Article by Elizabeth Ramanand
Founder and executive director of Fieldhouse-Music BMG John Loeffler has teamed up with The Iridium’s general manager Grace Blake to curate and produce “Mondays at the House”, a monthly showcase that highlights and provides exposure to unsigned artists looking to make next moves in their career. Loeffler chats about the showcase as well as what speaks to him about emerging artists and the influence Soul and Motown music had on him growing up. Check out The Iridium’s interview with musician, songwriter and industry executive John Loeffler below.
Can you talk about “Mondays at the House” for anyone who may not know about it?
There is a real demand for music fans to discover new recording artists and I’m super excited to be part of this. I’m also now getting interest from other labels who may also want to get involved and start help us sponsor these nights. No other label is really doing something like BMG. Our approach is agnostic – these artists don’t have to be associated with BMG. Our goal is to give artists the exposure to people in the industry and maybe help them get to the next level in their careers regardless of the label associated.
How did you go about choosing the artists for these showcases?
People are now sending music I either through Grace [Blake] at the Iridium or through my office. I’ve also begun reaching out to influencers in my office, bands musicians and generally people I respect to forward bands they love. Then we start reaching out to artists we think are special and I guess in the end I make the final decision. I’m a songwriter and producer and I have a pretty good instinct about young talent, if Grace is really excited about somebody I defer to her. We’ve been reaching out to managers and even other labels that would like to support a certain band they love Because it’s an expensive next step to actually get an artist signed to a label, we like to showcase artists who are just hovering out there, who are really good and just need a break or final push.
What do you like about the music industry in 2018 and what do you find challenging about today’s industry?
I’m really excited about the music industry right now. What I really like is that fact that there are not rules anymore. Everything about how music is delivered is changing, how it can be monetized is changing. One of the things I really like about streaming and digital releasing, is that you can actually promote music inexpensively and get a sense if it’s engaging with an audience. You can put some music out there that you really believe in, you can release two or three singles without breaking the bank and you can begin to see if there’s real interest. If there is, then it becomes much easier to get a company like BMG to help fund taking that artist to the next level.
There’s this big pie chart that I use, there’s lots of ways where artists can be monetized or generate revenue for themselves besides live performing. For example, I have two bands right now that are doing house tours across the country. They don’t make a lot of money but they have these networks of people. If it’s a guy by himself, he can show up at someone’s home, they pay him 500-700 bucks, they give him a place to stay, he meets all the people there, they invite him back the next year, then he moves onto the next stage of building his fan base.
Suddenly besides building his personal network of music fans, he also has a documentary of the House series, new buyers for his music, and great new experiences to write about.
There’s no rules because technology is now constantly changing and evolving, and providing the new tool box for getting exposure and putting their music out there. Traditional labels become less relevant unless you’re talking about someone who’s totally mainstream and justifies two million dollars investment.
How do you think social media contributes to the success to artists today?
Well I know that most artists basically have a love/hate relationship with social media. Most of them don’t really want to constantly be updating or Tweeting their music or comments or observations. I think they see it as a pain in the ass to tell you the truth. But if you’re on the other side of the table and you’re a music company or management company you need to expand your audience and base. We are working with a band, they’ve been gigging and in the studio for five years, I can’t wait to release their record. They’re called January Jane and they’re fantastic. But they’ve never done any social media so we’re starting from scratch with that. We have to get certain numbers up there and most labels require certain thresholds now. Spotify and most streaming numbers are an obvious indication how popular a band is, but you need to have a personal social media community because labels don’t trust putting money out there for marketing and promotion unless there is something happening organically before their involvement..
So the unfortunate thing for artists is that not only do they have to write the songs, figure out who they are as performers, build their website, record the music, even do some kind of regional performing now they also have to build their social media presence. That sucks for the artists because it’s a lot of goddamn work.
