Music on Your Own Terms
Episode 077 released on September 7, 2020
SIMON PELLETT William Chernoff hails from New Westminster, a city in the vicinity of Vancouver, British Columbia, and is a jazz and folk bass player and composer that is set to release his first album in October of this year. William shares how he was exposed to jazz in high school, his history in the local music scene, and a summer he spent in Copenhagen for the sake of his own emotional growth. We take a deep dive exploring the music industry and compare the lack of funding in the U.S. versus the various grant sources that are available in Canada. William also shares a track from his new album at the end of the episode.
This week I've been spending a fair amount of subconscious bandwidth contemplating my place in the universe and how I can further improve my own health and well-being in order to increase my output and therefore a positive influence on the world at large. Now, I'm not sure what this really means long term, and I hadn't given it much conscious thought until I started exploring my ramblings for this episode. That being said, I'm gonna be building a vegetable garden area over the coming months to be ready for spring. So that's bound to result in some holistic leveling up. I'm also gearing up for a mini vacation during which I plan on doing a great deal of reading in the form of atomic habits, which I mentioned a few episodes ago, and also the new version of Ari Herstand's book, which I'm long overdue to finish up. I'm always looking for new avenues of knowledge expansion, so let me know what books you've read recently and what you recommend.
To finish up this section of the episode, I just want to share this one quote: "In an age of performative cruelty, kindness is punk as fuck. Be punk as fuck." Here's my chat with William Chernoff.
Welcome to another episode of the podcast. Today I am joined by William Chernoff, who is a bass player out of New Westminster, which is near Vancouver. How are you doing?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF I'm doing well. Nice to meet you, Simon. How are you?
SIMON PELLETT I'm doing well. Thank you very much for joining me. You made the mistake of sending me prior listening material for podcasts so I can tell the listeners that you are a Leonard Maltin impersonator. You also play post folk emo jazz core.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Laughs. Oh, that's original content, though. I don't know where you would have found that.
SIMON PELLETT So, the podcast you sent me, the host was talking about different rock genres and subgenres. I just thought I'd throw that in there.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Brilliant.
SIMON PELLETT But now if you wouldn't mind just giving a background of what your music sounds like, what you do for a living day-to-day and who you are.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Every day is different because every day has been part of an independent journey in music. And that's been the case since I was a young teenager.
I started to get the chance to play professionally around age 15. I tried my best, but I wasn't very well practiced. So I continued to get better as I learned from my friends who were the same age and also very keen. I took that to music university but I left after a year. Then I juggled a bunch of different contracts to start my young career, including co-founding a band, working in nonprofit arts, and having many small clients.
Then a couple years ago, I wanted to do something with the jazz music that had always been with me the whole time. So last year I started to write and record jazz music for release. I had already written jazz for the past eight years, going on a decade now. But at that time, I decided to start doing music under my own name for the first time. And that's where I'm spending most of my time in COVID times because I've been working on my first album, which is called Aim to Stay and it's going to come out in October 2020. I still have the band. I still have some clients. I started a media company during COVID to broadcast artists out of a studio here in New Westminster. So it's a mixed bag and every day is different.
SIMON PELLETT That's fantastic. Let's talk about your clients for just a second. I would imagine because Canada has a strong financial backing from the government, it's probably a lot easier to make a living out of nonprofits. Well, I say nonprofits, but out of the arts councils there versus [the U.S. which] has no funding. Could you talk a little bit about that and what your clients look like as much as you can share?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Well, first I'll talk about what the different funders are, because the system in Canada is quite interesting, especially if you're unfamiliar with it or if you're from a country where the public arts - which is just my catch-all term for funding that comes in some way through the government in part or whole to musicians, music companies, presenters, etc. - if you come from a country where that isn't common, Canada's system might interest you, and I would be curious to know what you think of it.
