Taylor Neal Artist Case Study

For my artist case study, I’ve chosen three artists that I respect and admire to look further into their lives as musicians, artists, and producers. One artist has two Grammys, and the other two artists have been doing music for a few years and are just starting to find their place in the music industry.

First, I’m going to take a look at Justin Vernon. Vernon is best known as the front man on Bon Iver, but on top of composing and performing he also works as a producer. Vernon grew up going to arts school and played in bands from high school on. His college band, DeYarmond Edison, was doing well but soon broke up. It was soon after that that he recorded “For Emma, Forever Ago,” as Bon Iver. His most popular album was created in an isolated Wisconsin cabin. Today, Justin carries a net worth of $8 million, holds two grammys, appearances on Late night shows, and has worked with artists like Jay Z and Kanye West.

I find Justin Vernon to be inspiring because he does his own project as Bon Iver but also works as a producer on many other people’s albums. He currently has 294 credits on Allmusic.com. While having a lot of credits doesn’t necessarily make you a great producer, the majority of his work really shows off his producing abilities and, more importantly, highlights the artist. While I do think he “has a sound” as a producer, I enjoy the sound he contributes to the artists he produces. This is all subjective, but he seems to be doing something right.

Andrew Stevens (right) performing with Hovvdy

The second artist I wanted to learn more about is Andrew Stevens. He is the drummer for the band “Hovvdy” and “Lomelda,” who are two smaller indie bands that have influenced me greatly. Hovvdy currently has 300k monthly listeners on Spotify, Lomelda with just under 90k. (For reference, Bon Iver is at 4.6mil monthly listeners.)  Stevens may not have the reputation or experience that Vernon carries, but the reason I wanted to reach out to him was because I feel like there’s a lot of gap between where I am and where the “big stars” are, and I think he is somewhere in between. He’s had the opportunity to record and tour with many established artists, so I contacted him via Instagram and he was quick to reply and happy to help. I conducted an email interview and asked Andrew the following questions:

What do you do for a living and what are you doing right now as an artist?

“Half of the year I am in town I primarily work at a custom leather upholstery shop and a canoe rental. I’m lucky to know the owners, and that they are willing to accomodate my touring schedule. I had a desk job at a major indie label at one point, but a day job and touring don’t mix, even if your work is in the industry. “

“The other half of the year, I’m on tour as a for-hire drummer with several bands. For the most part these are long term relationships, but theres no contract between tours, and no explicit guarantee for when, or if, I will be touring with them again.”

What makes you and your work unique?

“I would say being prepared to play with the variety of artists I work for is what would qualify my work as unique; being ready to perform in a variety of styles, in the studio or on the road, I’m often changing compositional and textural techniques as often as communication and travel processes. Each project informs the ones after, so I look at each session or plane ride as a part of my works linear progress.”

Do you have any career goals for the next year? What about the next 5-10 years?

“Diversifying the artists I play with is always the goal. Balancing music work and non-music work is important. Having hobbies when I’m home is important. Working on music as a hobby and not just work is important.”

Who are your role models?

“Jim White (The Dirty Three, Xylouris White) is always the first person that comes to mind. Not only is he stylistically very influential, but his holistic approach to his career is enviable. He is an avid collaborator, and even as a supporting artist he is brought into projects because of his unique approach to drums and music. People like like Will Oldham or Rachel Blumberg are also role models: artists first, with a focus on music. Their singular voice is identifiable even through various artistic mediums. To me that’s an artist.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?

“Balancing work and non-work, which can mean the boring machinations of tour vs the music you get to perform, or balancing tour life with home life. This is part of an internal dialogue with yourself, and also needs to be a dialogue with your colleagues.”

“Actually, I take that back: the biggest challenge is *always* communication, and the thing I find hardest for myself and others to communicate about is balance. When, internally, any one members balance is off, the whole groups balance is off. Not communicating about that effectively throws everyone further out of balance.”

What is your favorite thing about doing what you do?

“Diversity of experiences. Making music professionally is inherently extreme and I think a lot of professional artists are attracted to those extremes, even if that is often our downfall.”

Do you have any advice for somebody just starting to get into creating/producing music?

“Don’t let people tell you what is right or incorrect to do in an artistic setting. Absolutely DO take taste/professionalism/efficiency into account, but the purpose is expression, not painting my numbers (until it is.) “Right/Wrong” language is often used in place of subjective opinions; it is VITALLY important to communicate those subjectivities, but feelings *and* art are better served by learning how to communicate our feelings about art without making it too subjective to collaborate.”

The third and final artist that I reached out to was Gia Margaret. Gia is a producer, artist, and musician who currently resides in Chicago. Her first release “There’s Always Glimmer” came out just last year and has already received a lot of attention and an article on Pitchfork. (Gia’s Spotify monthly listeners sit right under 90k) Before I “met” her, I heard her song Birthday and immediately added it to my playlist of my favorite producers. I made my connection with Gia last November, after I messaged via instagram about a mutual band that I really liked that she posted about. After that, she found the link to my demos on bandcamp (which were conveniently in my instagram bio at the time) and she checked out my stuff. She really liked the way I produced them, even though they are just demos. The next week I drove up to Atlanta to see her on tour with the band Novo Amor, and she got me a guest list spot. Since then we’ve been sharing music we find, discussing struggles we share as artists/producers, and after working on a demo together, she asked me if I would track on her album that she’s working on for 2020.

She was very excited to help me with this project and to give a bit of insight on where she came from.

What do you do for a living and what are you doing right now as an artist?

“Right now, I work at a guitar and synth shop. I also sometimes do some studio work, as a piano player and vocalist. But the bulk of my living comes from touring— which is something I’ve never been able to really say so I feel pretty lucky!“

What makes you and your work unique?

“I think no one really feels unique. I think my sensitivities and my ear and my taste makes me unique, hopefully. I spent the last few years in Chicago feeling pretty uncool and I think I’ve always just stuck to what I truly like to do, whether or not anyone caught on or not. I think in the long run staying true to yourself will make you unique?”

Do you have a brand or artist statement?

“I’ve never thought about that. But as a joke once I created my own genre (sleep rock) and now that’s how everyone describes my music. Maybe that’s my brand— being sleepy? I’m a pretty low energy person, so it works I hope.”

Do you have a mission or vision?

“My mission is to keep making records forever and not be afraid of my own tenderness. My vision is constantly changing but also somehow stays consistent. I’m excited to push myself more with this next album and maybe tap into something new. I want to always make music for the love of it. It’s easy to feel pressured to write and make things that a relevant, but I think my vision has always been pretty clear and I always know exactly what each song needs.”

Do you have career goals laid out for the next year? What about the next 5-10 years?

“For the next year, lots of touring. I will be doing a US tour for the month of March, a European tour in May and another shorter European tour in August (and am playing the end of the road festival as well) I’m going to be working on my next record in between and more heavily in the fall. It’s hard to say what the next 5-10 years will look like…but I really hope to see more of the world, and hear my music in some movies I like? I hope I can co-write and work with more musicians I admire. And I hope I learn so much more about producing and engineering!”

How are you connecting and building audiences and how do you market to them?  

“I think touring has helped me connect with a lot of new people. I think the internet has been kind to me, especially when I wasn’t touring as much. Instagram has been a great networking tool for me. I’ve never really had much of a strategy but I now have a manager who thinks about these things a bit more than I do. Spotify playlists seem to be a pretty big deal for smaller artists getting their names out there.”

What opportunities are you on the lookout for?

“I would love to open for Imogen Heap before I die? Jk but not really. I’m sort of looking into and considering some labels for my next release.”

Who are your role models?

“Imogen Heap, Nick Drake, Ben Gibbard, Enya, Dido, Sade, Linda Perhacs, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, David Bazan. My grandma. 🙂 I’m sure there are so many more, I feel so heavily influenced by so many musicians. I’m a music lover first.”

How do you fund your work?

“Nowadays most of the money I have leftover from living expenses goes towards all things music related. If I need something for tour. An upcoming music video. Paying an engineer to help me polish up a new song etc. I try to be as frugal as I can with the hopes someday I will have a little more help. I’m starting to work with a publisher, with the hopes that any profit there will help me push myself more and make higher quality work.”

How did you initially get funding?

“I funded the making and production costs of my record with Kickstarter! Orindal Records helped me print more vinyl, and they helped me with some PR with the release.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?

“The hardest thing sometimes is to keep going. Adulthood is so tiring and difficult and expensive and sad and can feel hopeless too. I spent so many years feeling like I didn’t know where to begin. I had all these songs I was writing, but I wasn’t really making any money from any it and I was juggling 3 jobs at one point. And then at times I felt like no one was listening, or I didn’t know my place or voice in music— but somehow I kept working on it anyway. I think my biggest challenge was taking the plunge and actually making my record. It took so much out of me and was one of the most labor intensive things I’ve done, but I enjoyed it so much and it was the first time in my adult life that my work didn’t totally deplete me. It was a huge turning point for me because I realized I wanted to make this a career. I visualized it and I started to believe it and well, now it’s my job!”

While an artist’s success isn’t measured by how many credits they have on Allmusic.com or how many monthly listeners they hold on Spotify, it does give an idea of the work they do and how the listeners react. I researched one artist who has “made it” and is pretty much at the top of their game within their genre. I also gained a lot of valuable information from the two artists that I personally interviewed who are closer to where i’m currently at in the world of music producing.

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