This interview is a little bit out of the ordinary for Americana UK . The main rationale for interviewing Dan Tedesco is his self-developed and innovative online Dan Tedesco Music Channel rather than his alt-folk rock influenced music, and as such it is aimed at any musicians who visit this site and are looking at possibly innovative ways of maintaining and improving their income. That isn’t to say the interview wouldn’t also be of interest to non-musicians who take a wider interest in all things musical. Finally, we shouldn’t forget that Dan Tedesco is a musician who has clear views on the impact of legacy rock acts and how people can make flawed assumptions about musicians who play the acoustic guitar as he delivers his brand of alt-folk rock. We are living in changing and challenging times and Dan Tedesco makes a full contribution to the debate on how we can possibly deal with the emerging challenges.
How are you, I hope you and your family and friends are all OK and coping with the challenges of coronavirus?
We have done OK, the main downside is the amount of time the two kids have had to spend stuck at home. What helped a bit was the timing of the year when this whole thing went down. Coming out of winter into spring means we have been able to get outside quite a bit. If it had started last fall that would have been significantly worse. We are sailing along in our little world.
While a pandemic was always a possibility it was never at the forefront of people’s minds, including governments.
That is very true. I had quite a full summer planned so I started calling around in March about what may happen and within a week of my calls, most things were shut down. I remember talking to people in February and thinking this thing is getting better and within a month, boom and it’s gone.
Is there anything in your background that prepared you for developing your own platform, the Dan Tedesco Music Channel (DTMC)?
That is a good question. I have people in my family who have done things with business, a friend of my brother was the first person I talked to about going in this direction and that conversation was back in 2010. I made an attempt back then to put something together but it was much more cumbersome the way it was built. The technology just wasn’t quite there and there were too many steps required to use it. I knew it needed to be something that is as seamless as possible and accessible from multiple devices. Since having the idea ten years ago I’ve kept going back to it and trying it again. I have also always been an independent musician, starting in 2006 as far as making a living playing. So I have many years as an independent business person thinking of creative ways to make things work, not sacrifice the art but still get the income you need to keep things going forward. Some of the challenges I have had as an independent musician is like trying to get the numbers on Spotify and trying to play the games on social media to try and get everything going in the way you need and build that whole network you want and are supposed to, to get the attention of the people you are trying to build things through, be that a booking agent or a label. The challenges I have had trying to get those numbers to a certain point also fuelled this because the frustration of somebody with only so much money to play with comes from the fact that those numbers are really almost unobtainable by yourself without the help of somebody, be that a financial thing or someone with enough reach to plug you into their system and then push you out there to get the exposure you need. If you don’t have those things you are really just banging on a locked door. I read a few of Michael Gladwell’s books, ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Outliers: The Story Of Success’ for example, and some of them inspired me to think even more aggressively outside of the box, if you pardon me for using that expression. While music is one of the most popular things on the planet the market is saturated with product. I thought if I can find my own space it would be a massive step forward because it is really hard to do in the music industry, whether you are talking artistically or from a business perspective. I’m not bothered about making a lot of money only having the space to do what I want to do. I don’t know of anybody who has anything like DTMC. I have steered away from exclusives and a fan club type approach. It is more about giving you everything for a basic fee for the year. You get everything I have done and do for that year. It is really clean and simple. I will still use channels like Spotify but I am turning them around and getting them to point at DTMC. I plan to use Spotify like radio. I won’t give them my whole record, only two or three songs, and if you like what you hear you can come and check out this channel, and if you want it you can have all of it. I am re-releasing my first album for 2009 and I will be putting an interview on DTMC with my producer from back then. I’ve putting together some performance pieces I’ve recorded. I’ve got a storytelling element from back in the day, with pictures. The aim is to make it a multi-media experience. On top of that, there is the new release I am working on with is a new EP, and I have been rolling it out a song a month. In a given month there will be all this coming at you, including technical information about my rig and techniques. I want people who are interested, to be able to really know me as an artist rather than just a picture on Instagram. You get this for $100 per year, which is $8 per month which is just the cost of a beer here in the US.
A lot of middle and lower tier artists are moving away from streaming because the numbers just don’t work for them. You seem to be trying to turn this around by retaining ownership of your music and only giving the big streaming platforms some of your work to entice people to come to the DTMC.
People might say by doing this you will limit your audience. I don’t think that is true because I have been playing that game for so long that I have seen what my audience looks like. If I can get those same numbers and the people are supporting me, instead of just listening and saying thank you. Ultimately I want my music to be heard but there is a baseline that has to be covered if you want to make music. You have to be careful because the musician thing is in such a weird place these days and people don’t like paying for music even though it costs money to produce. If I want artwork I need to pay someone, if I need support musicians they need paying, outside producers and engineers, the same. Music seems to be so devalued because of the amount of it that is out there. People don’t realise they are ripping artists off if they don’t pay a fair price for their music. Music is almost like a loss leader now. It used to be you toured to support an album, now you have an album so that people will come to see you play live. One cool thing about DTMC is that people can see me live from where ever they live, including other parts of the world where I may never get to play in. I don’t want to exclude anyone from DTMC and I honestly don’t think the charges will do this. It really means people need to get used to paying for something that other artists are doing yet. Streaming is very powerful for checking out new music, and I use it myself for that purpose, but it isn’t a viable platform for most artists to sell their recorded work because the numbers are so bad.
If any of our Americana UK readers are interested in your work or ideas what will they have to do?
If you go to the site now there is a big banner on the home page that says click for more information and it will take you to a page that explains DTMC a bit more about where I am coming from and what I am doing with it in more detail. If anyone wants to sign-up, it is simple, there is a button to press and you enter your names, email and payment. You will then get a welcome email a couple of minutes later and from then on you will get my regular Monday updates. The site also has an archive section that allows subscribers to find out stuff they may have missed for whatever reason.
