Intro by Brett Hestla: I have been a lifetime musician since I was 6 years old. I have had many local bands and two signed bands. My first band was Virgos Merlot on Atlantic Records, second signed band was with Dark New Day. I was also the touring bassist for Creed for 3 years and I have been producing bands for 10 years. I have achieved record deals for local level bands and brought them to the national level.
You have accomplished a lot as a musician. How does it feel to be able to give back to the new local bands?
Feels great to be the guy that every band wants to know. That can send you in the right direction. How do we achieve this or how do we get this rolling? Usually I tell the bands the same thing… if you have the songs the business will come to you. If your music is where it should be this should be your main and prime focus. The fans will do the work for you, they will be telling everyone how great you are.
What are some of the local bands that you have or will be working with?
Ideal Zero, Framing Hanley, Virgos Merlot, Orange Avenue, Down Stem, Mr. Bella, Not Tonight Josephine, Maybe If You Hit, Exit The Ride, The Supervillians and many more that I can’t remember. There are so many great bands out there.
It is good to see that some local bands are spending the money on proper recording and producing.
I fight that as the producer. Sometimes I wish I was in management, so that I could send people to me. I would tell the bands to go to a producer that would not let them do what they want and I mean this is a positive way. They won’t let you do the three minute intro to the song that has your best chorus. Somebody who is going to give you the cold hard reality of radio. You have to be quick and be precise and not give them the ability to shuffle or skip the song. If your song never gets heard all the way through it is doubtful that you will have any fans. I ask them to show me a song that has that, “really killer 5 minute break down” and has made it. You can bring your Tool to the table, but if you look at Sober and Prison Sex they both are 3 minutes and have a formula that you hear in a good radio song.
The battle that I fight with local bands is that they think that a song is the last opportunity to connect with the fans. Your record is a handshake with the public. If you can’t write a hit song and gear something that will generate income for your band, you won’t succeed. You will do 2 or 3 tours and then they will realize that you can’t draw and you will be blacklisted at venues. There are bands that fight the good fight like Traverser. I love that band, I love their music. I wish could just record one song. I just wish I could just arrange one for radio, so we can get the people there to see how great your other songs are. They are just missing that step of getting that fan base. The bands, they stick to their guns and then they disappear.
The best thing you can do is write songs that do business for you. You can become successful and then you can write those 7 minute songs with those killer breakdowns. You have to clear the path for the average listener to enjoy your music. Fans are pretty flexible once they love you, you can take them down any path you want.
An A&R will not bring something risky to the table. Unless it is the most amazing thing they have ever heard. Unfortunately, you have to be smart and play to the public if you want to get paid as a musician. You aren’t going to hear, “man we just played at the Haven and we blew up.”
It is not a Support the Arts foundation to where they donate money to bands because they are really good. If you are not bringing money to the table, then no one is going to hear of you. You are responsible for your own being and your own spot in the music business.
When a local/unsigned band approaches you about recording what do you expect of them? (This is designed to help local bands understand at what level they should be before joining you in the studio)
The thing I would like to tell bands the most is to feel free to surrender the reigns. A lot of the times what creates a struggle is when someone has been playing something the same way for a year and 6 months and I try and have them change the way they play something. It is in your muscle memory, but I want you to try and play it a different way.
I always tell bands to think of the songs as ideas compiled in an order. Think of how many other ways you can do these songs. Do you have to all be rocking the entire song or can you have some more dynamics. I want the bands to understand that the song is a ride and things can be rearranged without changing the core of the song. “I think for the majority of fans the small parts of the songs are what make the big parts so big.”
Once bands have worked with a producer they start to look at the songs and think, “do we want the song to build as it goes on or make the intro big”, but with bands new to a producer, I just want to let them know to look at the song as a ride and not a finished project. For bands that come in for the first time keep an open mind and keep things as ideas. You might be one idea away from the best thing for the song and because you have been doing things this way for so long you may not be aware of the better options.
What are your feelings on radio songs?
Program directors are smart. They are not just dumb guys, they like music too. They will only choose things that will work, so if you are doing something out of the norm then it better be the best or it is not going to be played. Everyone’s complaint is that “all radio sounds the same”, but those are the songs that are getting requested. If they were not getting the phone calls, then those would not be the ones being played. If you are upset by that then call and request what you like, and call a bunch. You can’t change the public’s perception, and you shouldn’t try to.
At what point do you feel that is appropriate for that band to publish or copyright a song?
There are many arguments about this. You have the songs recorded on your computer and that time stamp will be enough in court against someone with a later date and time on their song. That helps in a way, but it is not a fool proof plan. However, if you are about to put music out for sale you need to copyright everything, so that if someone does steal a song you can prove that it is your song. It is always a good idea, but I wouldn’t be so freaky and worried about it.
What is your opinion on the over produced music that is placed on the radio? The ones where you know that the band could never pull that song off live.
I hear those bands a lot, and if you want my opinion on why record sales are in the states, they are it. You are not hearing musicians anymore because you are hearing a processed and corrected version of what the musician is attempting to play. You can’t actually hear the drums anymore. I miss the original records that had the crack in the voice, and missed drum parts, and out of tune guitars. I will always love these records and I know every mistake on every song. “Now you take all those humanity issues away from music and it is in-human.”
What are some of the ways that some of the local artists that they can raise the capitol to come work with you?
Kickstarter is a great and affective way. It is a site that provides a way for bands to give incentives to their donators to raise money for their album. The fans are going to support their favorite bands and help them get their albums recorded and sounding good. It is an awesome way to help the band become a player on the international market. This seed that you plant can help them get to where they need down the road.
How did you go about getting shows booked for your band?
The best assets you have are bands in the towns that you are touring through. Hit up the local bands see if you can do a show swap or play on their show and you will promote them in your area. There is nothing better than having a band have you in town for a gig.
I really made up half the crap that got me my shows at the beginning of my career. “ I lied my butt off! I said hey yeah we played with so-and-so, we are with ShowBiz Talent Agency and we are here to play this show”, they don’t care. As long as you rock your ass off they don’t care who you belong to.
What is your final say towards the local bands?
I think I have said my usual. I guess that you film everything you do, and attach your music to everything you do. Put every finger out in every direction hoping for something to connect, and something to happen. Don’t think of anything as below you. Something may hit and be the spark for your career as a musician. I think that bands should get more open about their rehearsals. Invite people out and if you can get 12 people at your practice they may go to your next show to hear the final product.
“Labels are not signing bands that sound good. They are signing bands with records that sound good.”