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As An Indie Musician, Chad Lawson Finds 'The Space Between'


Yesterday, Apple introduced its new radio music streaming service, iTunes Radio. When the service launches in the fall, it will offer users more control over what music they hear. Whether or not Apple will further revolutionize the way we stream music remains to be seen, but it is expected to be a top competitor to Pandora. And one thing is apparent: The Internet is flooded with new music, and independent musicians are clamoring to be heard. Musician and composer Chad Lawson is one of them. He began as a pianist in his own jazz trio before switching to solo classical piano. His 2011 release of "The Piano" was named classical album of the year by solopiano.com.

In a moment, we'll talk to Chad Lawson about how the Internet - from streaming, to Twitter, to Amazon - has helped him gain exposure. And we want to hear from other independent musicians. How have you used the Internet to build a following? Tell us your story. Our number is 800-989-8255. And email is: talk@npr.org. And Chad Lawson joins us now. It's so good to have you with us.

CHAD LAWSON: Thank you for having me.

NEARY: So tell me, is this announcement of iTunes Radio, is it good news for you? And how is it good news for you and other independent musicians?

LAWSON: You know, I think anything is going to be good news, as far as introducing artists that are not as well-known as someone on a large label, be it Universal or something like that. I think it's pretty early to tell. I find it really interesting they kind of went towards the Pandora route, as far as - instead of going more towards the avenue of, say, Spotify or Rhapsody of sorts, because at the end of the day, they - Apple's idea is to sell product, really.

I don't really think they actually got into this to challenge Pandora or to be a radio stream or a music stream of sorts. I mean, they want to sell iPads and iPhones and everything that has an I in front of it. So - and interestingly enough, they actually made an agreement with the labels as far as what the fee would be, and I find that really, really interesting. So it's - there's no middleman, in roundabout way. They went directly to the large labels and said, you know, let's negotiate, you know, what's fair for both sides. And honestly, I think, for them, it was a move to really just sell product. And - but as far as an independent musician, it's fabulous.

NEARY: So will they then - if they're - if they went to the labels to reach agreement with the labels, then do they go individually to each independent musician, like yourself? And...

LAWSON: That is a great, great question, and I don't know if that's handled through digital distributors, as far as like CD Baby or TuneCore or any of those avenues. That's a really, really great question - or if it's this kind of a blanket fee, if you will, if you're not a part of that large entourage.

NEARY: Well, before we go any further in this discussion about music, I think we need to listen to a little music...


NEARY: ...so that our listeners will have a sense of your own music and what it sounds like. So this is a piece from your new album called "A Love is Born." We're going to listen to a little bit of it.


NEARY: So, Chad, tell me about your music. You've had quite an interesting musical journey.


NEARY: And I called you a classical musician before, but this is really not quite classical. Describe your music for us.

LAWSON: You know, with this album, I'm trying to coin the phrase alternative classical, really, because it's not really Chopin but it's not Philip Glass or, you know, going into the avant-garde realm. It's more just kind of a pseudo-classical or neoclassical style of music. And it really - it has moments of Chopin, which I'm very influenced by, but I almost wanted to make it a little bit more - what is the word that I'm looking for - kind of across the board to where you did not have to be a fan of, you know, a certain period of classical style, you know, to appreciate it.

NEARY: And I can hear the jazz influence in there too.

LAWSON: Very much so, very much so. I was brought up jazz. I first started playing piano after watching Sha-Na-Na as kid on television. So that's really where it all kind of came about. And then, you know, I studied classically all growing up. And I applied at Peabody Conservatory. I wanted to go that route. And then really got bit by the jazz bug and then formed a jazz trio, and it was really successful. Actually, we charted really well with the jazz albums that we released on Summit Records. And then after a while, I just - I kind of wanted to get back to myself as far as my own writing was concerned.

With jazz, there's a certain element of entertainment, and I kind of wanted to lose that a little bit. I kind of wanted to go back to the root and tell a story. And I didn't feel like I can really do that with jazz because there is a sense of - when you're performing jazz, there's this - you're not really thinking about the audience - me personally, me personally - not thinking about the audience as far as trying to connect with. It was almost like this is very entertaining. We're trying to outplay each other. We're trying to do this and that. Whereas for the solo piano material, you know, it really is about truly writing the story and speaking from the heart.

You know, the emails that I get almost on a daily basis are, you know, I'm going through a very difficult time in my life right now. And I go home and I lay on the floor and I listen to your music, and I totally just, you know, it just takes me away from everything that I'm going through. And I never receive those emails when I was doing the jazz records. And so there really is a huge effect in me. So right now, where I am at this stage in life, I want to continue that.

