As the music industry continues a rapid shift away from physical product toward the online consumption of music, and promotion of it via social media and platforms like TikTok, it’s become easier than ever for artists to affordably release their music. Rising above the clutter of a saturated marketplace, however, has raised the level of difficulty in terms of ensuring that music reaches an audience.
For artists who came about at the height of the major label system, one which peaked in the 80s and 90s before trending downward upon the advent of Napster and online file sharing in the early 2000s, adapting to today’s landscape can be a challenge. But the benefits of keeping a closer eye on the business side can be rewarding.
Freddy Jones Band formed in Chicago in 1990, gradually building a grassroots following thanks to the strength of their live act before signing to Capricorn Records. Then home to artists like Cake, 311 and Kenny Chesney, Capricorn released a pair of Freddy Jones Band albums, Waiting for the Night in 1993 and North Avenue Wake Up Call in ‘95.
From Waiting for the Night, the group’s soaring opus “In A Daydream” raced up the Mainstream Rock Chart and fared well across the country on Triple A radio, airplay on Chicago’s influential WXRT driving the rise at a time when local radio play was better suited to help break an artist nationally.
Produced by Grammy Award winning producer/engineer Justin Niebank (Vince Gill, Taylor Swift), North Avenue Wake Up Call cracked the Billboard 200 albums chart, giving the band a shot with a major label. PolyGram released the Lucid album in 1997 and the group hit the road with artists like Dave Matthews Band and Ben Harper.
As the traditional music industry model began to crash, ups and downs followed – lineup changes too.
Bassist Rich Ross joined Freddy Jones Band eight years ago, eventually taking on a role as the group’s manager. Despite lacking significant management experience, Ross embraced the arrangement out of necessity, learning as he went.
“I think it was in 2015 they had actually called me to play. Because I knew their tour manager and I was living in Nashville,” Ross recalled. “It didn’t really work out because I was committed to playing with Phil Vassar and Josh Gracin,” he said, noting his work in the country world as well as alongside artists like Colorado rockers The Samples. “So I said no and then maybe six months later, they came back to me again. I played a couple shows and on some demos,” he said. “As time went on, things weren’t working out with the label like we wanted and we ended up parting ways. Out manager Ed Baker said to me, ‘Hey, I think we’re gonna have to pull out of this thing.’ They did. And I pretty much thought the band was kind of over,” Ross admitted. “But Ed said, ‘Why don’t you manage it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know much about managing a band…’ He said, ‘Well, let me help you.’ And he did. And to this day, he still helps me,” said the bassist turned manager. “That’s exactly how it happened. It was our manager Ed Baker saying, ‘Hey, you can do this. And it may be better for you to do this.’ Music is in a weird place right now, you know?”
On tour in celebration of the 30th anniversary of “In A Daydream,” co-founding singer, songwriter and guitarist Marty Lloyd embraces the group’s shift to do-it-yourself.
“That is exactly it. It’s DIY for sure. And I’m proud to say that it’s that,” said the singer. “I think a lot of bands from our genre are operating that way. Luckily, we have people within that are smart enough to take care of that stuff. I feel blessed that we have people within the camp that help run the operation like that. And Rich does a great job,” said Lloyd.
“I started booking the shows and managing the band,” said Ross. “And I realized that it’s much easier to kind of have all of the information known within the band – and not have to outsource management and booking. That went on until probably about 2019, when we did end up hiring a booking agent – because it got a little overwhelming trying to run the business like that. The management alone, it’s not easy. I also do the tour managing. It’s a lot of work.”
Following a series of shows over the last year alongside Big Head Todd and The Monsters, Freddy Jones Band will hit Chicago for a pair of performances this Saturday at City Winery. The group will also stop in Venice, California at The Venice West on June 11, 2023.
While traditional touring for independent artists has become extremely difficult amidst pandemic, Freddy Jones Band has rebounded, weathering the storm despite the hurdles.
“2018 and 2019 did really, really well for us. But we weren’t sharing the stages with the bigger bands that we wanted to. We weren’t playing a lot of the festivals,” said Ross. “Last year, the shows were much bigger. We ended up doing a lot of the bigger festivals. We did Summerfest [in Milwaukee] twice. And we did a lot of shows with Big Head Todd – and obviously we’re playing to three times the amount of people in that scenario,” he said. “We started last year in Denver with Big Head Todd and The Samples. That was a 7,500 ticket event. And it was really successful. So, I felt like we put ourselves in much better situations last year.”
