Somewhat Famous Singer Sobule Seeks Advice

After cycling through four music labels, singer-songwriter Jill Sobule decided to ask readers of a tech blog how an artist could best make a record in the MySpace age. Sobule plays live in the BPP studio.

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(Soundbite of song, "Cinnamon Park")

Ms. JILL SOBULE (Singer): (Singing) Me and Betty Shelly we're at Cinnamon Park, waiting for the battle of the bands. Betty's older...

ALISON STEWART, host:

Those are the lovely vocals of Jill Sobule. This woman played Carnegie Hall this week. She won a two major record labels, two indie record labels. But she's got this little problem, Robert. She's not really sure about how to release her next record.

ROBERT SMITH, host:

A problem shared by a lot of artists today.

STEWART: I know. She was a guest columnist in the Web site All Things D, that's the Wall Street Journal's blog about All Things Digital and she posed a really simple question: How should I get my next record out there?

She wrote, for us in this YouTube, long-tail, Kara-and-Walt world, it's an exciting time, but it's also confusing. Do I still put out a CD in the traditional way or just go digital? Do I send demos one last time to the remaining majors or go indie and get, say, a 50/50 deal? Do I just finance the whole thing myself - musicians, studio, marketing, publicists, radio, promo, video, et cetera? And where do I get the money? How do I pay the rent? How do I support my gambling and morphine habits?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Well, we can find out because Jill Sobule...

SMITH: (unintelligible) a joke.

STEWART: ...is with us live in the studio.

Ms. JILL SOBULE (Singer): No, no, no.

SMITH: Those are serious questions for artists these days.

STEWART: There will be an intervention after this interview for Jill.

So Jill, you've been with these two major labels, two indie labels, do you want to sign on to a new label or do you like being in your own space?

Ms. SOBULE: Well, I actually never made a sent on a major label, anyway...

STEWART: Really?

Ms. SOBULE: ...yeah. I made more money selling on my Web site and at after shows. And lately, what I've been doing is selling live shows, off like a little USB, that little key thing...

STEWART: Oh, sure, yes.

Ms. SOBULE: ...and then telling people, like selling for $15 and selling -telling people to all uploaded within the week and to come get up at...

SMITH: Can you stay on at the door after the show? They're high from listening to you and you're...

Ms. SOBULE: I am. I feel like Lucy Lucy in "Peanuts" at the stand, you know, selling lemonade and it's kind of great. But basically, there's two things. I wrote that article to speak because no one really in the industry, music industry, really knows what to do. Everyone's grabbing...

STEWART: Sure.

Ms. SOBULE: ...at straws, everyone has great ideas, and it's actually a really exciting time now. And the other thing was so to ask people that weren't in that world, that we're in the, that techie world, the Wall Street Journal world and it's funny that the results that I've gotten back, everyone wants to help, which is really sweet and you want to be, you know, in the music industry and to help out. And the other thing was I just hope some rich person would say, I want to be your patron, which had - that hasn't happened yet.

STEWART: One issue that you talk about that you didn't make a cent on a major record label? I mean, people would think you write in this article that your nephew is expecting all these fancy gifts, thinking that...

SMITH: You've been on MTV?

STEWART: The "I Kiss the Girl" money must be just flowing out of your pockets, but it didn't really - it doesn't really work that way with major labels?

SMITH: Private jets?

Ms. SOBULE:No, no, no, no, no. Southwest.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SOBULE: Well, I think that unless you are some - a top-tier or just a girl who's kind of one of those songs that was annoyingly on MTV but it really didn't sell, like "Save the Best for Last," or a song the people would cover and - Faith Hill didn't cover it. So it was kind of a niche song and there's probably more people like me than not where you would think that they, because they did. We're on Atlantic Records or they did that kind of business or, and also, you got crappy deals.

STEWART: Yeah.

STEWART: One of the things you wrote on the Web site, which was really great is the title. She said, calling all record gurus, I got nothing to prove, and then you wrote a song about that. What was the inspiration? Are just mad or were you just trying to get - vent your frustrations about all this?

Ms. SOBULE: Well, funny, one of the things I wrote when I put a little video of singing this song, and I got one, it said stop whining about the record industry. I go, like, it's not whining, it's just, it's just kind of a middle-age joke, really, you know, because there's - actually I wrote this song. I started in June. I had a little bit of surgery, nothing major. But I wrote this on the napkin when I was there when they - actually, we're back to morphine, on the morphine club. It's the only time I have done it.

STEWART: Robert's giving you quite a look.

SMITH: Yeah.

Ms. SOBULE: Yeah, right.

SMITH: We all have a monkey on our back.

Ms. SOBULE: No. But it was funny because I started writing down the idea from -and then, I finished it the next day.

STEWART: Well, let's take a listen. This is called "I Got Nothing to Prove." All about...

Ms. SOBULE: What an introduction.

STEWART: ...Jill Soluble's dealings with record companies of late.

(Soundbite of song, "I Got Nothing to Prove")

Ms. SOBULE: (Singing) I remember laying down, it was 1983, under the tree while listening to London calling something like that. Twenty-three years later, I'm here at a meeting, trying to impress someone at a dying record company. But I got nothing to prove. And in walks in this sullen girl who looks like she's 19 or wants to be, and her hair is dyed black and her biker boots. I did that look so many years ago, she looks at me like I'm some square or I'm like her mother. Well, screw you, kid, I got nothing to prove. Nothing to prove, nothing to prove, once I was as miserable as you, nothing to prove, nothing to prove, I got nothing to prove.

