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Jason Walsmith of The Nadas and Shawn Crahan of Slipknot Discuss Iowa's Music Industry

posted on February 22, 2008

Some of the more critical issues in this evening's conversation include what have new technologies done to and for Iowa musicians? And can music be considered a significant industry in the state? And what can be done to help this sector grow and prosper? Here to help us work through some of these questions are two prominent members of Iowa's music scene. Both are with successful music groups.

Jason Walsmith is with The Nadas. The Nadas have been around since their college days in the mid-1990's and they just released their sixth studio recording. Jason co-founded a Des Moines record label, Authentic Records.

Shawn Crahan plays with a group, a couple of groups actually. One is Slipknot and the other is Dirty Little Rabbits. He is a percussionist in the group Slipknot. Like The Nadas the band formed in the 1990's and they have been nominated for several Grammy music awards and have won once. And this summer they headline a national Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival tour.

Yeager: And that's a look at some of the work from both of these gentlemen that are sitting on the couch. Thank you for coming in tonight. When you first think of technology in the music industry you probably think oh, you're going from analog to digital. But technology has now taken on a whole new realm when it comes to how you promote, how you sell, how you distribute. Jason, talk about that. You've got a new album that is releasing first on the Internet. How have The Nadas taken advantage of some of the technology that is out there?

Walsmith: We just used it to try to push it out there to anybody who will take advantage of it. That is one of the things that's kind of changed is rather than channeling in certain directions you just kind of have to put it out there and hope that people will find it or use their own different filters or Web sites that they like to try to discover it. So, what we did is we had the record done, we had the usual few months lead time to try to get it ready to release and then we realized we needed some money to help release it and we decided we had it, start selling it early. So, we put it on our Web site and made it available to our fans as downloads and they'll still get the hard copy when it comes out.

Yeager: And that is one way to do it. But you also have to take advantage of other technology that is out there whether it's a MySpace page or other type of things. Do The Nadas have a MySpace? And how do they utilize it?

Walsmith: We do, we have MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, all those things. You know, it's kind of the same content everywhere but everybody, you know, all the fans and all the people who are potential fans they only have so much time in a day to spend on the Internet and everybody has their favorite places to go so you just try to make sure that your stuff is on those places.

Yeager: Was it ever an option to not be on any of those sites?

Walsmith: Yeah, just like it was an option to not leave my house.

Yeager: You do have to do it now, it's just the way that the business has gone.

Walsmith: Yeah, at least for a band at our level doing what we're doing you just have to take every opportunity you can get to get in front of people so that they can discover you.

Yeager: Now, do you have somebody in the band that does that or do you have a business person that does that?

Walsmith: Our engineer does our MySpace page actually and I've kind of started doing our Facebook page and we have a new social media consultant actually.

Yeager: What does that do?

Walsmith: He just kind of helps coordinate all those efforts and make sure that we're taking advantage of new opportunities. And I didn't even know there was such a thing as a social media consultant until this record. But his name is Nathan Wright and he's got it all figured out and his job not only is to have it all figured out but to figure out what's next and just pay attention to what's going on.

Yeager: Now, you heard of DayTrotter and Shawn, you had heard of DayTrotter but not much before you saw the piece tonight. What do you think of how they are doing and helping bands that are out there that are a little different than you but if there was a group or a site like that when you were coming up how do you think that would have helped or hurt you in your career or your musical talents?

Crahan: Well, I agree with him that any time if you have purity in your heart you try to get out to as many people as possible by all means. So, I would definitely do it, you know, I'd definitely be interested. What I'm worried about always is the originality. I think it's the same thing, kids rush into things looking for false Gods almost, you know, like running in there and there's no originality and then they're gone, you only have that one minute to get someone's attention. So, it's absolutely get out there and utilize it for as much attention as possible but at the same time try to slow down and be as original as possible because you can just be cut and just forgotten that quick, as quickly as you can get in.

Yeager: You're with a very well known band across the world. Do you ever have to take part in obtaining -- taking part in any of those technology updates? Do you have somebody that does that for you?

Crahan: Well, of course, we try to -- we did it all ourselves in the beginning. When Slipknot first started I remember the Internet was just getting going for the public and I remember these incredibly slow modems and we would up our stuff and we always have to stay right there with the technology to understand where kids are coming from and where the world has gone. But it's more like we're really utilizing it in different ways, like we have actual fans run our MySpace and stuff like that. They are very dedicated fans. But they're almost more knowledgeable than some of us are because they're keeping tabs on all of us when I can't get out of my house either and can't keep tabs on. So, we try to bring in the art as much as possible because the commerce is always beating down the door.

Yeager: Because you think commerce of touring or interviews that you need to do or technology updates or chats? You were talking about sometimes you have to participate in chats. How do you get around trying to do all that and trying to keep a hold of that original?

Crahan: For me and in my business that we run I'll just be honest I've never made a dollar on a record. We make our money on the road. This is what we do, we tour two and a half years sometimes and it's a work ethic. If you come people will appreciate it, it's a cultural society thing and that is how we do it. So, we align everything with that. I come into town, set up chat things in the tour manager's place and local kids or whatever so we just keep everything with the touring, everything we're going to do whether it's radio or TV or interviews. It's like talking about that gentleman's site, guys are on their way to New York or to Omaha or wherever and they just stop for the exposure. So, we get our exposure on the road as well.

Yeager: And you have to travel to get known. You were talking about some of the national tours that you do with The Nadas and it's something that you have to do. But when you say you're from Iowa or that you come to Iowa how do you compare Iowa's music scene to what you see when you're out on the road?

