Welcome to Local Music' Mericans, where we meet some people behind the local music scene -- the folks who aren't necessarily members of a local band, but who still make the scene move.
Jonathan Swinnea's passions are music and social media. Some would say he's an element of the "new guard" in the music industry.
He's fresh off of a successful run working for a local concert promoter, and he's evolving into an example of the music industry's new business model -- whatever that may turn out to be.
You see, Swinnea recently made a new career move -- so new, in fact, that, as of press time, it's still too early for him to explain specifically what it is he's doing, due to contractual obligations. But, regardless of the vague information on Swinnea's new gig, a couple of things are obvious: His work is on the cutting edge for promoting new music, both on a local and national level, and it's all thanks to the swelling power of social media.
After the jump, we try to squeeze a little bit more out of him about -- about his gig, about his vision for where the music world is headed, and about how he got into the local music scene in the first place.
You spent a great deal of time working alongside concert promoter Mike Zeimer at Third String Productions, putting on some impressive shows at places like The Plano Centre. Tell us about your role there, and how much interaction you had with area artists.
I started out back in late 2006 with security in the very beginning, when Mike and Michael Henry needed help with shows. I didn't truly start helping out with TSPR shows as a promoter until September of 2007. My interaction with artists was about 90 percent through our pages -- I'm sure that, most of the time, they had no idea who was on the other end of the content I would send them. I generally sent out specific instructions on our marketing plan for each particular show, and then the details for day-of-show. I always handled the bands checking into the venue at load in and during the show, but I have no idea if they ever realized I was handling both sides of the fence.
Were the Plano Centre shows the largest you were involved in when at TSPR?
Plano Centre shows were easily the biggest -- the venue on show days was just an environment that I don't think can be reproduced anywhere. Everybody was there to enjoy music and have a good time. Mixing so many bands together also brings a mix of music fans that were introduced to new music they probably never would have checked out otherwise. The biggest show was back at the end of 2008, UnSilent Night 2. We had almost 5,000 people out for a lineup that was headlined by a hometown band (Forever The Sickest Kids) and filled up with national acts, as well as many locals. It was the first time most of these bands had ever seen a crowd this large (other than maybe the Warped Tour). So it was pretty special to be part of it.
It sounds like you all put a lot of hours into the shows you did. What was your work schedule like working at TSPR on a typical week?
I don't know if there ever was a "typical" work week. In the beginning, we stuck with a typical 6 to 8 show per year setup at the Plano Centre. Basically, if there was a show, I was at the center of answering all customer questions, promoting and building interaction with the fans of the bands coming to town -- whether it be through delivering flyers or through social media. If a show was selling slow, I would constantly work all the way up to the show. Getting up at 9 a.m. and working all the way to 4 a.m. -- just whatever it meant to make sure I wasn't eating ramen until the next show we had booked.
You guys worked with a ton of DFW-based acts, but also a fair share of national touring bands as well. Was it easier to work with one over the other when putting them all together into a mixed lineup?
There will always be the good and the bad, but, fortunately for me, working with local acts as a whole was very positive. Most bands are very open to new ideas and strategies that will help them get their music out to a larger audience. It was always easier working as TSPR because bands knew already what we brought to the table as far as being able to bring in fans to see them and they just wanted to be a part of it.
Tell us about how your interest grew for social media-based marketing and PR as a modern promotional vehicle for the arts. What are you doing to further your expertise in it?
When I began working with TSPR is really when I saw the potential for using social media as an outlet. It beat the hell out of handing out flyers every night at every show and also gives you a chance to truly interact with fans. Taking that interest in music and technology and turning it into a way that gets people out to shows and interested in bands is a great feeling. The learning never stops; there will always be a better and newer way to go about things in the social media realm. It's just a matter of staying as up to date as you can and being open to all new ideas.
The old business model of the music industry seems to be turning to cinders, and a new one appears to be rising from those ashes. Tell us your vision of the new music industry model.
There are so many ways to answer this -- and I don't think anybody truly has the answer to success. It is a mix of hard work and luck. What sucks about this industry is that not always the best band ends up on top. It's the band that works hard, markets itself the best and gets that lucky break. In today's model, playing shows and telling your fans to spread the word isn't always enough. You truly have to put yourself out there and always be pushing content -- whether its interviews, new artwork or new shows. Fans like to know what their favorite bands are up to, so keeping a strong network and making it easy for fans to find new information about the band are essential.
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What DFW artists do you feel deserve to become successful enough to make a living making music?
Oh' Sleeper, The Secret Handshake, Memphis May Fire, Don't Wake Aislin, Pat The Human, Artist vs. Poet and Kid Liberty. All of these bands truly give everything they have to making their music their life, and it can be seen spending just a few moments with each.
Best local music performance you've ever seen? Best local music CD you've heard?
One of the best shows I have been a part of was the atmosphere that surrounded the Terminal reunion back in '07. It was just a great experience to be around almost 4,000 people, all holding their breathe for one moment. The Rocket Summer put on a very intimate show to only about 40 in attendance on Christmas Eve '05. I'm also a big fan of Lalagray and look forward to seeing her anytime she plays.
My favorite album is hands down The New Frontiers album, Mending. I also can't get enough of Oh' Sleepers newest album, Son of the Morning.
Where would you point yourself over the next 5 to 10 years if all things were truly possible?
My passion is working with music, so, over the next couple years, I hope to be a part of helping bring back the strong musical presence that Dallas has and continue to help revive Deep Ellum to the point that it is recognized nationally as the place to go for live music. It's definitely building and I would love to be a continued part in that build. I hope to continue building on what I am doing now -- just pushing the envelope on using technology when it comes to marketing and PR work, but mostly remaining behind the scenes and doing what I can to help promote music.