Bill Curreri Interview by Creative Spotlights
“Son of An American Dream” isn’t only the title of BillCurreri’s new album—it’s who he is. Born to Italian immigrant parents, Curreri grew up in the midst of New York’s Greenwich Village during the headiest of times, the cultural cauldron that was the 1960s. He was there when a young Bob Dylan played folk songs for anyone who’d stop and listen in Washington Square Park, and he witnessed world-famous rock stars hanging out with the locals after finishing their sets at the renowned Fillmore East. But although he was a budding musician and songwriter in his own right, Curreri’s own creative dreams were deferred. Offered a recording contract by a major label while still in his twenties, he turned it down, opting instead to enter the world of advertising in order to support himself and his family. He rose in the ranks, becoming a huge success, and although he continued to compose and perform, music remained a sideline.”
Who or what is your biggest inspiration that helps you be a better artist?
For me, as a relatively “mature artist”, I believe my life experiences… the successes, failures and lessons learned along the way… offer the most profound influence and inspiration for me and my music. When crafting my songs, these life lessons inspire me to draw upon universal themes and concepts… such as self-aspiration, lost love, family, friendship, the consequences of our life choices and coping with the passing of a loved one… that most individuals experience or will experience at one time or another in their lives and to which most people, young and old alike, can relate. As a young man, I could never hope to bring such profoundly personal yet universal insight to my music. But today, those experiences are all there waiting to be passed along to others. Hopefully, this will enable audiences to relate more intimately and personally to me and to my music both as entertainment and as art.
Do you have a support system? If so, who are the people that are part of it and how have they helped you in your career?
In my opinion, everyone needs a support system both in their personal and professional lives. But as an artist, I believe a strong support system is even more critical to success than with most other professions. Music appreciation is such a subjective process. And rejection is an all-to-common component of that process. A strong support system that encompasses both personal and professional relationships can help an artist put it all into context… Specifically, not everyone is going to be attracted to your work. So be thankful for those whom you are reaching and touching with your music for that is such a profound “gift”. When putting together a support team, I did my best to assemble a group of professionals in specific relevant areas in whom I both trust and respect on both a personal and professional level. If those components are not there, I simply move on. These individuals include my producer and bass player, Roger Fife who has helped me package my music to reach a broader and more receptive audience… my co-producer and drummer, Sammy Merendino… my marketing maven, Stephen King… my online digital designer and consultant, Cathleen Tseng… my publicist, Doreen D’Agostino… and of course, the other musicians who work with me, guitarist John Putnam, keyboardist Chris Palmaro and vocalist Katia Floreska. But perhaps the most important member of my support team is my life-partner and best friend, Lydia Yu. Her love and unselfish personal support… day in and day out… have helped me to successfully navigate the treacherous waters inherent in the music business and to stay focused on what is truly important… my music.
How does reality impact your craft? Does music help you escape it, or confront it?
For me, music has never been an escape. Instead, it is a never-ending confrontation… even, if you will, a celebration of life itself! As an artist and musician, I feel that I have a responsibility to myself and to my audience to authentically represent life and my experiences therein so that others can more readily relate to what I am trying to say with my music and walk away with a more profound understanding of and appreciation for my work especially as it relates to them and their lives.
Do you feel pressured to be a certain kind of artist and create a specific product? If so, do you believe your music is compromised by following nowadays “norms”?
One of the advantages of pursuing a career in music at this latter stage of my life, is that age has freed me from such “normative” concerns and issues. I am much more comfortable today as both a person and as an artist than during my younger years during which time the desire to write a “hit song” was constantly top of mind. However, I have since learned that today’s “norms” are often times only passing fads. So the best way to achieve long term artistic relevance and “success” is to remain true to yourself and to your artistic vision. Time and talent will take care of the rest.
If you could pick anyone in the world to collaborate with, who would that be and why?
Unfortunately, the artist with whom I would most like to collaborate, George Harrison is no longer with us. Throughout his career, I admired Harrison’s spirituality and willingness to incorporate his personal belief structure into his music (i.e. – “All Things Must Pass”, “My Sweet Lord”, etc.). I also marveled at his ability to take Eastern music and philosophy and incorporate those cultural elements into popular Western music and culture. By pushing his creative boundaries and uniting two seemingly disparate cultures, Harrison expanded himself not only as an artist but also as a human being and taught us through his music that in the end, we are all one.
Do you consider yourself as a brand? If so, how does that change the way you approach you career? If you don’t, what is the principle behind it?
