Interview-Bronson Herrmuth

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NEWSFLASH!  Bronson has just published his first book!  Buy it NOW!

I've known Bronson Herrmuth for a year or two and always found him to be an interesting person to talk to.  Bronson has tons of experience in the music industry ranging from performing, writing, producing, to publishing and beyond.  In my professional contact with him, I've always found him to be a fair and honest and encouraging person who is very excited to lend a hand or a helpful word of advice.  I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a more positive and friendly person.  

I think that Bronson has a unique perspective on music and business and I thought it would be interesting to ask him about some things.

                                                                                                        

Can you explain what you do in the music business?

I am Creative Manager for Al Jolson Enterprises, Inc., and President of Iowa HomeGrown Music, Stepping Stone Productions and SongRepair.com. I work in music publishing, studio and live music production, and songwriter/artist development.

 

You started your company in Iowa, how did you come to move from Iowa to Nashville?

Johnny Drake and I founded Iowa HomeGrown Music together in 1986 in Lee County, Iowa. In 1988 The Ozone Ramblers decided that if we wanted another recording contract, we needed to record our new music again in Nashville.  Johnny's Dad, Pete Drake, who I was writing for and who had produced us in 1981 and helped us get signed to RCA, agreed to produce us again with Johnny engineering and co producing. We went into Pete's studio and cut six songs, but Pete who was in failing health, got too sick to go back in to the studio, and so we put the project on hold, but then Pete died. We never have finished those tracks, we just decided it wouldn't be right, without Pete, so those tapes are still in the Ozone Rambler vault.

By then it was 1989, and we knew it was time to relocate the band to Nashville if we wanted to get another deal. We had cut two more sessions in Nashville with Johnny Drake and Greg Kane, one at Hank Cochrans studio, so we had new recordings to pitch, once we had made the move. When the "smoke cleared" not everyone was ready to make that final move, so we put the band on hold and I moved for the second time to Nashville, where Johnny and I started pitching our songs, working with other songwriters, and building the song catalog of Iowa HomeGrown Music. In 1992 we opened our office's on Music Row, where we are still located today.


I know you have a long history in performing and touring too. Can you mention that?

My first paid gig in a club I was seven. Now 46, I have performed in 42 states and 18 countries. Signed to RCA Mexico from 1981-1985 with my band, The Ozone Ramblers, who celebrate 25 years of touring together in January 2003. Some of the artists I have shared the stage with include Billy Ray Cyrus, Suzy Bogguss, Ray Stevens, David and Allen Frizzell, Johnny Bush, Hal David, Len Doolin and John Schneider. Some of the artists I have opened for include Willie Nelson, Edwin McCain, Johnny Paycheck, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, The Lost Gonzo Band, Black Oak Arkansas, Johnny Rodriguez, Little Jimmy Dickens, and The Imperials. Professionally I play Harmonica, Fiddle, Mandolin and acoustic Guitar, and I sing Lead and Harmony vocals.

(The Ozone Ramblers, circa 1981)

 

Did you find audiences different in different parts of the country, and  different parts of the world?

After so many years of playing music professionally, I pride myself on being a very high energy performer, and I am always working hard to be even better. An audience is an audience to me, be it 1 person or 10,000.  Obviously the more in to it that a crowd is, the more they "give back" to the performer and that of course helps "fuel" the show and makes it lots easier to keep that energy level, but to me it doesn't matter. If you put together your show right, you should be able to entertain anyone, anywhere, that is open to the style of music that you play. Preparing and delivering an ovation getting type show, is the key to success when performing live.  The ability to walk on stage, in any given situation and slay them. To leave the audience begging for more, no matter who they are, or where You are.  Including big shot record executives who have seen it "all".

