*Note: This post is part two of its kind. For more bands giving insight to these same questions, check out part 1.
In my most recent article, part one of “Being a Band,” I shared that I would be taking a bit of a different path in 2014 with my “In the Silence of the Mind” column here on IVM. As a part of that, I sent out ten sets of questions to several bands to get some insider perspectives on what I was thinking of writing about. Initially, I had no intention of releasing these interview questions/responses to the public, but would simply distill from them and allow them to shape my upcoming articles.
However, as I have read through the interviews, I felt a “both/and” approach was more meaningful. Not only do these answers help me flesh out some thoughts that I will be putting into “In the Silence of the Mind” this year, but there are some revealing answers that fans of the individual bands (and the subjects themselves) would probably like to see in their original context. The next question then became whether I would release each individual interview from each band, or find some way to distill them. So, I decided to compile them.
What follows may look as if it were some sort of marathon super-interview, but it is actually the same questions being answered in different settings (well, still all through e-mail, but you get the gist) by a few of IVM’s favorite sons. When brought together, I felt this would give a wide variety of in-the-midst opinions on some of the key topics that readers can expect to see explored this year in the “In the Silence of the Mind” column. So, whereas this is a giant information download, you can come back to the column throughout the year (however long it takes to move through these ideas/thoughts/shared visions) and get my take on these topics interspersed with “opinions from the experts.”
In each case, I want to thank the bands for taking the time to answer these questions knowing up-front that they may only be used as a source. I hope that you, the reader, will be sure to check each band out and support them for their generosity. In terms of the order they appear in each list, I simply went in order of who responded first out of fairness. Astute readers will notice that the mighty Seth Hecox of Becoming the Archetype, who provided some wonderful commentary on the first post in the series, is not featured here. Worry not, true believers (is that just Stan Lee’s thing, or has it entered the realm of public domain yet?), Seth will be making another appearance in the column very soon. Enjoy these answers, and be sure to check back every other week or so for more wandering through the silence in my own mind… as well as those of some these awesome guys.
1. How did you come about landing on your band name? What does that process look like? Did you heavily consider how your band name would create an identity/branding in the long term? If you could pick a different name at this point in your careers (humorous or serious) what would it be?
Ryan Edberg (Silverline): We had the hardest time finding a good band name that was just right. We started looking through the dictionary and came up with Silver lining. We read that it meant last hope when all hope was gone so keep the name Silverline!
Merge: We kind of brainstormed about how we met, how we put a lot of different music styles together, we wanted to emphasize on something related to a fusion. Moreover, we wanted something short, that you can easily distinguish on a flyer or poster. This is how we agreed on “Merge”. I think we wouldn’t change if we had the opportunity, we kind of like it!
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): We tossed around a bunch of ideas for a band name when we first started. We would think of a name, search for it on Google, and if a band with that name already existed we would come up with a new idea. We eventually decided on our name “My Ransomed Soul”. We didn’t really have a long term concept for the name. It wasn’t until much later that we realized it is actually a line from the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. We just thought it sounded unique and it had a meaning based on our faith. We actually thought about changing our name right before we released our album “Falsehoods” since we have changed so much over time, but nothing else really seemed to stick.
This City Awaits: There really isn’t a big story about how we came up with our band name. We had like four different names and ran a text message poll out to all our friends and family. Looking back I can honestly say I’m happy that we got the one we have now because we could have been known as “Anyone’s Landslide” ha-ha.
2. How did you initially decide on your “sound”? What factors have caused that sound to evolve over the years?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): We have always loved rock music and grew up like every youth group kid listening to DC Talk, Newsboys, and Audio A at all the festivals. Now that we are older we can take our kids and see Toby Mac, Audio A and Newsboys at the festivals : ). It’s good to see Christian music moving right along. DC Talk was our favorite band but we liked more of the Jesus Freak style so that’s kinda where we started.
Merge: We were all coming from various music worlds. Post-Hardcore, Post-Rock, Rock, even R&B. But we could all agree on some bands like Underoath, Thursday, Emarosa, Glassjaw, Mogwai, Thrice, Circa Survive, etc. We tried to craft our own sound based on these different influences for our debut EP “Transmission”. It was kind of a draft, it was going in a lot of different directions. However, we really worked since then to focus on something that represents Merge. We knew that in this music scene, being able to get recognized among all the bands is very difficult, we this is actually what we are trying to do, having our own sound.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): We never really decided on a sound when we started. We started off as a three piece practicing in a spare bedroom of my house. We originally wanted to be a hard rock band. We realized over time that none of us had a strong clean singing voice, so we went with the heavier aspects of music. When we first started we had no idea what we were doing, I was only 14 at the time. Our sound evolved because we kept practicing and writing new music. Our sound is still evolving even today. I never want to release an album that sounds the same as the last one. Music is supposed to evolve and reflect where we are and who we are as individuals. I don’t expect to be the same person last year that I am today. I hope to keep changing for the better.
