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John Pippus was Born a Genius – and he’s willing to share what he knows

September 20, 2010
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John Pippus

John Pippus released his third album, “Born a Genius” last week and people in Vancouver will have the chance to hear his tunes in person at Bluebird North in Vancouver with Shari Ulrich on September 21st.  The title track of the album is also the newly featured video on the S.A.C. website. This is a valuable interview for anyone in the midst of recording an album, with a first hand account of successful use of fan-funding tools, getting radio play, and garnering reviews.  It is clear that John Pippus really was, “Born a Genius.” Thanks John, for sharing your experience and wisdom.

1.  Congratulations on the release of your third album.  What activities have you planned to launch your new CD? I started promoting “Born A Genius” while I was still recording it, the pre-launch phase, in other words. I created a fund raising campaign through Kickstarter . This is a US-based, social networking site where you give yourself a deadline to raise a certain amount of money for a particular project. In my case, I was asking potential  backers – in exchange for various rewards – to kick in $3,000 within 34 days to help offset the cost of producing the album. If you don’t hit your target, you don’t get any of the money pledged. But through some creative marketing, shameless pleading, and a friend with a US-based Amazon account agreeing to be my “treasurer”,  I browbeat enough folks to get on board so that I reached my goal. The campaign generated newspaper articles, radio mentions, and online buzz. Besides the money, this project gave me about 70 backers, all with an interest in seeing the album succeed.

Other strategies for the launch included producing 100 “advance copies” to get early reviews and awareness going. T-shirt sales. Blogging, tweeting, and all the usual online stuff. I’ve had a few well attended gigs where I’ve been making the album available. In spite of the “soft launch” (i.e. not one specific CD release party), I find it does help to designate an official launch date. Not only does it give reviewers something to shoot for, it helps me stay focused on when to make the big push. I’m putting in some overtime this week, working the contacts, getting the word out there.

2.  What did you learn making your first and second album that helped you with your latest release? (i.e. did you make any mistakes the first few times that you learned from)? The first album was recorded with three different producers, in three different studios, over quite a few months. That had its own challenges. This time I didn’t want to over think the process. I wanted to capture a particular time and mood. So along with producer Adam Bailie, we kept the motor revving. Almost all the tracks were recorded – and a few written – within a four week window. Make it, mix it, master it, and get it out there. There’s something to be said for momentum. An album is a snapshot. Accessible, user-friendly recording technology takes away some of the “preciousness” of packaging a collection of tunes. And that can be a good thing. It’s less intimidating, in a creative sense, for one thing. And you don’t have to mortgage the farm to make a full-length album. I know some people get stuck in trying to make the absolute sonically perfect gem to last through the ages. That’s one goal. But my goal with this one was to do it – and move on. No reason why I won’t have a third full-length album out a year from now too.

CD Cover

3.  What is the story behind “Born a Genius”? When it was time to name the album, I thought it was a more catchy title than the original choice, “Liberation Day” (another cut on the album). Something a bit daring. I was walking around wringing my hands and saying, “But won’t people think I’m being a conceited wanker? And one songwriter friend of mine, Hugh Fisher said, “No. Go for it. It’s a hook and it will get people talking.” So I did.

The track itself is a narrative about a fellow with a murky past, on the run for some reason, with a femme fatale who has brought him to his knees, lamenting his long gone youthful innocence. I got the basic rhythm going and then the first few lyric lines just tumbled out that fit the groove, after mumbling some nonsense syllables (my usual writing style): “There’s something that I wanted to tell you / Something I forgot to say/ I was born a genius / I liked it better that way.” Then I looked back at those opening lines and decided where the song would go from there.

Another song on the album, “Jack Knives and Cannonballs” was written when we were in the mixing phase, and added at the very end. And it’s a more serious reflection on the idea that we are all born geniuses (genii?) to some degree, and it’s the socialization – becoming “good little adults” – that drums it out of us. Some of us are lucky enough to keep it going, or rediscover it later in life when a lot of life’s obligations are out of the way.

4.  Your bio says that even though you’ve been performing since the age of 12, it’s taken you a while to get to where you are today.  Any reasons for this scenic route? In retrospect, would you have done things differently?  If I knew now what I knew then… In my teens and 20s, I was all over the map. From uncontrollable (and unjustified) ego tripping to the other extreme of “nothing I can write or perform is good enough”. I believed that “something” would happen somehow if I just sort of hung around looking youthful and cool. That I didn’t have to treat whatever talent I had with any sort of discipline or intent. Now, I’ve got the chops but the youthful zip is gone. Hah. Can’t have it all.

