While most fans are enjoying live performances and mp3s, writer and sometimes musician David Weiss has been an integral part, from behind the scenes, of the music industry. He transitioned from unpaid intern out of college to become an influential music industry professional on audio equipment, production and engineering in his own right and has been nicknamed “The Communicator” for his extensive background in marketing and PR.
While he admittedly assures me that he isn’t the greatest musician around, his CV includes, President and founder of D Media Inc., co-founder and co- editor of SonicScoop, co-founder of Musicsupervisioncentral.com and thesonghunters.com, freelancer, author of “Music Supervision: The Complete Guide to Selecting and Licensing Music & Sound Design for Media,” and the former New York editor of Mix Magazine.
David found time in his busy day to talk to Musebox about his beginnings in music and offered crucial pieces of advice to the musicians and producers out there: namely on home recording vs. professional recording, his use of Myspace as a listening tool for finding musicians, his experience and two cents about the business side to forming a band, and his recommended basic equipment that should get musicians started with their music careers. If you’re an aspiring musician or producer this is one interview that you want to read from top to bottom.
Musebox: When and where did your love affair with music begin?
David Weiss: When I hear that, it makes me think back to just being a little kid and growing up in Michigan and my dad who was a physician liked to listen to Beatle works while he did some of his work at home. That’s what I think of with my first exposure to music. I got started with a Beatles and it was a great way to get started. But then I crossed over to being a musician and maker of music.
I did what every other kid did. I took piano lessons, I took cello lessons but it was when I started playing the drums, in the sixth or seventh grade, that I started to see music in a really different way. After I played the drums after a couple of years I finally understood that this was something that I could do as a means of creative expression. That was really exciting to me. That’s how I got started on this path.
MB: You have a lot on your plate from being the president of D Media Inc., co-author of the book Music Supervision: The Complete Guide to Selecting and Licensing Music & Sound Design for Media and founder of SonicScoop. How did you transition from aspiring musician to journalist?
DW: I transitioned to being a journalist officially in college, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, when I got an internship in the Detroit area for a music and culture magazine called Orbit, which was run by some extremely smart, sharp people with just incredible taste.
If you watched Pulp Fiction and his scene with that picture of the shirt of the smiling globe “Orby,” that was the kind of magazine it was.
So I started writing there and I had known for a long time that writing was my talent. Music was something that I do because I really enjoy it and it’s a means of communicating that way. But I don’t think that I’m a talented musician. I’ve been doing it for a really long time. Now I can get beats or melodies out of my head and it took me a long time to get there. But journalism is something that became a pretty clear thing for me.
I think it was when I was 20 that I did that internship, which lead to me pretty much writing for free (or for freelance). That eventually worked into a full time that defined the rest of my life from there.
MB: You’re a “sometimes” musician. How did you get into the back end of the music industry – the recording and producing; the stuff that fans tend to take for granted?
DW: I started to get into recording after I moved to New York City and after I found a job here. I was hoping to get a job with a record company because I did an internship with a record company before my senior year of college at IRS records. It’s now defunct, but when I was there (because I’m 39) it was famous for launching REM, among other things, and really transformed the face of music with some of the bands that they had in the late 80s and the 90s.
So I had an internship with a record company under my belt so I really wanted to work for one, but I didn’t find one. I think that’s the best thing that could have happened because the path that it took me on was extremely exciting.
My first job was at PR Newswire, which distributed press releases over wire, kind of like AP. I got familiar with press releases and from there I got a job from a very small PR firm that represented a guy named John Storyk from the Walters-Storyk Design Group – a very famous recording studio architect. He designed Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Land, among thousands of other studios since then.
I started writing press releases about the people who designed recording studios, people who sold audio equipment to studios. I started to find this very interesting, whereas before I didn’t find them too interesting even though I had enjoyed being in recording studios. I guess I never really thought about them too deeply. It turned out that I was very talented with interviewing engineers and people who were doing technical stuff and it was something that I had enjoyed. So the more that I learned about it, the more I got into it and I eventually decided to take audio engineering classes myself so that I really would know what I was talking about.
