(October 9, 2007)
Q: Hello Ernie, how are you doing?
A: It’s 2:30am and I just got home, so a little sleepy but otherwise good! :]
Q: First of all, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A: I look younger than I am. I live in Southern California. My favorite restaurant is ‘Gardens of Taxco’ on Santa Monica and Harper. I’ve been singing and playing music most of my life, but only got serious with touring 2 years ago.
Q: Earlier this year, you released your 2nd album, “Congress Hotel“. How are the reactions so far?
A: Fans dig the record. It has a little bit of everything for everyone. Most critics had really good things to say about the record. The not so good reviews still were encouraging and pointed out areas I’m working on in my own writing. Having my record reviewed was kind of a nerve racking experience. Ultimately though, it’s the people who buy my record who’s opinion matters most to me. Some critics will hate you no matter what. So eff um. As long as I’m honest in my songwriting, and people connect with it. Thats what counts.
Q: A few years ago, you released a first CD, that also had cover songs on it. What was the reason you decided to put cover songs on your first CD, instead of just your own songs?
A: Well the majority of the songs were my own. But I included a few covers, because I think a good song is a good song. And the interpretation of someone else’s material is art in itself. Plus, the singer/performer in me really loves those tunes. Like Elvis Costello‘s “Alison”. I pour myself into it. (listen to Alison by Elvis Costello / Listen to Allison by Ernie Halter)
Q: A big step in your career as a singer/songwriter has been self-promotion through Myspace.com. Can you describe how much of an impact this has had, and still has, on you and your career?
A: It’s been huge. I keyed onto things about Myspace before most had. I recognized the opportunity, and knew it would be here and gone. I treated it like my job. I used creative ways to make it easier for fans to spread and discover my music. For example, before Myspace had the ‘add a song to your profile’ feature, I was offering ‘codes’ that fans could copy and paste and add my music to their Myspace pages. The quicktime player would not only stream my music, but also had a link to my Myspace, and a link to the song code itself. It was totally viral. I made $30,000 the first year on Myspace with sales of “Lo-Fidelity“. Myspace isn’t going anywhere, but it’s changed a lot. Now, I’m using it more to get the fans I have, telling others about my music. I still use Myspace as my main website (even though i have an official one), by constantly adding new content and keeping people involved with what I’m doing. I post new songs, write blogs, promote shows, etc.
Q: More and more community websites like Myspace.com are popping up everywhere on the web. Do you think this is a good development? Or do you think it would be better if there were only a few so that the music fans won’t have to sign up at a ton of different places to find out about a talented new artist?
A: I’m leaning toward the latter. The fewer sites there are, the more chance for a momentum to build up for an artist. It’s pointless to try and be everywhere at once. I’d rather focus my efforts on only a few sites, so that fans know where to go to find new content.
Q: One of those other communities, specifically meant for independent artists, is SellABand.com. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. You can sign up for free and you create a profile to promote yourself and your music. Other people on there can become your ‘believer’ and invest money in your music. Once enough invested you get to make a CD and the profits made from the CD & digital downloads will be split between you, Sellaband, & your believers. (for more details, click here). What do you think of initiatives like this? Can it really help the music industry?
A: I’ve never heard of this, but I think its a cool idea. It reminds me of my friend Kat Parsons (Kat’s Myspace). a local LA singer/songwriter, she took donations for her record (before she made it) in exchange for mentions in liner notes and other ways of showing thanks. It worked. She raised at least $10,000 or more. Enough to make and release her own record. Anythng that puts the power back into the hands of artists and fans is good by me.
Q: You have a very wide range of musical influences. But what musical acts do you consider to be most influential on your sound and song writing?
A: My vocal sound is almost very much old soul and R&B. I love Stevie Wonder, and Otis Redding, Aretha [Franklin], Al Green, Sam Cooke. My writing is influenced by singer/songwriters like The Beatles, James Taylor, Billy Joel, and lots of Nashville writers as well. It’s singer/songwriter with a soulful delivery. So mush that all together and you get, me.
Q: Is there one artist or band you would call your true musical hero(es)/idol(s)?
A: The Beatles. Because the writing was so flawless. Lots of people can play and sing, but great songs are so rare. And the Beatles were all over the map stylistically, yet their delivery was cohesive, and their songs were classic melodies married perfectly with their lyrics.
Q: If you could pick one band or artist that you could tour with, who would it be? And why?
A: John Mayer (John’s Myspace). I’ve known him for years, and have so much respect for his writing and musicianship. Also, because our music is similar enough that might possibly win over the most number of his fans then some other random artist.
Q: Recently you started a series of ‘Cover Requests’. You do a cover of a song that is requested by one (or more) of your fans on Myspace.com. What brought you to this initiative?
A: Sarah Redo of Indieteams.com runs my street team and is more or less a marketing genius. We recognized that keeping people interested and interacting is key. We saw some success other artists have had with this on YouTube.com, and we gave it a go.
Q: I think it’s a great initiative and I really enjoy your takes on the different songs. Do you get a lot of surprising and unexpected requests? And how hard is it to pick the next one every time?
A: We usually go with songs that we get more than one request for. But it’s something I also have to feel I can sell as a singer and musician.
Q: I know of musicians who always turn their socks inside out, and singers who always drink a half glass of beer before they go on stage, no more, no less. Do you have any rituals like this?
A: I always check my fly to make sure it’s not open. I also usually write down on a napkin a few funny stories I might want to tell in between songs. I lay it out on stage like a setlist of sorts.
Q: What is the weirdest experience that you had during your career as a singer/songwriter?
A: Having people recognize me on the street. It still trips me out. I also had some girl flash her boobs at me at a gig once. The part that was weird is that it was one of my first gigs ever, at a coffeeshop in Fulleton, CA called Al Cappucino, and I was playing for like 3 people. I think she did it on a dare.
Q: Okay a few random questions now.
Q: Are you a reader? If so, what kind of books do you like? What authors?
A: I like books that teach me ‘how-to’ do things. Some of Deepak Chopra‘s books changed my life and opened my eyes to possibilities I hadn’t thought of. Got me visualizing, setting goals, etc. I also like short stories since my attention span is not the….ummm, what was I saying? I love authors like David Sedaris and Garrison Keillor.
Q: Day or night?
A: Definitely night. PS it’s now 3am
Q: Club venue or arena venue?
A: I’ve only played clubs, and I love the intimacy, but who would turn down playing arenas? Not me. When it comes to watching live music, I almost won’t go see someone in a super big venue anymore. No matter how much I love them.
Q: CDs or digital music?
A: Digital. I take horrible care of my CD’s. I like buying the CD off iTunes and burning a disposable copy.
Q: Okay, last question. What are your thoughts on people downloading music, both legally and illegally?
A: as a musician, the politically correct answer is to say that I think file sharing is the devil, and truth be told, I *do* make my entire (modest) living from the sale of my music. As a music lover, I thought Napster was the best thing since sliced bread. And I myself have done plenty of downloading in my day. But when all is said and done, I still think doing it legally is the best. First it’s instant, you don’t have to search all around for what you’re after. Second, it’s good quality stuff (have you ever burned a disc with a download only to find that the volume levels were all off, and some songs were incomplete, without endings, etc?). Third, you can’t really download whole entire records off Limewire, and if I like an artist, I want to hear everything they’ve done, not just the single. And last, downloading legally is still pretty cheap (10 bucks on iTunes), and you get the satisfaction of knowing you’re supporting the artists that you love. If everyone downloaded my songs, I wouldn’t get to keep writing them. So I very much appreciate those who pay for my hard work.
Thank you Ernie, for taking the time to do this interview. It is very much appreciated.