Interview with Ari Herstand – Musician, Entrepreneur, Music Industry Friend

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Interview with Ari Herstand – Musician, Entrepreneur, Music Industry Friend

By CA Marshall

Editor | Starlight Music Chronicles

Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make it in the New Music Business, a Los Angeles based musician and the founder of Ari’s Take.

Hello Ari! Thank you for taking the time for this interview for the Indie Music Bus and Starlight Music Chronicles Spotlight platforms. Let’s start at the beginning with your music career. I had a glimpse into your ‘style’ and I have to say it is really unique with the combo of looping, trumpet, keyboard….you are very multi faceted. For first time readers finding out about you via this interview will want to know how you came about with your musical journey…..

Ari Smile LiveMy very first shows around the University of Minnesota campus were with my dorm roommate at the time who was a cellist, my floor RA, who was a beat boxer and the girl down the hall who was a singer. This was my initial “band.” We performed a bunch of shows around town like this, but they moved away or moved on and when I performed solo I missed the bigger sound we created. I had seen looping done by someone at an open mic where he looped a 12 bar blues or something and soloed on top of it, so I knew the technology existed. I went to the music store one day and asked if they had something like that. They showed me the Boss RC 20XL loop station (this was 2005). I locked myself in my room for a month and learned it. I remember my very first show where I used it. I looped about 10 guitar tracks, 4 vocal harmonies and 5 trumpet parts. People started flipping out. I knew I was onto something.

For about 10 years every show I played, I used my loop station (I’ve since upgraded to the RC 50). I played many shows with full bands as well, but there was always at least a couple songs where I looped.

Only recently am I starting to move away from looping as I start my new funk/soul band this Summer.

 

You originated from Minnesota and are now based in Los Angeles. In your opinion, how does the Los Angeles music scene differentiate from the East coast areas such as, say, New York?

I guess I can’t speak to how the LA scene compares to New York’s as I’ve never lived there, but people in LA are typically much happier and laid back than people in NYC – most likely because of the weather here. You just can’t be angry when it’s 70 and beautiful every day. And the cost of living in LA is much more reasonable. My friend Julia Price described the difference saying “New York feels like it’s all about making it. LA feels like it’s all about making things.”

I can speak to the difference in scenes from Minneapolis and LA though. In Minneapolis, all the musicians around the same age and level of success played shows together – regardless of genre. There was a ‘music scene’ in Minneapolis. LA is so massive with literally thousands of artists doing their thing that there isn’t just one ‘music scene.’ There are a bunch of sub-scenes, mostly revolving around a neighborhood or venue. Like the Hotel Cafe (Hollywood singer/songwriter focused venue) or the east side ‘scene’ – which is primarily electronic / indie rock.

What have you experienced as a Musician that gives you a clear understanding of just how ‘tough’ the industry can be at times?

One month I could be pulling in five figures and the next month I could be struggling to find five dollars.

What are some of the highlights of your musical career which also lead you to this point in time?

Ari with Ben FoldsOpening for Ben Folds in 2008 was one of the greatest moments of my life. Flawless show in front of 3,200 people supporting one of my favorite artists. I’ve had many great shows, tours and support slots, but this was a night I’ll never forget.

Playing the Hotel Cafe (in Hollywood) was a dream of mine when I lived in Minneapolis. Now I’ve played it a dozen times and have sold it out.

I learned a lot on my first big national tour supporting Ron Pope. I booked the entire thing and we played around 60 dates.

Raising $13,500 on Kickstarter back in 2011 was a pretty amazing way to make a budget for an album. The platform (or concept) didn’t even exist just 3 years prior.

Playing over 100 official university sanctioned shows on the college market illuminated an entire part of the industry most people don’t know about.

Playing in studio performances on my favorite hometown stations both in Madison (Triple M) and Minneapolis (Cities 97) were surreal experiences.

Of course launching Ari’s Take in May of 2012 propelled my career into a place I never expected.

Acting in TV shows and movies were really special experiences for me and enabled me to creatively explore other artistic mediums I had neglected for many years. I definitely see more acting in my future.

