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The 99% Episode #10 With 78RPM

New York City-bred, 78RPM is an alternative pop-rock band shaking up expectations. Members J Dub, GC, and Richie Cheeks come from all walks of the music industry, bringing together their songwriting and producing talent. 78RPM shares a combination of anthem-like songs, in-your-face lyrics, and emotional depth. The hit single “Best Friend to Enemy” topped the charts in The FMQB Top 30. The band has worked countlessly to perfect other artists like J-Lo and the Wu Tang Clan. Now, they produce an unapologetic version of themselves through their music.

Listen To 78RPM Percent Podcast Interview Below:

[00:00] Steereo:

Welcome to the 99% Podcast, 78rpm. Is this your full-time project, or is this a new project?

78RPM:

78rpm is a hybrid project that wasn’t actually meant to be a band. We are professional songwriters and producers, and we write, work with and produce for tons of artists and things for television and commercials and T.V. A lot of times we get sent projects by the labels that we work on. We decided that we just wanted to be creative again and work on music that meant something to us, which is kind of why we all got into the business. We made a New Year’s resolution that on Fridays, if we didn’t have any clients in town or any important deadlines, we would just write for fun again. We wrote a few songs over the course of the winter with the intent of selling them, or licensing them to other bands, and we gave them to our manager who started showing them around. We sort of got unsolicited record deals if we would basically agree to become a band. It really started as a fun outlet for us, and then it just kind of kept growing. Another partner we write with, my buddy Andre Fennell, he’s a reggae artist and a writer. He’s performed with Shaggy and J Lo and written tracks for Pitbull, and he wanted to get involved as well. When he did, it opened different doors because he added such an interesting musician. So we started there and kind of became a trio and just started working on songs together.

Steereo:

How was that dynamic? I’m a solo artist so I only have to deal with myself. What is the dynamic like to work with two other creative beings who have a vision, and I’m sure an ego in some shape or form, or a direction for the band. How is it working as a band versus when you just sit down to write for yourself or one of the artists you work with?

78RPM:

Working with Rich and Andre, they both are just complete talents. We also have very different backgrounds in music. I came up as a jazz musician and sung classical opera for many years, and then transitioned and was a recording engineer in classical and jazz music for a long time. Then Rich came up as the son of a high school band teacher. He plays every instrument you could name, which is an amazing person to have in a studio. He went more to the rock side, and then G.C. was originally from Jamaica and he grew up with music. He comes from reggae roots, the hip hop, R&B world, so our backgrounds are so different that it’s very additive. We think of parts and of melodies and harmonies and things that we add to the songs, and one of them will add something that I couldn’t think of. We’re working with a lot of different artists so a lot of times one of us will start a song and we’ll send it to the other guys and they’ll add parts to it or come up with things. I might have a lyric idea and I’ll email them and say hey I’m looking for something based on these lyrics and they’ll send me a guitar part or a drum thing that one of them has created.

Each song goes on a different journey and it’s kind of amazing. Workflow wise, all three of us are producers and all three of us have our own studios, so in this context we can get things done very quickly. It all kind of just happened. I spent years engineering, Rich spent years arranging and writing songs for TV and film, so we just have different skills. He is a much better guitar player than I am, but I know the insides and outs of every guitar amp and microphone that we have here. So anything I can sing, I can turn to him and he can play it in one or two takes. It’s kind of amazing. Now that he’s based out of L.A., a lot of times I’ll start a song or an idea, I’ll email it to him, and we’ll get on Skype, on email or phone, I’ll tell him what I’m thinking, he’ll send parts back to me, I’ll cut them up and then I’ll email those to G.C. and ask him to add stuff. It’s a really interesting process we’ve developed for our music.