And here I am in Los Angeles, I came here two years ago, and everyone's young and beautiful and their skin is so smooth. And everyone's in the industry and I hate when they use that word, and when they tell me they're in the industry, I asked, oh, are you in still? Well, I got nothing to prove. Nothing to prove, nothing to prove, once I was this miserable as you, nothing to prove, nothing to prove, oh, I got nothing to prove.

Last verse.

(Singing) Later that week I was -

Oh, can I...

(Singing) Later that week, I messed up, one, two, three, four, later that week, I saw that same girl shopping at the Trader Joe's on La Brea, she was with a big-boned blonde and I wonder if it was her girlfriend. To my surprise, she ran up to me and smiled and said, she loved our meeting. Well, I might have judged her wrong but usually, I'm right. I've got nothing to prove.

Sing with me.

(Singing) Nothing to prove, nothing to prove,

SMITH and STEWART: (Singing) Nothing to prove.

Once, I was as miserable as you.

(Singing) Once I was this miserable as you.

SMITH and STEWART: (Singing) Once I was this miserable as you.

Ms. SOBULE: Again.

(Singing) Nothing to prove, nothing to prove, I got nothing to prove.

SMITH and STEWART: (Singing) Nothing to prove, nothing to prove, I got nothing to prove.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: I would find that CD right now. If you were selling on the way out the door, I would just - I would shell out the money. There's the magic right there, right? You can just make the money work.

Ms. SOBULE: Well...

SMITH: That's what you want to do.

Ms. SOBULE: It was the background singers...

STEWART: Oh, clearly.

SMITH: Oh - exactly.

STEWART: Clearly, we're going to push you right over the edge. Hey, so we didn't get to talk about it, but before you mentioned that people were trying to be really helpful on this blog with suggestions. Did any of them sort of work out for you or any of the suggestions keep people gave things you think you could do?

Ms. SOBULE: Well, the one thing I want to figure out how to do it, and, of course, you know, management, or lawyers that, it's like, this is a complete mess but I would love to do a fan-invested CD, where the fans somehow, I don't know how it would work, you know. Patronage or they get their money back or there's a little stock thing, I mean, this is not a big company thing, you know, and it doesn't cost that much to make a record anymore so that was - I want to figure out someone who can help me figure out a model for it to be -the fans can feel that they're a part of it and be really more than a street team.

STEWART: Well, I kind of like that idea.

Ms. SOBULE: I know. That's more fun.

STEWART: I like the community spirit of it. And your fans are - I was going to say rabid, but they're devoted. I've been in Jill Sobule shows. They're always sold...

Ms. SOBULE: They're really (unintelligible)...

STEWART: ...yeah, they're always sold out.

Ms. SOBULE: And I would have a last song on the record like, you know...

(Singing) Thank you, Alison, for that hundred dollars.

You know, I - maybe I'd have a long Oprah's thanking everyone who was on it.

STEWART: Before we let you go, can we get another song, a quickie, like a one or two-minute wonders?

Ms. SOBULE: Is there any song you want to hear, really quick there (unintelligible)?

STEWART: Oh, I love "Lucy at the Gym." I love "I Live Like a Freshman." I'm going to let you pick.

Ms. SOBULE: Okay. "Lucy" might be a little longer but I'll cut it short.

STEWART: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "Lucy at the Gym")

Ms. SOBULE: (Singing) Lucy at the gym, she's there every time I go. And I don't go that often so she must live at the gym. I stare at her ribs. They show through the spandex. The little legs are working. She's going somewhere. She's climbing up the stairs and once she reaches the top of dreams, we'll be there.

Lucy at the gym, Lucy on the scale for the third time, through thick and thin, Lucy's at the gym. She's staring at the clock, and like the second tan, she never stops, she's Lucy at the gym. When she takes a shower after all the hours, does she have a place to go? Is there someone waiting or is Lucy all alone?

I'm at the gym and Lucy's not there. It's gotten me kind of worried so I imagine the worst. She made it up to heaven and once she met her maker, he said, come right in. He said, I'll show you around the gym, everyone's beautiful and thin, and here, there's no sin in your life can begin, Lucy at the gym, keep on, Lucy at the gym.

(Soundbite of applause)

SMITH: Bravo.

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. SOBULE: Yeah.

SMITH: After that, Jill futures are trading up on the Nasdaq by 13 points.

Ms. SOBULE: Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

STEWART: Jill, we're so happy you were able to come in today. Fingers crossed, it's going to work out because I'm a big believer that everybody shall have a little Jill Soluble music in their life.

SMITH: There you go.

Ms. SOBULE: Thank you, guys, for everything.

STEWART: All right. And also, I want to point out that you were doing some guest blogging at Huffington Post as well.

Ms. SOBULE: Well, also on Yahoo!, it's going to start in a week, Yahoo! Music, I'm going to start a blog, a couple of provocateurs on music and politics. So Yahoo! Blog, look for that.

STEWART: All right.

Ms. SOBULE: Yeah.

SMITH: Just make sure you find some time to write music when you're doing all this business stuff.

Ms. SOBULE: Oh, I know, it's terrible.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Jill Sobule, thanks a lot.

Ms. SOBULE: Thank you.

SMITH: Thank you.

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