So, there are a few different levels and the top level is the federal one. The first body of note there is called the Canada Council for the Arts and that organization funds projects that are big a lot of the time and that contribute to the lasting strength of Canadian arts. I'll shout out my friend Chelsea [McBride], who lives in Toronto on the other side of Canada, who has toured with a jazz big band made up of mostly people of my generation and written original music for it and recorded it. The Canada Council has been part of that. So you can imagine there are projects like that that are so huge you could never imagine them getting off the ground without these kind of concept-to-realization public arts sources of funding fuel. Canada Council is great for things like that, and it definitely also supports non-profit organization projects.
Then tangential to the federal government, you have an organization called FACTOR, which stands for the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings. FACTOR is a public-private partnership in a way because it's partially run by the federal government, I believe, and also by Canada's private radio broadcasters. So I guess a trust or a fund or a collective of all the institutions that have broadcasted on Canadian radio over time. FACTOR is a juried sound recording grant. So anytime you want to make an album, you can pitch that album project to FACTOR, and based on partially what they think its commercial viability is and, perhaps even more so, just how much they like your music and how much they believe in your creative product, they'll give you a project grant for that.
I've received a FACTOR grant, once for myself. And it was last year and it was the smallest one that was available, because if you write that one, you can get a sense of what you could do with it in the future with a "real sized" one. So the first one I did basically paid for one studio session of mine and all the bells and whistles associated [like] booking the studio, hiring the session musicians, doing the mixing, doing the post-production. That was all that it had. But there are bigger FACTOR grants that are available to more established artists and FACTOR actually sets general criteria for how big you're supposed to be to get one of these things and you can definitely be at those criteria on some metrics and not there on others. Like you could be playing enormous live gigs, but you could not have very much of an online following or vice versa, and you could probably still get it. But that's FACTOR.
So those are the federal ones. Now, I live in the Canadian province of British Columbia on the West Coast, and there is another suite of public arts grants available there from Creative BC, which is administered by the province and they have multiple programs, and then Music BC, which is an industry organization, like a trade organization. They also have some. And then there's the BC Arts Council if you're a nonprofit and then if you go down another level, there's the municipal grants.
The North Vancouver Recreation Commission, a smaller municipality here, you know, many municipalities in this area have their own arts councils, they're mostly nonprofits, but also a handful of artists can apply to, here in New Westminster, [the] City of New Westminster grants.
SIMON PELLETT Cool.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF All this to say that the grant universe was very compelling to me because my interest is at the intersection of business and music, and that is an area where I could immediately start to apply my skills because there was a need there from a diverse group of clients. I really enjoyed learning about it as I went. The main arena for me learning about that was I worked for a nonprofit that ran a violin and strings education organization, and I started out as a hired bass player for them when I was 18 years old and then, over time, I grew to be the number two person in that small organization. And then I kind of crashed out of it because I didn't really have all the experience I needed to hold that position together. But I learned a lot along the way.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome, that's fantastic information. So musicians, let's all move to Canada! U.S. based musicians. I mean, it brings me back to another interview I did with a band called Isbjörg, which is based in Denmark. And they have some laws, for instance, [where] venues have to play a certain type of genre mix, a percentage, so that Isbjörg’s thing with being such a niche band was “that's why we get to play, because venues have to book us because we don't have a lot of competition,” which is kind of cool.
I think those type of organizations or funds, it's so healthy to have that kind of culture, you know, investing in culture and in this I mean, what I see in this country, because there isn't that same investment in the culture and the arts of being kind of defunded in schools...It's not funded...You almost get this kind of bootstrapping backlash where people are doing it themselves anyway. So I don't know. Do you think that makes the artists that rise above it kind of stronger? Or? I don't know.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Oh, yes, I do. Yes, I definitely do. I identify with that angle, even though there's this public arts infrastructure and even though I've been servicing projects in that environment. My preferred angle is that one where you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder and that's how I've been doing it when I'm operating independently here, making my jazz music from end-to-end by hiring whoever I need and making sure I pay everybody as best I can. I'm hoping to continue that into the future and having it be a little less stressful for me someday, but trying to set the tone early, you know.
