There are many great Indie musicians struggling to get their music heard and delivered to the world. Thanks to Myspace finding these great Indie voices is easier than ever. In my searches on Myspace I have discovered many great talents. Each one has their story and their voice. Jon Zucker is one such great voice I found. He has a great voice and an interesting story behind searching for his dream to get his voice heard. He graciously agreed to let me interview him.
When did you first get an interest in performing music?
Jon – When I was just 8 years old, I won tickets to see Billy Joel at Madison in New York City, my first concert. That night changed my life. I was in awe of the way he brought 20,000 fans together with his songs and performance. I began playing piano and singing when I was around 14, but had terrible stage fright.
I got over my stage fright while in college, in an amazing way – by getting on stage with Billy Joel! I had been waiting since that first concert for the opportunity, and got to live out my dream in front of 2,000 people, singing and playing piano on “I’ve Loved These Days” with my idol. This gave me confidence to perform, and I started to seek out more opportunities.
Who are your music idols?
Jon – When I was very young, I was obsessed with Billy Joel, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and the Beatles, who remain my favorites of all time. In high school and college, I was very into REM, Counting Crows, and Oasis. From a songwriting perspective, I also always looked up to James Taylor, Jim Croce, Paul Simon, and the Eagles. Two artists who are more contemporary but still idols to me for their songwriting are Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes and the late Elliott Smith.
Tell me about the albums you have out and the songs on them?
Jon – I have two albums out, “April Rain” and “Constant State of Fantasy.” April Rain is an album about finding my way as a songwriter and performer and telling my story, as a New Yorker who left a steady Wall Street career behind to chase my dream. I still had not fully found my own voice, and certain influences are very clear in the songs. The title song is sort of a tribute to artists like Counting Crows and the Wallflowers, artists I was listening to heavily when I began writing songs in college. The song “Fit Me Like a Glove” was me trying to capture a John Lennon in the 70s sort of mood. It’s about finding the right person who compliments me in good times and bad. I wrote “Through You” after reading a story about a young girl who lost her mother in Iraq and was asking all these questions about who was going to raise her, who was going to be there as a mother figure. It is still one of my most meaningful songs.
The “Constant State of Fantasy” album represents my growth as a songwriter and musician, and deals with my story of moving to the West Coast. It is a hopeful album, and the songs were highly influenced by my interactions with my lyrical mentor, Marty Panzer, here in Los Angeles. Marty wrote “Through the Years” for Kenny Rogers and is very big on the notion that happy songs will be more successful and live on longer than sad ones. The title track is my observation of people in Los Angeles – no matter what bad things are going on, the sunshine and palm trees puts everyone in a “constant state of fantasy.” “Wasting Time” is an important track on the album, as it deals with the theme that life is short and we should go after our dreams as opposed to those of our parents, spouses, or society. “New York City” is my tribute to my home, and talks about how, although I felt the need to move to Hollywood to make my dreams come true, it would never have been possible without the inspiration and experiences I go out of growing up in New York. In “Empty Wishes” I speak from a soldier’s perspective, angry at a hypocritical government for misleading him and taking him away from his family. It’s a heavy, sad story, but one I felt I had to tell. “Someday Soon” is sort of the flipside to that track. It’s an upbeat song about people coming together to make the world a better place.
Did you write all of the songs?
Jon – I write all of the songs I record. The songs on my albums are all completely mine, with the exception of “Solid Ground,” which I co-wrote with a talented songwriter named Josh Altman. We wrote the song in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, as a modern take on the themes expressed in “Bridge over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel. On my next album, I expect to have some collaboration, as I am continually meeting and co-writing with talented artists in LA and New York.
Can you tell me more about your decision to leave Wall Street to pursue your dream?
Jon – Leaving Wall Street was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I had a dream life on the outside – I was making great money, had the respect of my colleagues, and was well on my way to the top. However, something was missing. The death of my stepbrother David at the age of 31 was a wakeup call for me. David battled kidney disease from the time he was 17, and truly lived every day like it could be his last. In his short life, he accomplished many of his dreams, including starting a company, getting his airplane pilot’s license, and even getting married. He was an inspiration to me, and I decided I owed it to his memory and to myself to start living my life to the fullest. Music had always been my passion, but I suppressed it while I spent all of my energy climbing the corporate ladder. I finally decided it was time to take a risk, and I resigned from my job to pursue a creative life.
Have you ever regretted this decision?
Jon – I have had moments of doubt, but I truly have never regretted this decision. At times, as I’ve watched my former colleagues and other friends rise in their careers, start families, and build wealth, I have wondered what my life would have been like had I stayed on Wall Street. But then I remind myself of why I made the decision and how gratifying my journey has been.
What did your family and friends think when you told hem you were leaving Wall Street to pursue music?
Jon – My family was actually very supportive. I am lucky in that way. They believe in my ability to take care of myself, financially and otherwise, and knew that I was not fulfilled in my job. I think my parents, in some ways, were glad I would take chances they were unable to make. They were and still are both amazing writers, but left their passion to work corporate jobs so that I could have opportunities they never had. So in a way, they could vicariously live through my adventures in the creative world.
My friends were a little less supportive. They had trouble wrapping their heads around the idea that I could walk away from such a lucrative job to pursue something in which I had very little formal training or experience. I believe they thought it was just “a phase” and that I would be back on Wall Street within a year. Here we are, four years later… Once I started making records and playing big shows, they finally started to see I was serious.
Do you have a favorite song of them all and if so why?