And, more recently, getting a book deal with Norton / Liveright Publishing was the culmination of everything up to this point. I was able to tell stories of all of this in the book as well as give more thorough tips to musicians on they can succeed in this crazy industry. It will be out this December.

I also read you grew up in Wisconsin – How did your experiences there lend credo to your talents as a Musician?

Well, I guess if the music programs at my elementary school (Lake Bluff Elementary in Shorewood), middle (Jefferson Middle School in Madison) and high school (Memorial High School in Madison) weren’t as strong as they were I wouldn’t be a musician today. They honed my inherent love of music into a focused craft and expertise. And the Madison radio station Triple M introduced me to some of my favorite artists.

So shortly following your college education (McNally Smith College of Music, St. Paul, MN) you began Proud Honeybee Productions (PHP – Music Production Company) which is responsible for the business aspects of Artists such as Roster McCabe. Can you tell us the story on that? How did the production company come about? Was it something you have always wanted to add to your already growing résumé?

 

Proud Honeybee Productions was a company meant to help my career and Roster McCabe’s career. Roster McCabe was one of my favorite bands in Minneapolis and we were great friends. My girlfriend and I ran PHP for about 3 years when we lived in Minneapolis, but she handled most of the day to day because I was on the road so much. I don’t do much with it anymore, but may revamp it at some point.

We read that you had your music featured on the reality TV Series ‘The Real World’ in 2006—2007. This is quite the accomplishment so soon after ones career takes off. I find that in many of the interviews I’ve had, most Artists don’t really make their mark on something big like that until the 4-8 year time frame in their career. How did you land that gig?

Yeah, I believe it happened early 2006. This was a case of being in the right place at the right time. I happened to be in the office of the president of my college radio promotions company when he got an email from the MTV music supervisor needing instrumental music. We sent over my album and they placed a song from it shortly thereafter. I didn’t even know it happened until I started getting texts from friends saying they heard it. That made me realize that TV licensing could be a thing. Since then, I believe I’ve had about 30 TV, film and commercial placements or so.

I had to smile when reading which ‘Genre’ you are in on your Social Media (facebook) titled ‘French Silk Pie and Coffee’. Tell us the story behind that – seems like you have a great sense of humor too!

Both tasty, comforting, invigorating and sweet, but too much will make you sick. Wait.

So let’s delve a little further….you also started ‘Ari’s Take’ in 2012 which is a hub of valuable information accessible to other Musicians in the industry trying to grasp a true understanding of what it takes to be ‘successful’. What do you think it means to be truly successful in the Music Industry?

Yeah, I started Ari’s Take in 2012 and have been posting a few articles a month ever since. Success is making a living that supports the kind of lifestyle you’d like to have doing what you love to do.

So why ‘Ari’s Take’? What did you feel would be the most you would like others to get out of that platform?

I had been getting so many questions from up and coming artists around the country asking basic things that I knew how to do. They were asking things like “How do I book a tour? Is this deal the local club offered fair? How do I get songs placed on TV shows? How do I promote my shows? How do I make money with my music? What are royalties?” On and on. I tried to respond to everyone, but at some point I just didn’t have the time to get back to everyone so I just wrote a bunch of articles on the most common questions I had been getting and put them up on the blog. My best friend is a graphic design artist and my brother is a web developer, so they worked together on creating the site (for the payment of hugs and beer).

I feel you view yourself as a bit of a ‘Pioneer’ in the industry offering something that was severely lacking which is: Indie Supports. Tell us more about this.

I think why so many indie artists have gravitated towards Ari’s Take is because at the time I was the only working musician talking about these kinds of things and giving the advice I was giving. There were a bunch of companies posting tips articles, but everyone knew that these companies’ primary motivation was to gain customers. My main motivation is to help musicians. And I think it shows.

What does it mean to become a ‘Patron’ on ‘Ari’s Take?

I use the Patreon platform for supporters of Ari’s Take to go one layer deeper with their support. Patrons can pay any amount they’d like per article I post. It’s less about buying something and more about supporting me continuing to post Ari’s Take articles. I really appreciate my patrons. All my Ari’s Take articles are free and these people don’t have to pay me anything, but they are choosing to for the sole purpose of supporting what I’m doing. What we’re doing. And that’s really an incredible thing.

