A long-time good friend of mine recently asked me why, over the twelve years I’ve owned and operated Blue Night Records (BNR), I’ve never asked him to join the ranks of BNR recording artists? He’s an above-average singer, a pretty talented musician, and has a boatload of stage presence. Here are the reasons his dream (and it really was one) never came true:
Talent. I used to think if I played guitar at least six hours per day I could be as good as John Carlini, Dan Crary, Jim Hurst, Jeff Jenkins, Uwe Kruger, or Scott Nygaard. That was when I was in my 40s. Now, in my (insert advanced age here), I realize that these guys have way more than chops. They have the good sense to know when to use them and, more importantly, when not to use them. They also have something special --- let’s call it talent. It’s something extra, and it goes beyond playing hot licks. Part of it may be physical (hand and arm shape, for example), but an equally important part is confidence. I truly believe from my experience in the recording studio with A-list musicians that there is something special about our musical heros. They have it; most of us don’t. That doesn’t mean we can’t have just as much fun as they do when we play music. It does mean, though, that most of us will never see our names on CD covers --- or even in the credits on the back.
Intelligence. In selecting potential employees, many sophisticated employers use devices to measure the extent to which candidates can “think on their feet.” It’s a very specific type of intelligence, which seems to have no connection with the skills that enhance high scores on “achievement” or “intelligence” tests. Consider Django Reinhardt for example. He was illiterate, and he couldn’t read music either. When a formally trained musician asked Django what key he wanted to play in, or if he knew a particular tune, Django would reportedly say something like, “Just start it off, and I’ll jump in.” Not only did he jump in, he nailed it. A-list musicians can do that. They have minds quick enough to play brilliant solos in a tune after hearing it only one time through.
Creativity. The musicians you hear on the radio and the internet generally don’t limit their playing to what they’ve memorized; they play whatever comes into their heads. I once asked noted jazz guitarist John Carlini what he thinks about when he’s playing a solo. He answered: “Well, hopefully, nothing.” It made me think that these luminaries focus on what comes to mind as they listen to the other players, and they don’t let themselves get bogged down by the mechanics of playing the notes. Watch accomplished jazz musicians on stage. After one plays a particularly creative solo that still reflects part of the tune’s melody, you might hear some of the others say “yeah.” That one word speaks volumes. It means: “Wow, that solo was brilliant --- it took the rest of us to a place within the tune that we hadn’t thought of going to ourselves.”
Availability. When I consider adding an artist to the BNR family, I want to make sure he or she is available to tour and willing to hit the road --- cheerfully. We know from our geographical research that live concerts sell CDs and downloads, and that music consumers like to see and hear the artists live. Touring also helps our radio promotion efforts. If an artist is coming to your city, it gives your local radio programmers reason to put BNR tracks into their playlists. That, in turn, helps your local music venues make a profit (this is not a bad word), it helps fans learn about the upcoming concert, and it helps artists build and/or enhance their national reputations. There are lots of accomplished, talented musicians out there, but if they have full-time jobs or other obligations that take up an inordinate amount of their time, they are simply not attractive additions to a record label’s roster of artists.
Humility. Surprised? I don’t know about you, but I’m turned off by prima donnas (i.e., those who are vain and tempermental). Here at BNR, we’re blessed with a roster of artists who are real people, not nose-in-the-air “celebrities.” Don’t get me wrong, they’re all accomplished, famous people in the acoustic music community. But they don’t act like it. They’re all friendly, down-to-earth folks who look out for one another as much as they do for themselves.
Money. I saved the most controversial criterion for last, as I know some of you are critical of the profit motive. After all, some might say, this is music. It should be free. It should flow from the heart of the artists to the hearts of the listeners --- without regard for monetary revenue. While it’s true that there are psychic rewards to what we do at BNR, it costs anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 to record, release and publicize a good “album.” That’s probably the main reason I didn’t hug my good musician friend and say, "Sure, man, I’ll book some studio time for you next week!"
We’re going to keep releasing new recordings because we love to do it. We also hope that we’re contributing to the legacy of acoustic jazz and American roots music. And I know from some of the letters we’ve gotten that our releases have helped people get through some pretty tough times. I’m the first to acknowledge that those rewards are more special than monetary revenue streams could ever be.
Steven Briggs, President
Blue Night Records
© 1997- Blue Night Records ~ www.BlueNightRecords.com ~