No doubt that playing overseas means having to deal with the different language barriers and customs of the people where you are, but my experience when playing in other countries has always been very positive and lots of fun. The majority of times, the people are More into it, because they rarely get to see the "real deal". I mean, American performers playing American music live, right there in their hometown. In the states, you are just one of thousands of bands playing that night, but overseas, you are very special
to your audience because you have come so far to entertain them, and that is so cool. I have met so many people from all over the world playing music, and that is the coolest part. Those ongoing relationships.

 

You've played all over the country and all over the world. What was your  favorite place to play? Also, what was your favorite type of place to play?

I have performed in bars, nightclubs, show rooms, concert halls, stadiums, bullfight arenas, fairs and festivals, live on the radio, on TV, in videos, on riverboats, on an aircraft carrier, in casinos, ball rooms, churches, on beaches, mountain tops, Indian reservations and rodeos, for Kings, Princess's and Presidents, in a castle, a prison, at weddings and at funerals.

With that said, I have lots of favorites so this is a hard question for me to just pick one. I guess the Island of Mallorca is right at the top, when I was playing with Milan & Biblioni in the mid seventies. Such a beautiful island and Juan and Pepe were so much fun to jam with. We played clubs, after hour venues and we also street picked, for the tourists and the locals. It was very very cool.

The "was" part of your question should be "is" since my last gig was night before last, but I know what you mean. I love playing outside at fairs and festivals, big crowds, big stages with a lot of room to move, big PA's.  Nothing like the rush from getting up in front of thousands of people and putting on a concert. Outside is always tops for me, of course, weather  permitting.  I have played outside many times and got hit by bad weather, and that isn't much fun at all, and usually very costly when it comes to losing gear and hard on old acoustic instruments.

 

What was the best gig you've ever had?

The first night that The Ozone Ramblers played in Mexico City and were offered recording contracts by 7 different record companies in the dressing room after the show. It was an incredible night and we chose RCA, though we did end up recording a session for Capitol - EMI too on our second tour
where we actually sang in Spanish. That was wild.

 

Everybody has one, tell me about the worst gig you've ever had.

It was New Years Eve, 1991for the grand opening of a private club in "somewhere" Florida. We drove from Nashville to the gig and as soon as we got there, the owner started pushing us to party with him. We had very strict rules about partying when we were playing by then, but being New Years Eve, the club owner pushing us, we said what the heck. BIG mistake and the whole band got totally wiped out, and by the time we hit the stage, we were a mess. We were hired to do 3 shows that night but I don't remember playing the last one, and it is probably best that I don't. Almost all of us got very sick, and the next morning as we left to return to Nashville, there was an ice storm. We could only go about 25, 30 miles an hour All the way back and with most of us sick, it was a horrible ride back. Of course we
were all also very embarrassed and dreading hearing what our Manager and Agent would have to say to us when we got back to town, and they did not disappoint us. One of the only gigs we have ever done, where we were not asked to return. A total disaster.

 

So many bands come and go nowadays. What do you think was the secret of The Ozone Ramblers' success at staying together for so long? Are you still together as a regular band or do you just get together for special occasions?

The Ozone Ramblers started in January of 1978 as a four piece bluegrass band. Over the last 24 years, there have been 18 different people who have been in the band. The last time we performed in August 2002, there were seven of us on stage, including all four of the original members who founded the band. I am the only one who has been there since the beginning and have played on all of our recordings. Several members have quit and come back on more than one occasion as the years have passed, and two have died. We get together to perform several times a year, usually to raise money for something like Jerry's kids, or a benefit of some type, though we do still do occasional paid gigs. Our next performance together will be over the Christmas Holiday up in Iowa and we will be having a big official 25th year reunion gig after the first of the year. That will be a very special show.

