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David Longoria: Embracing Innovation

Kathy Sanborn By

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Popular trumpeter, songwriter, and producer David Longoria has achieved success in music by refusing to follow the musical crowd. Growing up in relatively poor circumstances, Longoria learned to trust his instincts and to embrace innovation as he set his sights on becoming the internationally respected musician that he is today.

At the age of ten, Longoria chose the trumpet as his primary instrument. It took the youth over a year to raise sixty-five dollars, the amount required to purchase an old golden trumpet that would be the catalyst to start his dreams in motion.

With a new album, The Journey, and an inspiring ethic of hard work, Longoria graciously shares his own success tips for jazz musicians in the modern era.

All About Jazz: In this changing music biz world, how do you manage to stay in the game with a positive attitude?

David Longoria: Music is always changing, as are our lives. It is important to understand what people are seeking and gravitating toward so you are not creating something that will only be understood long after you're dead. But, even with that, the most important thing for me is to remember why I do music. It's great to make a living and seek rewards and awards, but the true goal for me is always to make great music. Everything else falls into place behind that. I know a lot of friends and colleagues who chase after all the awards every year. They minimize the importance of the greatness of the music and put their efforts into the marketing. That sometimes works toward getting the awards, but the music is very bland and lifeless. I have no desire to do that. If something in music has already been done, I don't want to do it again. I want to always be out there innovating, not imitating.

AAJ: I totally agree that jazz in the modern era is all about innovating, and not mimicking somebody else. Is gigging an important factor for a successful career in music?

DL: Yes! It keeps me in touch with the audience and keeps me on top of my skills. The energy of the audience and their reaction to our work is important in the communication between them and me. Plus, it's good to eat every day and performing helps toward that goal.

AAJ: How often are you out there performing?

DL: I tend to do it in seasons. I'll be locked in the studio for months, then I get out and perform for a while. This is great for me as it keeps me balanced and never bored.

AAJ: Do you think that performing is necessary today?

DL: Yes! The recent negative changes in the ways music is consumed has made it difficult to make your entire living from the recordings. I don't care where my revenues come from as long as I can make my living and enjoy a lifestyle from it, but that means always watching to see there are enough revenue streams between live performing, music sales, publishing, merchandise, and anything else.

AAJ: Please tell us a bit about your latest album, The Journey.

DL: I wanted to make a modern album that would engage the listener enough so they would want the entire album, not just the song or two that hit the Billboard charts. Back in the '70s and '80s, bands and artists did that and their fans loved the whole album. Stevie Wonder's Songs In The Key Of Life, Weather Report's first album, Steely Dan's and many others had hit singles but fans loved the whole album as a collection. So I came up with the concept that started with the idea that our lives are a journey. We share many similar milestones along the way. Childhood, coming of age, self-realization, learning to love, developing confidence, and more. Each event became a modern but melodic song. Even though this album has a lot of edgy dance elements, I'm still a jazz musician. I improvise, and because I love melody so much, the songs tend to be catchy right away. At the point of our lives where we start thinking about standing up for one another, I took inspiration from Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie's iconic song "We Are The World" which did so much for the hungry in Africa. I decided to take on the issue of our day where we are so divided by race and culture today. I thought we needed to stand up for each other and get back to that mentality. I wrote a song to do that called "We Are One," and invited a few artists to join me singing on it. It got out of hand and a year and a half later there are 600 artists singing with me on one song about unity! It's crazy but very powerful. The message is even bigger than the number.

AAJ: That must have been a hard song to mix, with 600 voices. What an amazing accomplishment. How are you promoting The Journey?

DL: We always look for innovative ways to promote and it always comes back to the simple elements of just getting it in front of the audience and looking for ways they might not expect it to appear. Social media are paramount these days. I've got a few surprises as well coming up. Shhh!

AAJ: What works best for you: radio promoter, publicist, self-promotion—or all of the above?