SIMON PELLETT Absolutely. So let's dig into your past. What got you into music in the first place and what made you choose bass?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Now we'll be revisiting the public impact on investing in the arts, too, because I'm definitely a product of my high school music program.
Here in New Westminster, where I went to high school, I got to ride this wave of talented people my own age who wanted to hang out in the band room after school every day and jam together, play jazz tunes, listen to recordings, sometimes transcribe them, sometimes write tunes, sometimes rehearse them for little live gigs that we'd do in the community, either by going out ourselves and asking people for them or through the help of our band teachers. We had four band teachers in our high school music department who were endlessly supportive of us. I'm really grateful for that and also just for the company of my classmates, many of whom have gone on to be excellent musicians already.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. I mean, even before that, what drew you in?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF That's it, that's where it started. When I showed up in high school, I basically hadn't really played before. I was at an elementary school that didn't have a band program and then it got one a couple of years before I left there. So I participated in it casually, but I never thought about music. And I didn't really grow up paying attention to music at all. Like my mom, she loved a lot of kinds of music and sang sometimes with The Beatles songbook and some other things. But for me, no, I had no interest in it. I was a gamer, I like to hang out with my friends online in the Web 2.0 years, even though we were too young to fully participate in it. Music was not a big interest for me whatsoever until I showed up there in high school and met those people because it's all about the people. And once you're in that good company, then you're going. But before then, no. That's where it started.
SIMON PELLETT So it's kind of just peer pressure.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Laughs.
SIMON PELLETT You went for it because it's just like, "oh, yeah, well, I guess I'll do that."
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Yeah, that's totally true because my first instrument was alto sax. And then you show up in high school, having played a couple notes on the alto sax in elementary school and there's twenty alto saxophone players in your concert band in high school. And it's like, well, OK, I probably would better serve this situation if I switched instruments. And they tell you that, the band teachers will say, "hey, does anybody want to play tuba, or bass or something?" So, yeah, people like me ended up switching instruments. That's a different kind of peer pressure.
SIMON PELLETT Mmhmm. So did you start on upright bass or was it all electric at that point?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF I started on upright bass and I always played electric bass, as pretty much every bass player does. I played out of that high school community almost exclusively for several years until I started working more with violin students. That's in the folk music environment, not classical. I've never been a classically educated musician or one who participates in classical music. That's outside my domain of knowledge completely. But folk music, Celtic music, world music, Irish-influenced music - all that entered my career around age 19, and then I had something else to explore other than jazz. I have listened to other kinds of music along the way but I've often felt trapped in listening, or only spending time listening to the music that I play. So, I've listened to a lot of jazz and Irish-influenced music for that reason, and I've tried to keep up some other listening habits along the way.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. Going back to Denmark - I'm kind of chopping around here, but I did mention Isbjörg and I did hear on one of the episodes that you were featured on that you spent some time in Copenhagen.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Yeah, when I was 20 years old, I kind of ran away to Copenhagen because I wasn't being very nice to myself. That's still the case these days. Over time, a big theme for me has been that I just beat up on myself a lot and I really felt like I needed to get away from this community. What I'm talking about is I grew up in this Vancouver, B.C., Canada jazz community from a relatively young age, and I participated in it so bombastically even when I didn't have very much experience, not only as an instrumentalist, but life experience or social experience. I didn't know how to be nice to people or how to have good relationships with people, even though I was going around and trying to play 150 gigs a year when I was 17, 18, 19 years old.
