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Mike DiRubbo: The First Priority? Recording This Band

By Published: June 21, 2007
MD: The takes on the disc are pretty long, with the exception of "New Year's Dream. I did think about things like that a little bit, but I didn't hold back because we were recording. Maybe I should have after listening to how many choruses I took on "Clarity ! The main thing isn't length, but keeping the intensity level up.

AAJ: In addition to jazz, I listen mostly to indie rock. It seems like indie rock bands are way ahead of jazz musicians in adapting to the age of digital music. Most of the bands I listen to offer free songs to download on their websites. Why don't guys like you do that?

MD: Technically, of course, there's no reason not to. But you have to consider that the musicians need to be paid. It's hard to get a bunch of good musicians together and say, "Hey, I want to have these free tracks on my website. An indie rock band, I don't know, it might be a bunch of guys in Seattle or wherever, and maybe they don't do this full-time, and they get together at someone's house on the weekend and put down some songs on a 4-track recorder. If I get a band I want to play with, I need money to pay for the musicians and the studio.

AAJ: What about the idea of giving away a little to entice people to buy the whole thing?

MD: Because jazz is such small percentage of the market, I don't know that that would ever amount to anything. But who knows, once the CD is out there, it probably gets pirated anyway for free.

AAJ: In your situation, is it more important to keep doing gigs so that you can record, or to record so that you can keep getting gigs?

MD: You have to have one to have the other. I've been lucky enough to be on a few CDs and to have a few in my own name. But the last one as a leader came out in 2003. That's a long time in the music industry. I finally decided, "I need to do this myself. You have to stay on people's minds, or they just assume you don't play anymore. Even if you don't just hang out in New York once in a while, people assume you've disappeared. You can't have put something out a while ago and say, "Here it is, my record from 2003. It's definitely a case of, "What have you done for me lately?

I would love to have put out ten CDs in the last three years. It's a frustrating catch-22—people don't want to back you to put out a record until you're already blown up to a certain point, but how do you get to that point without the records? We do what we can. That's why we do things like give up the publishing rights, or taking less than we would want to. That's why a lot of more-established guys have their own labels.

You don't have to be a millionaire to put out records. Technically, it's not that expensive, but to pay the musicians correctly and to pay for marketing, that starts to get expensive. I'm not comfortable getting musicians together and asking them to work for free. How many lawyers do you see who just give away their work? When was the last time you got a free cleaning from a dentist? For some of us, music is what we do to make money.

AAJ: So do you hope this CD, which you brought to life on your own, will lead to a studio date on someone else's label?

MD: That would be great, but I don't know how much that sort of thing exists anymore. It was more a way of having a way to reach people who aren't going to see me play, to say, "Here, this is what I've been working on the last few years. And that band, I really wanted to record that band. The whole band had a nice vibe. We're all friends and respect each other. That's the main thing—you want to use the best musicians you can and be with people you enjoy off the bandstand as well as on.

AAJ: So why not band together with some like-minded musicians and start your own label?

MD: It's hard enough to get guys together to have a rehearsal! Seriously, there are some people doing that—drummer Willie Jones III has had his own label for awhile. But again, it's hard to get like-minded individuals together. And guys are at different points in their careers. Someone like Dwayne Burno has different needs than me. Everybody needs a bassist, a drummer, a pianist. So someone like Mabes, what would be the point of bothering with starting a label?

With your own label, the biggest thing is distribution. Certain small labels are distributed by larger labels. But everything seems to be changing with the digital thing. Who knows what will happen? Me, I like to have the CD, to hold it in my hands and read the liner notes. I'd rather have a painting on my wall than to look at a picture on the computer. You know how it is—if someone gave you a CD-R and wrote "Joe Schmo Quartet on it, versus if you get a real CD, and it has artwork and has some weight, which are you going to think has more value? You can't just skip making records. Recording on a regular basis lets you analyze yourself. When you don't get to for awhile, you're just pushing that process back.

AAJ: When you listen to your older records, do you like them?

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