This City Awaits: Well, to be honest, in the beginning we didn’t really try and write any particular way, just whatever came to us is what we went with but now, the process is different. More time is spent on each song thinking about the direction of the music and lyric content.
3. What pointers would you give new/upcoming bands about finding their sound, identity, or branding in today’s music market?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): It’s hard in Christian music because its afraid of change and the general market is always looking for something new. I think you should always just write music that you love and hope others will feel the same. When you start to do Christian music though you really need to think about lyrics and what it is that you want the world to hear! So many great bands out there with great music but you can’t really tell what they are trying to say in a song.
Merge: I think we all start by trying to reproduce/immitate bands we like at some point. The difficulty is to transform these influences into your own idea. As the time goes by, you get to know your bandmates better, and this is how you start written something that represent your band and not many different influences.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): Make music that you can enjoy. Never settle for something that is just “good enough”. If you honestly put your heart and soul into writing, you will have a good product. If you can listen to your own music and enjoy it as much as your favorite band, then you are going to have a much more satisfying experience. Finding your own unique sound is about expressing yourself, not copying another band for the sake of success. Your identity and brand comes from having a unique sound.
This City Awaits: I would have to say that starting out, if you’re playing shows try and look at each band that played that night and recognize the things they are doing right and if you aren’t doing those things, start applying them. Also, look professional. Have everyone go get a rockstar haircut and get some professional pictures done and start a mailing list ASAP!
4. What has changed about the music industry in the last 10 (or so) years and how has that shaped how you “do music as a business”?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): Music has changed in such a big way! Everyone now downloads music for free and the bands get nothing. More bands have called it quits in the last few years and its sad. Fans love a band so they go download the music for free, the bands get no money and need to quit because there is no money in it. Silverline is set up as a ministry and we all own our own businesses. We work very hard so we can afford to go out on the road. Not because we are trying to make it in the industry but because we feel called to do it! I believe we change lives with our music and it much bigger than just a band running around trying to make it.
Merge: Since the Peer to Peer has spread over the internet (2002, I’d say), people literally stopped buying music. The music had to become as reachable and free as possible. I think bands are really aware of that and are not counting on their CD sells anymore, except if you are big signed bands, but even for them, it doesn’t represent a lot compared to your merchandising sells. This is where we need to invest our money at the moment.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): I started My Ransomed Soul with my brother and one of my best friends in 2007. This is just from my own perspective during this time period, but I feel like trends change much faster. What might have been popular two months ago isn’t popular now. As an artist it can be frustrating trying to keep up with the ever changing market. Everyone also knows that CD sales are down, due to illegal downloading, but most people don’t talk about how much show attendance has gone down. I remember when at least sixty kids would come out to a local show, now you’re lucky to have ten at certain venues. I feel like apathy towards artists is at an all-time high.
This City Awaits: The emergence of iTunes and Youtube. Those two platforms have drastically changed the industry. iTunes allows bands that aren’t signed to have a place to distribute their music online. Youtube allows you to be discovered by more and more people browsing the internet. These were game changers in the industry that favored new bands. Thankfully some of my favorite bands have learned how to adapt.
5. What are your thoughts on re-branding a band? For example, what has to happen for a band to honestly need to change their name/rebrand (prominent member leaving/ change in sound/ etc?)?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): Christian bands don’t change names just keep the name going and keep getting new members : )
Merge: It could be a really tricky and dangerous moment. Sometimes, it occurs when important member leave and the remaining ones want to start fresh.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): Having a prominent member leave a band can definitely change the overall sound, especially when the member is the lead vocalist or main song writer. For us re-branding has been a different aspect because we have never changed lead vocalist or main song writer. To really rebrand yourself as a band without changing members you have to make a conscious decision to change your sound. I believe that setting your sights on certain goals musically is the first step to any kind of development.
This City Awaits: In my opinion, the vocals are the identity of the band. They are what people relate and recognize immediately. I think when lead singers change out there needs to be serious consideration as to a name change. Now some vocal changes have worked for the better, EX: Escape The Fate. I guess it just all depends on where you’re at in your career.
6. What harsh realities do new/emerging bands need to prepare to face?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): Its a hard industry and it is hard to make a living at it for most bands, but if God calls you to do it then He will make a way.
