This week we’ve been highlighting the TuneCore Artists to Watch at SXSW, and now it’s time to turn the spotlight to folk singer/songwriter Jeff Black. A recognized master storyteller (and we think you’ll get that just from reading the interview below), he’s an artist not to be missed. (So don’t miss him, see him live tonight in Austin!)
How did you get started in music?
My Grandma Lotos played piano in church, my Great Grandad played guitar, as did my Uncle Lyle, who is standing on the left next to my Dad in the cover photo. My Dad played some guitar and the tenor banjo. There is a humble legacy here that started way back in the country, through the rites of dances and church socials, passed down through stories. I was told my Dad and his brother spent a good amount of time performing at barn dances around the country up in north Missouri when they were young.
What has been your experience as an independent artist throughout all the music industry’s changes?
I’m very fortunate in that the way I write songs has evolved, but hasn’t really changed from using a pencil and my journal. All around my winding little creative path is the digital shift that I for one am inspired by. Artistically, to be able to mark your own outlet and timeline keeps you alive. My experience is good because I never had a choice.
What have been some of your career defining moments?
A classic industry story where a woman, the late Nicci Mitchell, pitched a song over and over again to Waylon Jennings until he finally recorded it. She had no monetary interest, just a belief in a song and that changed my life. Sam Bush is another who has defined more than one moment by his delivery of my songs and our collaborations. Then the moments become years and the measure is very hard to document in a few sentences. If I was to sum it up, it might sound trite, but when people really started listening, that defined everything.
What are the top 3 tips you’d give an independent artist looking to grow his/her career?
#1. Write, write, write.
#2. Learn how to record yourself and/or be familiar with the difference between performing live and documenting your songs in the studio.
#3. Educate yourself about independent digital distribution, and your PRO (Performing Rights Organization), and register with Sound Exchange.
#4. Write some more.
What kind of team do you think an artist needs in order to be successful?
A solo artist can call TuneCore a huge part of their team. There is nothing you can’t do creatively as an Independent that the majors do, and your tour support budget has no shortfall.
Success is hard to measure. I believe fame and celebrity are purchased. Success is accepting the undeniable conviction to create and nurture what is native to all of us, without getting paid. Then, learning how to get paid for it.
Why’d you partner with TuneCore for distribution and publishing?
I had a grand experience with the major label world until they closed up on me—I had licensed masters for distribution, had some radio top 10’s as a writer, and had the good fortune of major publishing. I learned more about the music business than I ever intended. If you were anywhere near the fire though, you could see that if you didn’t throw a log on there yourself, it was going to go out pretty soon.
I knew that I could partner with a good platform and learn how to mark my work, take care of my copyrights and move faster than the old machinery if I could become part of the new. TuneCore was in its beginning stages and I was more than ready to cut a new road.
What can we look forward to next?
I’m starting pre-production on a new project in June, 2014 and am constantly writing. I’ve been working closely with our Blacklist community of patrons and sponsors who underwrite our production and we are looking to release some new music and a published book of lyrics and poems in 2015.