, keep people out until there is a product to sell.

"Talking with fans and audience members after concerts, probably the number one question I get is: how do you do it? What do you think about when you're playing and how do you just go up there and make stuff up? Or: When you write music, what are you thinking about? People are mystified by the whole process of creativity and art," says Keezer. "ArtistShare appeals to me because this process invites the audience along from the beginning to the end.

"I'm one of those kinds of guys—I like the bonus material on the DVD," he says with a laugh while drawing an appropriate analogy. "When I rent movies, DVDs, I like to see how it was made. I like to get under the hood. I love the Lord of the Rings DVD. I learned how they did that stuff ... What I'm doing is not as extravagant as that, and certainly not as big of a budget, but it might be interesting to someone to see how this whole process of making a record works."

He notes, "It's not for everyone. Some people just want to buy the record, listen to the music, and have that be enough. You can still do that. Once the record's finished in December—hopefully sooner than December, but the projected delivery date is December—you can always just go buy the record. You can choose not to download all the supplementary material. But I think, for most people, the actual process itself is what's really intriguing, and the music at the end is the icing on the cake, because you've actually heard the music right from the beginning as it's being created."

There's also the business side of things. Ownership of the project is important to Keezer, and it's a big part of his venture into ArtistShare

Geoffrey Keezer"I own everything. I own the masters. If I want to license it to film or TV, it's easy to do. If I want to eventually release it in another form, I can do whatever I want to with it. I don't have to go through armies of lawyers to handle my own music. It's getting to the point where pretty much any creative music that is going to be made is going to be made in a self-produced way. There's not much happening in record companies in terms of vision for creative music."

There are other artists, like Dave Douglas, doing things in a similar way, even if it isn't ArtistShare, Keezer says. And he thinks artist ownership, in a way, also appeals to the consumer.

"It's like, 'Hey. This guy did it on his own. Let me help him out.' This money is going directly to the artist, directly to fund this project. It's not lining the pockets of some executive in a corner office in a high building somewhere. It's grass roots."

He adds, "I think the personal connection with the artist is another thing. I get e-mails through my website and I answer them all. One segment that I do [on the ArtistShare site] is answers to e-mail questions, maybe five or six of the most common ones, and I try to answer them in a video. It's very direct. My cell phone and my e-mail are right on the front page of my site. Anyone can call me or e-mail me. And I answer ... It makes the artist much more accessible, much more personal. It's the extended family of the internet. Instead of the little movement in a small part of town, it's all over the world, but it's still a community of like-minded people."

In his website notes on ArtistShare, Keezer tells participants that updates and information arrive "via written journals, streaming audio and video, and photo galleries. I want to include you in the excitement, intensity, and even fear and frustration that also enter into the process (though mostly fun!). I'm looking forward to the birth of this new music and realization of my new recording, and it will ultimately be the collaboration of all the remarkable people I'll be surrounded by. As a participant, you're making this all possible. Knowing that you're following along and contributing in such a significant way will inspire me to do all that I can to share something wonderful with you. I hope you'll take this journey with us by adding this or one of the other available offers to your cart."

The website has videos of Keezer discussing and working things out with musicians. It has versions of songs in various stages of completion. Rehearsals can also be witnessed by fans who participate.

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