Coffee Time With The Bergamot: Challenges & Opportunities for Independent Artists
In the past 2 months, I have told at least 3 young artists that they should follow The Bergamot on social media and see how they interact with their fans. Spend some time observing them and you will see a band that has learned the rules, studied the game and is now on a winning streak.
We all know that music as a business is inherently difficult. The challenges that independent artists face in the streaming economy are real and can be daunting. But it is groups like The Bergamot that reinforce my belief that if you work hard to give people an authentic experience you will find a receptive audience.
What has impressed me most about The Bergamot is how real and genuine they are. Meeting Nathaniel and Jillian in person, listening to their music, seeing them perform live, or watching an Instagram story of them buying cherries at a roadside stand while on tour – it is all a unified experience that makes them immediately relatable. It is not easy to put yourselves out there and open your world to the masses. It takes an incredible amount of calculated effort and teamwork.
I sat down with Nathaniel to talk about their methodology, work ethic, unity and of course, the music. Any artist that wants some insight and ideas for how they can run their own careers and achieve success should follow The Bergamot and read this interview.
Thanks for taking the time to sit down for an interview. Trend & Chaos got to know The Bergamot from your single “One Mile”, then we had the pleasure of seeing you play at Sofar Sounds in NYC. Before we get into talking about your new single “Mayflies” and the upcoming album let’s go back in time a little. You and Jillian were high school sweethearts that went to the same university, got married and make records and tour together. Do I have that right? Just amazing!
Yes! That is 100% true. In fact, I am not sure that Jillian would have fallen for me if it were not for the music… Thank goodness I could write a song! At every show, we always mention that we are “Sweethearts from the Heartland”. Being brought up in the midwest – no matter where you go in life – has a way of always sticking with you. Growing up we were both active in sports and community teaching us the importance of being involved. When we moved to NYC, we quickly found ourselves connecting with new people and experiences and really learning and educating ourselves on what makes the city so unique and amazing. I think coming from the midwest fills you up with a certain amount of wonder – a craving to go out and learn and grow. Jillian and I both look back fondly at our years growing up in Indiana.
What I have noticed about The Bergamot is that you are both extremely hands-on in every aspect of the music and business. The effort you put into your recordings, videos, social media posts, and live shows is always on point. How do you go about handling all of these tasks?
Why, thanks! “Hands-on” is definitely a word that rings true in our camp. We believe that the music and the songwriting itself is pinnacle – that’s a whole other article. Beyond that, we look for ways to connect with people in a way that is both authentic and unique. It is so easy these days to make a quick post to socials and move on with life. However, we try to make a very personal connection with our fans and followers. We try to bring them into our lives – so that they can share in the joy and the heartbreak of living a life out of a van.
We handle these tasks in a manner that we know well from our years growing up in Indiana. I worked on a farm growing up and the key to running a good farm is delegation. You have to split up the tasks that have to be done on a daily basis in a way that is best for the team as a whole. So we don’t lean over each other’s shoulders and point out mistakes. We try to help each other do the best that we can, but for the most part we both have our responsibilities and we don’t interfere with each other’s side of the farm. A little bit old school here we know, but even ancient civilizations found success when people focus on what they do well.
Not to say that this doesn’t come with some drawbacks. As our team has grown, we have learned to let go of tasks that we can’t devote 100% attention to. As our to-do lists grows daily, we have to focus on making great music and playing great shows. We can’t be overly involved in micro-managing our label if we want to expand as artists. So we still like to do certain tasks, but we are learning to let go as well. The evolution of growth!
What are the biggest challenges that The Bergamot face as independent artists?
Financing. A record label is a business. The word “Music Business” itself implies 50% music, 50% business. So talking about money is never easy – for anyone – let alone 2 indie artists. There is always the “We hope for a better tomorrow” but in today’s music landscape we might be holding our breath for a while. I just recently read an article from Pitchfork about how over the next 10 years the music industry will grow by 10 fold – however, the people being paid will constrict from the 1% to the .1%. Let that set in for a second…
So there is growth, but that growth is starting to consolidate to the top – or tip top in this case! So I don’t know where the music industry is headed. That leads to a lot of sideways conversations about how to pay our investors back or how to be able to pay down our credit cards. I mean you can’t make a record (or a video) for free – even if you are living in your parents’ basement. It still costs you time and/or money – so you have to find one or the other – or in most cases both. So as you ascend you start to make more work, but that work takes more time, however that time is not compensated. As your art grows, expectations grow, and your time commitment then grows. So you have to find help at some point. That is where you have to ask for help.
We have always done Kickstarters to finance records. But I think the common misperception there is that you “get” the money. The truth is after the fees, goods, the shipping costs are deducted you are usually left with an amount short of what you need – a shortfall. So you can borrow money (never from a bank – they will chase you out as an artist/musician!) so you usually have to go to loved ones and patrons. Regardless, you are doing all of this while still booking, prepping the live show, growing as an artist, and completing all the other tiny details along the way as well (album art, single art, visual ads, etc.)
