Interviews with an underground NYC music legend, Milo Z, and his budding jazz saxophonist (Steven Frieder) give our creative community some insight on different ways to manage the ever-changing creative ecosystem.
A rainy afternoon in the early 1980s: Soft rain acts the snare as a group of young boys add the kick drum on their leaps from truck top to truck top. Right behind CBGBs is where the old U-Haul trucks used to line up tight, and that is where the bright eyed young stompers would play their games and talk of the unknown. This is where the young boys would undoubtedly stumble upon some mischief that might just turn them into young men. In general these were the days when kids went out to play for the whole day without checking in ‘til the street lights came on.
Milo Z was one of these boys, free to explore the East Village with no need to digitally check in or post a quick selfie to announce whereabouts. Humans were happy to share memories with a select few, but Milo still dreamt of big days ahead. It was one of the first days this particular group of boys had graduated from truck hopping to cab looting when the now local icon found an old practice drum set. Milo dragged that drum set home, and the rest is as Milo would say, is Razzamofunk!
This past week, I had the chance to interview two musicians in different stages of their careers, different stages of their lives, and from different eras of the music scene. Even stemming from two unique ideological generations, these talents share the stage, perform together, and inspire each other in the types of ways that make crowds gather on Indie Street. Both Milo Z and the young jazz saxophonist Steven Frieder had lots to share about their values, their music, and their paths as independent artists.
A total professional, Milo Z sings, dances, conducts, orchestrates, and interacts with the crowd, all the while dressing and grooving in a style that is unique and all his own.. Showcasing his talent in NYC for decades, now 5 albums deep, Milo has the experience and grit that produces some truly authentic music and lyrics. His appreciation for originality is pretty obvious considering he has created his own music genre Razzamofunk (a blend of Rap, Rock, Rythym & Blues, Jazz and Funk).
Steven is only 24, but some consider him a sort of jazz prodigy. His saxophone will transport you back to a day of funky soul from before you were born, or may have forgot existed. Steven wales on the sax with Milo Z and a variety of other bands, and released his first album as a leader last year.
Steven and Milo seem to have a natural synergy with each other. Not just a student-teacher relationship, but one where both realize the great benefits of the others presence regardless of age or experience. The young generation has a lot to learn from the toughness and persistence of those who succeeded in the past, but now more than ever, older generations must keep an open ear to the young street for new ways to swing and sling in the market.
The two will be traveling with the rest of the Milo Z band to spread the funk in Greece later this month. Milo Z loves bringing in and bringing up young musicians, who he admits at times end up on even bigger stages than his. He becomes enlivened from the youthful vigor and reconfirmed by challenging Steven and others to perform at their highest level. Steven looks to Milo a leader who expects the most of himself and his band while committing himself to his craft and his crowd.
Distribution & Self Promotion
New School – Steven Frieder
The simple act of referring to this young talented musician “new school” is probably an injustice because his musical soul and spirit are from a different generation. In any case, his physical age is of the digital era, so we asked him about the new tools for getting out there. For the most part, Steven believes it is very different from musician to musician depending on their priorities, but he did reveal what he believes to be the most intriguing new digital concepts:
“I think that one of the most powerful social media phenomenas is that of the viral video. Do you remember this video of the subway street performers that went huge last year? It’s this trio with Bari Sax, Trumpet and percussion. Too Many Zooz. I know the horn players, good friends of mine that I went to college with. That video went viral overnight because someone posted it on reddit. Now, they are touring all over, playing in Europe and all over the west coast. I couldn’t be happier for them, cats that went to a major jazz conservatory, and got big playing “Brass-House” as they call it. It’s some great stuff.”
Old School – Milo Z
As an old school cat at heart, Milo Z (and many other humans on the planet) feel that the social networking and digital media have started a trend toward shameless self promotion:
“Nowadays everybody is a star, everyone is taking their selfies. There is no shame. It seems now the old expression there is no bad press has reached a new height.”
Lyrics from Milo Z song, “Bitch (for the camera)”:
“Nobody cares if they’re comin’ off wrong or right, as long as their name in the paper gets spelled right.
