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The 99% Podcast Episode #24 With Marcus Alan Ward

Marcus Alan Ward is a multi-talented artist ready to take on the quest to exceed. His electrifying performances and handful of releases have landed Marcus on media publications like Pitchfork, The Fader, Spin, and Pigeons & Planes. His musical imagination has brought him to be a self-taught instrumentalist exploring Psychedelic Pop, R&B, Disco, and Funk. Marcus recently had an interview on our 99% Podcast highlighting his views from past experiences and present moments. Listen to his episode as you read along with his interview.

Listen to the 99% Podcast Interview with Marcus Alan Ward:

[00:14] Steereo:

Okay, so welcome back to the 99% Podcast. We are here with Marcus Alan Ward. Thank you for joining us today, Marcus.

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, thanks for having me.

[00:27] Steereo:

It was very interesting. This morning, while I was doing my research, I went onto your website and the first line, I was so impressed with: Marcus Alan Ward is on a musical quest to impress himself. What does that actually mean? Can you explain to me what that actually means because it made me smile and I, obviously as a musician, would somewhat know what that means but can you explain to us why you’re out to impress yourself musically?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Well, I’m an only child, first of all. Before even music was a thing, I was just doing things to occupy my time because I didn’t have brothers and sisters to play with and go outside and play football with or games. So, I would just make things in the meantime like little dioramas or build toys or just build things really. As a result of that, I picked up music after trying a bunch of other things. I’ve always had a deep relationship with myself and just being able to see what I can really pull out of myself, I think, and I had to do that to entertain myself because I was an only child. That line specifically speaks to, I think we live in an age where, and it’s been like that for a while, there’s either music that’s made for sale or music that’s just made to be listened to. I make music that I can enjoy and that I can listen to, and that’s it really.

[02:18] Steereo:

And the real question is: how impressed with yourself are you at the moment?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Very. I’m working on a new record now that we’re taking a lot of time on but I’m very impressed with it, and I guess we can talk more about that later. But no, I grew up listening to a lot of different genres and everything: house music, electronic music, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, even folk and classical and stuff like that and jazz. Yeah, I’m impressed that I can put things together with all the influences that I have. Sometimes, that can be hard even nailing down one idea when you’re into so many things. But yeah, I’m just impressed that I was able to even make a song.

[03:19] Steereo:

Again, a tough question off that back of that: if you were to pick a genre that you resonate with most, or your music resonates with most, what is that? Because I see that it’s electro-soul pioneer. Is that where you’re headed to with this new record?

Marcus Alan Ward:

No. I personally mean, my favorite genre has always been jazz so. I keep trying to get closer and closer to that. I used to worry about things like accessibility and things like that, but I’ve thrown all caution to the wind and just delved super deep into that. But yeah, I’ve always resonated the most with jazz, personally, just because that’s the first time I think that I saw a black intellectual. You know, I’m a young, black male so. That was the first time I saw something that I was like, “Wow. Holy shit. I want to be that.” You know guys like Dizzy Gillespie and John Coltrane and yeah, it was just amazing. I don’t what your background is with jazz but, most jazz musicians you meet are usually intelligent people as well and they can talk to you about a range of topics. And you know, that’s really the music that codifies everything for me as far as science and music and emotion go and stuff like that. So yeah, jazz is my favorite.

Photo by Marcus Alan Ward Via Facebook

[04:54] Steereo:

Amazing. Who on the jazz scene right now are you championing? Is there someone who we should know if we haven’t already heard about them?

[05:07]  Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, I mean I listen to a guy named Alfa Mist,. Also, Kamasi Washington. I’m sure you guys have heard of him. But he worked on a lot of Kendrick stuff. But yeah, I really love his album “The Epic” and it’s a three-hour album so it takes a while to get through. 

 Steereo:

Did you say it’s a three-hour album?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah. Yeah, it’s three hours. It’s called “The Epic”.

Steereo:

Good lord. That’s amazing. I am definitely gonna put that on after this interview.

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, Kamasi. And he worked on a lot of Kendrick stuff, so you know him and Terrence Martin I like a lot. You know, Glasper and Thundercat, those are kinda the new guys but, and Flying Lotus to a certain extent, although it’s not like straight-ahead jazz.