Keeping a band together is hard work but really quite simple. The reason that The Ozone Ramblers are still together is that I have kept them together. Obviously the other members have everything to say about their involvement, but I have refused to let the band cease to exist, and I will continue to do so, until the day they bury me. Obviously we are not pursuing a record deal, and no longer live on the road, but there has always been a special magic that happens when The Ozone Ramblers hit a stage that people can identify with and feel. Our fans now range over several generations and we are very proud of the fact that we have always been a band for all ages, and that we have always put on a family type show. We have been through a lot together and it is a very strong bond that we have as a band and with our Fans. A very special bond that all of us respect and have pledged to maintain. The only way to keep a band together is to not let it die. Total refusal to even entertain the thought of breaking up, and the willingness and complete dedication to do what ever it is that you have to, to keep it going, No Matter What.

photo by Chino

How do you get new clients? I mean do people find you through your website etc and contact you, or do you go out looking for new clients?

Client really is not the right word for the people I work with and represent. Songwriters, Artists, Singers, Musicians, Bands are who I work with, either as a publisher, or as a producer. They find me mostly, through books where our companies are listed, from the web sites, from word of mouth. We do advertise occasionally but it is more to promote the songs we publish, or the people we work with, than to actually promote the company. I am approached on a daily basis from folks all over the world, the majority of which are through packages in the mail, then by telephone, then by email or in person. All ages, all styles, pretty much equally male and female these days. It is non ending and we get a lot. Boxes full. I get invited to lots of showcases, performances, many of which I attend. I have several
songwriters/artists I work with where the relationship started by meeting them at a music conference or seminar that I was attending, or speaking at on a panel.

         

Care to give a brief list of some of your clients and what they've done?

To answer this question properly, I would just invite you to visit our web site where you can read about most of them and listen to their music. To list a few, I would feel like I was disrespecting the others, as each and every one of them, are just as important to me in their own right and all part of our creative Family.

The most well known  songwriter/artist that I have worked with creatively would be Suzy Bogguss, and her career speaks for itself. In my opinion, Suzy is one of the best female vocalist in Nashville, today, and she has been for a long time. No disrespect intended, to any of the other female singers when I say this, but Suzy singing on a bad day, tops what most of them can do, on their best. She is the only singer I have ever produced that has perfect
pitch.

 

How do you see the internet in terms of bands these days. Do you think it helps or hurts? I sometimes think the internet is as much a hindrance as it is a help because I think maybe people get addicted to it and don't play out or concentrate as much on the music.

The internet is an incredible source for information and for promotion, if used properly. The easy access to finding places to play, radio stations in the area you are going, accommodations, directions, media info, right at your fingertips. 

Sure, I see that. The internet IS a great resource for researching all those things and can be a huge asset for promotion. What are your thoughts on having a band website?

Having a website for your band is now just part of it, and a great chance to present yourself visually and musically to a global audience. With that said, if you are parked behind a computer, then you are not on stage and that is a major negative. A website is basically a virtual promo package and can be very effective for presenting a band to anyone who does go online and spends a lot of time on the internet. For the industry executives that don't go online much, it is useless. Most of the people that a band would want to work with are extremely busy individuals, and they are working with the person sitting across from them in the room, not surfing the net or sitting in a chat room. Another negative about the internet is that when someone does listen to your music online, they are in most cases listening to a squashed down mp3 file version and not hearing your music to it's full audio potential. The ability to approach the industry by email is very cool, and of course still free. The major problem with contacting someone by email is that obviously they have to open it, read it, then go to the link of your website, then actually read it and listen. Industry folks are no different then the rest of us in this regard. If they don't already know you and recognize your email address, they very likely will just delete your email with a click of their mouse. I look at the internet as just one more tool to promote yourself and your music. If you can find someone to actively maintain your website for you, this is the ultimate. If you just sit in front of your computer, day after day, thinking that someone is going to come to your website, wave a magic wand and make you a Star, you are living in la la land. 

 

So, use the internet as an information resource and an aid to promotion, but not as your total promotion, that's very sound advice. What else is in the recipe for success or getting signed?

