Erica Chase Discusses the Reality of Making it in Today’s Music Industry

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Erica Chase

Erica Chase is a Southern California-born singer-songwriter and guitarist who grew up around two brothers and was very much into sports when she heard a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune at the age of 7.  She was so hooked on it that she developed an interest in music.  By the time she finished high school, she would be as much into the music as she was into sports, writing song after song, and learning how to play guitar.

While majoring in English at a private California college, her father’s business connections led to Erica meeting up with producer and Slaughter bassist Dana Strum in February 2006.  No sooner did that meeting happen than the day after, Erica, while riding on her bicycle, crashed into a truck’s windshield, sustaining minor injuries.  Her recovery led her to realizing that, despite future plans to be a school teacher, life was too short, and she wanted to rock.

I interviewed Erica recently and asked for her opinions about how the music industry has changed over the last quarter-century, as well as her work with Dana Strum and how I found out that there’s more to him than his days with Slaughter and Vince Neil.

Steve: As the movie musical Rock of Ages has dramatized, the 1980’s were all about the excess, but in the three decades since, the recording industry has evolved to a point where those excesses are practically non-existent.  Do you think the Internet’s proliferation is to blame?

Erica: I think excess of any kind is not built to last.  Excess food leads to weight gain, alcohol leads to a drinking issue, and excess record label advances that do not get repaid lead to corruption and labels seeking any and every way to recoup their money for profit.  The internet and the “free” accessibility of music to the public should and could have been embraced by the major labels and the music industry would probably be in better shape these days, but who knows!

Steve: When people these days expect to get their music for nothing, would money from sponsorships, licensing, merchandise sales and touring make up for that?

Erica: There are still very real ways to profit in the music industry and not just from live touring and merchandise sales.  Taylor Swift, for example, has still sold over 20 million records worldwide in a declining music industry.  I think it depends on the whole package.  If you got the goods (the songs), a palatable image, and a positive lifestyle for others to emulate, you can still make money (a lot of it) from music royalties alone.

However, as a new artist these days, it is important to be open to other financial opportunities because of the often unpredictable and unstable nature of the business.  Lastly, a thing that a lot of people do not know is how expensive touring can actually be.  The cost of buses, trucks, equipment, staging, lighting, travel, crew, and band members adds up very quickly and by the time all of the money is divided, you might be unpleasantly surprised with what is left for you if you do not budget correctly.

Steve: Given that you’ve developed a musical style that’s been described as “Sheryl Crow + Beatles,” how did that play into working with a producer in Dana Strum, who’s been associated with heavy metal from his days with Slaughter and Vince Neil?

Erica: Dana’s reputation for being a heavy metal/hard rock bassist and producer, is a bit incorrect.  A lot of people do not know that he has produced albums for the Gipsy Kings and started his career playing with Barry Manilow.  He is a huge Beatles fan like myself, which makes working in the studio with him so much fun.  We would create John/Paul harmonies and just goof off listening to some classic music.  In fact, there is a Slaughter song called “Days Gone By,” which is very Beatles-esque and a song I always chat with him about covering one day because it’s such a cool ballad.

Steve: Dance music has been dominating the charts lately, and what’s left of the major-label recording industry these days is looking out for the hits.  How does that affect an artist of your style, Erica, and what do you think the solution is?

Erica: There have always been trends and there have always been multiple kinds of music in the mainstream at the same time.  Back in the 70’s, there was a time where dance and disco were hugely popular, but yet we seem to remember a little band called Led Zeppelin and maybe another called Fleetwood Mac that managed to sell millions of records during the same time.  That is the beauty of art and music; there is something for everyone.  I am not looking to be a passing trend; I love writing music and hope to be involved in the industry as long as they will have me!

Steve: The major labels aren’t funding artists like they used to, yet some of the big-name acts have resorted to financing themselves.  Even some smaller acts have gone the “crowdfunding / fanfunding” route, such as with Kickstarter, to fund their albums or tours.  Erica, how did you manage to attract investors for your upcoming album? 

Erica: My grandfather was a self-made entrepreneur, as is my father, so that was kind of instilled in me from an early age.  I know I am coming up in a way different music industry and a poor economic time as well, so I am fighting an uphill battle.  However, I am fortunate to have teamed up with a great partner with an exceptional business background, and that has worked for many start ups as well, and we carefully, along with my manager, Dana Strum, packaged together a cohesive marketing plan and investment proposal to solicit.

However, the thing that is important to note, is that everyone on my team believes so strongly in what I do and the potential of the product to have a wide reach and that is why through all of the frustrations, we are very positive and will not stop until we do what we set out to do.  The fact that others believe in me and are putting up their hard earned money behind it can be a little nerve wracking but also motivates me to achieve.  I am so grateful to all of those that have invested their time, money, or both, into my music and me.

Steve: Even with the advent of “360 deals” in which a major label can get up to half of what the artist takes in from all revenue sources, including tours, endorsements and merchandise sales, do you think there is still some advantage to being on a major label?

Erica: With shows like American Idol and The Voice, where the grand prize is being signed to a major label, labels still have clout.  I think there is some value to labels, I would say more on the distribution side especially internationally.  However, it is not the be-all, end-all.  Anyone with a computer can produce a record and put it out online for free.  However, if you are going to go without a label, it is important to raise money for marketing so that your music can have the same chance as a Justin Bieber or Rihanna of getting heard and embraced.  It is essential for any new artist to also be a businessperson and be in control of their finances and hands-on in their career.  That would be my biggest advice and without a doubt, the most valued lesson I have learned from working with Dana over the years.

*****

Erica Chase’s debut album is due to be released soon, but you can hear three of her songs on her website,www.ericachase.com.  You can also find her official fan page on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, as well as watch some videos, including one for “We Can Fly”, on her YouTube page.

Cover Photo credit:  Mark Weiss

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Born in Houston, Texas, and currently based in St. Petersburg, Florida, Steve's careers have ranged from restaurants to media production. He has also written online columns about entertainment and technology, as well as how musicians don't need a major label to be empowered. The first major rock concert Steve attended was Heart back in 1977.

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