I took audio engineering classes at the New School in New York City and started to get gigs with magazines that covered this topic, audio media, at first. After I left the PR firm, Howard Sherman Public Relations, I was doing a lot of writing. I kept writing on that topic and my writing about audio media led to getting a recommendation to become the New York City editor for Mix Magazine in 2003. So that only started to increase my knowledge.
My first paid writing gig was Drum! Magazine. I’m always in debt to my editor Andy Doerschuk for paying me my first dollar to have me write about anything. I realized what advantage it gave me to be working as a journalist in the field that I had aspirations in. I could get the phone numbers of the people who were the best in the world at what they did and they would spend half an hour to forty five minutes talking about it – kind of like you and I are doing right now. It’s a great way to learn.
So my audio engineering class lead to me building an interest in recording and producing and really overseeing every aspect of the project.
Today if you want to be a producer and a musician and a producer, you can do all those things and I would say you should do those things if you want to.
MB: Would you suggest that musicians should record in their own homes with their own equipment or would you suggest that they record at a professional recording studio?
DW: Well I think they should absolutely do both because there are certain aspects of producing a recorded song that can be done at home or in a personal studio and recording demos, recording scratch tracks, recording certain things can be done that way. Then that will free up your funds to go ahead and record the things that should be or do the things that should be done in a professional studio.
Even today someone in the professional studio would tell you that so you have the money left over to record drums in a studio, which you should do. You may have money left over to mix in a studio, which you may or may not want to do. I love mixing, mixing is the reward for creating a song but, I’ll also mix the song half the time at a professional studio.
Mastering really should be done by a mastering engineer and a mastering studio because they have the room and the environment to do that and they have the outside perspective. Trying to truly master your own music is like trying to psychoanalyze yourself.
Practicing mastering is a fabulous thing to do because it will help you to get your material that much better. Mastering your own stuff is certainly a lot of fun but you should shell out a little extra to have someone else master your real final product.
MB: It seems like there is quite a bit of money involved to produce an album. What would you suggest those underground and indie musicians without a label do, to make the money to support the production of an album, whether it be via loans or a job?
DW: Well, I wouldn’t recommend taking any extra steps to go into debt for your music, like to taking out a loan. If you have absolutely zero cash and absolutely zero equipment, it’s just very hard not to be able to record into your computer now for very little.
I have access to lots of great stuff, but the sound card that I choose to use for portable applications and stuff is Lexicon Alpha because I work with a lot of virtual synth. It does what I need it to do.
Pretty much everybody has a computer these days so if you have a computer you’re in business because the computer is one of the most incredible things to happen to music. It’s an amazing tool for music creation at any stage in that process that I just can’t see an excuse for not being able to get started with a particularly inexpensive card for $60.
If you need a mic, you should get a Shure SM 57. They’re not that expensive. So you really can be in business for the bare minimum for not too much, and you should.
Hopefully the music partners that you work with will have some complimentary gears that you don’t have and if you’re writing great songs and putting on great shows, you can start to supplement your income, at least a little, and continue to upgrade. If you’re writing great songs, that really might be able to help you get your infrastructure upgraded.
MB: What’s your opinion on Myspace and what types of social media sites do you use when looking at musicians and their work?
DW: People don’t want to waste their energy ripping on Myspace now, they just dismiss it. But, as a music journalist, I can tell you that 95% of the time, if I’m writing about bands or researching one and I want to hear their music clips very quickly, when I do a Google search for them their Myspace page comes up right away inevitably. When I go and check it out, I check to see if they’ve logged in, in the last 48 hours. They are tools for listening to music and bands that you’re looking for or to root out bands that you’re not looking for.
For me it’s a valuable tool, and I’m sure for others who want to hear bands. It’s still the most universal platform there is for simply sharing music for playback. That’s the way I see it. There are other good ones like ReverbNation. The Myspace player is slow and clunky and you can’t always count on it to work, and for that you can’t count on it as much.
Any band, I think, should have their band up on an attractive looking Myspace page, but the days of that being something really important to building your community are long gone. It’s just a tool for allowing people to hear your music. I don’t think it’s a serious tool for communication anymore.
MB: How should a musician or producer create a press release that incorporates their blog to journalists as a means of gaining press?
DW: To me the most important thing that the website that’s hosting the blog has a page with their bio, with their discography and a page with their contact information so I can find all those easily. If they send me a link, I’m always going to need that info and they can arrange it any way they want, but they should put it up in a way that I can find their discography and contact really easily. That makes my job easier.
As for the blog itself and what they should put up there, what’s important with that like any food blog or a plumbing blog, you should talk about the things that you’re really passionate about and important knowledge to share and contribute. If a producer is pitching themselves for coverage to me, I would base it on what projects they’ve done recently, that they’re working on or what they’re about to do that they think they have interesting aspects for my reader to think about. If they turn out to be terrific writers and aggressive self promoters, then maybe they’ll want to write for SonicScoop.
MB: What are some music industry horror stories that you’ve encountered in your experience throughout the years?
DW: One thing that makes me sad are the bands and musical partnerships breaking up because people were lackadaisical about managing the intellectual property of what they were putting together. They weren’t clear on who wrote a song or who owned it. Bands that were absolutely inseparable on their way up and dissolved into people who were really angry at each other, were in fights for the money and eventually weren’t in contact with one another because they didn’t look into the future far enough when writing songs and recording them. To really imagine it at some point would be very important for things to be made really clear about who owns what and at what percentage.
We’re all guilty of that when we’re working on things together. We’re friends, we’re together in the trenches and everything’s going to be O.K. but it really is true that when money is at stake or might be at stake, things may change and they get messed up when people don’t iron things out in advance.
So it’s really easy for me to sit there, say that and tell people to do it. It just happens again and again and again because it’s really hard to write a fabulous song and then as soon as you press stop on Pro Tools, the demo is done and be like, “O.K. let’s put it in writing, who owns what percentage of this song.” That’s not an easy thing to do, but it has to get done at some point – earlier rather than later. So that’s what I think of. That to me is the biggest thing to think of.
Other things that went wrong back in the day. If an A&R person left after they signed a band to a record label, that would be bad, but I don’t think that record labels today in a musician’s career. It’s just not a big thing to worry about anymore.
MB: So a band seems like a business relationship as opposed to a friendship, which is what fans would expect in a band.
DW: Yea, because it depends what the band is in it for. What I just said came out based on my experiences and knowing that bands who are on record labels and put out a record or two and they were all friends and had a musical partnership.
They were doing excellent creative work, but they were doing it to get rich and famous. At least that was part of what was wrapped up in it. If no one really cares about making money than those things that I just said aren’t going to be a problem. But, if you are in a band and if you want to be famous – and a lot of people do – then they just need to really admit that there’s a great deal of business back end that goes along with getting famous.
If you don’t tend to that then getting famous isn’t going to be very fun and it’s not going to be very profitable. If you don’t really care about those things and just want to make music and just be happy and have fun, then you’re probably not reading this interview anyway. You’re probably just playing the guitar on the streets or whatever and just enjoying yourself.
MB: I know that you’ve offered quite a bit, but do you have any advice or parting thoughts for the aspiring musicians out there in this day and age?
DW: My advice for aspiring and emerging musicians? That’s a great question because I ask people something like that all the time. I would say that you should be involved in music because music affords you a creative expression – something you want to communicate because it’s very important that you want to communicate this thing and nothing else allows you to do that, whether it’s writing, speaking or telepathy. Nothing says it for you like music and you have a real urgency to get this message out of you. I think it’s really important to be involved with music for that. Or maybe you have some other emotional needs that need to be fulfilled. If you want it to be something that you’re going to do as a career, absolutely go for it. But while you’re doing that, keep your eyes open for an alternate or related career path that may show up and be open to following those. Be process oriented instead of goal oriented and you’ll really enjoy yourself.
That’s what I think, but on the other hand, you can just keep on working on music for a long time. You don’t have to be a famous band now to get a big payday for the song. If you wrote a song and it winds up being the perfect song for a commercial, you don’t have to be famous anymore for that song to work or get in there. Your song just had to be in the right place and the right time. With that being the case, you can write that perfect song in your 20s, 30s, 40s or 50s. With those facts of the music business, you can have an extended career now until you can keep going as long as you want. I think that’s an amazing thing because the world used to be that you had to quit before you’re thirty. But that’s not the case anymore.
musicsupervisioncentral.com – co-founder