Steereo:

From a songwriter perspective and a production perspective, I hate to use the word factory line, but that collective of different creatives coming together, whether you’re here, in Ireland, New York, Tokyo, the technology now allows you to create at a very high speed from anywhere in the world, which is a blessing. I’m loving the whole new way of producing and coming up with songs and lyrics. When you add people into the mix, that’s where the creative power comes from. They think of things you would’ve never thought about. It’s opened so many opportunities for us. We even write as a team for other artists and do production together for other bands and albums. The fact that we can work so seamlessly and so quickly. Like, I’ll work in the studio till 10:00 pm and then email Rich the file and say hey can you add some bass guitar, and I’m struggling with this section, can you try to fill in the blank here? By the time I get to the studio the next morning, he’ll have uploaded files to me. It may not even be exactly what I heard in my head, but sometimes it’s better. It’s very interesting, the way that happens. The two of them happened to be in L.A. at the same time a couple of months ago; they started a song that we are thinking about releasing soon. We just finished it last week. They sent it to me and I just lined it with guitar and vocals here in New York. It allows us to keep working together, regardless of distance.

78RPM Via Facebook

Steereo:

There was a tagline I read about you guys about your sound and it was a huge statement. It said, “Muse meets the Weekend with a splash of Queen and a sprinkle of Gym Class Heroes”. That’s a big tagline! So you guys are clearly doing something right. When I spoke to the CEO of Steereo, she said she loves you so you definitely have a new fan in her. Another question I have is about your direction. Steereo is obviously a platform for new music, new artists, emerging talent, and that type of thing. From your experience, what do you feel the benefits and drawbacks are of being an independent artist in today’s climate?

78RPM:

I work with so many bands who are signed by everything from large indies to small indies, to major labels, and I work with lots of bands that are independent. With the evolution of Steereo and Spotify and Pandora and YouTube, the landscape is changed. People can build their own audience, but it still doesn’t crack radio in many ways. As an independent artist, you can build a whole community. If you are really good at social media, that is the key to breaking through in today’s world as an independent artist. A lot of times, when I meet with major labels about an artist or project we’re working on, the first thing they ask is how many instagram followers they have. What’s their Twitter following, how many likes do they have on Facebook? It’s all about social media. The number one metric that I’ve seen over the last year is Spotify plays. It has become the first thing everyone looks at. I have had a couple different artists that I work with, break songs really well on Spotify which has kind of become the goal for indie artists. Even working with Spotify and within Spotify, that’s it’s own platform. You really do have to have music that works within that platform and within you genre.

Steereo:

The goal of what we’re trying to do at Steereo, for it to become a similar type of platform but for the audience to have the choice. When you talk about mainstream radio, you’re going to hear the same 10 songs repeated 10 times throughout the day. Obviously, the nature of Steereo is to let the rideshare user actually dictate what they want to listen to. Based on the data, we know, ultimately, what’s working for people and what’s not. Again, as an artist myself, I think social media doesn’t give an indication of how talented someone actually is because you can go to a live show and see the greatest band in the world, and they could have 300 followers because they’re not tuned into social media in any shape or form. They’re just creative people who like to stand on stage and sing their hearts out. I don’t know what your view on that is.

78RPM:

I couldn’t agree more, it just means you’re good at social media. I know a couple of bands who have blown up, and I have a friend who is one of the most talented songwriters I know and has always had his finger on the pulse. Now he has a band called Lovely the Band. For six weeks they had the #1 alt rock song on Billboard, and that was a completely independent project and they worked their butts off, promoting that song and pushing it. They got signed to a big indie, because of all the success they had on Spotify, but they did a lot of work. They just kept pushing the track and it’s a great song. It can be done but he does understand social media and he’s really good at it. In that case, it’s a great artist working social media and he has a great song out. To your point, I know some incredibly artists in New York, who are also fantastic waiters. They are more talented than so many people on the radio, but getting their music out is a very difficult task. The game has changed a bit, but I don’t know that it’s necessarily easily. I know it’s always been difficult as an artist to get music out. Maybe it’s a little bit easier today because there’s more than just radio, and radio is becoming less important in many ways. But it takes a lot of work to become a great musician, to be a good songwriter, to make a great recording, and then it takes 10 times more work to get the song out there.