The bottom line for a band who is seeking out a recording contract is really very simple. The band has got to play live and tour as much as possible. 3 or 4 nights a month in your hometown is not touring and does not impress anyone, who is in the business. You have to play music for your living if you want to be taken seriously by a record company or manager or agent or attorney, etc.. 

Probably the worse thing I have noticed about bands and the internet, is that once they put up a website and start creating their identity in cyber space, they think they have now exposed themselves properly to the world and that now they don't need a label, or manager or anyone, to make their music and promote it. They pronounce themselves an Artist and convince themselves they are now on another level in their career. The reality I know after over 20 years of dealing with Music Row, is that for a band to be successful they need a solid team around them of very talented people, doing what they do, to promote and support the band. You can't do it alone, it does not work unless you are independently wealthy and money is not the issue. To most bands I know, money Is the main issue, whether they will admit it to you or not. Don't be fooled by looking at your picture on your website, and thinking that makes you special to anyone else in the industry. Use the internet to your advantage, as another promotional and information gathering tool, but don't fool yourself into thinking that spending the majority of your time on line, is the way you are going to get a record deal.

 

A lot of bands now have their own CDs. What effect do you see that having on the music industry?

Bands used to have tapes, then records, now CDs, CDrom's, DVDs. I really don't think it is any different than it always has been. Just another format for recording. The music industry is only concerned with the CD's or product they are putting out in their respective companies. Even with so many CD's coming out now, the percentage of the true artists, who honestly have a shot, is still very tiny. Those are the only artists or bands that the industry overall is looking for.

 

What is your perception of the public's opinion of indie music?

I don't think the public, the average folks out there in the world think about it consciously at all. They manage to hear and be exposed to x amount of music, and they like what they like. I don't think they care what label they are on, or if they are a signed artist. They just know what They like, and that is what they listen to and sometimes, actually support by purchasing their product. People that are involved someway in the music business, or are close to someone who is, are the only ones who think about the music as indie music or major label music. The public has no reason to care or to even think about it like that. They listen to what they like for the sake of enjoying the music.

 

What is your thought on home recording equipment? I mean it's relatively cheap and easy to use. What is your opinion of that? 

Recording studios, big or small, are money pits. Everyone I know who has ever had their own studio, always feels the need to update and add to their gear as fast as they can and they are usually having to deal with some equipment problem, and stressed. Just because someone buys a piece of equipment does not mean they know how to use it properly. Just because they read the manual and can turn it on and make it operate does not make them a top engineer. Whenever music is being recorded in what ever fashion, someone is playing the role of producer.  In most home studios, the person who owns the gear is usually the actual musician playing or creating the music, engineering the sessions, producing the sessions. In the majority of home studios the music being recorded was also written by the studio owner. My thoughts are, just because a person can afford to buy the equipment, set it up, turn it on and operate it, play and sing a song they wrote into a recording machine of some type, it doesn't automatically mean they are Good at it, or that they really know what they are doing. I hear lots and lots of music from all over the world that was recorded on home gear and it is horrible. I know the person who did it thinks it is as good as anything on the market today, and just as valid, and that is why they sent it to me.  Meanwhile when you listen to the quality of their home made recording and the quality of music that comes out of our studio, Masterlink, their tape becomes almost unlistenable, in recording or performance quality. No doubt there are a tiny group of individuals who are really good at it. All parts of it, the engineering, the musicianship, the production, the vocals, the mix, the mastering, and they are to be commended for their work.  Meanwhile 99% of the music made in a home recording situation is what I would call a work tape, or a demo. Not a record. Not a Master. No way.

To sum up my thoughts on this, if you are using your home studio to put out product as an artist, doing it all your self on home gear, more power to you. I wish you luck, but I must say I think you are living in dream world, if you think you will get a recording contract with a major company with the finished product. I think a home studio is a good place to put down song ideas, pre-production, make a demo of your song, but not a place to make records as an artist, unless of course, you Truly are one of those few that are really good at it, or are working with someone who is. Of course, if your goal isn't scoring a recording contract, and you just want to record your music inexpensively, home studio equipment is probably perfect for you.

