The Songwriters Association of Canada would like to welcome our newest board member, Safwan Javed who came on board this past summer. He has been the drummer for the band Wide Mouth Mason since its inception, in 1996. Early on, the band became a mainstay of the Canadian music industry. With four major label releases and two independent releases, the band has sold hundreds of thousands of albums worldwide – garnering two Canadian gold records – while receiving critical acclaim and a legion of devoted fans. In 2003, Safwan took over responsibility for co-management, accounts, budgets, strategic planning, co-tour management, and logistics, as well as taking on the role of legal representative for the band. In addition, Safwan is an advocate in the area of copyright law. When asked what he felt about coming on board with the S.A.C., Safwan answered, “I’d like to say that I’m thrilled to have been asked to sit on the S.A.C. board. I believe this to be a progressive and visionary organization, and am honoured to be involved.” He answered some questions posed by our resident blogger:
1. You have worked as an artist, entertainment lawyer and artist manager. In addition you have also been an advocate in the area of copyright law. Which of these roles do you or have you enjoyed the most thus far? Artist, lawyer, manager, advocate, all are uniquely enjoyable. I never thought anything would measure up to performing as a musician, but the other roles challenge me in new ways, and ultimately, they all serve each other. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to wear these different hats.
2. With such a unique vantage point on the industry, do you think the current chaotic state of the music industry is a crisis, an opportunity, or both? I think the current state of the industry is both crisis and opportunity. I recall in the late 1990’s having discussions about how the industry was entering a “transitional” phase. I was excited to see where the music business was going to go. Unfortunately, the industry as a whole (especially some of the “big” stake-holders) didn’t respond to the “downloading revolution” the way it had responded to the introduction of recordable audio cassettes and CD-R technology. In the case of “file-sharing”, there was no unified attempt to embrace the new technology – there still isn’t – and hence, the industry’s downward spiral. This is why the S.A.C. proposal is so important, it can potentially fill the void.
3. During a hiatus with Wide Mouth Mason you earned your law degree. How has your approach to your business strategy and craft been changed by what you learned in law school? Law school taught me that the world is not as black and white as I used to believe it was. This realization feeds into everyday decisions with respect to the business (i.e., I try to look at different perspectives). As for the craft, I believe I put more effort into honing skills than I did previously. I’m also less averse to jumping into situations I may not be comfortable with, just to see what happens, and I suppose that has something to do with having gone through the novel experience that is law school. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have a better understanding of the legal framework upon which our industry is built. The worlds of copyright and contracts are especially relevant to our business, and these are areas I knew relatively little about before studying them in law school. Just being more informed is advantageous when dealing with potential business ventures.
4. It looks like you’ve been busy touring over the past few months, opening for ZZ Top in the summer, as well as Tom Cochrane. How have you balanced your personal life, and other roles mentioned above with a busy touring schedule? Unlike in the early days of Wide Mouth Mason, when we’d be on the road for upwards of 300 days a year, now we tend to tour in spurts, be they one-off shows, or otherwise. This approach facilitates the efforts to balance personal lives with livelihood and other ventures. Having said that, music-making doesn’t strike me as work – the work is setting up and engaging the infrastructure meant to support music-making.
5. According to an interview in July with “The Record” in Waterloo, the band is going to release a new album in the coming months. How did the songwriting process work within the band and in terms of working with Gordie Johnson? Gordie is a big brother to Shaun (Verreault [lead vocals/guitar]) and I. We’ve written, recorded, and toured with him in the past, and are fortunate enough to get to do it again, only this time he’s been playing bass for us too. Working with Gordie is always educational. He brings so much knowledge and experience to the table that we’re constantly learning. On top of that, the three of us get along so well that it’s a wholly enjoyable experience. We usually sit around in any space we can find and “workshop” songs – sometimes songs that are already partially written, and sometimes we start from scratch. There’s a lot of jamming, and at the end of the process, a song is born.
6. When will the album be released? The recording date for the new record has been pushed back to January. We’re going to track and mix in Willie Nelson’s studio in Texas, so that should be inspiring. The release date will likely be in the spring of 2011.
7. How many songs did you write before choosing which ones will go on the album? Do you test out tracks for audience feedback before deciding? We had about 20 songs overall, and those were narrowed down to about 12 or 14. However, it seems like every time we get together, new songs emerge, so it’s a fluid selection process. We regularly test out new material on audiences so as to get feedback.
8. What is the one piece of advice you would give to members of the S.A.C. about writing good songs? A good song always passes the “acoustic guitar” test. That is, if the song engages people when it’s played on an acoustic guitar alone (or a piano, or just sung in the air), it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
9. What is the one piece of advice you would give about navigating the business side of things? Educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the business, vis-a-vis talking to others in the industry (don’t be afraid to ask for advice, the industry is filled with friendly and knowledgeable people), reading, academia, and/or any other method.