I have no doubt that I didn't have a clean slate of positive interactions with a lot of the core people in that very small community. And when you have a small community like that, it's important to eventually learn how to get along with those folks, not just for cynical reasons, but just that you'll be miserable in the community, if you don't figure that out. And at that age, that is how I felt. Even if I look back on it now, five years later, it does feel simple enough that I could have just let it improve over time, and if I didn't get too negative with myself about it, eventually I would have learned some more of those social skills and I would have just been able to roll it over and stay there and my relationships would improve across the board. But that's not how it felt at the time. At the time, it felt like I really needed to get away either just as a break, a significant one that allows me to reset or as a full detachment.
I had already been fascinated by Copenhagen because I like to read and learn about and observe urban affairs and urbanism and how cities have changed in my lifetime and leading up to it. Copenhagen was, to me, a mecca for that school of thought. My mom had been to Copenhagen the year prior and said it was amazing and that sealed the deal for me, that confirmed within me that I wanted to go there someday. But when I felt so pessimistic at age 20, I just decided to go. I went for the maximum length of time that you can stay in the Schengen area if you're from Canada, which is 90 days. So I went during the summer and I stayed through the fall. I rented a basement suite outside of Copenhagen, just barely, so I could bike downtown in thirty minutes to an hour, depending on where I was going.
SIMON PELLETT Mmhmm.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF I took in a lot of music, I met new people, I had a break. I had a serious, serious break and I had a lot of time for self exploration at that time. That doesn't mean I came back feeling great. I came back still feeling like I had crashed out of something and it took a while, it took another six months to build that up before I met some more people that were really positive influences on me over the next couple of years. But it was an escape and it was a pilgrimage, and it was something that I won't ever be able to recreate again.
SIMON PELLETT That's great. You know, I think something like that is very important for people. Do you think you came away with a much more worldly view? I don't know the diversity of different cultures that are in your part of the world but I think everyone should travel a ton because it opens up your mind. Maslow's hierarchy tells us that everyone has the same needs. But on the flip side, the dichotomy of beauty or the beauty of dichotomy of the human condition is that we're all the same, but we're all completely different. I kind of butchered that. I just find it really interesting to go see how other other cultures and communities operate and I like to see the similarities and the differences.
So one thing that I read or listened to is that you want to do a podcast yourself at some point. Do you have a timeline or is that still just like an idea? And what would it be about if you did?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF That's very timely because I'm definitely waiting until after I finish this album campaign to get that going, but this will be an interesting time right now to reflect on what that would be about.
One of the things that I started doing in the last month or two was I started setting up to do "Canadian jazz independent journalism," for lack of a better word. Again, it's a green field for me, something I don't have a background in, but something I'm excited to explore because I would look for it and find that there isn't much going on in that space. There's a lot of room for even one person to come in and start covering the projects that musicians are doing here, the gigs that they're doing here, interviewing them. I would eat all of that up if I knew where it was, but I just suspect that there's not much of it going on. Why? I think it's because all the most active people in the Canadian Jazz network are both fully committed musicians and educators, and so there's no time left for them to add this other layer to it, even though they would be the most eminently qualified people to report on what's going on either in their local jazz community or in the Canadian jazz community. But I think because I'm not an educator and because I'm not an out-and-out professional musician, this would be an interesting place for me to explore because I really would want to read it if it was there, and I notice it's not there, so I might as well try.
So to that end, in July, at the beginning of the month, I started publishing some writing every week, so I've been writing most days. Hopefully I'll get an everyday habit in my life eventually. But so far I've been scrambling together to publish thoughts every week on how music commerce is changing and how we should change it if we want to make it better and how independent artists are the way going forward and what we've known as the music industry either doesn't exist or is being propped up or doesn't match the current conditions so much in the experience I've had so far in my own career. So I've been writing about that and I'm building towards interviewing people about that as well as I find people who are willing to engage with me on the record about it here in Canada.