[06:00] Steereo:

And are you the type of person who will sit and listen to a full album?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, I’m an album artist. I’ve always said that. You’ll meet these singles artists and that’s cool too, when you’re trying to capture one moment in a three and a half minute, you knowa , certain amount of time. But no, I’m an album artist. I think album artists are the one that you remember after history. It’s like David Bowie versus T-Rex. He was like a singles guy. Mark was and then David Bowie was the albums guy, and obviously, we know who’s cemented in history for the long term.

[06:52] Steereo:

What would you say to people who say, “Well, it’s a singles market. What are you talking about?”

Marcus Alan Ward:

It is and I completely agree with you. That’s why I’m still trying to make this happen on a major level, so I’m trying to figure out the music industry just like everybody else is. And yeah, it is because Spotify and Apple Music is the new radio. I don’t know how much you wanna get into industry talk, but it is. People are formatting music now to be on playlists. And the playlists are the radio so, just like you’d have it under four minutes or three and half minutes on the radio, now they want that on playlists. Cut that intro off, and they want you to be able to get right into it so that you don’t skip to the next song when you’re being added to the playlist. There’s playlistability in songwriting now, which no, I don’t do any of that.

Steereo:

Good. Well, I think with an opening line of a bio that says, “is on a musical quest to impress himself,” I think that pretty much answers a lot of the music industry talk because the simple fact is who knows what’s right and wrong these days because people will say, “Oh, well it’s a singles industry,” yet there will be an album that transcends all of that and becomes the biggest hit of the year. So I think all bets are off when it comes to the music industry, and I think I really love that line of trying to impress yourself and kind of like no fucks given or unapologetic to who you are as an artist. And I think that’s an important message for someone who’ll be listening to this starting out in the industry as you can’t be apologetic for who you are as an artist.

[08:49] Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, and I think some people are. And like you said, when people say there’s no right and wrong, I feel I know what’s right, and I think that’s what you could get out of that line the most. I know what’s right to me.

Steereo:

For you.

Marcus Alan Ward:

I know what I want to see, right. I feel like I know what’s right, yeah.

Marcus Alan Ward via Facebook

Steereo:

Amazing.

[09:18] Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, even outside of myself, even in music, I know when I hear a song that’s made in an honest way or in a righteous way, I feel like that’s right. That’s what people should be tuned into. There’s a lot of bullshit, but I feel like I have a discerning mind to know what’s right.

Steereo:

Well, because we could stay on that topic for years, I could literally talk about that all day long. But back to you, I read you’re from Cleveland, Ohio? Are you still based there at the moment?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Based there, yeah, but I’m working on a transition out to Brooklyn in a couple months.

[10:01] Steereo:

Amazing. So why the transition to Brooklyn, and can you tell us a little bit about Cleveland and what the actual music scene is like there?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Well, Cleveland, I think it’s just a microcosm of everything else that’s going on in the country right now. The reason the why I need to get to a bigger market is just, there’s no infrastructure here. No record labels, no booking agents, no management, no major festivals and things like that. There’s no place you can really play to get discovered. Or not even discovered, but just even discovery is a lost idea, I think, that’s outdated. It’s a good place to build your chops and things like that, but if you resonate with a big audience, have a shot, at least, with that I think you should probably get out to a bigger market or focus most of your time on touring. But not to say there’s not talented artists here and things like that, but when I say it’s a microcosm, I mean any other Midwest city you find, you’ll find some rappers, some bands…

Steereo:

You’re preaching to the already converted. I’m an Irish man in Los Angeles, so I understand where you’re coming from. Alright, so for you, what was it like when you were first breaking into the music industry, because we have a lot of listeners who are obviously following Steereo as new artists and that type of thing, and obviously for your fans, to give them an insight, what was it like for you first taking your steps into the music business.

[11:50] Marcus Alan Ward:

Well, I started in bands. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, but I started playing in bands, just guitar, and then I think I did the wrong thing for a long time, for about five years with bands, as everybody does with their first projects. You just do the wrong thing for a while, and then, when I first started Marcus Alan Ward, the internet had come around and this was, I think, 2012. Yeah, the blog era was there, and yeah, I just made sure I did the right thing.

Steereo:

When you talk about the wrong thing, what is the wrong thing?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Just having no education or no sense of the business, or how to service your people best, or your fans. Writing songs, not devoting hours and hours to actually furthering the music. It’s more than just sitting in your basement and writing songs and playing at your local bar. Dedicating eight hours on every Saturday and Sunday, weekly, or three hours daily to the actual furthering of the music, so researching the blogs, researching venues and publications and things like that, getting your bio together, quality photos, connecting with other musicians in other towns and things like that. We weren’t doing any of that, we were just playing songs hoping that we could just make it out of that. That’s not really a feasible thing.