Watch The Lyric Video for “Dynamite” by 78RPM


Steereo:

I think it is easier to release music, but it’s noisier out there in the market. It’s what you are releasing. I think a lot of new artists experience that build up and anticipation of releasing their first single or E.P. and then somewhat have a bigger experience, because where do you put it and where does it go. If the social media is not that strong, when you put it out there it will just sit out there.

78RPM:

It’s weird how there’s a life cycle. We put an E.P. out last June and it did well; the songs got played on the radio, we got some licensing from it, and one of the tracks that we never really pushed just kind of sat on Spotify. Then somebody put it on a playlist, then someone else put it on a playlist, then it got added to a couple a big playlists, and in the last two months it’s got over half a million plays. We haven’t done anything. Somebody found it, liked it and started playing it. We put a new song out and that song has like 50,000 plays in the first three weeks. We haven’t don’t any marketing or put money into PR. Some people that might have already followed up, liked it and maybe put it on a playlist and it just kind of took off. I don’t always know there is a rhyme or a reason to how things work either. It’s finding the audience that really likes your stuff, and try to keep them engaged. I think it’s a really difficult decision as to how to release a song, and how often to release music, a conversation I have with artists all the time. When you put a song out are you going to have any marketing behind it? Are you going to do a video for it, how are you going to support the song? When you talk with Spotify, for instance, they want to know your whole plan. They want to know, do you have a PR company behind this? Are you on tour, are you promoting it? What’s the video? They want to see the whole picture before they’ll put their weight behind anything.

Steereo:

So on that note, fans listening might want to get into the music industry, or for independent artists who are listening to this, what is your one piece of advice to them? Is there one big lesson you learned along the way that you can impart on the listeners today?

78RPM:

The artists that I’ve seen be successful in this environment really have a plan. I know that sounds obvious, but I meet with people to work on their records all the time. A lot of times I’ll ask them, “if you’re going to release this song, is your goal to make money on the song, or is it to do it for arts sake?” Because those are two different conversations. I’ll have artists say, “I don’t care about being on radio, this is how I want the song.” That’s a very freeing thing because we can do whatever we want with the music. If you want to make a song that’s going to be commercially successful and reach a wider audience, you have to have a plan. I’ll say, “Okay, if you hear your song on radio, what station will play your song? What times will they play your song? If they’re going to play your song, what 10 songs will it fit into a playlist with?” People always have to stop and think. A lot of times before starting on a song I’ll ask someone to make a Spotify playlist to show where they think the song is going to fit. Depending on the artist and the mixes and the music they put on that playlist, that’s how we approach the song. If you say you want to be on a playlist with Drake, that’s very different than being on a playlist with Katy Perry and Bishop Briggs. As an engineer, producer and writer, I need to know from the starting point, what’s our ending point? My direction. To me, that starts right from the beginning. I did a project with an artist last year who had a really successful first E.P., but wanted to go further and do a little bit more of a pop sound on her 2nd E.P. We did everything from a look book of what she would look like on stage, down to her makeup, and really putting a whole plan around it. Then producing the music to reach that goal.

Steereo:

It sounds like you’re specifically talking about how the brand of the artist looks.

78RPM:

Yeah, I think it all has to work together. I think there has to be a story of the artist that comes through in the music, and their experiences and their life that people want to hear about so they feel a connection. I think the videos and treatments and pictures and everything you do that go with the song, I think it’s really important. For our songs, we found an artist in South America who did album artwork for one of our clients and we just fell in love with her artwork. We had her create an original piece of art for each song, that went with the song. It was a little bit about promoting the album because with downloads you get the artwork, and she did some incredible paintings. It’s also setting the tone, and it’s amazing to see what a visual artist would make; we would just give her the lyrics of the song and she would make a piece of art based on it. It’s incredible to me what a visual artist can make out of music. It did inspire the look of the band in a lot of ways. I just think there needs to be a business plan. I know you don’t want to hear that when you’re creating art, but if your goal is to sell the art and make money at it, like in anything, you really need to have all the pieces and think about them. You’re going to need to spend money on marketing and PR. So how are you going to save that money? Whatever the E.P. costs to make, I think you need to allocate as much money for marketing it.

