ARTIST NAME: John O’Brien
SONG TITLE: By The Throat
RELEASE DATE: Fall 2018
GENRE: Popular Rock, Alternative Rock
Share your life story with us.
I was very young when I first saw my mother who was acting in a musical sing a beautiful song. I really believed that if she could do that then I could do that. I started singing when I was five years old and began playing guitar when I was seven.
I began writing music and started my first band when I was 13 and have not stopped writing and performing since. I’ve also lived all over the United States and have traveled extensively internationally. My love of music and performing stayed with me throughout those travels. One memorable time was when I spent about seven months living in Amsterdam, Holland, and met musicians there and performed with them. That was many years ago and I still keep in touch with them.
Share your press release and reviews with us.
John O’Brien is a Performer, Recording Artist, and Songwriter who has been active in the music scene for more than four decades. He has performed all over the world and has released seven CDs over his career. His original recordings have caught the attention of the music media with airplay on stations including SiriusXM and others. He is currently recording his new project at the Full Sail University Recording Studios in Orlando, Florida. O’Brien’s recent full-length CD, “My Revelation” (2015) includes his most popular originals including the radio hit “Summer Sun”. His prior full-length CDs include “Baysiders in Concert – Long Beach New York” (2004), “Quiet Storm” (2003), “The Brujon Project” (1998), “Christmas Songs for You” (1996), and “John O’Brien with Festival” (1983) with performances in the US, Madrid, Amsterdam, the Caribbean, and other locations. O’Brien also cut a successful single “Life” with the Crystal Revelation in 1970. Good Times Magazine described O’Brien’s vocal style as “The mood is low-key and pensive, yet the vehicle is unmistakably rocking at its most subtle level. O’Brien’s rich, moody voice, which accentuates the harmonic changes with an understated tension, shows qualities that tracks like these usually don’t possess.”
O’Brien’s live performances continue to establish his reputation as a critically respected artist. He has performed at various music festivals, including the 2017 DeLand Original Music Festival in DeLand, Florida, the Cathedral Festival, and the Lincolnville Festival in St Augustine. His live act has performed regularly in Florida’s “music capitol,” St Augustine, for the last eleven years.
O’Brien developed his performance skills by playing a variety of musical genres. His tuneful journey as a guitarist and lead singer included a young rock band called the Norsemen in the early 60s playing Beach Boys, Beatles, and the Kingston Trio; a Fifth Dimension sound-alike act called the Infinity of Sound; a hard rock band touring the northeast US named the Crystal Revelation in the late 60s playing Doors, Cream, and Steppenwolf; and a commercially successful duo called Holy Smoke throughout the 70s. He performed in the famous NYC clubs like CBGB and the Bottom Line with his recording act John O’Brien with Festival after the successful release of his first album; a band playing vacation spots all over Long Island called Baysiders Jam Band, a southern rock band named Highwater in the mid-2000s playing Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, and Kenny Chesney; and since 2011 his current successful act Atlantic Blu playing the likes of Van Morrison, Dire Straits, and Santana.
List the names of those that have supported you so far in your music career and use this opportunity to thank them.
My late mother, Evelyn, most of all ever since I was a child.
My close friend and music partner Bruce Wands.
Narrate your experience while recording in the studio or while touring.
Being in the studio for me this kind of like a kid in a toy store. I feel very much right at home and after years of recording feel very empowered. Over the years the technology has changed but the basic intent and practice of recording have stayed very consistent. I love interacting with the engineer during the recording of basic tracks and vocals and when that is done I love the practice of post-production and making the decisions about how to best present the music which is been recorded. These days I go into the studio with my act and record basic tracks, take those basic tracks home to my home studio and create a mix that I really like then take the stems and go back to the studio to finish the recording with the engineer.
Touring is a whole different world. The experience of going from place to place, setting up and learning the best way to perform in different venues, and then actually performing and meeting people from where you are touring is an absolutely wonderful experience. The thing I always tell my musicians is that they really have to roll with the punches because the punches will happen (not physical punches). The challenges of being in a new venue are amazing and when you overcome those challenges, performed, experienced a great crowd reaction there’s nothing like it.
Discuss your songwriting.
Songwriting for me has become a very positive addiction. That may seem kind of oxymoronic given how addiction has become such a plague, but I’m always thinking about themes that I could write about and listening to different types of music to get ideas about how to express those ideas. I usually end up starting with an idea, maybe just one word, and then working on a musical progression that embodies the thoughts and emotions of that word.
