A new phrase was introduced to the newsroom this week when a music label’s promotional e-mail—one of about 50 random press releases we receive from various mainstream and indie sources each day—bragged that rapper T-Pain’s single “I’m In Luv (Wit’ A Stripper)” had achieved “multi-platinum ringtone sales status,” thereby making it a legitimate hit. A multi-platinum ringtone? The e-mail even cited some tracking company as verifying the benchmark, a sign that this variation of chart-topping wasn’t just a fluke—can you imagine Casey Kasem tracking cell phone ringtones, or ringtones becoming their own Grammy category?—but just another example of how the traditional music industry has gone the way of the eight-track.
It’s hardly breaking news that the industry is changing. For years, the constant advent of new technology, from peer-to-peer file sharing to the exploding popularity of iPods, has been forcing out-dated record companies to reevaluate not only how music is distributed, but also how it’s discovered. And while those who used to thrive on control (the companies, radio stations, etc.) struggle to figure out how to regain it, it’s much more exciting to witness those who used to be confined (artists) take advantage of the chaos.
Kalispell’s Matt Jones is one of many adjusting on the fly to the change. Jones is a lifelong musician who grew up performing in church every Sunday, went to the University of Montana to study jazz piano and then played keyboards in well-traveled Montana-based jam bands Abendego and Signal Path. Now, he’s mostly a solo artist better known as BluestoneJones who rarely has to leave his home to promote his product. For the last three months he’s focused almost exclusively on recording 30-minute electronic music mixes and distributing them via free podcasts—programs available for download on any MP3 player—twice a month.
“I approach each podcast like a mini-album,” says Jones, who will perform his first solo live laptop set with Emilia and KJ Sawka Thursday, Jan. 25, at The Loft. “It’s the same concept as an album, only the mixes are done quicker and with more room to experiment.”
Jones, who is working on releasing a traditional electronic album in the next few months, already has a few hundred subscribers to the podcast, he says, and has been successful in using it to network with other online outlets. His original tracks have been included in best-of online podcasts at allgoodsound.com and cybsterspace.com, and he was featured in a 45-minute podcast interview with Texas-based technology guru Tom Parish, who runs talkingportraits.com.
All of that exposure is great, but at what point does Jones see a return?
“My first experience was in a traditional touring band, so that’s still how I think of it, and putting these podcasts out there is the same as a band touring to promote an album,” says Jones, who has already released one solo album as well as Signal Path Remix. “Each one acts the same as a performance. It keeps me connected with fans and keeps my name out there. Within a couple of days of it coming out people will let me know what they really like, what they didn’t.”
The setup is ideal for Jones because traditional touring is not an option. Part of the reason he left Signal Path was to get away from the road-weary lifestyle and start a family (he and his wife are expecting their second child). Jones still plays solo piano in restaurants and with a traditional jazz ensemble (The BluestoneJones Trio) at local Flathead clubs to keep his live chops fresh, and looks forward to the occasional trip to Missoula for an electronic show, but the podcasts are his best way to reach a wider audience.
“There’s not much of an electronic scene in Montana, especially up here,” he says. “With the shows, that doesn’t matter. A few hours after I finalize my mix, anybody can listen to it, anywhere.”
Jones credits his relative seclusion with allowing him the time to freely experiment with various styles of music. His podcasts bend back and forth from acid jazz influences to funk-flavored loops to Latin world beats to ambient sound, and he promises his live set will focus on an eclectic, upbeat blend of all of the above. Right now that diversity is best captured on his first solo album, but Jones is hopeful his upcoming release will take what he’s learned from the podcasts and result in an even fuller, more intricate sound.
“I don’t really stick with one style,” he says. “A lot of electronic musicians do, and there’s a certain wisdom in that because you can really develop, and develop an audience. But for me, I’ve been influenced by so much I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable narrowing it down. That’s what makes figuring out the shows—what works and what doesn’t—so important. All of it will come into play on the album.”
And when that album is done, Jones, naturally, intends to release it on his own.
“Ultimately I may like to be supported by a label and to have that sort of overall monetary support,” he says. “But for being a beginning independent artist, what I’m doing is great. There is no better way. It’s so easy. It’s not that expensive. And there’s no middleman at all—just the audience and me. I’m not sure why I’d want to change that.”
BluestoneJones performs at The Loft with Emilia and KJ Sawka Thursday, Jan. 25, at 10:30 PM. $7. Listeners can subscribe to Jones’ podcast at www.bluestonejones.org.