NEARY: So this - your music would be geared toward a real niche audience, I would think. OK. So how have you used the Internet? I mean, how do you get your music out there so that people are aware of it and are listening to it? And how do you use the Internet and everything that's out there to do that?

LAWSON: Absolutely. My mindset is, you know, you record an album and then you don't touch an instrument for the next six to eight weeks, really, because it all is research and it's basically, you know, finding avenues on Twitter, finding avenues on Facebook, and any kind of social media. But, really, the other side of the coin is finding music supervisors, as far as those who handle the music in commercials or in films or in television. And that's really been pretty successful for me. And that's something that I would rather go after more than anything.

I mean, you look at, what, Moby's album "Play" when that first thing came out. I mean, I don't think there was a commercial on television that did not have that album. And so when you see something like that, when you see a commercial and like who is that song, I've got to figure out who this is - or that film or what have you, that's really where my focus has been as far as trying to branch out and build a new audience because what happens is when they see - let's say, OK there's a new movie out, the Clinton documentary, and I was fortunate enough to have a piece in there.

And the part of the film where that piece comes to play is a very pivotal moment in the film. And so when you're watching that film and you hear this music, you will connect with that and you will remember that part because that music kind of creates that bedding, not only where the story is, but also as far as what your emotionally going through when you see this part of the film. So it's really trying to connect and tell the story through your music with an audience that otherwise may not have ever heard you before.

NEARY: (Unintelligible) I usually cover books and publishing for NPR and I, you know, in publishing now, of course, authors have many ways to self-publish, to get their books out there, whether it's just their family buying it. Sometimes it is just family and friends who are buying it, but sometimes a book really takes off and becomes a bestseller. Sometimes it goes on to get a contract with a regular publishing company. Is there a similar track going on with music? I mean, do you, in a way, self-publish your own music somehow?

LAWSON: Absolutely.

NEARY: And then how do you get the attention to it?

LAWSON: Well, and that's - the second part is the difficult part.

NEARY: Yeah.

LAWSON: So, you know, the ability to go and record and make something and put it up on iTunes or Amazon or what have you is incredibly easy. Now, the way of being found on iTunes or what have you, that is the difficult part.

NEARY: Right. OK.

LAWSON: That is the difficult part. So whereas, you know, we do have the ease of being able to release material. Now, it's finding, OK, what do I need to do to attract people? How do I find bloggers? You know, how do I find people that are interested in this genre of music that I'm doing and then have them write about me or have them listen to me? So you're constantly looking for that six degrees of separation. Like, OK - I am desperately trying to be chosen for iTunes because (unintelligible) because as far as (unintelligible) goes. And so, you know, each morning, I get up at 4:30 and I start my day.

Who can I connect with? Who do I know that is eventually going to lead me to a certain point? So you write down these goals of, like, this is what I want to accomplish, and you just really, truly start networking. And for a lot of musicians it's real - that's a really difficult task for them because they really want to go - at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with music.

NEARY: Right, exactly.

LAWSON: It doesn't. It really truly doesn't. And that is the hardest hurdle for any musician to jump over.

NEARY: But would you hire a publicist?

LAWSON: You can if you have the budget.

NEARY: Yeah.

LAWSON: But if you don't have the budget - and the thing is no one is going to do it for you, even if you do have a publicist. That publicist is not - does not have the elbow grease, the blood, sweat and tears into your own arts that you do.

And so you find yourself wanting to go further. There was an instance a couple of days ago that I was trying to prepare and connect and put something together. And a lot of things kind of fell through the cracks. And it's because I kind of let someone take over and do it.

And the entire time I'm just like, I should have never done that. I know that had I done it myself, it would have gotten done. And so it's very hard to let go and to allow someone to do that because no one's going to work on your material as much as you are.

NEARY: We are talking with musician Chad Lawson and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we're going to take a call now. We're going to go to Shawn(ph), calling from Stockton, California. Hi, Shawn.

SHAWN: Hello.

NEARY: Go ahead.

SHAWN: Well, I wan to talk about - I played in a local band, and we kind are like the caller, or like your guest there. We have a real niche crowd as well. And we used the Internet basically just to get our music heard through in the free channel available. So, you know, Myspace, Twitter, Facebook.

