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Industry Interview: Jesse Cannon (Man Overboard, Transit, The Menzingers)

Jesse Cannon

Infectious Magazine recently interviewed Jesse Cannon, manager and producer of bands like Man Overboard and Transit, to discuss his new book Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The Music Business. You can purchase a copy of the book here and check out the interview after the jump.

Infectious Magazine: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. How are you?

Jesse Cannon: I am really good, I just got back from seeing How To Destroy Angels and it was one of the best visual shows I have ever seen. It’s always awesome to see a group pushing the envelope of live performance forward. I feel high, it was so good.

IM: For those that aren’t familiar, can you tell us a little about your role in the music industry, your history within the industry, and how you got to be where you are today?

Jesse Cannon:  I started recording bands when I was 15 in exchange for beer and Doritos, 20 years later I still produce groups and greatly enjoy it, I just get paid much better now. Some of those groups I have recorded include Animal Collective, Man Overboard, The Cure, The Misfits, Transit, The Menzingers and Limp Bizkit. Along the way I promoted shows at venue like The Pipeline (Newark, NJ), Coney Island High (NYC) and tons of DIY punk shows. I also wrote for zines like Punk Planet, TapeOp and Maximum Rock N Roll. I also worked as an engineer at the esteemed WFMU in Jersey City starting at age 17 and sticking around for a decade. I also worked at Go Kart Records and presently help my good friend Dean Rispler at Drug Front Records. I have been operating my own studio Cannon Found Soundation for the last 14 years.

IM: With your new book, Get More Fans: The DIY Guide To The Music Business, you’ve done something I think most bloggers or writers have wanted to do at one time or another, which is turn a blog into a book. Can you walk us through that process?

Jesse Cannon: When I started Musformation with my partner Todd Thomas of the group Sensual Harassment we were initially writing about all aspects of music, including production and how to play your instrument better. Along the way the articles we would write about how to promote your music were clearly the most popular content on our blog and people were constantly complimenting our tone and approach to them. At about the same time, the group Man Overboard had come into my studio to have me produce their first EP. I fell in love with the group and saw how hard they were working so we worked together and did a lot of cool experiments which is how I began to see how well the information on the blog really worked.

Along the way the idea of turning the blog into a book became more than something I was just kicking around and I started taking notes and developing it. Eventually, things were so busy with Man Overboard and producing other bands in my studio that I could barely get more than notes on the book done. Then I stopped managing both them, Transit and the other groups I managed. This allowed me to concentrate on developing the book. After about 3 years of notes it took about 6 months to compile them into a semi-readable book and then I had a half dozen people of various musical backgrounds read it, edit and fix up the grammar and language as well as make suggestions so that musicians of every level of education could read it and gain insight from it.

Along the way we chopped out about 1/3rd of the book for another book that will be about how a group develops personality and the creative process that goes into making great music.

IM: Can you give us a peak inside the new book? Perhaps some of the most often asked questions, or misconceptions within the industry that you address?

Jesse Cannon: Absolutely, the main theme of the book is that it’s ridiculous to think promoting your music involves spamming fans with links to your music, writing on other band’s Facebook walls or mailing to A&R guys hoping they will listen to your music (hint: they aren’t going to). Instead, you should concentrate on building relationships with fans, keeping them interested in your music so they spread the word about it themselves. Doing the things that make this happen is actually much more fun and enjoyable than annoying potential fans with spam all day. If you employ smart techniques and devote time to doing smart work, it makes it a lot easier to get your music to spread.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that if you make your music free, it has to be that way forever or you can’t also sell tons of copies of it on paid outlets like iTunes or stream it on Spotify, Rdio, etc. A great example of this is Man Overboard’s first EP. They gave it away for free and then a year or so later Panic Records reissued it with 5 more new tracks. They then sold thousands of copies of it and now have reissued it on their own label. Years later it is viewed as a classic by many fans and continues to sell well.

IM: You’ve managed bands like Man Overboard and Transit. From what I’ve heard, it’s not as easy to manage as many seem to think. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a manager, and how do you think it differs from other industry roles?

Jesse Cannon:  It definitely isn’t as easy, if you actually are working hard. I often said the most depressing thing was my to do list only got longer instead of shorter, which leads to tons of stress and relationship problems when you are trying to have a life outside of work that is never ending. There’s a story I often point to illustrate how weird managing a group today is. When Man Overboard’s Real Talk was done being recorded (a record I both produced and was managing the group during so it was super important to me), we sent a few promo copies out, only to reputable writers we knew and trusted. Sadly, one writer gave it to some girl he knew from the Internet and she posted a track on Tumblr. I ended up cancelling a date I had on a Friday night, sitting in Union Square in Manhattan on my 3G-enabled netbook begging her to not leak anymore songs.

Eventually we had to come up with a strategy to combat the leak and we decided to release the record early via Bandcamp. Instead of making fans decide whether to embrace a leak or wait to support the band, we just gave them the option to get the record in a sanctioned way. Fans were so impressed by the way we handled this that it gained us many new fans and people bought the record just to support the idea of a band handling a leak maturely, instead of the usual denial that many groups go through when their record leaks.

IM: Back in 2010 you did an interview in which you said you were really excited about the music of today and that you had hope for dedicated bands. Now, years later, how are you feeling about the music scene today, particularly in comparison to 2010?

Jesse Cannon: I am even more excited today! The music world only gets flatter and what I am seeing more and more is music acts who run their own label are able to go DIY (Decide It Yourself, not Do It Yourself) and make huge gains. You see what’s happening with Macklemore who is DIY and other groups like Metric, Circa Survive and countless others all you see if the potential for genuine music, not shaped by corporate drones to be successful. Fans now prop up the music that really touches them and it can rise to the top easier than ever, since the major label machine is a deflated power structure that no longer can control what rises to the top. The people can.

IM: What’s in the future for you?

Jesse Cannon: Todd and I will be releasing another book sometime in late 2013/early 2014 on the thoughts that go into developing a unique musical voice and identity. Basically how you develop a sound that is unique instead of another poor imitation of a bigger band. There may be a smaller eBook in the fall I am kicking around. I’m also developing a vocal coaching app for iOS and Android with Marissa Dockery who’s an amazing vocal coach that has helped tons of singers do what they do better. I am also making tons of cool records with great bands at my recording studio.

IM: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Jesse Cannon: Yes, there’s a lot of people who preach doom and gloom for musicians not being able to make money, but the fact is these people are bitter because the ways they made money in the music business changed and they were too lazy to adapt. There is a whole new world of opportunity out there for musicians coming up. Even when you read stupid articles about groups like Grizzly Bear who are broke, they are half-truths. If you employ smart strategies and make music people love, you can have a great life and career in music.

Also, if you want to preview the book you can do so at

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Angela Mastrogiacomo

Founder of Infectious Magazine & Muddy Paw Public Relations. Lover of passion, ice cream, and books.

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