In the Biz is devoted to the business of making jazz music. We will feature established and emerging jazz artists and discover how they successfully maneuver in the often-challenging world of music today. This is the first article in the series.
I recently spoke with Singapore-based jazz composer and record producer Arun Shenoy
. His 2012 album, Rumbadoodle
, launched Shenoy into international fame and garnered the talented musician a first Grammy nomination. His brand new A Stagey Bank Affair
(Narked Records, 2016) is a concept album.
Shenoy describes his latest project, an engaging album with a title that stems from a popular phrase in Northeast England:
"A Stagey Bank Affair is a metaphor for a place that used to be a fun fair and now means a messy affair, kind of like adulthood. Fairgrounds are where our inner child can say 'whee' and spin around in circles, become dizzy, and life's worries don't matter. The music and visuals on the album are meant to represent the wonderland that we all have within us, along with the inherent sadness and chaos that we take up every day as adults." All About Jazz:
How do you manage to keep flowing positively within the ever-changing world of jazz music? Please give us your tips on how to cope and thrive. Arun Shenoy:
The changing landscape is indeed very challenging. There are also a lot of negative sentiments about piracy, dipping record sales, poor royalties from streaming platforms, and so on. It is easy to get consumed by all of this thanks to the amount of information overload we are subject to in this digital age. That being said, I have always tried to look on the positive side of things and believe that change brings with it a lot of new opportunities. The "new normal" is still taking shape and we are uniquely positioned to be part of this change and be able to affect it in some form. We need to identify these opportunities and tap into them, and try to think creatively and out of the box. I do admit of course that this is often like looking for a needle in a haystack. But if we stop looking, we will never find it. So perseverance and diligence are the keys here. AAJ:
I absolutely agree. Never, ever quit. And we have to assume that there is indeed a needle in the haystack to begin with. In your opinion, is gigging an important factor in your career success? How often are you out there performing? Or is it even critical to success these days? AS:
I believe gigging is an integral part of getting your music out there to the record buying public, who love to watch artists perform their music live. I have been out of this scene for a bit but plans are afoot to take the new album live and we hope to do that in the near future. About this aspect being critical to success, I would reckon not. Artists need to be able to tap into all available mediums for discovery and I would say gigging is just one of them. AAJ:
Seeing a live performance of your new album is something your fans will really look forward to, I'm sure. Please tell us how you came up with the Bansuri Funk genre, so catchy and effective on A Stagey Bank Affair. AS:
Having listened to a lot of soul and funk in recent times, I was inspired to create some new music along the style of funk with its focus on high energy grooves and happy vibes. I then incorporated flavors of jazz and elements from rock. Finally, for the unique edge to the album, I incorporated the rather unexpected sound of the Indian World Flute, the Bansuri, as the prominent lead instrument on the record. Ravi Kulur's co-writing and high-energy performances on the flute combined with Duke Purisima's funky bass playing have been two of the key elements that have also been inspirational while working on the album. AAJ:
The first step is to make a fantastic recording, of course, but it certainly doesn't all end there. How are you promoting A Stagey Bank Affair
? What works best for you: radio promoter, publicist, self-promotionor all of the above? AS:
In this day and age where artists are largely independent, the onus is on the artist to wear multiple hats and manage the musical aspect as well as the business aspect of the music. This is hard work and as much as I love to do a lot of it myself, I have always believed in working with a team of experienced professionals who would each bring a unique perspective to the business side of the music. So yes, I have a publicist, a marketing consultant, a radio promoter, a social media team and a lot of other good people who work with me to help me get the music out there. AAJ:
You have already mentioned some of the concerns that we musicians face these days: Piracy of our songs, low royalty rates for streamingthe list goes on. What do you feel are the main challenges jazz musicians face right now? AS:
I believe the challenges faced by jazz musicians are common to musicians in other musical styles as well. Recordings can be expensive and time consuming. And justifying this cost at a time when a lot of people are not buying music anymore (preferring to stream it instead) can be hard. Additionally, getting the opportunities to perform the music live and be paid fairly for it can also be quite hard to come by. AAJ:
Yes, a quality album can take yearswriting the songs, rehearsing, and recording. I always ask fans to buy the music, and not download it from pirate sites. Speaking of sales, how important is social media for album sales? AS:
Social media is a good tool to spread the word about the music. But I do not really see a direct translation into album sales. Engaging in social media is also a full-time job if you ask me, so I actually do it only minimally myself. AAJ:
What keeps you, as a jazz musician, creating new music? What provides the driving force behind your work? What inspires you? AS:
I guess it is just a constant urge to keep creating music, and the desire to narrate my experiences, which is expressed best through music. AAJ:
Anything else that you would like to add? What would you like to tell our jazz musician readers that would help them maneuver successfully in today's music business? AS:
To all the aspiring artists out thereremember there is no shortcut here. Don't fall for any internet or other scams that tell you otherwise. If you want to succeed you need to be in for the long haul. Don't let the negativity around the decline of the business, often positioned as imminent doom, pull you down. Art is an integral part of life. It has always been the case and always will be the case. And there are enough people out there who can see and appreciate this, and also influence others. So always make the best possible music you can.
Next, don't sit back and wait to be discovered. You will only end up being disappointed. Don't get carried away by the success stories of a few artists who went viral on sites like YouTube and try to emulate the same. Just remember, if someone has achieved something to a level where it makes news, you have already missed that wave. Don't chase it and watch out for the next one instead.
Finally, study as much as you can about the business of music. Understand copyright, publishing, royalties, contracts, and everything related to get a decent understanding of how things work. This will always stand you in good stead. If you are a jazz musician and have some music business tips to share, contact Kathy Sanborn at All About Jazz.