Drilling down on the band’s live act soon required new music.
After the release of the Freddy Jones Band album Never Change, also produced by Niebank, in 2015, Lloyd had songs left to flesh out.
Despite pandemic-induced delays, the group was finally able to record, hitting Nashville’s Studio on the Ridge in 2020.
From those sessions, “Connected” dropped in the fall of 2021, the group acknowledging the universal need for interaction following the lockdown of early quarantine.
Their latest single “Mirror Ball” finds Lloyd at his best, a driving uptempo number that falls perfectly in line with the quintessential Freddy Jones Band sound while an unforgettable chorus pushes everything ahead.
“The whole world was spinning out of control and we kind of found safety in getting together and going into the studio. We just had such great fun doing it,” said Lloyd of the sessions. “Honestly, it’s a little nerve wracking making a setlist for a show. It’s nerve wracking to write it out and write down ‘Mirror Ball’ – which a lot of people don’t know yet. That’s taking up a slot that could be something everybody knows,” said the singer. “But we do notice that the air changes in the room a little bit when we play that song. And you can kind of see people moving a little differently. Something happens. It does. It seems like it just fits right in. It passes the test,” Lloyd said.
“Marty is so talented at coming up with the lyrics and the vocal melodies. They’re just so catchy,” added Ross. “So we took those songs into the studio and built them up to what you hear now. James Cook, who was the bass player for Luke Bryan, produced them. And they’re amazing. I’m really proud of them.”
This Friday, March 31, Freddy Jones Band will release EP23, celebrating the project on stage the next night in Chicago. The EP features “Connected,” “Mirror Ball” and a newly reworked take on “In A Daydream” as it turns 30, one that nods in the direction of nostalgia while celebrating the way in which the current lineup drives it forward on stage.
“Specifically, that song comes up a lot in those conversations,” said Lloyd, acknowledging the way “In A Daydream” continues to resonate with fans three decades later. “Seeing everybody out at the shows – especially afterwards when we make our way out to the merch booth and hear people’s stories. People tell us that the music was part of the soundtrack of their college years or their lives – or got them through a good time or a bad time,” said the singer. “It just blows me away that I wrote a song, and we recorded a song, that resonated with people so clearly.”
With new music to promote, the group’s current touring approach is unique. Reality amidst contemporary economics, where inflation raises the expense of hotels, gas and airfare, complicating touring, leaves Ross pondering novel solutions as he looks ahead.
“We don’t do traditional touring anymore,” said the bassist and manager, noting the group is available for private events. “We do the Nashville style of touring where you leave on a Thursday or a Friday and you come back on Sunday. That way everyone in the band has time with their families. Some of the guys have other careers they do during the week. And that’s kind of how we run the band,” said Ross.
“One of the things that I’ve actually considered is sponsorship moving forward,” he acknowledged. “Because a lot of the places Freddy Jones Band does well are places that are smaller markets for us. We’re not able to get there right now because the expenses are 30 or 40, sometimes 50% higher. We really have to watch the budget on this stuff,” Ross continued. “We’ve had people approach us over the years about sponsorship and we never really took advantage of it. But it’s something I may look into this year so we can get to some of those markets that we haven’t been to in a long time. Charlotte, North Carolina. Asheville. There’s these great cities tucked away that we just can’t get to at this point. So that’s kind of my thought process behind trying to make some stuff work.”
In the moment, no artist thinks about how their music will connect 30 years down the line. While Ross looks ahead, the key for Lloyd lies in living the moment.
“Somebody asked me recently about just that – about moving forward and what it’s like. Almost as if time had passed and there was once upon a time this thing that happened – but now we’re past it and now we are something different,” mused the songwriter. “And it’s like, ‘No! I’m in it! This is part of it. And tomorrow will be a part of it. Yesterday was a part of it.’ There were songs before and there are songs now. And there will be more songs. And it’s just one fluid experience that we are riding. It’s an adventure that we’re on. And we’re just in the midst of it.”
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Jim Ryan, Contributor
I write about the business of music