If you’ve been a reader of this blog (or a TuneCore Artist) for a little while, you may be familiar with singer/songwriter Ron Pope’s impressive independent music career. To catch you up, Ron went from performing his songs as a busker in New York City subways to touring the world over several years without the help of a label. He’s been a champion of adapting to the trend of streaming music and implementing the tools available to him to garner a fan base that spans continents.
Well, it would appear that he has no plans to slow down! Earlier this year, Pope released his latest full length album with a new artist collective backing him up, and took them all back on the road with him. From the time they began recording through their tour, the filming of the upcoming documentary One Way Ticket was underway. The film captures Pope’s goal of becoming a household name while remaining a completely independent artist.
More than just a tour documentary, One Way Ticket aims to present an artist who is control of every facet of his career, and the hurdles in place for music creators when it comes to truly ‘breaking’ in the age of the Internet.
One Way Ticket premiers June 29th in Brooklyn at the Nitehawk Theater, and if you’re in the area you can grab tickets to it here. TuneCore is proud to have been a part of Ron’s exciting career for almost a decade, and we caught up with him to discuss the documentary, his new album, and of course, the digital music landscape:
Begin by telling us a bit about the formation of your new band.
Ron Pope: The band came together very organically. All the guys I’m working with on this project are very busy New York session players; they’re my first-call guys and have been for years, but they’re always busy. It was a miracle to get them all together for a tour. Originally, our plan was for them to play as my backing band and then to go back to life as usual. No one even considered “starting a band” at first; we were just doing a tour with them as my backing band.
We went to Georgia and moved into a lake house for a few weeks to begin rehearsing and recording; while we were there, it just started becoming apparent that we were becoming a band in the most basic sense of the word. Everyone was sharing input and helping to shape the music and getting along insanely well. It was all a happy accident!
In what ways does the music you’re creating with the new band differ most from your previous solo stuff?
At the end of the day, all of my records have been made up of songs I’ve written by myself, (or with friends), and then produced on my own, (or with friends), utilizing various musicians to back me up. In that way, whatever the album cover says is fairly inconsequential; my first album, when I was “in a band”, (Ron Pope & The District), is no different than Daylight or the newest album. They’re chapters in the same book.
What kind of reaction did you get from longstanding fans?
I’ve been blessed with fans who are willing to follow me as I shift gears from one sonic world to the next. When I released Calling Off The Dogs in 2014, with all its crazy orchestrations and wild compositions, they were just as receptive as they were to Atlanta or Ron Pope & The Nighthawks, (which are much more organic sounding recordings).
At the end of the day, the production and all the arrangement stuff is just window dressing; the songs create the context, and my fans seem to realize that better than most.
After plenty of recording and touring as a solo artist, what inspired you to reach out to Kelly Teacher about filming your ventures surrounding the creation of this album and the tour?
Although my name has always been on the marquee, calling me a “solo artist” at any point is something of a misnomer. I have always recorded albums that feature full bands and have also always toured fronting an ensemble.
I knew that this tour was going to be special and when Ted Young, (who worked on this project with me), suggested that we have someone document it, I thought it might be an adventure. In the beginning, neither Kelly nor any of us knew exactly what the movie would be about; the point of our story came into focus as we moved forward together. I hate to keep using this term, but it was very organic.
At what point did this film shift from being a story about an artist and his band to a commentary on the state of the music industry?
All of that happened naturally. We went into this journey hoping to capture our travels and the making of this record; we ended up telling a much more complex story. That started with talks around the breakfast table and conversations over smores at the lake house.
Kelly just kept capturing things that seemed to point towards something more significant than just a concert film or a “band makes a record and goes on tour” movie.
Do you feel you’ve gained new insight on ‘making it’ as an indie artist when reflecting on your recording/touring with the band vs. your previous experiences?
Every day, I find myself learning more and more about how to keep progressing as an artist and a businessperson. Living at the intersection of art and commerce can be a daunting experience, but the deeper you dive into the process, the more adept you becoming at navigating it all.
Are there any particular obstacles that you feel have gone from ‘terrifying’ to ‘doable’ for indie artists over the past few years?
I have always been of the mindset that anything is possible if you’re hard working and creative enough. As Kanye said, “Never gave in, never gave up, I’m the only thing I’m afraid of.”
It’s on YOU to get yourself where you want to go. There is very little about this business I’ve ever found “terrifying.” We’re not in a race against the clock to try to cure a terminal disease; we’re adults who get to make up stories, stay up late, and make noise.
I think it is important to maintain perspective; even when music isn’t your job, if you want it to be, you have to treat it like it is and do hard, focused work; but beyond that, you can’t let it drive you crazy. The business is complex and multifaceted; control what you can control and don’t sweat the bullshit, (because God knows you’ll have to wade through mountains of that to get where you’re going in this game).
What do you feel indie artists who watch One-Way Ticket will be able to take away from the film?
I think the movie really gives people a sense of how hard we work every day. My career didn’t come out of nowhere; we spent a long time working very hard to get to this point and continue with that work each and every day.
That is probably the most important lesson a young artist can take from the movie; if you want it, outwork your peers and go get it.
It’s been awhile since we’ve talked to you about streaming – which has been a big part of your career. Any thoughts on the progress that’s been made in the past two years?
The emotional tone within the industry in regard to streaming has shifted significantly in the last couple of years, obviously. In 2014, I felt like I was part of a very small minority of artists who were excited about the possibilities that streaming offered. In that era, we saw marquee artists like Taylor Swift taking their music off of Spotify in protest.
Now, we see Ms. Swift starring in advertisements for Apple Music; clearly, the prevailing winds have shifted. I think that the conventional music business has finally come around to the idea that steaming affords them real value.
That’s been the biggest shift in my mind; less people are crying that streaming is causing the sky to fall and instead, those people are trying to find ways to generate revenue via these platforms that aren’t going to disappear any time soon.