For the first installment of my new blog series “Learning From”, featuring interviews from artists of all types, I knew I had to start with JP Bouvet. JP is a good friend of mine and one of the nicest people I know. He won the 2011 Guitar Center National Drum Off, won the 2011 Roland V-Drum National Competition (and went on to place 2nd in the world), and is endorsed by a handful of the top drum companies. He is slowly rolling out what will be an amazing new website, and is extremely transparent on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Below is our complete, unedited interview. Feel free to skip around or read it all. Enjoy.
What, in your opinion, is the purpose of creating music? Would you say the majority of its purpose is for personal or public satisfaction?
Damn, Ethan. There’s no easing into this interview, huh? No “Do you have any pets and why?”
It’s personal. It’s the scariest and most rewarding thing you can do. To sum thousands of hours of preparation into a few pieces of music that might total 30 minutes and put it on a stage for the world to say “yay” or “nay” to is intimidating (or “neigh” if you’re audience is a pony). Having a group of people accept and relate to the given message is equivalent to them accepting and relating to the person who created it. Where things go awry is when someone needs public satisfaction to feel personal satisfaction. There’s no doubt that they fuel each other, but the most successful artists are honest with their music. In the end, the music is secondary to the person who created it. The fans are fans of the person. The music is simply an extension of the person.
I drum alone for hours every day. No one will ever hear most of the things I play. It’s a personal challenge, a meditation, a practice of self-discipline, and nothing makes me happier. Very personal indeed.
I assume you started playing drums without much thought about branding/marketing yourself. Was there a moment (or specific period of time) when the importance of those things “clicked” for you?
To use the term “brand” to refer to myself feels odd for this reason: A brand of cereal is created from someone’s imagination. Someone sits and draws a cartoon and gives him a voice and chooses colors for the box and that is called “branding.” It is completely fabricated based on nothing except appealing to a specific demographic.
That is 100% the opposite of how my “character” has developed. It is hard to put these examples in same boat.
My job is to connect with people in a very real, personal kind of way, whether it be from the drumset, my website, my blog, videos I create, or clinics I give. I don’t want to create anything. Of course I am conscious of how people see me, but I didn’t shave my head in order to brand myself. I shaved my head because I wanted to impress a girl. It just became a part of me. And that’s what people connect with… me, not some fabricated brand. My “look” is an extension of me in the same way, as I mentioned in the previous response, that an artist’s music is an extension of them.
When you’re dealing with cartoons, you can make them do whatever you want, whenever you want them to do it. When you are dealing with yourself, you’re not going to do the things you don’t want to do, so to be as productive as possible, you have to be as “you” as you can be. If you’re excited about all the things on your to do list, they are going to get done very quickly.
Has looking at yourself as an entity capable of being branded affected you at all, positively or negatively, in the practice room?
I equate this question to realizing why people like you instead of becoming something people like.
And yes it has, in the most wonderful way. I want to be seen as an explorer. I want to be seen as someone who is not afraid, who practices very hard, who is excited about what I do, who is passionate, who is hard working, and fearless. I want to be a good role model. That is my “brand.” For me to be inline with my “brand,” I need to be the best version of myself. I need to work harder, explore further, and push myself. This is what will inspire my audience not just to be better drummers, but to live life to the fullest, work hard, and do what they are passionate about. When I see that happening or someone tells me that that is what they feel, I realize the power of music, and that is what inspires me. It’s the cycle of inspiration at it’s finest.
I wrote a post recently about using transparency and exclusivity to build fan communities around your music. What are some specific examples of ways transparency and exclusivity have helped build your following?
Two words. Trust and Loyalty. “Transparency” = letting people not just see in the window, but come in the door. This is a huge part of my life right now and is, I would assume, the single biggest reason that the community on my fan page is as strong as it is. I have vowed to do all in my power to respond to every single message. And I have told my fans that I will. And it’s not some brilliant marketing ploy. Iwant to because I care about them. They ask me real questions about life and their futures and I respond as honestly as I can. If I don’t know, I tell them. They trust me to tell them my honest opinion, and I trust them to treat me and the other members of the group with respect.
Regarding exclusivity, that’s about to come into play much heavier as I launch my subscription-based website. I hope to build a closer family there, where more serious fans can access more of what I have to offer.
You use tools like Facebook, Twitter, Livestream, and YouTube extremely actively, as well as having a consistent blog, official website and mailing list. You’re running all of these things yourself. Many artists say they “just want to focus on making music”. I would assume you are busier than most of these artists. How have you been able to juggle your practicing, recording, touring, etc., with these things?
In my opinion, that’s an ironic and naive way to avoid the important things that will allow you to continue making music. There are a lot of hours in the day if you don’t sleep through them all. Creating a schedule and a to-do list for the day is extremely important. Also, learn to acknowledge that things happen in phases. While Jamie Foxx is filming a movie, he is not recording his next album. Some months, I practice a ton. Some months, I don’t practice once. Some months, I’m on tour. Some months, I sit at my computer and work on building my website. I am not able to do all of these things at once. No one is. Decide what you need to do every single day (for me, practice at least a little and keep up with my fan page), allot time for it, and then focus on the bigger picture (whatever your phase may be).
Tip: Archive some excess content for a time when you’re unable to create it. Often times, when I appear most active online, I am least active in real life. I was on tour for almost two months straight last year, but I was releasing videos I had collected from earlier in the year, and being extra active on my social media (because I was sitting around on a bus all day). At times like these, people might ask how I have time to create these videos. I don’t. But I did when I was in my video phase last month.
A thought: A lot of the “just want to focus on music” people are also into music because they are “don’t want a real job” people. Guess what? Those lowly people with “real jobs” work 8 hard hours a day. If you’re above those folks, you better be spending way more than 8 hours on your career every day because you’re going to have to do the work of three people to make this happen. Even if you can practice 8 hours a day (which is impossible and would lead you to being one of the greatest musicians alive), then why can’t you spend the other 8 hours that you’re awake doing the things that will get all the awesome music you made for 8 hours today into people’s ears, houses, and iPods?
1. Things happen in phases.
2. Believe in what you are doing.
3. Work very hard. You love what you do… remember?
What advice would you give to musicians/artists/bands who are struggling with this stuff?
Your fans do not want a super hero. Your fans want a peer that they can relate to and respect. Most of your true fans don’t even want your music. They want you… because you are like them in some way or another. When you are thinking about your “image” or your “character,” figure out what makes you you and figure out how you can be you to the fullest. You won’t be able to keep up with pretending to be something you’re not and if you do, you won’t enjoy it.
Red Hot Chili Peppers: Real life = Crazy guys. Image = Crazy guys.
Nirvana: Real life = depressed rockers. Image = Depressed rockers.
Eminem: Real life = vulgar and rebellious. Image = vulgar and rebellious.
Owl City: Real life = Ridiculously cheery. Image = Ridiculously cheery.
Your image needs to be honest. Think of it as the world encouraging you not to be afraid to be you. Because when other “you’s” find you, you will realize the reason you share your music and all the hard work will pay off.