Indie stalwart Sam Jayne has joined Songtrust. Sam Jayne is the quintessential indie songwriter/artist. He has released albums with notable indie labels K Records and Sub Pop, wrote songs for Beck’s album “One Foot In The Grave”, toured with everyone from Built to Spill to Modest Mouse to the Shins and has had music placed in cutting edge films (Check out the amazingly shot documentary 180° South).
In 2008 Sam made the jump from indie to major when his Love As Laughter project released “Holy” on Epic Records. He has been releasing albums for nearly 20 years and written well over 100 published songs. Sam is currently working on new material but took time out of his busy schedule to talk to us about songwriting, publishing and the business of music.
What are some of the business and creative differences between being on an independent label and being on a major?
I think the main thing is budgets, when the budgets get bigger more people are concerned with the outcome of what you are producing. It’s good to try to see what everyone wants, but ultimately it should be what YOU want -- even if other people are telling you it’s a mistake. For me it’s very important to follow creative impulses and not worry about the business side, but it’s gotten me in a lot of trouble.
You as an artist should pay close attention to what’s happening in the business side of music and what the label is doing, are they doing anything? Are they helpful? It’s very hazy right now with the words ‘Major Label’ and ‘Independent’. It seems to me that independent labels are more successful and efficient with most artists than major labels, there’s a way different world to navigate and smaller labels adapt faster. I think it’s important for artists to be as ‘independent’ as they can be so they too can adapt to new opportunities AND creative ideas.
What are some of the benefits and/or challenges you've faced while being an independent artist?
Benefits - artistic freedom / less demanding deadlines and schedules (I've had a regular job for a lot of my musical career) / Flexibility with releases and ways to put out music / flexibility with tours and other live shows and appearances /
Challenges - Small or NO budgets for recordings and tours can mean it’s out of your pocket a lot. I've spent a lot of money making music. For some people it’s ‘an expensive hobby’, but you have to weigh the value for you and how you can make it work. Through my songwriting/ publishing I've found a way to make things even out money wise and/or make a profit.
Another challenge is if you are basically independent or on small labels you don’t have a huge promotion machine behind you, or it doesn't even exist. So how do you tell people you have a release or a show or you are on tour?
What advice do you have for new songwriters/artists trying to navigate through the music industry?
First of all, MAKE MUSIC. Write it, record it, play it live, etc. as much as you can. Try to be true to your feelings about what seems comfortable and natural to you, ie: don’t play the 31st annual chicken toss if you don’t want to. If you are claiming that you want a ‘career’ in music, make sure that you remain true to what you want and you can represent yourself or your band or whatever you call it honestly in whatever you are doing. Have fun!
Do events and releases with the people you love and admire and go out there and make a bunch of friends. There’s good friends and good fans everywhere! I wish I could go back in time and give myself some of this advice. It seems so simple but sometimes it’s easy to get confused and distracted, the world of music is huge!
At what point in your career did you realize how important music publishing is and making sure your copyrights are properly being handled?
When I was young and making records on K, a bunch of friends and artists and people from the label strongly suggested I register all my songs. So I went to BMI, and tried to get all the people I played with to sign up. Some of the Love as Laughter band members made a bunch of money over the years from the fact that I doled out a little extra publishing if you were on the records.
Some people didn't think it was a big deal, but I look at some of the catalog and I’m like, ‘these got a lot of play on the radio!’ or, ‘that was in a movie!’ So definitely go through and register whatever you can.
How does your songwriting differ when working with an artist like Beck, rather than writing for yourself?
Well first of all, I never played acoustic guitar! And Beck’s stuff that he wanted to do was rootsy and acoustic and I only played loud electric guitar. So in that case I was basically learning a new instrument and writing at the same time. But also I was really into what he wanted and influenced by what I’d heard him do so I was kind of trying to play along. As for my stuff - I already know what I want, so I just do it.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If so, how did you cure it?
All the time. You need time to think and gain ideas and sometimes wait for inspiration! I’ve gone almost a year without writing a song. A good idea is just put the time for writing and practice on the calendar. Then you know that by Saturday morning at 11 AM you better have something or you will let yourself down.
Who are the top three songwriters you admire most and why?
This changes daily so I’ll just list three that AREN’T Bob Dylan and say why I like them.
Marc Bolan (T-Rex) - Marc wrote hundreds of mystical folk and rock tunes that upon first listen seem like stream of conciousness hippy glam stuff, but after they get under your skin and you are singing along with Bang a Gong or Light of Love or Metal Guru, they have meaning and have an awesome vibe. It seems he could have gone on forever had he not died prematurely -- he was so influential on our current indie AND rock world.
Ray Davies (Kinks) - sometimes I think Ray Davies may be one of the most underrated songwriters in history, but it could be I am dreadfully biased. Cool, honest, tough, and downright emotional. If Lola isn’t the first pop song about cross-dressing it’s definitely the most popular. ‘Strangers’ draws me in every time, and ‘Waterloo Sunset’ melts hearts.
The list goes on ‘All Day, and All of the Night’. Tom Petty - The Hit Master General! Tom Petty is so cool. He looks cool, he talks cool, he dresses cool, oh, and he writes amazing pop rock anthems and ballads that very simply tap into a very American landscape. And that was before he had lunch.
For more information on Sam Jayne and his band Love as Laughter, check out some of these links!