Q: Your company, Stonecutter Records, has been working on releasing a series of compilation albums featuring acoustic music by artists from such talent-laden cities as Chicago and New York. How did the Acoustic project come about?
CS: I’ve been in the music biz for almost 20 years now and it has become painfully apparent that there are a lot of great musicians that go unheard. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to live music venues and people were asking ‘why isn’t this on the radio’ or ‘where can I get a CD’ from an artist who has so much talent to offer fans. Chicagohas so many amazing artists but not many vehicles to advance them to the next level in their careers and get them the exposure they deserve. By initially focusing on the strengths of Chicago’s artistic community, a regionally based project gives local establishments such as retail shops, magazines, online media and radio stations an incentive to promote the CD.
It’s a bit more than a standard compilation. What we’re doing is bringing each selected artist into the studio and professionally recording and producing their one selected tune. Acoustic Chicago is a multiple artist collection of great musical performances. A CD/DVD combo that aims to give listeners a snapshot of the wide-ranging talent and vibrant musical energy that thrives in Chicago. Stonecutter Records is committed to exposing some of Chicago’s finest singers and songwriters to a wider audience. Acoustic Chicago is the fruition of a vision to collectively unify 13 talented singers and songwriters from the Chicagoland area performing their songs raw and unplugged in the studio. All of the recording sessions are videotaped and will be used for the DVD portion of the release. The DVD will compliment the CD by showing the viewer the actual recording of the tracks, mixed with a few music video elements that give each video its own theme and feel.
Phase one was the submission gathering process; placing ads in the local industry magazines and hitting the online music communities pretty hard. We received an overwhelming response and then moved onto phase 2; the actual production and recording of the CD. We are now 95% done and very excited for the release. Upon the release of Acoustic Chicago, we will then begin accepting submissions for the others cities and Acoustic International.
Q: At the end of the day, how do you think the listening public will receive the Acoustic recordings?
CS: I think the listening public will be surprised by the scope and balance of finesse and power. When people hear it’s ‘acoustic’ there is a tendency to think it’s just easy listening or folk or country. These artists deliver some powerful performances and the recordings have great dynamics. We live in a time when the listeners are so often bombarded by noise, they don’t really know how the recordings were made. I hope the listeners will find something they like that is outside their normal tastes. The recordings capture and celebrate the musical diversity of the musicians involved. From the sweet, sultry voice of Sarah Potenza, to the Chicago hometown rock and roll heroes Marty Casey & Lovehammers. From the swelling lush violin-infused rock of Mike Mangione, to guitar virtuoso Andreas Kapsalis, the audience is presented with a much deeper sense of the word “acoustic” than they may have known in the past.
Q: It has been said that, “music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” As someone who has been in the music business for so long, what has music meant to you?
CS: I was moved by music from a very early age. Music is a friend, a mistress and vehicle to express one’s passion. When it becomes a business, one needs to be careful not to loose the ability to just enjoy it. I’ve been so very fortunate to work with so many talented artists on a lot of great records. I can’t imagine life without it.
Q: Which lesser-known bands are you currently excited about?
CS: I really hope people check out Andreas Kapsalis. He is an instrumentalist with great passion. His trio is creating some very impressive music. I have seen fans of all different ages and cultures mesmerized by his songs.
Q: You’ve worked with a multitude of great producers and musicians alike; do any projects that you’ve been involved with stand out among the rest?
CS: Working with Bob Ezrin on Kiss’ Revenge was a real big opportunity for me. Bob produced the Wall, one of the great rock productions of all time, so I felt very blessed to have his confidence and learn from him. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley were a blast to work with too. Sadly, it was also the last record that Kiss drummer Eric Carr performed on before he passed. It was my honor to record his swan song…his background vocals on ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ still give me the chills.
Q: If there was one famous album that you could’ve produced in the past 40 years, which would it be?
CS: Any Led Zeppelin record. Of course, most respectfully, I would only co-produce with Jimmy Page as the Producer. Jimmy Page made some incredible records with Zep.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
CS: Do it because you love it and be yourself. Work hard at writing a good song and don’t ever become so attached to something you record so much that you won’t cut it out in pursuit of making a better song.
Q: What do you think of the digital age of music? Does the advent of Ipods, MP3 phones, and the like help enthuse the music industry or make it harder for a new band to find success?
CS: Major record companies are currently scrambling to restructure their archaic business models to survive the advent of the digital revolution. Due to advances in digital technology, recording artists no longer need to depend solely on a traditional recording company to have their music produced and sold. Yet as major record labels continue to consolidate in order to salvage their bottom line, opportunities have emerged for recording professionals savvy enough to recognize them.
Since the beginning of the 21st century, innovations in Internet technology have broadened the limitations of the music industry and created new mediums through which artists and independent record labels reach people around the globe. Independent labels have developed their businesses and optimized their strategies through advancements in digital technology and online marketing. Changes in technology via the Internet have given artists and independent record labels a worldwide reach giving their songs, albums and merchandise instant worldwide accessibility, previously unattainable through major record label distribution, giving them a competitive edge in the market.
Methods such as electronic distribution and digital transmission have fostered a closer relationship between the artist and the listener where at the release of an artists’ album, instantly songs can be uploaded and available for download worldwide. Alternate streams of revenues are emerging from digital technology that are fostering the success of artists and record labels outside of the stranglehold of The Big 5, which consist of BMG, Warner, Universal, Sony, and EMI. The download of songs to home computers, cell phones via satellite connections, and MP3 players are becoming a staple in the music community and even ring tones have become a substantial source of revenue for record labels and artists. With such developments, artists and independently owned record labels are now able to assume a share in the profitable business of entertainment.
Aside from new prospects available to artists and record companies via the Internet, another opportunity has emerged from the lack of unfair practices towards their artists amongst major record labels. After years of unpaid royalties, ambiguous contractual terms, and unfair proportions of artists share in their revenue, new artists are finding it beneficial to sign with independents as opposed to major record companies.
Since the early 90s, major record labels have changed the way they interact with their artist roster. No longer are these record labels giving the same chances, and more importantly, the time they previously gave artists to develop their talents and fan base. More apparent now than ever if a hit is not produced within an artist’s first release they run a high risk, if not certainty of being dropped from the label. With such high overheads, majors do not have the time and financial flexibility to develop talent nor do they posses the versatility to adapt to sudden changes in their industry as stated above. They are in a constant search for a platinum selling artist on the first release. Yet while they search for that hit single surrounded in an album with mediocre songs consumers are becoming aware of such practices and finding alternate means to access music. Consumers now have information about artists and songs at their fingertips making for a more savvy buyer of goods. Because of this, if any albums lack good songs the consumer will be aware of this and be less apt to buy the album or any subsequent releases from the artist. Independent labels and entrepreneurial artists have inherited the responsibility of nurturing new talent by fine-tuning their artistic and business development, and slowly escalating their careers over several album releases.
Q: Where can people interested in the Acoustic series find more information on the project?
Q: We end all of our interviews with word association, so I say “wombat” and you say…
CS: Up is louder