Pop singer on the changing music industry

02/23/10 Dawn Elliott
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In 1986, Glen Phillips was front man of the commercially successful band Toad the Wet Sprocket. Nearly 25 years later Phillips is still making music, with and without his former band, and sans the support of a major record label.

WMNF’s Dawn Elliott spoke with Phillips last week about the changes he’s seen in the music industry in the last two decades.

After the Toad the Wet Sprocket formed in 1986, they self-produced a couple of records and toured heavily. Toad signed a deal with the Columbia Records In the late 80’s, and in the next few years had top 40 singles including “All I Want,” “Walk on the Ocean,” and “Fall Down.”

According to Phillips, when the band broke up in 1998, the music industry was making major shifts.

We were very lucky when we got signed on a major label, there was enough interest in us that we had total creative control. We made the records we wanted to make, handed them in, and they put them out. Nice arrangement. Had our arguments after they were done, but we made the records we wanted to make.

Phillips first saw changes as he began a solo career.

When Toad broke up, and I was no longer on a major label, I was auditioning for this job I had already had and done well at for a long time and it was odd to kinda it was a new game to me.

Though Phillips said he’s never been a fan of the music industry, returning to the Do-It-Yourself model of music-making presented its own challenges.

I very fondly remember the days when I was on tour with Toad where my job was making music and thinking about the next music I would make. I didn’t have to think about business at all. Now I have a full time job to fit around making music. Picking up a guitar and writing songs almost the thing I have to fit around the edges.

In addition to his solo career, Phillips has many side projects, including the super group Works Progress Administration. The collaboration includes Sean and Sara Watkins, formerly of Nickel Creek, and Benmont Tench, who has been in Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers for decades.

Phillips says, It’s been great to do WPA – everything live, 8 people, It’s just about making music, in the moment.

Toad the Wet Sprocket has even begun touring again, reacquainting an aged audience with the old hits. And though Phillips said he has no shortage of creative outlets, there’s still the question of how artists will be able to support themselves and nurture their work.

I think people are getting more of an idea again about being a patron of the arts and it is their responsibility to support the music that they enjoy. If they don’t do it actively, no one’s going to. And I don’t think they’ll like the results of that.

A guy working on stage last night said that music is becoming a lot like the rest of the economy and the middle class is disappearing. It’s coming down to very hard working, very poorly paid people, and a very small group at the top doing incredibly well.

Phillips said that despite the changes, he calls the current era an “incredibly fertile period” for music.

I have a lot of faith in music itself and the people making it, and people’s need for the art they care about. I don’t think that’s going anywhere. But I think we’re in an era where there’s not a killing to be made unless you’re in a Miley Cyrus position. Careers that are not ultra mainstream, ultra entertaining are going to be rare and we’ll have a few superstars, and hopefully the rest of us will just find a way to reach our audience and survive, which is all we really need to do.

I think freeing young musicians from the hope of being a rock star is a great service. I’ve seen a lot of ppl lost in that narrow set of dreams, not noticing the things in their lives that are working. The sooner that dream dies I think the better.

Glen Phillips will be playing at the Hideaway Café in St. Petersburg on Sunday, February 28th. More information is available at the Hideaway Cafe

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