The State of Music

Four Local Musicians On The Future Of The Industry

The music business is changing. It's being reshaped as we speak.

As the mainstream becomes more formulated, it's hard to tell where the underground is going. Doors are opening for musicians who used to only have the clubs and boardwalks to pass flyers around at in order to spread the word about their band.

Now, bands have the Internet. It's a place for musicians to further develop a mailing list, distribute music and promote through self-maintained web sites.

Some have chosen to take advantage of it; others have stayed with traditional methods. With whatever is being done, there is a huge crop of bands around the country, all looking to get their music to as many people as possible.

These ways exists here in New Jersey, where years ago the boardwalk in Asbury Park flourished, with visitors headed to the shore for a break from their daily lives. Some would wind up in the clubs to hear a musical revolution.

Now, Asbury has a possible resurgence coming, with a redevelopment project in the works. Its future remains up in the air. With the preservation of the Stone Pony and the Saint, and new clubs like Harry's Roadhouse and the Cadillac Ranch Saloon, opportunities are opening for bands to draw attention through their live shows. The redeveloper itself, Oceanfront Acquisitions, has purchased the Stone Pony and Cadillac Ranch, making these venues an essential part of the project's future.

Chorus and Verse asked some artists from its home state of New Jersey about where they see the state of the industry going and how it applies to them.

They are: Ben Sargatan, an artist who has used the 'net to gain fans of his own basement creations and plays in bands like his own project, Verdilak, Superdose and the cover band Dirty Water Dogs; Gay Elvis and Paul, formerly of the Blakes, an up-and-coming local band that, despite making waves on regular basis, recently disbanded; and jpat (a/k/a James Dalton), who sits in with whatever band he can to get his music out there, and plays out solo and with local acts like Secret Sound and Josh Zandman.

When did you begin playing music and when did you begin to establish a following?

Sargatan: At age 22, as a vocalist with Latshaw. Right away there was a following.

jpat: I started trying to play music "out" really about eight years or so [ago], and despite how bad I was, I kept at it. I noticed right off that people were into what I was doing, but I guess it wasn't until the last couple years where I noticed a "following" starting to happen.

Paul: I started playing music when I was about five years old. I [along with the Blakes] began to establish a following when I was 22.

Gay Elvis: I started playing guitar at 15 years old. This girl Heather always used to be hanging around my locker in high school 'cause I played in the heavy metal cover band Deception. Does that count as a following?

I mean, she did follow me around the halls to Gym and French class.

How were you able to do so?

Sargatan: By keeping the mailing list growing, the mailing list is very important.

jpat: I think I try to make my performances personal, not just a recreation of a rehearsed set or anything. You know, I banter a little to people, I play rough, I improvise. I guess I also try to get out and play everywhere I can with anyone I can. Not only do I play solo and with a couple bands, but I get to sit in with all kinds of people with different instruments and, I guess, if enough people see me doing all different things, they get interested.

Paul: First, you have to not suck. Once you know you're doing something worthwhile, it's just a matter of exposing yourself and making yourself available. Play a lot of shows. Update your website frequently. Email your fans back. Be nice, but not too nice.

Gay Elvis: I think she was just into my Twisted Sister t-shirt and all of the Iron Maiden buttons I used to wear on my jean jacket.

Have there been times when it's been tough to maintain a following?

Sargatan: Yes, there have been inactive times, but it always picks back up.

jpat: Oh, absolutely. There are so many bands around here playing so many shows that there is so much competition. In my eyes, there are literally tons of shows going on in NJ every week and it's hard to keep bringing the same people out all the time, especially when you're trying to play more than one night a week.

Paul: It's always tough, but in a rewarding way. You have to constantly earn your following, because people are fickle. It's like the mafia. You're only as good as your last envelope.

Gay Elvis: Yeah. She started to date Mark Levash 'cause he had a Camaro, that was pretty much it for me.

Do you see the music industry heading in a different direction, with the internet (mp3 sites, etc.) and a lot of private public relations, management and record labels?

Sargatan: Yes. But I still think it is going to be very difficult for a band to make money and sell a lot of albums without major label backing. These things you mention will help a hard-working band to create a buzz, which could get them closer to getting signed; but that big major label promotion money is still what is needed to really get exposed.

jpat: You know, I think the industry will always be the industry, no matter what it looks like on the outside. Industry usually has one goal, and that's to grow. So, no matter how private or indie an institution may be, it will inherently always want to get bigger.

Look at Curb Records. They still call themselves an indie label, but they are a giant. It's not bad, but they are still growing and growing and what now is the difference between them and a major?

Paul: Who knows? I've had this conversation so many times that eventually I realized I was spouting the same crap as the people I was disagreeing with. Technology provides unsigned bands like ourselves with an amazing opportunity to promote their music, but it's also sort of killed a lot of the great traditions of discovering new music as well. I don't like the idea of music being scattered files on my computer. Personally, I want to hold the record in my hand, look at the artwork, read the liner notes, and listen to it from start to finish the way the band recorded it.

Where do you see the music industry in the next few years?

jpat: I see it being oversaturated. Now that the Internet has provided visibility to every artist on the planet, they are all trying to get in to the same markets, and pretty soon it will take a lot to stand out. I'm sure the consolidation we've been seeing will continue. I don't think the major labels will be able to control the downloading frenzy, but they will come up with a way to sell downloadable music over the Internet that will include the tangible parts of the CD. We are also already seeing a reduction in the price of CDs.

Paul: Again, it's tough to say. In a nutshell, I would like to see the return of the career artist. It's a lofty hope, but it feels like maybe we're approaching a breaking point with all of this disposability. I would hope that fans of music will eventually get sick of it, like all of us artists already are.

What are your own musical goals?

Paul: To write, perform, and record music for the rest of my life; and be on MTV cribs.

Gay Elvis: If there is any way I can eek out a living playing music, that's what I want to do. If not, you'll probably find me playing at the Saint on any given year on a Tuesday night. Old, bald, fat ... Oh, Jesus, just shoot me now!

Sargatan: To continue to diversify my projects. Besides Verdilak, Dirty Water Dogs and Honey From Sorrow, I recently wrote the music for the film "Bumrunner" (filmed in Asbury Park and featuring Fred "Rerun" Berry.) It was a great experience; I would like to get involved in more film music. I am also very close to making a living from nothing but music-related work, which has always been a goal.

jpat: I'd like to make the best music I can that will also enable me to live comfortably and to travel extensively throughout the world, meeting its inhabitants.

Ben Sargatan: -or-
The Blakes (Paul and Gay Elvis):

Josh Davidson

Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.