10 Questions with ... Joe Swank
June 25, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- January 1987- June 1989 - WDDD (Overnights/morning show player)
- July 1989- November 1989 - Paradigm Communications (Freelance Advertising Copy Writer)
- February 1990- March 1992 - WTJY (MD/Morning show co-host/evenings)
- April 1992- Octpber 1992 - WKCM/WLME (PD/MD - Morning show host)
- February 1993- May 1995 - WOOZ (Morning show/Weekends)
- April 1994-October 1998 - Nightlife (Music Journalist)
- June 1996-June 1999 - The MoJoDeans (Co-Lead singer/songwriter/guitar)
- April 1998-March 2001 - WDBX ( Host - Y'allternative)
- June 1999-March 2001 - Joe Swank & The Mule Skinner Band (Lead singer/songwriter/guitar)
- September 2001-November 2001 - Redeye Distribution (returns)
- November 2001-June 2008 - Yep Roc Records (Radio promo)
- June 2003-present - Joe Swank & the Zen Pirates (Lead singer/songwriter/guitar)
- June 2005-June 2008 - WCOM (Host - Y'allternative)
- June 2008-Present - Bloodshot Records (Radio Promo & Tour Press)
1. What got you interested in the record business?
I was a radio DJ off and on for a solid decade (Both commercial and non-comm) before I ever got out of that end of it and got into the business. On the two occasions I was the MD, I always wondered, "Who are these people who get paid to call me and talk about music all day? That must be the best job ever!" and by the time I was 30, most everything on my resume was pointing to the music business so I started looking for internships in North Carolina. Needless to say, over a decade later, turns out it IS the best job ever.
2. What was your favorite station to listen to when you were a kid?
101.5 WCIL. It was the pop station in Southern Illinois, but they really spread their wings on occasion. It got weirder as it got later at night. This was around the time that Urban Cowboy was big, so every Tuesday night, they had (what one would NOW refer to as) an Americana-Outlaw show that always started at 9p with David Allan Coe's "Willie, Waylon & Me." The music was played at the station, but the live drops were done from a club. That was my first exposure to most of the music I would eventually gravitate towards. Jason & the Scorchers, Graham Parsons, Charlie Daniels, Merle Haggard, etc.
3. What may surprise people the most about Bloodshot Records?
Probably that there are only seven of us total who do everything from taking orders on the phone to brain-storming on marketing to unloading the arriving shipments to packing up and shipping out product. To work here, you kinda have to be a Jack-of-all-trades. ...that and the fact that pre-80s punk rock is probably the only type of non-Bloodshot music that you can put on in the office without someone hating on it.
4. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
When the artist gets in touch to say they heard themselves on a station they are a fan of or on their hometown station. There's something different about YOUR station playing your record as opposed to some other more popular station playing your record. It may not mean more to sales and promotion, but it does to that specific artist.
5. Tell us about the great success you have had with Justin Townes Earle
I can't stress enough that a majority of Justin's success is due to his unrelenting schedule. Obviously he is hugely talented as a triple threat singer-songwriter-performer, but he just doesn't slow down. When he leaves the road, expect another album and once the album comes out, don't expect him back home for a while.
Radio has been fantastic to Justin and he hasn't been off the radar much at all in the last couple of years. Harlem River Blues is still on the lower end of some charts where "Nothing's Gonna Change The Way You Feel About Me Now" is. I just try to keep up. Of course, on this record, we had some incredible help at Triple A from Amy Kaplan (who now works for Justin's current management company, McManagement) as well as Art Phillips. Justin has always had strong management, who made a lot of right decisions regarding his career. I have no doubt he will continue his ascent.
6. What other acts are you most excited about at the label?
Cory Branan! I have always been a huge fan of his first two records and, after a six-year absence, it was really great to get the opportunity to work this incredible MUTT record. It's all over the place stylistically, but all of his records are. He follows the muse, wherever she may go. Quite a few of us here in the office were really pushing to get that disc for a while, so I was thrilled when it finally happened. Lydia Loveless has really blown us all away with how great the record turned out and how really awesome she is live. Same with JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound. Really both of those acts just came out of the gate tearing it up and have gotten some amazing accolades and are really super easy to work with as well. Finally, we get the opportunity to do a new Firewater disc with Tod A this fall. Firewater was the first show I saw as a Bloodshot employee (four years ago, almost to the day) and I am looking forward to seeing them again when they tour the U.S. in September. The new disc is amazing.
7. Things are changing rapidly in our business. Were it up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give your bands a better shot?
Immediately take us back to the ownership rules before The Telecommunications act of 1996, possibly pre-Reagan administration as far as media consolidation goes. Ideally, I would like to go back to a time when most radio stations were owned by used car lot dealers and eccentric semi-rich people and programming was left solely up to the dude or dudette who was physically AT the station. Media consolidation really broke the creative back of radio in most major metro areas. I think the charts now influence the music being played far too often as opposed to the other way around.
I also think if we could balance out some of the payment issues with a few of the newer audio delivery systems, I would welcome them aboard as part of the larger promotional machine, but the laws need to catch up with the systems in order to make the new way a fair and profitable one for all involved.
8. How does your label increase exposure of your artists outside of traditional radio promotion?
Every way possible. Every single avenue we can find. I also do tour press for most of the road warriors and we work the tours hard. We are heavy on the social networking aspects, too. Trying to push your bands out there for attention in the whole wide web is often a non-stop task. We do lifestyle marketing where it makes sense as well, sending play copies and posters to relevant shops, coffee houses and gathering places when it makes sense. Taking advantage of connections that have been made in the past such as Scott H. Biram with the Skateboarding crowd or getting Justin involved with Fashion industry people. Or Graham Parker and his appearances in the Judd Apatow movie that is coming out. Anywhere a connection can be made, we try to make it without being overtly intrusive or pushy. We have several people involved in film & TV placement pitching as well.
9. In addition to doing promotion for Bloodshot, you are a musician too. Tell us about that.
I have released three CDs of mostly original material with three different bands over the course of the last 13 years. The last one, Hank Williams, "Died For My Sins with The Zen Pirates," saw a little airplay in late 2009, but I seem to have a curse that by the time the disc comes out, for some reason or another, I am no longer where the band is. I left the Zen Pirates back in Raleigh in 2008 to move to Chicago and our record came out in 2009. Without a tour, there isn't much that can happen with a record these days.
Everyone had a day job so coordinating any kind of run from this far away was impossible. I have been pulling back on my performing up here in the big city to kind of re-boot my songwriting. Try to get out of some old habits. I'm listening to a lot of Randy Newman and Tom Waits for inspiration.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
... The Internet. (Greatest thing to happen in my lifetime.)
Last non-industry job:
Worked during the week as night manager at a Red Roof Inn and bartended at Sadlack's Heroes in Raleigh, and worked door at The Cave in Chapel Hill on Weekends, while interning at Redeye Distribution during the weekdays.
First record ever purchased:
A Million Or More in '76 (Hits from 1976 as performed by The Million Or More Players)
Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson
Favorite band of all-time:
Willie Nelson/Prince/Tom Waits (tie)
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Practicing guitar, re-learning piano and working on an epic lecture to try and explain the fundamental workings of the entire music business to beginning musicians and artists.