Once I become skilled enough to write a little bit more often and a little bit more consistently, then I can cover things, like the gigs that are going on in my local community. I can cover projects that my friends are releasing or that they're working on in some cases, if I have some exclusive knowledge of that. Maybe there's a way that we can share it. But I think that Canadian jazz journalism is such a niche thing that it would benefit a lot from a resource or a publication where musicians felt confident that they would get covered well, which sounds really simple, but it's not really because when you're trying to publicize a release campaign for your music, if you have existing press contacts, that's great because you have a relationship with them and you know what to expect. But if you don't, either you're paying a lot of money for uncertain results or you're reaching out to people for very uncertain results, and you're not sure how they will cover your music because either their coverage is infrequent or it's very frequent but it's very low resolution, so they don't write about very much that's actually interesting.
I think that might be one of the reasons why music blogs have not been as influential as the aggregation of online media has continued. I could still imagine a parallel universe where prominent music blogs continued to write really high quality content and those aggregators have continued to give them a prominent spot, but it does kind of seem like they vanished. I am by no means riffing on every music blog writer out there. There's a lot of great ones. But the mixture of, is it high quality writing? Is it relevant to a very niche group of people? and is it consistent? is really hard. I'm curious how hard it will be for me as I'm exploring that and hopefully some other people start doing it, too.
SIMON PELLETT I think it's a great idea. I'm definitely more than willing to share my knowledge of podcasting if you need help and point you in the right direction for certain resources. But I think if you're passionate about something and you want to talk about it, do it. That's the only way you're going to get better is by just doing it. But yeah, great jumping off point because I've been reading a few of your newsletters and the last one you did about oh, what's his name...I'm from England, I should know this - Peter Frampton! Now, what you said in that - and we can talk through that now - it totally resonated with me because your opinion on that subject is pretty much why I set this podcast up in the first place.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Tell me about that.
SIMON PELLETT So, I played in a band in New Hampshire when I lived there. And a lot of people, kind of my generation, maybe a little bit younger, a little bit older, I'd always hear meeting these people, "you can't make money by streaming" and there was always this resistance to doing stuff like pushing the envelope on your social media or doing this idea or that idea. My whole frustration was instead of saying "you can't," say "how can I turn the phrasing around and then go out and find different ways."
Your article is basically a response to these big-name artists coming out and saying, well, I made, you know, a hundred dollars on a million streams of the songs, but you've broken it down and saying, well, if you do the math and actually look at the the way these streaming deals are orchestrated, these artists have given away like a shit ton of their rights for their songs. So that hundred dollars for a million streams is not because - I mean, I'll say this for listeners: I still think that Spotify [and other streaming platforms] have a long way to go regarding how much they pay, but that's a completely different argument. I think the argument is, if you know where all your legal rights are, from performance royalties and streaming royalties and all these other areas, if you know where they are and how to get them, you're going to find that your revenue is going to greatly increase because you've got all these different streams of income going on depending on what you're doing. And just to blanket state that, "oh, because this massive artist is only making one hundred dollars..." Well, why is he only making one hundred dollars? You really have to dig further down. It's like false news. You really can't just trust one news resource, you have to go and really follow through with your research to find out why.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Or you have to read somebody who did.
SIMON PELLETT Yeah, exactly.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF I'm not making that claim for myself either. Thank you for reading it. It's a very small subscriber base right now, under one hundred people. So it'll be interesting to reflect on where it's at later because podcasts live forever and you can always go back to them.
SIMON PELLETT Absolutely.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Thanks again for that. Yeah, that was an interesting one to explore, and it's the one where I've got the deepest feedback so far. Now, I got more feedback on the one that I wrote called "Reflecting on my failure to become a professional musician," probably because it was a more personal and relatable topic. But for this, I got paragraphs and paragraphs from certain people in my inbox and then my texts because it was in the news, too. That was the other thing, when I wrote that one, Daniel Ek was in the news a couple of days, the CEO of Spotify, before I put that out, so it was an interesting thing to put out that week.
But what incensed me to complete that issue of the publication and drove my opinion behind it was the argument that I sensed was out there, which was, like you said, “if a major artist has such pitiful streaming revenue, how could it possibly work for an independent artist?" That's actually just begging the question because you can't just assume that we're getting paid at the same rate - we're actually getting paid at almost 100 times the rate that these major artists are from their streamed songs because we actually hold the rights.