Even for artists who have some hostility toward youtube stars and the year of the selfie, there are still many ways to hit the avenues while still creating art. Milo Z for example, is taking advantage of his creative drive and rich childhood to write his first book.
“It's a coming of age story of a kid growing up in NYC and the (Lower East Side) in a time when the L.E.S. in particular was a very different place, a rough place that was untamed and untrendy. I’m exploring a different way to be creative and i'm excited about the process. Maybe I can drop my next album when the book comes out and one thing can cross pollinate the other, than who knows.”
We School – What can other cooperative artists learn
It seems the takeaway is that being genuine in your marketing is what matters. Even if you don’t want to write a whole book, you can tell your story without it being shameless self-promotion. Cross marketing, collaborating, and finding new ways to reach the audience is part of surviving for an entrepreneurial artist. Artists have always been entrepreneurial by necessity, and new tools like viral videos, social networking, and crowd funding, (while making it more complicated), do give more ways for creative to think a bit more about business.
Old School - Milo Z
When I asked Milo Z if he ever considered using a Kickstarter or Indiegogo crowd funding campaign, he was a bit taken aback. “Passing the can around just doesn’t feel right for some reason.” If you are from an era like Milo Z and myself where you feel weird to ask your friends and family for some extra scratch, then the odds are that they may think it a little awkward too if they are of similar age and upbringing. Crowd funding can alienate your core audience if your audience doesn’t think its cool.
New School – Steven Freider
Steven used IndieGogo to help finance his first album, After Time (Produced by Jake Hertzog, feat. Bob Meyer, Luke Franco, & Peter Brendler) and had this to say.
“I think crowd funding is a great idea for independent artist to finance their project. How much you can raise definitely comes down to your strategy and your audience. My audience was mostly friends, family, my fellow musicians, and people who kept asking about when I was going to make a CD! I kept the project within my limits, and still paid for most of it out of pocket.”
We School – What can other cooperative artists learn
If you have grown up in the age of crowd funding and to your knowledge your circles support the idea or would really enjoy your rewards, than what is the harm in going for it? Even if all your friends and family don’t have much dough, they can spread the word to others in similar circles so you can grow your audience (even if you don’t raise millions). There may be one new fan you get who may have some serious connects or a huge network of followers themselves. On the other hand, be honest about who your core audience is. If you think they would be offended by asking for donations, than maybe look toward other avenues of financing your next project. We have not used crowd funding yet directly for IndieStreet, but thre is surely value in it: some of our filmmakers have raised a good amount of money, as well as increased awareness for their projects.
Creation – The School of the Insane Now
When I asked both of these unique artists why they made music, I got answers far from the realm of digital, all of the words were lined with human passion and grace. So rather than me go on about why they create, I chose a few of the most telling quotes from my talks with each of these talented musical creators:
Milo Z: I make music because I have to. If I wasn’t making music I would lose my mind. I think we are all a little bit crazy and what keeps us sane is our outlet.
Steven: My mother played and taught classical piano, played guitar and sang. She passed away when I was 17, and it is very much because of her that I play music today.
Milo Z: What has changed for me in the last few years is that I'm a father now and that now my daughter Sierra is the most important thing to me, even more than my art! If I never did another show I still be her dad so the rest Is gravy.
Steven: One of the greatest truths for any art, is that there is always more to learn, no matter what level you have achieved…
Milo Z and Steven Frieder are innately insane artists from different schools, but they both really live by the same code. Don’t fight the human need to create, don’t stop learning, create with your heart, and be authentic. The actual creation of art and its motives do not seem to change too much from generation to generation. No technology can stop our primal emotions and releases. No technology can truly engage a human audience without a human story behind it. Milo is building on his already rich story, and Steven is just starting to write his.
If Indie Street can help harvest discussion and keep the most talented (and by Milo Z’s definition the most insane) creators with sustainable outlets, then we can all stay a bit more connected to our human roots. By getting creative with technology and sharing the experience of truly unique individuals, the world gets to hear more great music, watch more great films, and keep some really awesome people from going insane.
-Jay Webb, Indie Street
Check out more and keep informed on Steven and Milo Z at the links below: