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Mark Rushton Posting Again

I switched web hosts and jettisoned everything, keeping the new site relatively minimal.  Now I’ve decided to start posting things occasionally.

The “2005” Interview

Originally published in early 2005:

It’s 2005.  Where is your music going?
Podcasts.  I create a show where I play a couple of pieces of my music and talk about them.  They’re made available via a RSS feed so that anybody can subscribe.  It’s a great way to hear from the artist and to check out new music.

I’m probably also ready to start working towards some kind of a music publishing deal.  I have nearly 175 titles entered into the ASCAP database.  There’s even more to add, so the final number will soon be near or over 200.  That’s a lot.

Live shows.  I’ve been asked to provide music for a visual arts show in Cedar Rapids in late January, and I’m hopeful there will be more events as the year progresses.  So far I’ve been unable to win over the coffeehouses or wine stores in the area, but they’ll come around.  I’d like to have or be a part of an electronic music showcase in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area during 2005, but that will take some planning and effort.

Perhaps a new album.  I completed The Driver’s Companion by March 2003, but I didn’t “release” it until a year later.  Since early 2003 I’ve probably created enough decent music to fill 3 or 4 CDs and that doesn’t include all the Yamahopper, Caswell, and Metro Man tracks I’ve worked on.

It’s difficult for me to think of things in terms of albums.  It’s such an old concept and it really doesn’t apply to the way that I want to present my music.  It used to be (as late as the 1980s) that you released a 12″ vinyl record and it usually had two sides.  Each side had about 17-22 minutes of music and sometimes one side sounded different than the other.  I grew up with that concept.  Then along came the CD with the shrunken graphics and 74 minute running times that everybody eventually filled up.  You didn’t have sides anymore, you had tracks.  Now, with iPods, MP3 players, minidiscs, and file-sharing services, you can pick and choose whatever you want, in what quantity, and in what order.  Graphics have been totally replaced by the ID3 tag.  And how long has this change taken?  20 years.  Not long at all.

 

So if you’re not going to do an album, what are you going to do?
Oh, I’ll probably make an album.

 

What would you do with the album?
My focus with The Driver’s Companion was to put out an album via CafePress.com so that I wouldn’t have to deal with buying 1000 copies from some pressing plant and having to hawk them all to local shops or give them away to radio stations who wouldn’t play it.  I liked having zero up-front costs and the quality with CafePress is outstanding.

Along the way I found out I could put a few copies at CDBaby.com and they could get me onto iTunes, Napster, Connect, and the other download services with a small fee.  This has been very worthwhile and actually more profitable than even selling CDs.

The next album would probably be done the same way, unless of course some label wanted to try and hawk 1000 copies on my behalf!

 

Why would you continue do it this way if the last album wasn’t successful?
I want to present my music in an innovative way, and that way may not necessarily the most commercially viable.  That’s why I’m on iTunes and do Podcasts and offer lots of MP3s available for free.  This is the future.

The future for me isn’t spending thousands of dollars on a pile of CDs I’m going to give away and be ignored or collect dust.  I don’t want inventory.  I knew that from the beginning.

Listen, I sent out my CD to numerous college radio stations, especially those in Iowa or those with electronic shows, but the response was next to nothing.  The only station in Iowa that played me, that I’m aware of, was KUNI.  Bob Dorr’s show, Down On The Corner.  He had very nice things to say on the radio about my music.  He’s The Man and knows quality.  I’ve listened to him for over 20 years.  I don’t know how to connect with all of these MDs, PDs, and DJs at college stations who would rather just play the CMJ Top 200.  I get a far better response to my music when I offer it for free and post a message in any of the message boards that deal with electronic music.

It would be nice to get some acceptance at the college radio level, but I’m now resigned to the fact that it takes a professional label with a particular kind of reputation and a backing of certain critics in order to make things happen.  You also have to be willing to tour.  I have no desire, nor the time with my day job and family, to do that sort of thing.

I figure I’ll keep the ball rolling and stick to my guns.  It’s been a lot of learning and a lot of fun over the last few years.  As long as I do the work and it’s quality and interesting for me, that’s all that really matters, right?

Synthtopia Interview January 2005

Originally published in January 2005 at Synthtopia:

Mark Rushton – Podcasting Electronic Music

Podcasting is a new technology that’s becoming popular among owners of iPods and other portable media players. Podcasts are a way of automating the delivery of audio content to portable audio player. Mark Rushton is a electronic musician that’s jumped into the world of podcasting. Rushton is based out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but he is using podcasts to expose his music to people around the world.