SIMON PELLETT Exactly.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Now, of course, we're not getting fifty five million streams, lifetime, on a song until we've been in the game for many, many, many years. But just play it out, right, to compare apples to apples. Like, if I'm 50 years younger than Peter Frampton, which I probably am, you know, in 2068, how many streams am I going to have for one of my songs? It's possible that it could be that many. I mean, it's more likely that just the business environment will change and we'll be listening to music some other way, but if I'm comparing where I'm at right now or even a professional younger artist, it's not the same because the reason why that song got the fifty five million streams all time - which would be from the beginning of the streaming era till when he wrote that Tweet, so maybe 10 or 15 years - the reason why that song got 55 million streams in that 10 or 15 year period was because it had already been a loved song for 30 years.
SIMON PELLETT Yeah, absolutely.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF So if you're worried about the "not everybody gets fifty five million streams" piece, it takes a lot of time and it's a worthy feat that we should admire, and the fact that he signed away ninety nine percent of the revenue from that shouldn't discourage us. It should indicate that the way we're doing it now is the proper way for the current conditions and we can recognize that the way he did it then isn't the proper way anymore. Our success is going to be determined by countless things, but we can at least be sure that holding the rights looks empirically like a good strategy right now.
SIMON PELLETT For sure. Then just jumping off that, let's say you have jazz or, I don't know, I think a better example would be ambient music. So if you're an ambient artist and you get yourself on a playlist that caters to spas and massage therapists and that massage therapist is a chain and they've got their music on repeat like 24 hours a day (let's just say it could be a 24-hour salon or spa or something). But, you know, if you have that playlist on all the time at that business and that business is all over the country, who's to say you can't get 55 million streams if it's on a playlist that's like the most popular playlist for spas. I'm just just throwing what ifs out here but I don't see that being that improbable, to be quite honest.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Totally!
SIMON PELLETT Then the other thing I wanted to touch on is...I've done that thing where I've hit on one point and I've forgotten the other point. Damn, don't get old. It sucks.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Is it still about Peter Frampton and streaming and stuff?
SIMON PELLETT Oh yeah, I know what it was. So the other point I wanted to jump off was, in your opinion - I mean, this might be a very, you know, hated point - but I have the feeling that a lot of artists tend to have this entitlement that you don't see anywhere else. Like, if you train to be a plumber and then you buy your tools and then you go out and go into your own business, I don't think a plumber has an entitlement to say, "I've done all this training and I've bought all this expensive equipment, I should be a successful business person." But in the music industry, people put all this time in, they write their songs - and maybe this is a psychological thing because it's so personal - but they buy all this expensive equipment and you see these memes of "a musician is someone who's got five thousand dollars of equipment in a five hundred dollar car and they get paid 50 bucks." But do you find that there's this entitlement that sounds like, "well, I've put all this time in, I've put all this money in the equipment - I should be paid."
WILLIAM CHERNOFF So, yes and no. I agree with the kernel of what you're saying, but I do want to retool it because I wouldn't say that really any of the artists I know in my life feel entitled. But I think what's going on here is that being an artist has transitioned from a labor activity to a high-leverage media activity. Now, what I mean by that is, in the music industry in the 20th century, the artist was a laborer in the sense that they would provide their talent as a service in many ways, for instance as a recording artist, as a performing artist, as an ambassador of a brand or a sponsor, et cetera, et cetera, to other entities like record labels, music publishers, music licensors or licensees in that case. The point being that the artist was providing the service basically as a form of labor because they were getting paid either lump sums or for their time as fees for performances or for advancing from a record label, and these other entities were the ones that had the leverage. But those entities are declining. I wrote the week before Peter Frampton an issue about Drake.