When an Artist submits their music via your ‘Ari’s Take’ website, what do they get out of that? What is the purpose for that option?

I use Fluence for that purpose. A lot of musicians send me their music to check out. I just don’t have time to listen to everyone’s music who sends it. Fluence enables musicians to pay “curators” or influencers a per-minute amount to listen to their music and give feedback. I know if people are serious enough to pay me to listen to their music I can be serious enough to take the time to listen and offer an honest, no-holds-barred critique. Most musicians appreciate the constructive criticism, but unfortunately, as you would expect, some can’t take it.

What do you feel is a huge turn off in the Music Industry today?

Major labels.

I like to ask this question a lot because aside from the career people really want to relate to a President or CEO of a company: so tell us, what is a typical ‘day in the life’ of Ari Herstand involves?

No two days are the same. Usually wake up around 9:30, get to the gym, come back home work on emails for awhile and possibly write an article, work on a song, video or other project I have at the moment. Possibly go to an (acting) audition for a TV show or commercial. I have Skype meetings a few times a week with music companies around the world. I do a bit of consulting for musicians around the world as well via Skype. Sometimes have in person meetings around town. Most nights I’m out seeing (or playing) a show which keeps me out late – no judging on the 9:30 wake up time you 9-5ers!

Honestly my days are all over the place.

Have you ever felt like quitting what it is you do with music and/or writing?

I don’t know what quitting means. Quit and do what? Quit what? Like stop performing and/or writing music? Music isn’t just my job it’s my life. It’s not like I have a backup plan. There is no backup plan. This is my life and with all the ups and downs, I figure out how to make it work. And always will.

Where do you think the biggest challenge is for new Indie Artists trying to make their mark in the world today?

Realizing that you don’t need to get millions of plays or win a Grammy to make an impact. If you can affect even just a small group on a deep level, you have made an impact. And it’s meaningful.

Social Media: Do you feel it truly reflects an Artists talent?

Social media, songwriting, performing, singing, playing an instrument. These are all crafts. And it takes time to master these crafts. The amount of time spent on each craft determines the level of mastery one will have with their craft.

How do you feel about how Social Media has become an effective tool in getting one’s ‘Art’ out today as, say, opposed to 20-30 years ago?

Well, just the internet in general has opened up so many more opportunities and really leveled the playing field. If Kickstarter didn’t exist I wouldn’t have been able to make my last record. If YouTube didn’t exist today’s musical landscape would look very different. There would be no Justin Bieber (for better or worse), but there’d also be no Pomplamoose (no Patreon), no Post Modern Jukebox (which now tours to thousands a night and employees tons of musicians), no Gotye and thousands of other artists who broke because of their music videos or channels. If there was no Spotify we wouldn’t have Lorde and artists wouldn’t be able to tour the world as freely with as many fans showing up to their shows.

There are no longer gatekeepers necessary to give you permission to do your art or to release it. Sure, gatekeepers in some form will always exist, but the biggest difference now versus 15 years ago, is now anyone can release music into the world without anyone’s permission. Before, only labels could release music on a mass scale. Now, anyone with an internet connection can.

Tell us about one of your favorite places you have performed and why?

My favorite venues in America are the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis, Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles and Schubas in Chicago. All have impeccable sound and a great vibe inside.

Do you think a musician needs to be in Los Angeles to ‘make it’ in music?

Making it just means making a comfortable living supporting the lifestyle you’d like to have doing what you love. You can really do that from anywhere. In LA, you’re surrounded by other motivated artists all working extremely hard at their craft. That keeps you going. Back in the Midwest most of my friends have quit music and have started families. At a certain age, no matter where you are outside of LA, those pressures mount. Of course you can be the oddball of your group who is still “living the dream” but in LA, everyone respects your pursuits – no matter what stage you’re at and no matter what age you are. Everyone is kicking butt on their own in LA. It’s inspiring.

I see that there have been some pretty cool acting gigs you have also done too. Can you tell our readers about some of your favorites?