Jon – I love track two on “Constant State of Fantasy,” a song called “Way Up There.” I think I like it so much because it came to me so fast. I was in New York in April of 2006 and had a gig coming up the next day. I had a melody in my head, took out the guitar, and the song came out in an hour’s time. It is one of the most innocent and honest songs I have written. It is about accepting your partner’s faults because, in the big picture, he or she is there for you when it matters most, and all those little annoying things are meaningless.
What is the hardest part of trying to break into the music industry?
Jon – It is so competitive and the marketplace is so fickle. You have to deal with a lot of different personalities to get your music heard, get the right gigs and find opportunities. The other big problem is that we live in an age where suddenly everyone believes music should be free. So you spend all this time and money producing an album and then are expected to give it away in the hopes that you will build a fan base that will support you by going to your shows and buying merchandise. There is a big initial investment required with no assurance that you will ever recoup your costs.
How does it feel singing in front of crowds and having them love what you do?
Jon – This is what it’s all about. Performing my original music and truly entertaining people is the biggest high imaginable. For that hour onstage, every worry in the world slips away and I enter a zone where I can do no wrong. There is an incredible release of adrenaline, and the best part, is when people in the audience connect to the songs and connect to each other as well. I have watched people meet at my shows and end up getting married, and that is a great feeling, like there is something bigger going on.
You were recently on the NBC Show “The Singing Bee”, can you tell me more about this experience?
Jon – This was an interesting experience because, while it was a lot of fun and I won a bunch of money, it also made me realize how important the creative element of what I do is to me. I now know that I am not in this for fame or fortune, but truly to write great songs and have them heard. Singing other people’s songs, even to a TV audience of 7 million, was not nearly as gratifying as singing my own work to even a dozen folks. That said, it was a total riot dancing on stage with Joey Fatone and Village People, under the hot lights and in front of a studio audience of 600 people. It’s not easy work putting together a TV show. If I told you how long it took us to tape what ended up being 22 minutes on air, you might not believe me….
Can you tell me more about the documentary you are going to be in about Independent artists?
Jon – My friend, a talented filmmaker and musician named Chris Valenti, wrote and directed this film. It is described thusly: “Every independent music artist is excited receive the first 1, 000 copies of their new CD. After selling some to their fans, giving out others to their family and friends, and sending out copies to various music industry and media people, they then share another experience every other artist has: What do you do with the other 800 CDs still sitting in your living room?”
I was featured in this film, along with other talented artists including Mark Latham and Phil Johnson. Chris and his crew literally followed me around Los Angeles as I hit up businesses to sign up sponsors to help back the production of my CDs and support my touring efforts.
We are really excited because the film’s world premiere is Jan. 23rd at the Park City Film and Music Festival, which is under the umbrella of the Sundance Film Festival. Chris, Mark, Phil, and I are supporting the release of the film by playing 3 gigs in Park City, Utah during Sundance, at major venues along the main strip. I think this is going to be a great opportunity to showcase our music to the top filmmakers in the world, and it should also be a lot of fun!
Can you tell me more about having your music on TV and Film?
Jon – I will say that one of the most surreal experiences of my life was seeing and hearing myself on TV. My first “placement” was actually when I performed three of my own songs on a live TV show, and the show also used other clips throughout the broadcast. It’s hard to express in words. I had another big break a few months ago, when a song I wrote for a couple getting married on a TV show was accepted as part of the program. These and other opportunities provide great validation that what I do can have an impact on people I don’t even know. More recently, I’ve signed deals to place my songs in some new projects, but with the current Hollywood writers’ strike, a lot of them are up in the air right now, unfortunately.
Of all the places you have been able to perform which is the one you enjoyed the most?
Jon – My favorite venue is the Cutting Room in New York City. I used to be merely a fan at this venue, cramming in to see acts like Norah Jones perform while hoping to get a glimpse of co-owner Chris Noth (Mr. Big from Sex and the City) and his celebrity friends. Then, when I released “April Rain” in 2005, the other co-owner, Steve Walter, was so intrigued by my story of leaving Wall Street to pursue my dream that he booked me to play the venue, even though it was way out of my league at the time. It was the thrill of a lifetime, playing the huge grand piano on a legendary stage. That first show went so well that I now regularly perform at the club when I’m on the East Coast, and Steve and I have become good friends.
Many artists are using MySpace now to help with promoting them how has using Myspace helped you with your career?
Jon – The best part of Myspace has been getting my music to people that I otherwise would never have reached simply by touring. Fans have found me when looking for music that sounds like bands they like, and I’ve gotten the most incredible messages from people around the world that have enjoyed my music. I realized the significance of Myspace when I made my live TV debut in early 2007 in Sacramento. I didn’t know a soul in Sac-town, yet through Myspace I was able to set up a big gig at the best club in the city, Marilyn’s on K, and promote both my TV appearance on Good Day Sacramento and the gig. I was overwhelmed to play to a full house and then have so many folks come up to me and say they found me on myspace, watched me on TV and just had to see me at the show!
Is there any advice you can give someone wanting to get started in the music business?
Jon – I would say to block out as much of the “noise” as you can. There will be a lot of people who tell you it’s too hard to make a living as a musician, but if you believe in yourself and have a unique story to tell, you have to follow your dream. It is critical to understand the “business” part of “music business,” and get help from people you trust on issues such as web design, publishing rights, and licensing. It is important to think outside the box, and build lasting relationships with fans, continuing to release new albums and merchandise, while communicating through newsletters and blog posts.