Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Interview with Jon Avila; Founder of So Cal Musician!

by: Sade Champagne

Jon Avila overcame poverty and misfortune, and started his own business "So Cal Musician"! So Cal Musician is often described as "a booking & networking company that is involved with over 2,000 musicians and 600 venues in Southern California."

I have personally booked many shows with So Cal Musician, and have to honestly say that they are one of the best (if not the VERY best) booking/networking companies I have EVER worked with! Jon is also a musician himself (rapper/songwriter), so he knows firsthand the obstacles and scams musicians typically face.

What is especially fantastic about Jon's music (whose MC name is Blitz The Insomnyac) is that he doesn't fit the stereotypical description of what a rapper should look like. The Insomnyac writes about his life, and is known for his deep and sometimes comical lyrics, witty punchlines, and high energy performances!

His company So Cal Musician offers many things that most booking and networking companies do not. Some of these extras include: Artist of the Month features, Designing fliers, Radio Promotions in some cases, going to every single show that they book and more! Jon's life story is just beginning, but he has already inspired many artists, aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners. He proves that no matter where we come from or what we've been through, we can STILL rise above our circumstances and achieve our dreams. WE create our OWN destiny!!!!

Bio written by: Sade Champagne

Jon was EXTREMELY thorough with his answers, and it was a pleasure interviewing him via IM! =)
Sade: Okay let's get started! =)

Sade: Thanks so much for doing this interview Jon!
Jon: No need to thank me,
Jon: Thank you! :)

Sade: Please tell me a little about how and where you grew up.
Jon: I was born and raised in a small city in Ventura County called Camarillo. Both my mother and father were disabled and physically unable to work, so my brother and I didn't have a lot growing up, however it taught us to be thankful for what we did have. We lived in a small apartment in West Camarillo. Even though we were on welfare at the time, I guess the bright way to look at it is that my mother and father were definitely around to raise us as we were growing up. Most people would look at it as being unfortunate to not be wealthy, but I looked at is as fortunate to have my parents around the house.

Sade: When did you first take interest in music?
Jon: Shoot, I have been listening to music since I could remember! I grew up listening to a great variety of things such as The Beatles, Tupac Shakur, Donnie Osmond, Michael Jackson, Led Zepplin, Queen, Eminem, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the list goes on.

I was in plenty of speech classes growing up, and I listened to music non-stop, not to mention, I absolutely loved writing short stories...so I suppose when you fuse those three things together, you get a musician and songwriter.

Sade: That brings me to my next question. Who has inspired you the most in your career? Please name a person inside the business and someone outside of the business.
Jon: Inspired me to write music? Or to start So Cal Musician?

Sade: First music; we will get to So Cal later.
Jon: If I were to name some people that influenced me to write in the style that i do, the list would be very long!

Sade: You can just name a few if you like.
Jon: with Lyric complexity, I have always liked Royce Da 5'9, Busta Rhymes, Rakim, Aceyalone...from a production standpoint, I have enjoyed anything that comes from the Dr. Dre/ Aftermath camp. And of course I was always influenced by Tupac Shakur, and his style of music. As a kid I always loved how you could totally tell that he was writing from his heart. Another would be Eminem and his incredible ability of storytelling back in the day. Of course, I was also heavily influenced by people like Dean Martin, Queen, and Michael Jackson.

Sade: When did you know that you wanted to pursue music (and business) for the rest of your life? You can totally give 2 separate answers.
Jon: Well for music, I always had a way with words, putting them together, creating stories and songs. I just loved expressing myself through music. And not just hip-hop, I have written a few rock songs with some bands in my time. Putting every ounce of feelings and emotion into a song in which you created is one of the most beautiful things you can do in life. So I wouldn't say there was a point where I had to make a decision whether or not I was going to do this for the rest of my life. I just knew! I was going to be involved in it one way or the other.

After high school, I decided to try and book a few shows for myself and get myself heard. I kept running into bad promotions companies and sticky situations. I couldn't even count the times that I got screwed over as an artist by promoters. That's when the idea of "So Cal Musician" came along. And the idea was to create the exact polar opposite of what I was seeing in the music scene. I wanted to create something that treated musicians right, and at the same time helped them reveal their music to as many people as possible. A promotions company that actually worked for the musicians!