Merge: Losing A LOT of money. They need to bear in mind that they won’t be on big stages in front of thousand of fans, making a lot of money. They will need to invest in merchandising and tour in horrible conditions. But honestly, we all do that because of our passion and if we had to redo it, we would do it again.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): Low budgets, dropped tour dates, and lots of expenses. These are things every band will run into at some point in their careers. There will be times you won’t eat because your last $5 went into the van’s gas tank to get to the next show. If that didn’t suck enough, you find out the show was canceled and you were never told about it. These things happen, but if you truly love what you do it will be worth it in the end.
This City Awaits: There is nothing new under the sun and don’t try to be something you’re not. Whatever genre you’re trying to go for be the best at what you do. People not only like good music but bands that can play their music good.
7. What are your thoughts on distinctly “Christian” or “faith based” music becoming a part of a larger business model?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): Christian music has been breaking new ground every year! Winter Jam is the biggest selling tour there is and more and more Christian bands are getting placements on different shows. I think the bands just need to keep writing great music and the Christian industry needs to be able to look to the future of music and not what we’ve done for years and try and redo the same thing over and over. If Christian radio wasn’t its own category it would be considered to be an oldies station. I still hear songs from ten or more years ago in rotation.
Merge: People need to sing/play or be driven by want they believe in, whether this is faith, religion, events, people, love, death or anything.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): I don’t believe it is necessarily a bad thing. Having a positive message of hope for the world is something I’d like to see more of in the music industry. Our band used to label ourselves as a Christian band for a very long time, but we stopped after a while. I still believe the same way, my faith has grown stronger over the years, but I felt our faith became a selling point. Our message is still the same, but the last thing I want to do is sell my beliefs to anyone. I refuse to use my faith as a gimmick to sell music to “church kids”. That’s not what I am here to do. I believe that expressing your faith in your music is a wonderful thing, but don’t let it become a marketing tool.
This City Awaits: I think it’s great. Unfortunately there can be a lot of controversy if bands that have people with christian morals in them are wrong or right for not using the word Christian in the their genre. I personally try my best to not get caught up in it and love what Jon Foreman had to say about it in so many words “Did Christ come to sacrifice his life for my songs, for my band? No, He came to die for me and my sins.”
8. Why do you feel so many faith-based artists don’t listen to “Christian” music?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): You can’t get inspired by the same thing you heard as a kid to help you grow. Like I said, the general market is always looking for that cool new wave of music and they Christian music follows 5 years late. Its not really anyone’s fault its just set up bad. Christian radio doesn’t sell time for commercials so its run off of donations. The people that send in donations are not the 30 and under crowd. You have the 30 and above that supports the radio stations and it is a reflections of the music that is played. Its not even the stations’ fault because they know who pay the bills so they will plays songs that they like. Kids always complain about Christian radio and bands, but not enough to give to a station or go buy a CD.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): I believe that you would be limiting yourself greatly by only listening to “Christian” music. I know I personally take musical inspiration from many artist of different personal backgrounds. You don’t have to agree with everything an artist claims lyrically to appreciate their art. You don’t see Christian’s rejecting a painting because the artist didn’t have a “Christian message”, that would just seem absurd. The same idea can be applied to music.
This City Awaits: Well, to be honest. So much “Christian” music just doesn’t seem real to me. I don’t know why that is and I wish I could pinpoint it. I’d like to see more bands start writing about what they feel they should write about and not just what the industry wants to hear.
9. If there were one part of the industry you could change, what would it be?
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): It is slowly moving forward and there are many, many great people in the industry and radio that are making it better. I would love to see more people jump on board.
Brendan Frey (My Ransomed Soul): Focus less on trends and more on good music. Who cares if a band isn’t playing the “in genre”. Good music is good music, and it should be treated as such. The music industry is about money, sadly, not art.
This City Awaits: Laziness. It would be great if more bands worked harder and stayed creative in ways they can grow. But that goes right along with staying humble, willing to listen and learn from the bands that have gone before you.
10. Have any of these questions sparked a thought-train that I did not directly ask? If so, feel free to give me that thought.
Ryan Edburg (Silverline): I am not complaining at all about the industry but just pointing out a few things so younger bands will understand. It’s frustrating to go in with cool music that you like and have people (and they are right) say we need to pull it back or radio will never play it. Silverline is not the best band or do we have it all figured out at all. All we can do is try and make each one of our CD’s better than the one before. Trying to write music that will not just connect with people on an emotional level but a Spiritual one. That’s how lives are changed.