A podcast is just a collection of audio files, usually in MP3 format, connected by a text file that provides information about the programs. The podcast content can be music or any other audio programming.

Podcast software lets you subscribe to a podcast, and then your computer will automatically check for new programs and copy them to your portable audio player. This lets you listen to the program at your convenience. Podcasting is an easy way to keep fresh content on your player.

Rushton created his first podcast in December 2004. His program features an informal mixture of music and discussion. The shows introduce listeners to Rushton’s style of hybrid modern instrumentals, along with providing some insight into Rushton and his thinking.

Rushton believes podcasts are a great way to promote independent music. “Since I put out my first podcast in December 2004, traffic to my site has gone way up and I’ve seen an increase in CD sales and positive feedback as a result,” he notes. “People are hungry for free yet quality programming, and I’m happy to provide it.”

We recently asked Mark about his music, podcasting and being an electronica/ambient artist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

Synthtopia: Mark, can you tell us a little about yourself and your music?

Mark Rushton: I’m in my late 30s, married, and have a couple of young daughters. My job is in software testing, so I’m generally able to listen to music all day long while I work. In the past I’ve attended art school and been a DJ. I still paint and have been in a number of regional exhibitions over the past year. I’ve played different instruments, mostly woodwinds, since grade school, so I’ve always had a music background.

Since 2000 I’ve had an interest in creating music using my computer and have produced nearly 200 completed pieces and remixes during that time. Most of my music falls into the ambient, electronica, downtempo, and avant-garde genres.

Synthtopia: How do you create your music?

Mark Rushton: Everything is assembled from audio pieces and loops and mixed using ACID 4.0 Pro. While a lot of the loops come from libraries and collections I’ve acquired over the years, I also like to make “homemade” loops using the various keyboards and instruments I have in my studio or abuse library loops using Sound Forge. I also carry around a Sony Minidisc recorder and microphone so I can acquire “found sound” at various locations.

I’ve tried to get into MIDI, VSTs, and even bought a copy of Reason at one time, but all of it became boring. Nothing could be more dreadful for me than trying to compose a melody using a sequencer or programming a drum machine for hours on end. I’ve always said that I wanted to be a remixer, and that’s where I derive the most fun when I’m creating music.

Synthtopia: Is it tough being an electronica artist in Cedar Rapids, Iowa?

Mark Rushton: Creativity-wise, I have no problem being inspired. When it comes to things like live appearances or promotion, it is very difficult. Last year I bought a very nice sound system for live appearances, the Bose PAS, and started sending out promo CDs and requests to play my music in coffee houses and such but I got zero response back. I sent out my CD to practically every public/college radio station in Iowa and only one of them has played me. Luckily it was the coolest DJ in Iowa, Bob Dorr on KUNI-FM, so I was thrilled.

It doesn’t matter all that much if I’m not accepted where I live. I realize that I work in a specific niche, and that niche has fans of the kind of music I produce worldwide thanks to the Internet. I’m sure there is a market in my area for unobtrusive and upscale hybrid instrumental music while people chat, sip their lattes, and surf the Internet, but they just don’t know it yet. This may sound strange to those living in larger cities or college towns, but Cedar Rapids only got a couple of decent coffee shops in the past year or two.

There is a thriving DJ culture in the region, and it sort of shocked me when I discovered it. Radio certainly doesn’t play that kind of music at all. Commercial radio stations here are extremely parochial, like they are in most of the United States these days. How does somebody discover techno and chillout when the local radio stations force feed corporate schlock? It’s a mystery to me.

Synthtopia: How did you find out about podcasting?

Mark Rushton: It was an article on Wired’s web site, I think. Once I understood the concept I Googled around to find out more and it sort of snowballed rather quickly.

Synthtopia: Do you have any favorite podcasts?

Mark Rushton: Other than my own? Not so far.

I’ve downloaded a few things here and there. A lot of the shows are still in their infancy. Mine included. Things will mature over time.

Synthtopia: What are you trying to do with the podcast?

Mark Rushton: When I was in college and working at the radio station we’d play a weekly show that was sent to us by a record company. It would feature music by different bands, along with an interview featuring the artists or some factoids by the announcer. That’s sort of what I’m trying to do with my podcast, but on a single artist scale.