Sade: When did you began rapping?
Jon: I started writing hip-hop music when I was 13. It was all I did. Again, my family did not have a lot of money growing up, so all I would do at home is sit down, listen to the half broken radio I had (the ones where you have to hold the antenna to get reception), and write music all day long. It eventually consumed me to the point where all I was doing was writing lyrics. I would be in class thinking of good stories to put into songs, and writing them down when I was supposed to be taking a test. I would write all over my palms and arms when I would think of good ideas so I wouldn't forget. So I basically spent nearly all of high school perfecting my style and lyrical capabilities.

Southern California

Sade: What is the best advice that someone ever gave you about following your dreams?
Jon: I'm not gonna lie,
Jon: That is a good question!
Jon: Well to be honest, when I was growing up, I didn't have a lot of support when it came to music. My parents for the longest time didn't even like the fact that I listened to rap, let alone wrote it! And of course with the high school I went to, I was either jumped or had things thrown at me almost every day for being the white kid who was trying to write rap music. There were a some white supremacy kids who would jump me after I got off the bus for the music I wrote. Somehow I used all the negative energy that was pointed in my direction and used it to my advantage. The more they didn't believe in me, the harder I wanted to try and prove them wrong and succeed in life. That was my main motivation.

I did have one friend who had always supported me in what I did. He was the only one who actually took the time to listen to my music (and he was a soldier for reading all of it, because I wrote A LOT). Oh and my girlfriend at the time-she was supportive of my stuff too.

Sade: What is the best advice that you would give someone about following their dreams?
Jon: When you put your heart and soul into it, your dreams and goals become your blood, sweat and tears! Your dreams become you, and you become your dreams, it's kind of hard to describe. But when you get to that point, anything is possible!

Sade: How important is it for an artist to be involved in ALL aspects of their career (creative process, recording, publicity, etc.)?
Jon: Well if music is what you love, it is important that you are ready to do anything and everything for it. Now of course there are places musicians need to go to to get help to do other things, i.e. recording, booking, management. The problem I saw, was that there was no reliable place to go to for help. And that is why we started So Cal Musician.

Sade: How involved are you with the business aspect of your career? And how important do you think it is for every artist to be involved with the business aspect?
Jon: It really depends on where musicians want to take their music. Some musicians want to pursue a career, some don't. Some see it is a goal to get signed, some like to write music as a hobby, and don't take it too seriously.

When it comes to serious musicians looking to pursue a music career, I would say that it is very important to stay involved in the business aspect. This means, constantly writing music material, playing gigs, developing fliers, press kits, street teams, whatever it takes to get your music out there.

Sade: What can an artist do to avoid getting scammed?
Jon: They should network with other musicians, do some research, find out who the best company is to work with in whatever they are looking for. And, here's a big one, make sure you read EVERYTHING you sign when working with companies. One of the things that I kept running into constantly before So Cal Musician was in commission, was the countless amounts of shady contracts that other companies are having musicians sign. Just make sure that you are 100% confident in the people that you are working with. Especially with promotions companies. There are a lot of sharks out there! Again, hence the reason why we started So Cal Musician.

Sade: Were there ever times when you felt like giving up on your dreams? Tell me about one of those times.
Jon: There has been times, where I have felt completely overwhelmed. The thing that keeps me going is the musicians we work with. I see so much talent out there, and there is no reason why that talent should not be discovered. Seeing that talent keeps me going!

Sade: Take me through a studio session with So Cal Musician (SCM Records).
Jon: OK, well we just launched our Studio department at So Cal Musician, SCM Records. It is more than a studio; more so a place where musicians can come to when they feel they are ready to release an album. We basically equip you with the best producers and recording engineers in our network, and take you to our studio in Simi Valley, and a team goes right to work on constructing your masterpiece. This is a place where SCM producers, engineers, graphics designers, photographers, all come together to put together the top-notch album the musician is looking to release.

Sade: What do you think of the music industry today? Do you feel that it’s taking a turn for the better or worse?
Jon: I strongly believe there is an indie music revolution going on right now, and that revolution is going to change the world! And I believe that So Cal Musician is a part of that. I believe the independent and current undiscovered musicians are the future of the music industry.