My experience is that the lyric just forms around the music and the concept. There’s nothing like the feeling of coming to a conclusion that a song is basically ready to go. The whole process may take anywhere from several hours to several years and there doesn’t seem to be any way to make it happen any quicker-nor would I want to.
Elaborate on your future projects.
Right now, I’m getting used to the new digital world of music distribution. Over the past five years, the entire idea of getting your music out there has shifted from CDs to digital files, and now almost entirely the world of streaming.
In addition, the laws on how musicians and writers are compensated are changing very rapidly in both the US and the UK. Currently, I am planning on finishing the album project I’ve been working on for the past year and placing it on the proper platforms through distributors to the streaming world. I’m also organizing a tour of small venues in order to get the act acclimated to the travel and the other vagaries of touring. Right now we are looking at a multiweek tour starting in the mid-Atlantic and working our way down to the East Coast to the Florida Keys.
Tell us what you are doing to increase your fan base.
As I previously discussed, the streaming world and the entire digital distribution networks have changed so dramatically that utilizing Internet platforms is absolutely necessary. Also, doing little things like taking the introduction to a happy song (my song “Happy To Love”) and creating a ring tone that is being distributed has helped a lot. Of course, the use of email is a requirement. I think the most important thing is to make sure you respond quickly and immediately to anybody who could be a fan to help them stay in touch with your art and introduce it to their friends.
Tell us that point in time you wanted to give up on your music career.
It was interesting in that I had sort of an epiphany at one point. It was when I was younger, and I believed that the music business was really simply about creating a piece of artwork called music; I was in for a bit of a surprise. As I progressed it slowly sunk in that this was really a business. The artist in me wanted to reject the idea that I had to treat the whole thing as a business and wanted to recluse myself and simply stay at home and write my songs. The epiphany occurred when I realized that in order to really be happy with my writing and my songs I would have to engage in the business and I did and I’m sure happy that I did.
Go into detail on how you make your instrumentation or melody.
It is kind of strange, but my melodies just come to me. I sing, and the melody comes out. I listen to a great deal of music of all different genres so that the melodies to come out maybe somewhere embedded in my mind so that when I sing maybe I’m borrowing different tonal aspects of music that I’ve listened to. But whatever it is, when I develop a progression, and even though I tend to write popular rock there is a strong influence of jazz in my writing, there are a lot of notes available and I take advantage of that. I used to write melodies that were fairly monotonic, but now my melodies seem to run all over the place. There’s nothing better than hearing that somebody couldn’t get the chorus that you sang out of their head.
Tell us your complete understanding of music licensing.
I copyright my original music with the US patent and trademark office. I also use a distributor TuneCore and I collect my royalties through ASCAP. The publishing world is very difficult to understand. I have a background in law and I recently read a book about protecting intellectual property in music written by a lawyer and even with all of my backgrounds I could hardly understand it. I do my best to protect myself and I don’t engage in publishing deals that I don’t understand. With the new legislation in the US and the UK, things are changing rapidly so I’m going to keep an eye on it.
Tell us your favorite genre of music.
I love popular rock with a strong element of jazz in it. I don’t even know what to call it, but it’s in the tradition of Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Todd Rundgren, and others that seem to be able to take jazz chord substitutions into the rock world and turn the music into something that I love to hear as well as play and sing.
Tell us the theme of most of your songs.
My themes vary. Of course, there is the old standby of love and companionship, but I also write about things that hit me hard. ‘By The Throat’ is a song I wrote after my brother passed away from an opiate overdose. I ended up studying the opiate epidemic and how it happens and what happens and I even dove into the whole area of the common slang involved. I wrote that song as a plea for those who are addicted to get help. The bridge line still hits me pretty hard “you know you’re dying no matter how much you pretend”. But in the end, an Angel takes your hand and brings you to the place to get that help. I’m currently writing a song called “Mother Ocean” which will appear on the album and is about ocean pollution and how terrible it is as we all evolved out of creatures that lived in the ocean and we are all still drawn to the ocean. (I live on a beach.) Yet, here we are destroying it.
Elaborate on this song.