Steereo:

I think that’s incredible advice. I lot of people try to do it without a budget, which I believe can only take you so far. I’m not saying it’s not possible to create that without it, but there’s only so far it can take you without bringing in a PR company or having someone to promote your records to the radio.

78RPM:

We’re working with a great artist right now and we sat down to have a business meeting with them and said, “Okay, this is how much it’s going to cost to record, mix and master the record. This is how much money we’re going to allocate for you to buy clothes to do photoshoots. This is how much money we think it’ll take to do one lyric video that we’ll try to do on the cheap, and one video that we’re going to try to do like a full video with a story board. Then how much money do you think we’ll need to hire a PR company to help promote it? If you want to attempt to break radio a bit, this is how much money it’ll take to go into these markets, or these markets.” It’s a business. It’s why they call it the music business. We all want to create, but there’s a big difference between creating and selling. That’s what I learned the most working with 78, because I’m normally just the creative. People hire me to write and produce for them, then I hand it off to the record label. In many cases I’ve been very frustrated with how it’s been handled outside, but this is the first time I’ve had to do so many pieces, which is a struggle. I haven’t had to deal with distribution like this before. I haven’t had to do this much planning and sales, and represent myself. I’ve always found it’s a lot easier to represent other people. So you’re always pushing your own project, and it’s a lot harder in some ways. It’s easier for me to record a song for you, then take it around and show people your song. When it’s for yourself it feels different. In some ways good, in some ways it’s harder. You feel like you’re selling yourself a little bit, which is a different animal.

Steereo:

If you were to fill in the blank, music to you is what? Why did you choose it as a profession and why do you continue to do it as a profession?

78RPM:

Music is what made me different. Even in school, music helped me find my place. I was always sort of good at sports but never good enough to become a professional athlete. I actually took music a lot more seriously and started singing when I was about 16. When I did, it felt right. It’s opened up all kinds of doors for me, for college and professional. I don’t know what else I would want to do. We were talking about winning the lottery and asked if you would still do what you do every day if you won the lottery? I said yes, absolutely. I might choose to do it in a few more exotic locations, but I still want to work with people, creating songs every day. Sitting in a room with people and writing songs and being able to help people take complex emotions and difficult parts of their lives or happy parts of their lives, put that to music and help people create art out of it, that inspires and uplifts other people. It’s very fulfilling. It’s also really hard with lots of long hours, like it’s a beautiful day in New York and I’m sitting in a windowless studio.

Steereo:

I think people sometimes mistake it for the glamorous life. I know that studio life very well.

78RPM:

People don’t realize the hundreds, if not thousands of hours that go into creating songs and E.P.s and albums. From the writing to the instrumentation to the arrangement, to the recording, layering, editing, mixing, mashing, there’s so much that goes into putting out that final product. People don’t quite understand that it just doesn’t happen, and you’ve got to have people you trust helping you do that. When you’re a solo artist working with studios and engineers, you have to really trust them with your babies. In an odd way, it’s a little different for us because it’s what we do, but they’re still our babies. That makes it very interesting. People always ask me what mic I used in a vocal, and I have no idea sometimes. I probably had an hour between working on her song, and this guys album, and that was it. Whatever mic was standing in the room, that’s what I used. For us it’s speed. For Andre, he was on tour a lot last year so he was literally recording vocals on his laptop with a mic in his hotel room. Not even in some fancy studio. So, it’s getting the art out. Music is everything to us.

Steereo:

Well, we hope you keep doing it. You guys are awesome and I’m so glad you were able to join us today and share your story.

 

Listen “Best Friend To Enemy” by 78RPM

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Editor In Chief of The Pulse; A creative gal living in the City of Angels conquering the world with inspired writing about music.