Our deals with artists are always artist friendly. If you were to split revenues with our artists– the artists gets more at BMG. We think “Hey by the time they’ve gotten us, they’ve done so much work to get here.” We see ourselves as the final step to helping them get to the next level of their career but they have to do a heck of a lot of work to get to this point. We respect that.
What is it about an artist or performer that you see that sparks or appeals to the musical instinct you have?
I’m always most impressed with the honesty of the songs. Almost every performer that we’re featuring at The Iridium has to be a performer and a writer. They’re material needs to be really unique but most importantly honest. I have listened to a couple of the artists at The Iridium and I was knocked out by their world view, their perspective, their way of talking about it. One young lady that I hope to sign, she wasn’t singing about breaking up with her boyfriend or how hard it is to break into the music business she had devoted six months of her life working with an outreach program with a lot of young girls and teenagers who were struggling with lots of issues at home of abuse or poverty. She began writing from the perspective of some of the younger girls she had met. It may have been sometimes positive, some may have been sometimes sad, but on the whole she was taking a different perspective and reaching beyond herself and talking about something that had a universal feel. And something she felt strongly about.
Other artists may not have such a grand view in their lyrics but they’re writing something that’s unique to them or something that’s poetic in the way they see the world or a certain subject and I always respond to that. The glue that holds it together is the message and on top of that you need somebody who’s really comfortable performing not just singing the song. Someone like Bob Dylan’s the exception but on the whole we need damn good performers as well as writers. If the material’s not good, I don’t care how good of a singer they are, then it’s just lightweight and kind of boring. I’m attracted to an artist who has something to say as well as performing it well.
Growing up, who was an artist whose message reached you early on.
For me personally, since I’m a musician and songwriter, I happen to be smitten by hundreds of artists, I’ve just kind of absorbed it. For the last 35 years I am so grateful to be in a world where I am always meeting new writers and hearing new music. I have so many bands and artists that I love. I grew up listening to soul music actually, so I grew up listening to James Brown and Motown and artists from Stax Records – that stuff just got me completely crazy as a young kid. Nowadays, especially with the other hat that I wear with BMG part of the legacy artist signings, when I listen to a songwriter like Marc Cohn who wrote “Walking in Memphis” or John Fogerty who I’m working with on a new project, or I’m watching Roger Waters perform his new album I come away thinking “My God these guys have remained artists.” Every song they’re writing about is never frivolous, it’s always about something important and it’s done in a really unique and great way.
It’s still difficult for young artists to make a living but I am so impressed with the commitment of young artists who are busting their ass to get their music, written, produced and heard. They’re not walking around with this goal of becoming millionaires in 18 months. They’re making music because they want to be making music. That is as pure as it gets and I do believe it will pay off to those who remain dedicated to their dream.
To me I connect so much with the millennials and the younger group of writers today because it reminds me of how I felt when I came to New York a few years after the Woodstock.. I came to NY because of my love for music. I know it sounds naïve but I assumed I would figure out a way eventually to make a living doing it. And with lots of difficult and frustrating times, it did happen for me.
For 14 years, Les Paul played The Iridium every Monday night with his Trio. If he was still around and you could recreate the Les Paul Trio with Les and two other musicians who would they be? Why?
I have to think about that question. First of all, I’m not a jazz aficionado like Les Paul was. There’s some obvious choices but I have to get back to you on that! [Laughs] The only artist I can think of right a way to join Les Paul is Stanley Clarke Jr. he’s a monster, so add him in there. And maybe Macy Gray….
Is there anything else you would like to add?
My hope is, is that this [showcase] becomes more than Fieldhouse, BMG and The Iridium. I have begun reaching out to other labels and other management companies about getting more actively involved and sponsoring a networking event before the shows. Every time I’ve invited people from other companies they’re knocked out by it. The original concept is not to be finding artists for BMG. The original concept is that it’s a showcase in a fantastic club on Broadway at 51st street where artists get a chance to be heard by a lot of people.
My goal would be to just get more important and influential people to join us and enjoy the music. If we could get some other music companies to come on board as co-sponsors I would feel like we have done our job.