What has been the take-up up to now?
I opened the site in July and I am around 35 subscribers now. For the first few months, I can’t really argue with that. As it is so new I would be happy if I had 10 people signed up. My ultimate goal is to get 4 or 5 subscribers a week. I have had some very strong feedback but the challenge is that with COVID a lot of people in the US are in a tight place financially. As much as this is an interesting time to launch something like this with the lack of touring it is also tricky because of the financial situation. People don’t just have $100 lying around where last year it may not have been an issue.
In a sense, COVID seems to have facilitated the launch of DTMC?
It wasn’t by design as such, but yes it has given me more time to devote to setting it up now I can’t tour.
What is publishing like under your model?
I self publish and therefore I own virtually all my own content so I can do whatever I want with it. Everything is cleared to be done this way and really, that hasn’t changed at all.
Are you tempted to try and package this and sell it to other artists?
That is a very interesting question and I have definitely thought about it. At this point, I am not sure how you would wrap up the intellectual property rights that surround it. I’m not using a proprietary system that I have built into my website, I am using other pieces of software to facilitate the whole experience. I don’t know if there is a legal way to do it but I could see maybe pursuing something like that in the future and I would also like to see my own success with it get to a certain point before thinking this is something other people would take seriously. If I achieve what I expect to achieve, then in another year it would be something that would be interesting to pursue. The closest thing I have seen to what I am doing is what Neil Young is doing with ‘Archives’, it is not really the same because he is looking back but the things he has done with his previous work is what I am planning to do with my whole work. I like to drop little bits for people to chew on rather than a whole album. People are consuming music differently and if you drop a whole album, in a couple of weeks the interest is gone. Where there is a gradual release of tracks, the interest is maintained for longer. Nobody is talking about Dylan’s ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ on social media anymore and that is a great album that has only been released for a couple of months. This is an album from a massive artist, his first in 5 or 6 years and it is already behind the wave. It is hard to keep on people’s radar who want to be on your radar, let alone people who don’t know you. The fact I post every week and let people know that I hope helps keep me at the front of their minds.
Coming to your own music, to give people a handle on where you are coming from, who are your big influences?
The reason I play guitar is because of Eddie Van Halen. My influences are really all over the place. I went through a big jazz phase on the guitar, players like Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass plus the hard bop and bebop era with Coltrane and Miles Davis. My dad is a big classical music fan and I grew up with a lot of that around and I am a fan of the older classical guys, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussey. My big three for songwriting are Dylan, Petty and Springsteen. Those three are the biggest influence as a songwriter. Then I am also a huge Tom Waites fan and if I want to be inspired I will go and listen to Tom Waits. He makes me want to write like 50 songs because he has so much creative energy. I am not a massive country type guy and to me, americana still falls on an alt-country sort of thing. I have given up trying to work out where rock’n’roll falls anymore mind you.
Nobody really knows anymore.
I have just read an interview with Springsteen because of the new album and at the end, he toasted the journalist and “To rock’n’roll, whatever is left of it.”. I prefer the ‘70s guys because I think back then things weren’t as micro genrefied, if you get what I mean. You could have an artist whose record embodied various styles, ranges and dynamics and now I feel everyone is fitted into these little cliques and groups. I don’t know whether that is to fit the streaming model or help with playlists. I have a harder time with that because my influence is all over the place and I let that come through in my music. You can listen to one song of mine and it could be kind of like an old Dylan song, another may echo ‘90s grunge while another is a folk song. I love that about myself but it doesn’t always work well with the marketing models. That is another benefit of DTMC, I’m free to play what I want.
Speaking to many American americana artists it is very clear what an influence Tom Petty has had, but back in the day, he was simply rock’n’roll so that supports your point.
Some of the guys at the top of americana like Jason Isbell are like country artists who aren’t part of the big machine in my mind. When I think of Dylan, Springsteen or Petty I don’t think of them as country artists even though they have country influences. Artists who are now at the legacy level are hard to categorise because they came from such a different time. If they came out right now, then I think they would be viewed and classified differently. It also means that chances are we will never get a big deal again because of the fragmentation. Speaking to current musician friends the view is that current artists are doing well to play theatres and when the Springsteens are gone no one will take their place in the arenas. They are the last of that wave. It could be that americana is really the modern heartland rock of the ‘80s. Where does John Prine fit? I think he is not rock’n’roll but is the godfather of americana scene. I didn’t grow up listening to John Prine it was much more rock artists but rock artists who were really good songwriters live Pete Townshend or Ronnie Van Zandt. I think where the rub falls for me is I started out as a band guy and then I turned into a solo artist. When you are a solo artist with an acoustic guitar people in their brain just go there. I’m always trying to redefine that, I want to break down that mould and say I can have an acoustic guitar but I don’t have to be John Prine. I run my guitar through all these different effects and push the sonic landscape to where it can get close to punk-metal at times. I like to slam that up against the folk melody thing. I don’t want to be limited by any one scene or genre as people can put blinders on if you are not part of a particular scene. Listen to my music, if you like it great and if you don’t like it that is also great in its own way.
What is your latest album?
‘Americana Darkness’ came out in June last year. I put out an EP as kind of a companion to it and they are definitely part of some piece. That came out in January this year and is called ‘Who Knows How Long Will This Last’, and then with the launch of the DTMC, in July, I started rolling out a new EP of mine which is called ‘Dopamine’ and that is coming out on this new format at one track a month, completing its release in December.
Finally, is there anything you want to say to our readers in the UK?
While I’ve made trips to Europe I have never played there, so the one thing I want to say is I hope to see you guys one day when this thing is over.
Dan Tedesco’s Music Channel can be found here.