As an accomplished marketer in my previous life, I understand and appreciate all too well the value of branding. Branding is essentially a “short cut to trust”. It helps your audience to quickly and accurately understand and appreciate what you stand for as an artist relative to other artistic choices afforded to them in the marketplace. Some have criticized branding as an impediment to artistic creativity… as an artificial gimmick designed to garner attention in a cluttered marketing environment. That may be true when branding is contrived and artificially conceived with an eye towards creating a perceived, but totally artificial marketing advantage. However, as an organically evolved statement of who you truly are as an artist branding can be a powerful communications tool for you and your music. But this only works if the artist and his brand are truly and organically one and the same.
In your experience, does social media help your artistry and to build a loyal fan base? How important is networking to you?
For me, the jury is still out on social media when it comes to introducing new artists into the marketplace. Specifically, getting someone to “Like” your Facebook page does not necessarily mean they are fans of your music. They could be responding to your page’s editorial content without ever even bothering to listen to your music. More importantly for me however, my audience tends to be somewhat more mature and thus their use of social media is somewhat more restrictive.
Consequently, I think nothing beats getting out there and playing your music live to appreciative audiences and building your brand organically in the marketplace. I believe that is how a loyal fan base is best established and nurtured. Social media can have a supportive role in communicating with your fans key information about you and your music such as upcoming local performances, new songs and releases, music critic reviews of your music, etc. But at the end of the day, you have to build your music career one gig at a time.
The other area of emphasis for me over and above social media is radio play. There is a legitimacy that radio brings to your music that social media simply cannot match. Everybody has a website. And anybody can have a video on YouTube. But not everybody can have their song played on commercial and non-commercial radio. For me and my contemporaries, radio sets you apart as a serious artist and musician.
What would you say to a struggling musician who is about to give up?
“It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
Where do you see the music business going in five years? Where do you see yourself then?
Given the rapid evolution of technology today, I am somewhat reticent to try and predict where the music industry might be next year let alone five years from now. But there are some demographic and social insights I do feel comfortable expressing.
The first is that the industry will continue to be dominated and led by digital technology with music being distributed and streamed to smaller and even more fragmented younger audiences. Hence the music industry will continue to be dominated by “entertainers” (not musicians) whose videos, lifestyle and private lives are just as important to their fans as the music they create… perhaps even more so. All other niche segments of the music industry will continue to shrink further as the country ages demographically.
Music entertainers will continue to cross-platform their brands among an even greater plethora of evolving online social media and technologies thus accelerating the trend towards younger and more tech-savvy music audiences.
Over the years digital technology and the internet have both helped to commoditize music. And this trend will probably accelerate with more struggling musicians and artists giving their music away in the hopes of attracting larger audiences for their live performances and tours. The musicians who eke out a living will understand this and capitalize on this. The others will count their increasing Facebook “Likes” as they struggle to keep their heads above water.
Aging Baby Boomer music icons will begin to cut back and eventually stop touring altogether. In addition, older Program Managers in the radio segment of the music industry will begin to retire opening up corresponding opportunities for younger radio professionals with more contemporary tastes in music. This will begin the slow yet steady trend towards minimizing “rock” as a viable commercial segment of the music industry. This will not happen overnight. But it will probably begin in the next five years…. give or take.
The music industry will continue to shrink on an inflation-adjusted dollar basis. Audiences too will continue to shrink and get younger and even more tech-savvy. Finally, venues that offer intimate live music will be ever more difficult to find as these establishments re-align their product offerings to attract younger audiences who do not possess the affinity to music characteristic of previous older population segments.
As for me, I am focused exclusively on establishing myself and my music in today’s music environment. Thinking about where me and my music will be five years from now is a luxury I can ill afford today.
What is the hardest aspect of being in the music world and how do you protect yourself?
Trying to protect yourself from the charlatans who want to separate you from your money. These people are selling “dreams” especially to younger, less informed and mostly altruistic musicians. Fortunately, my advanced years have provided me with the experiences and wisdom to identify and avoid such scams. But unfortunately, younger artists may not be so well equipped to protect themselves.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I’d love to be remembered as a singer songwriter who captured the universal experiences of everyday life in his music.
What do you think, the 5-year old (in) you would think about where you are right now in your career?
He’d probably ask, “What took you so long?” (LOL)
Bill will be featured in our upcoming ebook In The Spotlight: 100 Voices in Music. Sign up for a free chapter here!
This interview appeared originally on the Creative Spotlights website.