And we've also used SoundClouds quite a bit. We recorded in a local studio, here, you know, record this free. They like our music and kind of did a pro bono to help us out. And because of that we're able to put our music up on the Internet through SoundCloud for free and post it to all these social media avenues to really ask people and other people to help spread our music. And it's - it helped us to land more gigs and things like that.

NEARY: All right. Well, thanks so much for your call, Shawn.

SHAWN: No problem.

LAWSON: SoundCloud is tremendous. SoundCloud is really a wonderful way. I had someone send me a tweet saying, you know, I just found you on SoundCloud, can you explain what it is?

And basically, it's a platform to put out, you know, if it's something that you're working on or an entire album. And it's very easy to - just go to the website and find people.

And I found some of my favorite artists. I really enjoy - they're beginning to put, you know, material that they have never released up there. And SoundCloud is a really tremendous website and very easy to share, very easy to integrate into Twitter, into Facebook. It's a wonderful and free tool. You can kind of upgrade as far as size is concern. But I think they give, you know, a certain allotted amount of space to use for free at the beginning. And it's a wonderful tool, really great tool.

NEARY: All right. Let's go to Matt. And Matt is calling from Sacramento, California. Hi, Matt.

MATT: Hi. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good. Go ahead.

MATT: Well, I want to share that I am - I start doing music online and selling stuff online through iTunes a few years back. And somebody posted one of my songs - I do like reggae music and stuff. And somebody posted one of my songs to YouTube and it got over - it's up to like four million views now. And I'm maybe 60 bucks a month to, like, I guaranty, like that maybe five to six hundred dollars in sales a month, just through the iTunes and Spotify and things like that alone.

NEARY: So you can actually make some money?


MATT: I'm surprised. Yeah, I was doing it for fun. And I love doing music and doing reggae music and things like that. And I just thought I'll go by (unintelligible) and it just took off. All the sudden I get all these sales in Belgium, in France all day. And I can't believe it.

NEARY: All right. Well, glad to hear that you're having good luck with that, Matt. And I hope you have more good luck in the future. Thanks so much for calling us.

MATT: Thank you.

LAWSON: And to Matt's point, to the caller's point, I have so many friends who have recorded music and it's doing nothing but sitting on a shelf. And if I could just sit in down - and I would turn blue in the face, the amount of times I've said this: of regardless if you think someone is going to buy it, put it out there. It's very affordable to do. It's very easy to do.

And as with this caller Matt, you see exactly what happened. It was completely unintentional almost to wear something, just took and ran with it. So, I mean, if you have music, what good is it going to do if you've already produced something and it's sitting on a shelf when it's so easy to put out there in space.

NEARY: Yeah. Let's see if we can get one more call. And Gary, calling from South Lake City, Utah. Hi, Gary.

GARY: Hello.

NEARY: Go ahead.

GARY: Hi. So I got involved with the website back when Myspace was still a big deal. It's called the the gzp.com. And it's kind of like SoundCloud or kind of like ReverbNation, so it's got press kits. We've developed really cool press kits. And so we - the big thing about the website is that we have a whole community of people that it's kind of this worldwide community of electronic computer-based musicians.

And so we're able to collaborate, we're able to talk to each other and support each other even though, you know, one of my friends, Elinski(ph) is in Australia, and everyone's in Scotland, and, you know, and then with the website - well, it's not big and it doesn't cost any money and we're able to, you know, do this work. Like he was talking earlier about having a publicist and that he's - a publicist is not going to do all that work for you. And so this is a way to - the community and website is just a way to help musicians, you know, who don't know - like how do I can play music, what do I do now.

NEARY: All right. Well, Gary, thanks so much. Thanks so much for calling us. And again, building community, that's another interesting way that you can use the Internet as a musician. But I want to ask you, Chad, before we run out of time. You've got a new album. How can people hear it? How can people listen to it?

LAWSON: It is everywhere. It is...


LAWSON: I have tried to...

NEARY: It's in the air.


LAWSON: I have tried to make sure it is everywhere. It is everywhere. It's anywhere from Spotify to iTunes, CD Baby to Amazon. And that's another thing as an artist, as you have to put yourself out there everywhere, absolutely everywhere. So you can go to my website in there - the links there, to the new album, "The Space Between." And I just hope you go and listen to it and enjoy it.

NEARY: And "The Space Between" is available now. So thanks so much for joining us, Chad, here in Studio 42. It's been fun.

LAWSON: Thank you very much, Lynn. It's been a pleasure.

NEARY: Tomorrow, life interrupted. Columnist Suleika Jaouad talks about how two years after leukemia diagnosis, she is finally getting a taste of freedom. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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