[13:28] Steereo:

And which did you have more fun doing? Just playing the songs or the self-management, the social media expert, the branding consultant, or all of the stuff that comes with modern day music?

Marcus Alan Ward:

It is fun, but the thing is, you don’t really have a choice anymore, whether it’s fun or not. In today’s age, if you’re gonna be an independent artist, you have to do that stuff. You really don’t have an option or you’re just losing, just going out and playing songs. If you don’t know about branding, or if you don’t know how to build relationships, or network and just put yourself in new spaces, you’re just falling behind at this point. Nah, I have fun. I’m still just playing the songs as well, it is about the music at the end of the day, but no, there’s a lot around it. You gotta be multifaceted as an independent artist. No Photoshop. Facebook, Instagram, things like that, and still be able to play your music at a high level. And booking and all types of stuff.

[14:36] Steereo:

So in your opinion, what’s it like being an independent artist now? So from your viewpoint, what are the benefits of staying independent, and what are the drawbacks? Because within everything that you spoke about there, there’s obviously, there are massive benefits to being in control of your release, or your image and all of that stuff, but obviously, there are drawbacks that come with being an independent artist. Do you wanna speak a little bit about that?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, independence, at least in my experience, has been all trial and error. Self-booking tours, I mean I have a booking agent now but, that’s from me laying down the groundwork and stuff. Self-booking tours, and making sure that you get your guarantees and things like that. All types of stuff. Coming out of pocket for everything. Traveling, paying band members, writing all the music. I envy the people who are able to just focus on making quality music and that’s it, but I don’t know if that era is, I mean I think that’s just gone, unless, like you said, that would be a pro of being on a label is that you have a team that can do that for you: digital marketing, booking, things like that and radio and all types of stuff.

The drawback is yeah, it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on an independent level. And you may not see a huge turnover but, of course a drawback of being on a major label would be that you may relinquish your rights or your masters or you have to take an advance that you may not recoup, ever recoup, and you’re just in a cycle of debt. People just don’t understand that labels are deader, you might be better off borrowing money from a bank and doing it that way. You’d have a better payment plan, you at least know where the money is going and things like that.

Steereo:

For sure. So you’re part of Steereo. How are you finding the whole experience with Steereo?

Marcus Alan Ward:

It’s good! My manager Chris just got me hooked up with you guys, so thank you guys again for having me on the platform. He texted me, we’re number forty or something in the charts so that’s pretty cool. I’ve got like three songs in there.

Steereo:

Congratulations!

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, that’s cool. I think you guys have an awesome idea, and yeah, I want to see everybody flourish and do well.

[17:13] Steereo:

Well, like you said, in terms of the Apple and the Spotify are the new radio so Steereo is going to be radio for Riot Chair, so that’s our main goal. On that, what are your thoughts on music technology now, and do you think it’s given artists the opportunity to be discovered or do you think it’s just so noisy at this point?

Marcus Alan Ward:

I think it’s a lot of noise. I think it’s a lot of noise. And I actually have a question for you in a moment, but I think it’s a lot of noise and a lot of great stuff is being swallowed up by the internet. I kinda had an epiphany last year, and I matured to a level where I realize this notion that we have of a hit song or hit record is not what we think it is. There’s local bands I hear all the time, or small level bands that you can say, “Wow, that song is a hit. That would be major.” But if it never gets the platform of a machine behind it, then it’s not a hit. A hit only constitutes money being behind a song in a machine. It has nothing to do with the actual, the song in and of itself. I think of a song like XO Tour Llif3 or something or whatever, half these Migos songs. The first time you heard that song, you might’ve been like, “Wow, that was shit.” But when you hear it twenty, thirty more times on your programs, over the span of two months, you eventually know the words and things like that, and then you are convinced that you actually like the song.

Steereo:

Of course, it’s mass marketing.

Marcus Alan Ward:

Right. Think about a song that’s actually really great, but you never get the chance to hear that song thirty times or, you may just hear it one time and say, “Okay, that’s a good song.” A hit is something that has a machine behind it. When musicians feel bad, yeah, you may be in your room or your local town writing hits, but if you don’t have that machine behind it, it’s not gonna be a hit. It’s just a weird thing.