I needed to really dig in and figure out how you get the message across that opiate addiction doesn’t naturally mean you’re going to die from it and that there is help available. I watched a lot of interviews with opiate-addicted people and read numerous articles about how they live their lives after they were originally addicted. So many of them start with a simple prescription for pain medication (as my brother did) and become addicted to the pills they’re taking. I had a very small interaction with that myself after a major surgery a number of years ago and my short experience with an opiate, which did relieve the pain, felt so good I realized that there was danger there particularly because it was only a month or two after my brother passed away. I stopped immediately realizing that the pain was better than the consequences of dealing with the addiction. I studied the language that’s used in the drug world – that going to get your fix is called “running” that heroin is “China white” fentanyl is “China girl”. That it’s Narcan that brings these people back from the dead and that when they are fading they do see “the ghost”. Also, that many of them become addicted to a doctor’s prescription and end up on the couch playing video games, losing their jobs, and seeing their lives spiral out of control. I hope this song will help anybody who will listen to it.
I chose to write the music in a dark, brooding tone and chose a low Irish penny whistle as the solo instrument because it matches that feeling. I think folks who are addicted are depressed because they just don’t see a way out. I was struck a while ago with a quote from a woman who was addicted. She said, “I wish I was a dog because dogs don’t get addicted to opiates”. That kind of says it all.
Discuss digital distribution and streaming.
I’ve studied the heck out of this and wish I could say that … understand the whole thing. I’m a pretty smart guy, I have a Ph.D. and I study economics as well as law and it is still almost ethereal to me how the whole thing works. I do understand enough to get royalty checks though, which I guess is pretty good. I also know enough to consult with a lawyer before I commit to anything that might have long-term implications for my music.
Tell us numerous ways that artists can boost their revenue.
I think the best way to boost revenue, besides getting out on the road and playing shows that can be profitable, is to take every available opportunity to put your stuff out there. These days people get paid for streams not sales of physical albums or CDs. I found that you can buy inexpensive thumb drives for about two dollars each and put your music on that as well as your lyric sheets, your background, your music resume, your EPK, and many, many other things and just distribute that to get people to listen. I no longer fear the idea of giving away my music because the trick isn’t to get them to listen to it once in the streaming world it is the idea of getting them to listen to it over and over again. One thing I’m doing is making sure that when I do a tour that social media is used extensively to drive people to want to come to the shows and hopefully that will drive them to listen to my music on platforms like Spotify, Deezer, iTunes, Amazon Music, and others.
Tell us your opinion on self-training and enrolling in an educational institution to study music.
I grew up in Rochester, New York where the Eastman School of Music was always a presence. I played in a band there, as I discussed when I was 13 in my first act, and we were always surrounded by performers playing that were from the Eastman school. We also had some great local acts like the Young Rascals and others. Rochester is a very music-oriented city. I wish I had studied more music in college (I did take a music theory course which’s helped me tremendously) but I chose to study other things. I do study music now to make sure that I can understand how complex jazz progressions and modulations can enhance the attractiveness of music and I use that in my writing. What I will tell you is that every time I see children in our audience I always, always tell the parents to get their kids an instrument because it will teach them everything from math to culture to art to poetry and so many things that if you give a kid an instrument it is like that old proverb about teaching a man to fish instead of giving them a fish, it supports them for the rest of their lives.
Go on at length on what it takes to write a hit song.
I wish I knew the answer to that question and could state it simply, but the best I can do is to say that you need to find the chord that plays in everyone’s heart. That’s why love is such a ubiquitous topic in written songs, everyone longs for it. My song “Happy To Love” which will be on the album is about finding love at first sight, but the lyric brings it right into the rest of the person’s life and living together after that. Just simply wanting something is not enough to write a hit song about, you have to see a way to achieve it and hold it. Of course, it’s just not that simple and the music and specifically the hook has to be really well-written. I think it’s very important to get a song out in front of people and get them to react to it. That can be kind of painful, but it’s something that you need to do to find out if what you got is really affecting anybody deep down inside because if it doesn’t it isn’t going nowhere.
State your artist’s name and elaborate on it.
I am the writer “John O’Brien”, an artist, producer, and promoter. I do hire folks to assist in various aspects of the development of the acts and projects.
State the title of the song and the meaning.
“By The Throat” is the title of the song and as I discussed earlier it is about pleading with people who are addicted to opiates to go get help before they die.
State the title of the album and the reason for choosing the title.
The title of the album is “Endure” and it reflects the fact that I’ve been doing this for a very long time and that I have endured many setbacks, but never really thought about giving it up. I’m always amazed that somebody can play music as some of my bandmates did through my touring years as a young artist and somehow they stop playing. Of the four members of my act that I toured in for three years when I was young, two of them have not picked up an instrument in 20 or 30 years. How do they do that? I thought it was a fitting title not because of the “endurance”, because that sounds like it’s been an ugly hard race, but because it hasn’t been ugly at all and has been worth enduring. I hope people get the title for what it is; enduring something is really an act of love.