SIMON PELLETT I read that one.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Like how LeBron James has a bigger social media reach than the entire NBA, Drake has a bigger reach than pretty much everybody else in the business and if he went independent, he would demonstrate how there isn't really any need for a major label anymore.
SIMON PELLETT Mmhmm.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF The ability of those other players from the music industry we've known to continue to set the agenda in the future is diminishing. What ends up happening is that in order to have a great, successful project that is part of a viable career, the artist is the one who has to apply the leverage now, and that means they have to invest in it upfront. It means they have to hold the rights, like we were saying earlier, at whatever cost, which will also involve paying for things upfront and hiring people and paying them well for their time such that you are still controlling the music and the songs that you produce and the recordings that you'll release and the artist also has to promote it with all different kinds of media, and that media and that rights-holding, that is all going to apply leverage to the viability of the project in that, if it's good and if it gets traction and if people like it, the artist can very quickly get a compounding positive result back from that. But nobody else is really applying the leverage for the artist anymore and hiring the artist as a laborer. And artists who are used to that transaction probably don't understand what's going on right now, and they don't know how to think about it yet that they are the ones who need to apply the right amount of leverage to make the right sized project that will fuel their career. I'm kind of blurting this out because I'm thinking about it live here. But does that make any sense?
SIMON PELLETT Absolutely, 100 percent. You are definitely speaking my language, and honestly, I think that would be a killer subject for a podcast. I mean, that's kind of what my podcast is about. But, yeah, it all comes back to people's mindset and adapting to the change in the industry, which I think if people are stuck in the Led Zeppelin era - albums, labels, big budgets. It's just not happening anymore. It just doesn't exist.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF It's so much more interesting for me to think about it this way than to say that artists feel entitled.
SIMON PELLETT Yeah.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Like it just seems too unfair to say that, "oh, artists expect to be compensated the same way for their work today as they did in the 70s." Well, of course, that would be awesome, and like we've been alluding to, it is still possible. But the hidden fact is that they have to lever up their music releases to achieve that outcome for themselves. Nobody's going to do it for them.
SIMON PELLETT Absolutely. I also think that American Idol and America's Got Talent and all its, you know, global subsidiaries really do not help one bit. Like, they are a complete antithesis of that thinking.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF You could almost think of that as like the last gasp of music industry leverage applied to artists.
SIMON PELLETT eah, I would. You know what, it's probably the industry kind of being "uhh, we're failing, put on a talent show!"
WILLIAM CHERNOFF And that got so much viewership in the 2000s and really produced stars. I'm thinking about it now, when was the last time something like that produced stars? I think there's been a couple since then. But the more famous story is like the Justin-Bieber-Scooter-Braun-YouTube story, which kind of immediately followed the American Idol one.
Here’s cool evidence of this. In the heyday of 2000s Fox and American Idol, the show produced stars, it did. Appearing on that show and achieving something there made you a star. Now I don't watch these shows, so I'm kind of talking out of school here, I don't really know what's going on, but I have the feeling, based on headlines I've read over the years, that all the attention that flows to those shows now is because the shows have hired celebrity judges. So all the star power of the show is in preexisting artists that are lending their leverage to the show. So it's inverted and for like 10 or 15 years the only reason people know about like The Voice is because of the major artists that have judged it as opposed to the stars that the show itself with its strength is making.
SIMON PELLETT Yeah, I totally agree. I saw Adam Lambert on tour with Queen - I had to go see Queen - and he was on one of the first, I don't know, at least the first four series I think, somewhere around there. But yeah, you're not seeing those big names come out of it anymore, definitely.