[19:20] Steereo:

For sure, yeah. On that note, when someone jumps into a rideshare and they’re listening to Steereo for the first time, and they hear your music, what is it that you’re trying to get them to feel?

Marcus Alan Ward:

Well, it depends what song it is. I just want them to feel like someone is making something honest, and I want them to feel like the song/musician they’re listening to doesn’t really care if they like it or not.

Steereo:

I love your honesty. I think it’s refreshing.

 Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, some songs you listen to, you can tell they made it for you to like it. You hear it like it’s oozing out of the radio station and the speakers. They’re playing to generalizations over lowest common denominator lyrics, and the chords are coherent.

Steereo:

Yeah, it’s the format that people have. I’ve worked with other songwriters and they’re like, “Hey, we’ll just follow this format because this is what’s selling right now.” So, again, I don’t necessarily think that’s creativity, as opposed to, I think it’s flattery in terms of copying cheese, but I don’t think it’s creativity.

Marcus Alan Ward:

Yeah, that’s L.A. for you.

Steereo:

I think that’s the music industry for you all, around the world, which is everyone trying to clamor for the next big radio hit, there’s obviously a formula to what peoples’ ears like or lend to. Which I don’t think is necessarily a bad thing, and I think, like you said, if it’s done in a very honest and authentic way, I’m all about making people happy or making them smile or making them feel something or, if it makes them dance or makes them cry or whatever. It’s just for me, music has to move me in some shape or form. For anyone who’s out there listening to this right now, and they’re deciding to chase their dreams into or their music passion, and they’re at that very beginning stage of their journey, what advice would you have for them?

[21:36] Marcus Alan Ward:

Advice I always say, when I was fourteen to fifteen and I had the luxury of, I play instruments so, you have a humility about hiding in the basement or staying away from people seeing it just to get good enough to even present yourself to the world. I would say work on your craft first, away from the world. Because we’re able to, people are so quick to post their first work on Instagram or SoundCloud or whatever, the very first thing they ever made, or their first meter, first song, or whatever, their first guitar video ever. I had the luxury of before the internet, taking five years to get great and then, calculating a journey and coming up with an aesthetic and coming up with what I liked and getting the shit out before I presented it to the world. I think people now are just putting their very first thing out. So yeah, my advice would be to get your ideas together. You don’t have to present everything to the world. Take some time, it’s not a race if you’re making good music. If you’re trying to go viral and just make the next rap hit or whatever, then that’s one thing. Yeah, you can do that first idea but, if you’re trying to make something meaningful and it’s gonna last, take some time. It’s totally okay to be in your basement for two-three years. Write some shitty songs, and then once you feel like you get that good one, then present it to the world.

[23:09] Steereo:

Amazing. So, last but not least, the most important part: what are some of the new and exciting things coming up for you in the next couple of months?

Marcus Alan Ward:

I play in Chicago on the seventh, October 7th. Cincinnati on the fifth, and then Columbus on the sixth. So I said that out of order, but five, sixth, and seventh I’ll be playing shows. Like I said, Chicago, I think I’m doing something with Steereo around the promotion of that Chicago date. But, other than that, making the move to Brooklyn, to Crown Heights, and then I’m studying jazz, jazz and theory for the last three months so I’m super excited about that so. Just gonna take some time to develop. I’ll resurface when I feel that I’ve progressed enough.

Watch the Music video for “Faster” by Marcus Alan Ward:

Steereo:

Amazing. Well, where can people find you? We’ve already talked about your website, we could give that a shout out again, but, in terms of all of your social media handles and your Spotify and stuff, how do people find you and track you down?

Marcus Alan Ward:

So it’s Marcus Alan Ward. That’s on everything: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and marcusalanward.com. So I just put out three or four videos over the summer that you guys can check out to hold you over until I resurface again, so yeah, enjoy it and yeah, that’s it.

Steereo:

Amazing. Thank you so much, Marcus, and we look forward to hearing all of your new stuff in the future, and good luck with your shows and good luck with the move and, yeah, go check this guy out, his videos are amazing. So, thank you so much for being a part of the 99% podcast.

Marcus Alan Ward:

Awesome, thanks so much, man.Thank you guys!

Steereo:

Cheers.

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Kai McDaniel is a Los Angeles-based writer, lover of entertainment, art, and film.