Money is tight. Time is tight. So you have to find a way to make it work. We set aside time every day to make sure that we are communicating with each other. We call it “Coffee Time,” I think as an artist it is vital to have time to reflect on what you are doing and where you are heading. Too many days focused on the day to day details, and you forget the purpose of your art. Having that time to reflect is key to staying on track.
As with your song “One Mile”, your new single “Mayflies” takes on a global theme affecting our planet and magnifies it so people can relate on an emotional level. How did you go about writing a song about climate change that gets your message across yet is still entertaining and fun?
We are going to announce at the drop of our album on September 19th, 2019 that we, The Bergamot, are running for president. Haha, I think we all have to do our part in today’s world. The truth is, I believe that not just our president has failed us – but our culture (who ultimately elected you know who) has failed us. We are trying to do our part by helping people have the conversations that need to happen. A song is a great way to open up a dialog. I will never forget when we were down in Arkansas, and an entomologist told us that the song “Mayflies” should be the anthem of the mayfly – sung at every bug conference across the globe. That the mayfly itself is being forgotten in times like these – yet its story is so compelling and vital to our world as it is.
I think topics like the mayfly have the power to unite people across lines. I say it could be the ‘trojan horse’ of unity 🙂 It’s a vital part of the hunting and fishing community, but is a leading indicator of environmental issues – we have to unite around the things that bring us all together.
“One Mile” is our thesis statement to our 50 State journey. When we get lost or forget what we are doing all of this for – we have to remind ourselves that we do this for the better world that we know exists. The “One Mile” video is a testament to how we can move forward together.
Let’s geek out for a minute – can you tell us a little bit about the recording process for “Mayflies”?
It all started with the drums. When Matt first started working on the song “Mayflies” it was all about getting that perfect drum sound. We also sampled in some extra floor toms to add to the beat as well.
Sonically, it was all about getting a really “tight” sound in the beginning of the song so that it could really open up after the first chorus. I believe it was a “Elysia mpressor” that we used to really compress that initial drum tone. Mix that in with a couple of 1176’s on the overheads and we were off and running.
The bass was our classic setup for the session – a Fender P-Bass DI through a Neve strip.
The piano recorded was a beautiful upright piano with the front pads exposed. We close mic’d the piano with an AKG 414 and with a room mic – Neumann U47. We even threw a 414 on the pedals near my feet. You can hear that mic at the end of the track! When we recorded the verses, we depressed the mute pedal to get a real tight sound in the verses and then opened up the sustain on the chorus and pre-chorus. I think that really created a huge sound for the piano.
One of the fun pieces of this recording, that is not heard unless you focus for it – is the recording of a lead 12 string guitar! Straight out of the 60’s – it is the callback for the countermelody in the turnaround and then in the verses as well. We ran this Fender 12 string through a Vox AC 30 with no pedals – pure tone.
All Vox were both recorded through a Neumann U87 -> Tube-Tech CL 1B -> Neve 1073 -> Apogee Symphony
Lead synth was a Moog Voyager XL -> Neve 1073
Solo Guitar/Ending rhythm guitar was a standard American Strat -> Vox AC 30 -> Neumann U47 -> Neve 1073
What’s coming up for The Bergamot? The new album, tours, etc.
Our last single/video from the record titled “BONES” drops on 9.10.19 – which correlates with world suicide prevention day – and then the new album comes out on September 19th, 2019. Just a little over a month from now and we CAN’T WAIT for the album to drop!
To follow that we are super stoked to be announcing that our fall dates very very soon. It will be our first tour to support the record! We just locked in a show at Hotel Utah in San Francisco, a 100-year-old music institution in the SOMA neighborhood. It will be our biggest tour to date… So many moving pieces on that front so stay tuned!
Then we are getting ready to submit our documentary “State of the Unity” to film festivals for 2020! We are in the final stages of review and editing and hope to have something ready by fall/winter of this year. We will be rolling the full-length film out in the spring at a festival we hope (fingers crossed!)
Do you have any advice for artists who may be inspired by what The Bergamot has been able to achieve?
Go out and get it. Yes, it is difficult financially. Yes, there is more competition than ever before. But never in history has it been easier for a musician to start recording. We live in a time where making recorded music is becoming easier and easier. The quality of a basic recording rig is unbelievable. So go get started!
After spending time making music and learning – start getting your tracks out there. There are so many great platforms to help you get a start.
Finally, don’t be afraid to go against the trends. Great music doesn’t come from someone just trying to recreate, you have to learn to innovate. Learn the rules so you can break them. Push yourself to go further in your writing – don’t just stick to what is safe. When I recorded my first album in 2002, my German teacher said it was “the worst music she had ever heard” at that point I knew I was on to something!
Your job as an artist is to create – the good, the bad, the indifferent – so learn to enjoy the process of creation and that will remove the barriers of productivity.
Thank you for the great insight into The Bergamot world, we are definitely looking forward to the album!
You all are the best. Seriously, thanks for giving independent musicians like us a voice. It means the world to us. Ever Upwards, Nathaniel
Listen to “Mayflies” by The Bergamot and other Trend & Chaos picks on our Spotify Discover Playlist.
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