 

Do you have any words of advice for new songwriters?

Lots, and many of them are in the book I have written, that is almost finished. For the sake of this interview, I will just say this.

There was a survey of songwriters done last year, with hundreds of songwriters, some unpublished, some established writers, some famous and very successful writers. The findings of this survey was then looked over by a selected group of industry exec's to make observations and comments on.  One of the questions asked was similar to this. "Do you think the reason you have not had more success as a songwriter, is that maybe your songs are just not good enough?" Of the 100% of songwriters surveyed, only 3% thought that this might be the reason. 97% thought there songs were just fine, the way they were. Think about that .... another question was something like, "How many of you have invested in your songwriting career, by attending workshops or seminars, or having your music professionally critiqued?" Of the writers surveyed, the vast majority of the successful songwriters, had invested, in books, attended workshops, paying for critiques, etc.. When it came to the songwriters surveyed who had never had any success with their songwriting, almost every one of them said they had never invested any money at all in their songwriting career. Think about it.

The greatest professional songwriters, are the most awesome Re writers. They have the ability to be very critical with their own work, and can detach themselves emotionally, from their songs and then go back to them, and tighten them up by re writing them. Professional songwriting is a craft and like any other craft, the more you do it, the better you can be at it, and just like any other craft, the best way to learn, is from other more skilled craftsmen. That is probably the hardest part of being a new songwriter, getting that input, direction, feedback on the songs you are writing, from someone who really knows. That is the whole reason we started SongRepair.com, to provide new songwriters a place to go to get that support and guidance from professionals who do it for a living.

 

Do you have any advice for new bands?

Play, Play, Play. The more you play, the better you will be. The stronger your songs, your music, your show will be. The stronger your band will be.  No matter how much someone in the music industry likes your music, if you are not a performing, touring band, they will probably not be able to help you. Don't expect anything from anyone, concentrate on your music, your show, your performance and don't worry about getting a record deal. Worry about making sure you are booked and playing somewhere. If you really are good, the people will follow you and they will support you by buying your CD's and merchandise. The places you play will want you back and new places will hear about you and want you too. Build your following and then travel a little farther to play, increase your following, the amount of places you can play. Doing so, will not only increase how much money you can generate, it will increase your chances for a recording contract, for success in the music business overall. I know that there a small number of bands who have scored record deals who do not perform live or who tour rarely, but the number is so small it is almost insignificant, when discussing this subject.

In the last 4 months I have attended 4 separate music conferences that all together featured over 500 bands, covering almost all genre's of music. Of all those bands, I would bet not more than 10 of them actually played music for their living. The reality is they play music Part Time and have other jobs ("real" jobs) that they use to support themselves financially. They all have many reasons to justify this fact to themselves, and anyone else who will listen. The bottom line here, is that if you tell me you are a band, then you tell me that you only do it part time, we are done. I can't help you and no one that I know can help you, when it comes to trying to assist you in getting a recording contract. My first reaction to someone who tells me they are an artist, but they do something else to make their actual living, is that the person I am talking to must not believe in themselves or their talent very much, if they don't feel they are good enough to make a living playing their music. If they really did, they would be doing it already, and no one could stop them. That is the band I want to work with.


In summation, what you have to do as a band, if you are trying to get a deal, is you have to separate yourself from the pack. You have to prove to everyone, that you are special, that you can tour successfully and sell CD's and merchandise, and that you can operate your band, your business, and show a profit. That you are in, 100%, and that you can do all this, without breaking up. It can be done, the big question is, can You do it? All you have to do is prove that you can. You have to lead the charge. Every other role played in the music business is carried out in Support of the band, the artists. No one can, or will, do it for you. You have to inspire others, to Want to work with you. It is your career, and you have to maintain it.

 

 





 

2002 Bud Bennett