Having a musician talk about their own work is difficult, but it’s probably a good discipline. I never know where listeners are coming from as a frame of reference, so I try to be colloquial about it, although I do write my thoughts out before I read them so that I’m not doing 10 takes. It’s really acting as a “musician as curator” which has a lot of possibilities.

As far as the podcast angle, most radio stations these days are computer-controlled, so it doesn’t take that big of a stretch of the imagination to realize that eventually community/public/college stations will soon be gathering and playing syndicated content from the web. NPR has already played a podcast. There’s bound to be more.

Synthtopia: What sort of response have you been getting from your program?

Mark Rushton: The first podcast, which I put out at the end of December, had nearly 1000 downloads in the first 3 weeks with minimal promotion. It was a long program – almost 30 minutes and 30MB in size. I’ve since cut the length of the program back to the 12-15 minute range and limit the choices of music to 3 pieces. The emails I’ve received have been very positive. It’s also fun to look at the stats and discover that people from other countries around the world have been downloading the podcasts.

Synthtopia: Is podcasting something that you think other musicians should check out?

Mark Rushton: Sure! But there’s a lot of things to think about before doing a podcast.

How long of a show do you want? How often would you do it? Do you have the space to host the file? Where will you produce it? How will it be structured? Can you stand the sound of your own voice? Do you tend to ramble on? There’s a lot of factors to consider.

 

“15” Interview from November 2004

Originally published in November 2004:

Hello.  Where are you?
In my studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

It’s our round.  What are you drinking?
A glass of Vouvray [a white French wine] – 2001 Champalou.

Can you remember what you were doing 15 years ago?
I had just begun dating my now-wife and was working at a college radio station in Iowa City.  I made digital sound collages and spliced-tape promos in the station’s recording studios.  It was a blast.  Spent a lot of time at Joe’s Place and the Deadwood [two Iowa City college bars] programming the juke box for things like Revolution #9 by the Beatles, the Hawaii Five-O Theme, and anything by Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Oh, and playing Nintendo, mostly Tetris.  We were flat broke.

What was the worst thing about being 15?
Not having my driving license yet, but I learned the bus system in the town where I lived [Des Moines, Iowa] very quickly.

Did anything good happen to you when you were 15?
I became a DJ at a local public radio station (KDPS 88.1 FM in Des Moines), and while my tastes certainly weren’t as broad and refined as today, at least I had the good sense to play “Out Of The Blue” by Roxy Music as my first tune.

What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
Computers, software, and the like.  Back in 1982 computers were very expensive, had little memory, and you really couldn’t do much with them.  Our school had mostly the Commodore 64 and a couple of Apple II machines.  Today there is so much opportunity, and it’s a great thing.

What’s been the highlight of the last 15 years?
Oh, so many.  The birth of my two daughters.  Meeting and marrying my wife, Ann.  Living in Kansas City for a number of years and attending art school.  Making music.  Showing art.

What’s the best record of the past 15 years?
Probably “Luxa” by Harold Budd.  I love everything Budd has released, but this is the best of the bunch.

What’s your worst fashion faux pas of the last 15 years?
Sweaters

Where do you see yourself in 15 years’ time?
In another part of the country, hopefully, perhaps some place a little warmer.  Still making music.  Still making art.  Still doing something to keep the mind open and active.

What question do you hate being asked?
Would you like to buy some vinyl siding?

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?
A painter.

What’s your personal motto?
Don’t worry about it.

When was the last time you listened to your old radio shows?
A couple years ago I transcribed some cassettes of shows onto CD via computer.  One of my co-hosts from the KDPS days, Kris, and I had been in email contact and I sent her a number of CDs.  They were rather sloppily done, but I think she liked them.  I have some 30-odd shows from my high school and college days on cassette.  Some day I’ll get them all converted.  The music’s still good.

What music are you listening to now?
A lot of XM satellite radio – mostly jazz, alternative rock, classic country, and techno.  Christmas music with the kids (it’s late November).  Polka music on Sunday mornings (local radio show catering mostly to the Czech/German population in Cedar Rapids).  As for individual artists or albums, I love the new Dosh CD called Pure Trash.  He’s amazing.

What do you think of Radiohead?
Not really on my radar anymore.  They’ve done a bit of a Pearl Jam, haven’t they?

Sum up the last 15 years in one word:
Busy

What’s next?
A live laptop appearance at the Cherry Building in downtown Cedar Rapids on December 4, 2004.  Hopefully many more appearances in 2005.  Lots of music on the hard drive waiting to be finished.  Equipment on order.  Music publishers, please get in line to start your bidding war!