DL: Unfortunately, it's all of the above. Without all of these elements the campaign falls short of its goal. In many cases it can be more challenging as I don't like to create music that is easily slated into smooth jazz or most radio formats. It's too wild for that and too musical for dance radio. So we create remixes that satisfy radio, remixes for dance clubs, music videos, and live versions that entertain more than just the listening experience. Television is important and it's getting harder and harder to get enough of that when you play an instrument instead of rapping or singing as your primary skill. But to figure out an angle, a strategy, and a way to implement it are keys to a successful marketing and promotion campaign.

AAJ: Yes, and sometimes musicians are not as creative in business as we would like to be. For musicians with a tight budget, how can they get the biggest promotional bang for the buck?

DL: Start by getting good at basic social media. Build a fan base. Get on the music sites like ReverbNation, YouTube, Number One Music, and others. Build that fan base from the songs you play or sing. Keep engaging with fans so they see you as a person they value and respect. And don't just talk about selling your products, talk about life and encouragement and philosophy. I stay apolitical as every opinion we broadcast tends to divide instead of gather. I don't care if my fans are liberal or conservative. I care that my music touches them. Think of ways to get your brand to appear solid and appealing. If you are a solo artist, your name is your brand. Create a logo or font you use in a particular way every time you print and post it. Find color schemes that are consistent. Make it easy for your audience to understand what you are selling, and what you are all about. Find ways to collaborate, as this will often double or triple your fan base. When you don't have money to spend, you need to rely on your talent and innovation.

AAJ: These days, fan engagement seems to be a critical avenue to success, I agree. What do you think are the main challenges musicians face right now?

DL: Of course, making a living! But additionally I think the level that cats play needs to be kept up. When there are not as many great artists as there used to be a generation or two ago, it lowers the bar for the top artists in our world. That's problematic because everything becomes bland and the audience doesn't get excited about jazz or blues or dance music as it's good but not great anymore. For a lot of musicians, it's hard to care about seeking greatness because there doesn't seem to be the need for it. But for us to correct that over the next generations, it will require us to have the foresight to encourage young people to develop skills and goals toward greatness. We need to support our education system—not by complaining, but by going into schools and mentoring. I make a point of performing with several schools every year so I can be a positive influence for hundreds of young players. It's not glamorous or going to make you rich, but it's very needed.

AAJ: You are a whiz at social media. Do you have any tips for the rest of us on how to succeed in reaching out to fans via Facebook, Twitter, and so on?

DL: Yes, spend a little time and effort getting to know how it works. If you can play 13th chords in 4 inversions in a quarter of a beat you can certainly figure out Facebook. I used to get frustrated with Twitter as it didn't make sense. One day I decided to either close my account there or figure it out. I found ways I could use it to gather fans and announce releases, appearances, join forces with other artists, and much more. Now I love it and have more than 300 thousand followers there. Yes, it's crazy but valuable! Remember that the more effort you put in there is like money in the bank. How much does it cost to advertise to 300K potential customers?

AAJ: What provides the driving force behind your work? What keeps you motivated in music?

DL: I think that the process of creating is really what drives me. To write a new piece or song or movie score that is different from anything I've done before is a thrill. I have an eleven-year-old son and I want to leave music for his generation that takes art to new places. What would Miles Davis be doing if he were alive today? It wouldn't be anything you've already heard. As Quincy Jones has said to me many times, "Keep on keeping on." Regardless of what's on the radio today, there is no limit to the creativity that can be if we are open to it.

AAJ: What is David Longoria's inside scoop to success?

DL: Remember to be yourself and celebrate your own uniqueness. Try not to follow every trend and don't listen to what other musicians tell you is the only way. When people give you advice, always look at their situation and see if that's where you want to be. A successful trumpet player wanted to teach me lessons and I was going to start but I heard him play and thought, "I don't want to sound like that." So I walked. If our peers had all the answers, they would be at the top of the field. Sometimes common sense isn't very common. Trust your instincts more. And download my new album. Okay, I know it was shameful how I did that. But don't be afraid to promote yourself, too!
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