Walsmith: I think it's definitely on the rise. I think there's a lot of exciting stuff going on for the music industry in Iowa, in Des Moines. There are places around the country where there's a lot more energy and a lot more happening but those come and go too. I think it's all cyclical in every city. And I think that our proximity in the country, where we are in proximity to both coasts, being in the center is a real advantage to the scene. As artists it helps us too because we -- everybody from Iowa lives somewhere else for a while and everywhere we go those fans are there and that has been the siege to our fan base everywhere we go so it's been good for us.

Yeager: What do you think of the music festivals that come around? There's a crossroads because you're at 80 and 35, you've got River Roots over in the Quad Cities, you've got other cities that keep building festivals. Does that seem to be breathing life into the industry as well? Does that help?

Walsmith: I think those are just a sign that there's a lot of people excited about that. I mean, it's a tough battle to convince the average fan to leave their comfortable couch and their big screen TV to go out into the cold and pay money to see live music on any given night. But I think there's more and more people realizing that real, true energy and performance that they get to have a personal relationship with has a value. And so that's the big thing to overcome.

Yeager: I could really put you on the spot and say what's the best place to play in Iowa or across the country? Would you rather play in Iowa or across the country?

Walsmith: I like playing everywhere, I have my favorite restaurants everywhere, my favorite bookstores, my favorite fans, friends. You know, there's always been tremendous support and incredible people in Iowa that have helped us go into other places. But it's fun playing everywhere.

Yeager: The nucleus of Slipknot is from the state but you guys still live here though. Why still live in Iowa? Do you feel that there is an energy there to pull from or is it a grounding? Why stay in Iowa?

Crahan: I believe our work ethic is unprecedented, I believe it comes from being from Iowa. I believe our morals are great. I just believe we're different. I have spent over a year of my life in Los Angeles making records. I can't stand it. I've spent a good portion of my life in New York making records. I can't stand it. But I'm with him, you know, we go everywhere. And I've got to touch base too, American kids are jaded, they're lazy, they're non-appreciative of what is going on. Europe, Japan, Australia being an international artist you don't get there so when you get there they appreciate it and they take it for what it is. I agree, you can not get people to get out and try, you know, but it's still young and festivals are happening and I think America needs to look towards Europe and see what they're doing because over there they all get crazy and they need to have festivals and they just go and they take like weeks off and everybody, doesn't matter if it's your boss or your mom or whatever, it's festival time.

Yeager: So, that is the answer, that's what makes the U.S. and Europe different is their festivals and their passion for that?

Crahan: One-hundred percent because in my opinion I've played these festivals and they're more than just music, it's cultural, it's have a drink, have food, let's take a break from our job and let's really figure out life. And then you come to America and it's all like selling buttons and this and that and it's really difficult and the kids are picking sides and that's not healthy for music.

Yeager: How do you make this sector grow in the state? How do you increase the music in Iowa? Is it starting at a young age? Is it doing more tours, school tours or how do you build the sector, the music sector in the state for what you guys are trying to do?

Walsmith: Well, one of the things is I'm on the Des Moines Music Commission which was set up by the City Council, by the Mayor and to try to cultivate the music scene. And one of the things we're trying to do, like right now the city is not a very inviting city to touring artists. There aren't very many venues. There's a few places like Vaudeville Mews and House of Bricks that are trying to create that scene and make a place for smaller touring artists to play but right now kids can't even really go out and see those bands because of the kind of laws that limit access to those venues because they are bars. But that's the way the economy of music is set up, you know, the bands have to make money for the people coming to see them and the bars have to make money to keep their doors open and they do that by selling drinks. It's probably too complicated today but I think that people are starting to open up to the idea that it's not just a bar that kids want to be in, it's a music venue, it's a little miniature Wells Fargo Arena that that's your outlet for you to see and be entertained by music and you've got to start so that those people are willing to pay for tickets.

Yeager: Well, House of Bricks I know has younger bands that play, they play earlier in the day before the alcohol kicks in and things like that. How do you develop? Is that something maybe the group has ever considered is opening up your own stage or if you guys would stop performing? Is that something you would think about -- I'm going to help Iowa grow it's music scene?

Walsmith: Yeah, I've been actually working on a venue for a couple of years now that I hope to get off the ground but I'm not going to stop performing.

Yeager: But is it going to take something like that, it's going to take individuals to maybe go against economics for a little while? Do you need help to do that?

Walsmith: I think we need the public policy to change, the government leaders to open up and understand that it's not just kids, it's not just garage bands, it's an industry, you know, and we need corporate America to get behind it and realize the value of it and I think we're on the verge of that really.

Yeager: What are your thoughts?

Crahan: I agree with him completely, again, but at the same time we need 100,000 punk rock people kicking in city council's door, bands playing outside the capitol, Buddy Holly didn't care about alcohol. It is horrible, kids want, you know, you'll lead a kid into this direction for sports or this or that but if someone wants to get into rock and roll or art and that's their calling it's very difficult. And it's kind of funny because that only just shows you can serve alcohol, adults can drink alcohol but the kid's got to be out by nine, it's still very difficult for the kids just to feel comfortable and enjoy this art. So, I say if you've got a band we need you to help change the policy because you can't stop any song, you know, songs can change the whole world. So, if kids would just take it upon themselves and can't play here, play outside the mayor's front door, play wherever you want because you can't stop, you know, you can't stop that feeling of art that we live for.

Yeager: It's something that we're going to have to work on. It's our two ambassadors of music right here. We'll see how it goes, we'll get you the title or something.

Tags: art industry Iowa music technology