Recently I had the chance to speak with a very driven artist who has crafted his own intelligent and unique brand of rock n’ roll. In fact, he seems to share some of the same inclusive ideas as my own on the subject. I’m excited to introduce you to an artist you’ll no doubt be hearing much more about – Mr. Jon Prophet.
Welcome to Independent Music Promotions. Tell us about Jon Prophet and what you bring to the table.
Jon Prophet is a sort of exaggerated version of who I am as a person. He is an iconoclastic and hubristic character I feel. I’m sort of pulling from the old healing revival preacher or snake oil salesman characters but with what I feel is an obvious sense of irony. Not everybody seems to get it. I once offered a sort of humanist communion at a show which consisted of dark chocolate wafers and wine complete with the communion trays and white gowned ladies handing them out. I’ve also lit marshmallows on fire ritually like Hendrix on stage and then threw them out into the audience. It was good fun and thankfully nobody was burned in the process. So obviously for me a good live show has always been important.
I’m as much a fan of the arts as I am an artist. But I’m also a bit of a theatre geek and if feel if you are going to put on a show, which denotes something visual, then you should use the medium to it’s utmost, not just stand there and regurgitate your songs verbatim. It’s important for me to try and create authentic, holy moments for people that they can take with them, something that impacts them deeply enough so that when they hear my songs again, it will ignite something in them that they will viscerally feel.
It’s a lofty goal but that’s the only thing that keeps me interested in performing live.
I always vacillate between introvert and extrovert. Sometimes I think I could just hide out in the studio and make records forever but the truth is I am too interested in life and in people for that to last long. I’m a huge fan of Bill Moyers. He seems to take a genuine interest in so many subjects and I can totally relate to that.
As an artist I feel I bring to the table a consciousness that I find rare in music world. It’s changing slowly but I feel that artists and musicians in particular get caught up in the idea of a “music scene” and lose music as an art form. And instead of making some definitive statements that actually reflect what they think and who they are they just write pretty, catchy songs that the masses can easily digest. I see much more courage in the world of visual art that way. To be honest, that is what Rock-n-Roll is to me. It’s not about genre or sound. It’s about attitude. It’s about having the courage and will to push boundaries and make things uncomfortable if need be. Art is not just about escapism for me. So for me a guy like Scott Walker is Rock-n-Roll, not by way of sound but by way of attitude.
I’m always evolving and pushing myself to do something fresh and I’m not limited by the medium. I am a writer, photographer and filmmaker as well. And by that I mean I’ve actually made my livelihood from these endeavors. And being such a proponent of the arts and creativity in generally I always try to bring something exciting to my audience that isn’t necessarily something that I had anything to do with. But it will be something that has inspired my own work in some way. For example, I just finished a documentary series with an artist friend of mine based in Austin that was extremely inspiring to work on. That can be seen on my blog http://tantrictraveler.com/the-fine-art-of-roi-james/
What do you feel are some of the ways that indie artists should adapt and change in today’s music industry? What qualities should a successful artist have?
Money is not in making records anymore, especially for Indie artists. So it’s gotta come from other more creative synergies. You have to apply your creativity as much into how you present what you do and who you present it to, as you do your actual music. It’s a big ask but I think that is what it takes for most of us. Also, while I think indie artists need to be on the cutting edge of technology and use it to it’s fullest capabilities to help convey their message, we must never forget that what people want is not great songs but an extraordinary experience. Create that for them through creative videos and live performances and you will win your fans. The songs are vehicle for the experience in my opinion and the music video/film and more importantly the live show is a chance to connect, create and convey that experience collectively.
It’s important not to get too hung up on the “tactics” of marketing or you’ll lose the plot though. At the end of the day, we all want more or less the same things; to feel a sense of belonging and connection, to be moved out of where we may be at the moment to somewhere more beautiful. Music has enormous power in that regard. When I hear a favorite song by Chris Whitley or Jeff Buckley or listen to an Indian Raga or some Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan it’s almost like I’ve taken a hallucinogenic of some kind. It sends me off. But the same can be said of RATM just in a different way.
I also think it’s very important that an artist or band needs to be authentic and indomitable in who they are and what they are about. If you are about sex, drugs and rock-n-roll or if you’re into praise and worship, whatever you are about, be that fully and completely and don’t be afraid to scare off those people who aren’t into what you do. But that also comes with knowing who you are as a person which is a bigger challenge for most.
What have you found works well for you as far as promotion goes?
Social media of course is prime. But you have to use it mindfully. People don’t like to be sold to as much as they just want to connect on some level. So you have to give your potential audience a way into you and your world. That may be through a clever music video or just an interview video of who you are and what you do. It may be by going through an “industry gate keeper” if you will, like someone who has an audience already that would appreciate what you do and building a relationship with them. I’m more of a person to person kind of guy so it’s hard for me to feel real connected in the virtual world.
You also have to think old school too. I found a cool little business card looking thing at a coffee shop the other day from a band that I picked up and took home. It was basically a free download card but it was well designed and caught my eye enough to grab it and check out the band online. So well designed eye catching flyers, posters, download cards and such work well too. But try and quantify your results by offering something that people will want on the material that is trackable. So you know where to focus your efforts. This goes for online marketing efforts as well. And last but certainly not least, getting out there, gigging and building relationships with real people. I highly suggest getting out of your local area and even doing small regional tours. Don’t just stick to major cities. You can limit your competition factor by going to smaller towns where they don’t get much action because you’ll find they are starving for something interesting to do. Make connections online and do house concerts if the smaller towns don’t have proper venues you can play.
Control your environment. Don’t let clueless so called booking agents put you with acts who are no good or don’t fit your vibe. It can do more harm than good. I find it’s better to put yourself in the role of booker and control the nights show from top to bottom. It’s more work but a better payoff in the end because of the quality and continuity factor. Bring your own sound man if you can. Control how you best the lighting will compliment your music. Decide the pre-show and in between set-up music. Determine the quality of the other acts you bring on and how it compliments what you do. Work with like minded bands and create your own scene where ever you are. Get over the competition thing and save that energy for the stage to offer the most kickass show you’ve ever done.
Who in music today do you most admire most and why?
I admire different artists for different reasons. Sadly many of my favorites are deceased. Artistically I admire artists like Scott Walker, Bjork, Radiohead, Beck, Mos Def, Tricky, PJ Harvey
For their ability to keep it up, figuratively and literally, I like the Stones, U2, BB King, Pearl Jam
I think John Mayer has been able to ride the not so fine line between pop pablum and quality music.
For pure business savvy you cant deny Jay Z and for the pure show biz wow factor I think Lady Gaga is currently tops, though I have no interest in what she offers musically I appreciate the effort that goes into wowing the audience with spectacle. Though I suppose the same could be said for the gladiatorial arenas of Rome. Just kidding.
I’m also really enjoying the newer wave of bands that embrace the older folk sounds in new ways and the bands that blend of organic and electronic sounds that are getting some action as of late.
Do you have any advice for independent musicians who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?
I don’t know if this will translate but if you don’t HAVE to do it, don’t! In my opinion one must be possessed by the muse so to speak. It’s a mad business and it’s not going to get any easier as more people flood the market with mediocrity. That is the blessing and the curse of technology. You still have to filter through the dirt to find the gold. Thankfully there’s an app for that. -joke.
Seriously though, stay focused on WHY you do what you do. For me it was reconnecting with the fact that music took me to places I’d never gone before. I was my first meditation, my first sense of the timeless moment. Thankfully I have a number of ways to reach that state now thanks to yoga and meditation but music was my first. It was so cathartic in a time when I needed it (my teenage years) and it saved me thousand of dollars and years of therapy I’m quite certain. So, if you can truly lose yourself in the process of making music then it’s in you and regardless of what I or anyone else says you’ll find a way to make it. Whether it becomes a livelihood is another matter. If you are just interested in the “music scene”, need attention or other’s approval or god forbid, still think you’re going to get rich, forget it. I’d find another profession. Work for a talent agency or something like that if you love the arts and the scene and work for and/or rob a bank of you want to get rich…obviously.
How can music fans keep tabs on Jon Prophet?
Fans can keep tabs on me through my blog tantrictraveler.com facebook.com/jonprophetmusic and through jonprophetmusic.com. I’m also offering a free 5 song EP that I usually sell for $5 just for people who join my mailing list on my Facebook page.