I was on the third to last episode of Mad Men. My scene only lasted about 2 minutes and was with Jon Hamm. Just the two of us. We spent about 6 hours shooting it, believe it or not. It was fun hanging out with him for the day. Great guy. And it was quite an honor to be on one of the greatest TV shows of all time. 2 Broke Girls was a fun experience for completely different reasons. It was shot in front of a live audience and it really brought me back to my theater days. That was probably the most fun I’ve had on set. Everyone there just had a great time.

More recently I shot an episode for Transparent. The cast and crew of that show are on another level. Everyone seems to know they are working for a higher purpose which really inspires everyone to bring their A game. Not only is it one of my favorite shows on TV, it was a real pleasure to be a part of the family for a few days.

Is there anything coming down the pipe as an Actor for you in the next 6 months to a year?

Transparent will come out in September. I’m in an episode of the show Aquarius which will air this Summer. Aside from that, just auditioning fairly often, so you never know!

Your album ‘Brave Enough’ is an insightful journey into your life with many personal changes in relationship and lifestyle. Can you divulge a little more about that journey?

I was in a really tough place when I wrote Brave Enough. I channeled some of the most difficult things going on in my life into my songs. I used songwriting as therapy.

Brave Enough’ is still a fairly new album and yet, I wonder: is there new material you are working on for future release? If so, when can we expect it?

I am launching a funk/soul band this year. Full horn section. Full party.

If there was one thing you could change about your experiences to date, what would that be? What would you do different?

I’ve made many mistakes, but have no regrets.

I read that you perform your music solo – is there anyone you would like to do a duet or collaboration with?

I’ve toured a lot solo, but I’ve done a ton of collaborating. And I have performed with a band frequently. I’m excited to collaborate with the very talented Nina Storey on our new funk/soul project, Brassroots District. I’d love to write/collaborate/play with Vulfpeck, Nile Rodgers, Allen Stone, Bill Withers, Emily King, Mayer Hawthorne, Dave Matthews to name a few.

You are also known for your blogging (Ari’s Take) and have had your work published on such notable platforms and articles have been featured on, Digital Music News, CD Baby, Music Connection, TuneCore, American Songwriter, and Hypebot. Can you tell us what the general theme is for those articles and why they have been so successful in reaching such prestigious platforms?

The underlying theme for all my articles is: helping musicians succeed. It’s my true motivation. And I think people see that.

On reviewing these questions I have asked so far, and in answering them, what would you say you are ‘master’ at? What has always been your ‘go to’ thing? Is it writing, performing, acting….?

I would say I’m a student, always. I help where I can, but I don’t claim to have all the answers. I will never be the best guitar player, trumpet player, actor, writer or singer. But if I can write a song that’s meaningful and effects people on a deep level, then I am accomplished. If I can write an article that helps propel an artists career, then I’m accomplished. There are benchmarks used to measure levels of success or mastery, but they’re subjective and arbitrary. Who defines mastery anyway? Some artists I consider masters, others consider hacks. And such is art.

Final question: I have been asked many times: where do you see yourself in 5 -10 years’ time? I personally feel that isn’t a fair question because it is so general-based. So let me ask you this: What are the new things you would like to try with your career or even lifestyle that you haven’t experienced yet or would like to do differently and why?

ArisTake Ari Herstand HeadshotThe exciting part about being an independent artist is that I never know what’s going to happen or where I will be in 6 months time. Had you told me 4 years ago that I would be releasing a book this year with a major publisher I would have called you crazy. I’m excited for the road ahead. I have no idea where I’ll be in 5 years or what I’ll be doing, but I know I’ll be guiding my life with love and passion. That’s the only constant that’s been there.

I see more acting in my future. I see more touring. I see more music. I see more speaking. I see more writing. I see more things I can’t see yet.


Ari Herstand is the author of How To Make it in the New Music Business, a Los Angeles based musician and the founder of Ari’s Take.

Ari Herstand | Ari’s Take

About the Author:

I am the owner at Indie Music Bus, Indie Habit, Indie Greats and Indie Music Monday and you might have guessed that I love independent music!

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