Awesome, I'd like to move the conversation into a non-quick fire question round. What significant negative experience have you overcome? And what did it teach you?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF I haven't overcome it yet, but the really significant one is the self talk that I do. That's the major, major one, and it's still tough, I'm still working on it. I could still use more help for sure. But the help that I do have from friends and family is really great. I need to be better at reaching out to them when I need it. That has been the big stumbling block in my career, because in a situation where I don't have a boss and where I'm setting the agenda, if I'm feeling really negative about what I'm doing, it just all falls apart. So the fact that I'm still going, even though that's been a ongoing thing for me for 15 years, is pretty good, I guess. But I got a lot of work to do on that.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. What major positive experience has given you the encouragement to follow this journey?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF It's got to be the mentorship that I got in both jazz and folk. It was people my own age who were more experienced than me in high school, it was the people that I met in my one year in music university who were keen to do projects with me and who recorded my first album with me, and it was the senior people in the nonprofit that I worked for who just gave me so much rope even though I had so little experience. It's people taking chances on people. I think that's a beautiful thing about the arts, it's such a relationship-driven business. You will always remember when somebody takes a chance on you when you feel like you didn't deserve it. Or maybe that's not the best way to say it, but people granting opportunities on faith or on trust.
SIMON PELLETT Mmhmm.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Yeah and I've gotten a lot of that, and I'm really thankful for it.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. Final question is, what does music mean to you?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF It's one of the main things that makes life worth living, in my opinion.
SIMON PELLETT Short and sweet, very powerful. Thank you so much. So where can people find you and your music and what you're up to and read your blog, etcetera?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF On williamchernoff.com, the home page, you'll find Rhythm Changes, which is that newsletter from there. Rhythm Changes is also delivered by email and you can subscribe to it. My website is the hub for everything that I do as an independent artist. If you want to check out my company where we're working on broadcasting artists, local and Vancouver area livestream concerts, that's called DSTNCE Media with a couple letters taken out. So it's dstnce.com. So there and on my own website, you'll see what I'm up to.
SIMON PELLETT [Awesome. At the end of the podcast, I like to play a song from the artists I interview. So, what piece of music are we going to play on this episode?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF We're going to play "Makie Elkino", which is the last track from my first album, which is called Aim to Stay. So "Makie Elkino", you'll hear it on the album, which will come out in October.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. Is there a story behind that?
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Yeah, it's the first tune that I ever wrote. I wrote it in 2010 in a three-chord basement jam situation with my friends in high school, and it started my journey as a composer. So I still like to play it because it's an easy tune. It's a fun tune, a funky one. I like this recording of it because it's my first real band in jazz, it's a quartet.
I'll give you an interesting fact about this, because you're gonna play the album track. The original session of this track was seven minutes long, but we had such a ridiculous arrangement of it where we went to do so many different time feels and stuff that it was just too much. So, because we ended up sequencing it as the last track on the Aim to Stay album, we just did a board fade on the song at about three minutes. Took it out like it was CTI records from 1972 with Freddie Hubbard or something. But we just called it at a certain point and we kept it with the simple, funky arrangement that it should have.
SIMON PELLETT Awesome. All right, well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. This was a really great conversation, I'm sure we can do a part two and part three if we really wanted to. I wish you continued success. I look forward to when the album comes out and, you know, stay safe out there. Thank you very much.
WILLIAM CHERNOFF Thanks so much, you too, and I'm looking forward to continuing listening to your podcast.
SIMON PELLETT Thanks, as always for listening. I really hope you enjoyed this episode. If you're interested in supporting this podcast, then I'd be extremely grateful if you would. I have added a page on musiconyourownterms.com to allow you to do just that. On that page, I have added some eBay affiliate links to equipment I use on the podcast. If you buy anything from eBay with these links, then I own a commission which really helps me continue to provide this great content to you, the listener. Stay up to date with the podcast and find out who I'll be interviewing in upcoming episodes before they air by signing up for the mailing list at musiconyourownterms.com. On the site, you'll also find show notes for every episode, some pretty cool videos to check out from various guests, and also links to their music and social media if you want to find out more. While you're there, don't forget to take a peek at the store and pick up something for your grandma. Keep pushing the needle and be excellent to each other. This is William Chernoff with "Makie Elkino".