Oh and the other big reason for taking the “scenic route” is the usual one everyone wrestles with. The demands of raising a family and paying the bills. With the kids grown and the straight career done with, I can get back to my first love. I’ve been doing music full time again for the past six or seven years and loving every step of the way. This past weekend, for example, Terry David Mulligan played a cut from the new album on his show on CKUA radio. Right after he played an Elvis Costello cut! Now that won’t get me a SOCAN royalty cheque, or make my career. But think about it. Isn’t that the coolest thing? Getting played on the radio. On a show with a heavy playlist too. Imagine that. Every 12 year old rocker’s dream.

5.  How has the response been in the first few days of your release? I was sending out my advance copies in August and the response was dismal. But I put it down to summer doldrums and got busy when September, the official launch month, came around. I re-contacted the industry folks I was trying to get a response from last month, hired radio promoter Bryon Tosoff, and got a few more inquiries from others (such as SAC) who picked up on the launch date.

And it’s going well. Shelley Gummeson from Earshot posted a positive review a couple of days ago. (See: http://tinyurl.com/25t53b7) This site is big with the college radio crowd so I’ll be working that angle. Other reviews are starting to come in. And Bryon’s expertise and contacts are already paying off with some radio stations picking up cuts via RadioSubmit.com. We’re going to work with DMDS too, a digital music download service that gets singles to selected radio stations.

And the response from my friends and fellow songwriters has been really positive too. I knew this album was going to be good as soon as I started working with Adam. He brought some driving percussion and inventive studio “ear candy” to the tracks that I just love. Tom Harrison, in his review in the Vancouver Province newspaper, says “humour and energy might be the album’s unifying factors”. I’m glad he picked up on that. No angst-ridden, sensitive singer/songwriter this time around!

6.   You’ve garnered airplay on CBC Radio One, Radio3, and several other radio stations.  Any tips for fellow songwriters on getting airplay? I would say there are two things an indie-artist should do. First, establish relationships with radio hosts and music directors. That can be as simple as sending a query email that is obviously written by a human being, not a publicity department. Or it can be as elaborate (and fun) as hanging out in the bar at a music conference yelling bad jokes in the ear of a radio station type while you both get a little loaded on cheap beer.

Second big tip is this: Send follow-up emails. The thing I hate most about hustling a new album (it’s sort of like begging) is sending out an email after a month of not hearing back and saying “I know you’re busy but, uh, did you listen to the tunes yet?”. You, of course, are thinking: “You arrogant, rude, son of a weasel, how DARE you not realize how incredible these songs are that I have kindly sent your way! YOU should be contacting ME!” But you don’t say that because that wouldn’t be helpful to your career. And the thing is, these follow-up emails have a waay better response rate than anything else you do.  Busy radio guys (and this goes for music publishers, producers, bookers, etc.) actually LIKE it when you follow up. It shows you’re business-like, organized, bold, and persistent. All good qualities. And, well if it guilts them out too into responding, that’s fine too.

7.  What would be your dream gig or opportunity? Besides joining Jackson Browne onstage for an end-of-concert singalong at the 4th Annual Steel Bridge Festival? Or playing at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville? Or getting my first cut by a popular all-girl band in Portugal? (See: http://www.youtube.com/user/maxgirlsoficial) Or hearing your song on the radio?  Hmm. I would say getting a song licensed to a major TV show or movie would be pretty great. And I mean featured, like in the closing credits. Or a scene where it’s playing away at full volume and the actors are just cavorting through fields or walking hand-in-hand down rain-soaked city streets. Anything but talking while my song is playing.

Read his bio and hear his tunes.  Click Here.

See the video for “Born a Genius”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 1:38 am

    Thanks Lily for doing this. (I hope it’s not too tacky to be the first to comment on my own interview!).

    But maybe it’ll get the ball rolling… Anyone else got any tips for getting heard out there? I might have been born a genius, but I’m open to any good suggestions for Success in the Music Biz.

    Sometimes it seems like the odds of “making it” are better than buying a 649 ticket – but not by much.

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