Sade: That brings me to my next set of questions. When and why did you decide to start your own business?
Jon: When I was 18, my parents got a divorce and I was kicked out of the house. I was working 60 hours per week and going to school full time. I was a business and journalism major in college while I was sleeping in my car and sleeping at random friends houses. This was when my brother and his best friend (two successful entrepreneurs) found out that I was homeless, and decided to move me into their beach apartment until I could get back onto my own two feet. It was then that I was constantly being taught how to run successful businesses, from my brother, his best friend, and the college I was attending. I was getting information from all sorts of directions.

Jon: After a while, I was able to lease my own house, and that is when I started trying to book shows for myself. The only problem was, I kept running into countless amounts of shady promoters. There was even one guy who wanted me to sell 100 tickets at the rate of $30 each for a local show in a coffee shop. It was insane! And even for the shows that I was able to book, I was treated very poorly. All the musicians were, and I wanted to change that. I wanted to create the polar opposite of what I was seeing.

After running an at home recording studio in my house for some time on the side, I started networking with massive amounts of musicians. This was anything from Rock to Hip-Hop to Country to Metal and so forth. I copyrighted the name So Cal Musician immediately, and just kept networking with more and more musicians from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Eventually, I went down to the Majestic Ventura Theater, with a new approach. Rather than contacting a promoter, I went straight to the source and talked to the manager of the venue. I let them know that I worked with So Cal Musician, and So Cal Musician had a massive network of over 1,000 musicians looking to perform. And after a good 30 minute meeting or so, we had our very first show which consisted of myself and 3 other hip-hop artists that I networked with. We threw the show and it was a major success, and the theater asked us to throw another show from the musicians in our network. And just like that, we threw a very successful Rock N Roll show. It wasn't long before we started doing all of the local booking at The Majestic Ventura Theater. The idea was to build a new Booking & Networking company that was there for the musicians. And it was So Cal Musician.

Sade: How has being a business owner changed your perception of the music industry?
Jon: You have good questions!
Sade: Thanks!
Jon: I swear I should hire you to do the Artist of the Month features for us!
Sade: =)
Jon: :)
Jon: I wouldn't say that being a business owner has changed my opinions or views on what music is all about. However, it did open my eyes. Now that we network with over 2,000 musicians and host shows at plenty of venues, I have realized that there is an Indie Music Revolution going on right now. The more I see, the more I want to help musicians get heard!

Sade: Tell me all about your business So Cal Musician and what it is that you do for artists
Jon: Well, like I said, the idea is to work with musicians, not have musicians work for you, which is what I think that most promoters have confused these days. The idea is to help musicians expose their music. So Cal Musician works with all genres of music, ranging from hip-Hop to Rock, Metal to Country and so forth. We originally started as a Booking & Networking company, and that is where we excel the most. Of course now we have grown and we have other departments to help out musicians such as the Audio, Video, Photography, and Graphics Design Departments. We book a great amount of shows for artists at places such as The Majestic Ventura Theater, The World Famous Derby Night Club, 118 West, Rock City Studios, and more.

The website in particular is where you can find out a lot about the company and how each department is run. There are sections on the website for each department.

Sade: What makes So Cal Musician so different than other booking companies?
Jon: Well, So Cal Musician is a company designed by musicians for musicians. Over half of the people that are working with us are musicians themselves. The idea is to not get greedy, and more so, take part in the indie music revolution that is going on right now. Help musicians get their music out there, and so forth. I don't want to sound too cliche and say "We care" and that is what makes us different, but we do put the musicians first!

Sade: What are some things that SoCal offers artists that other booking companies do not?
Jon: One of the biggest things that we have done so far is our new "100% of the door feature." This is where we basically give the band or artist 100% of the door that they bring in -- after they bring in a certain amount of heads (people). For example, at The World Famous Derby Night Club in Los Angeles, we give you 100% of the door that you bring in after you hit the 30 person mark. So this means if 100 people come to see you, you are walking home with $700 that night. We literally have a person at the door of the venue tally marking who is coming to see who, and with this system, we have been able to help musicians walk home with a good amount cash in their pocket. The idea is to not get greedy. Again, we are working with musicians.

Sade: How would someone go about starting their own business?
Jon: They say only 1 out of every 10 new businesses succeed, and the reason why So Cal Musician succeeds and does it so well, is because it isn't just a business to me or anyone that works with So Cal Musician. It isn't about the money. It is about standing up for what you believe in! And we believe in the music. We all put our blood, sweat and tears into So Cal Musician, because it isn't just a business. It is an idea. It is a belief. And beliefs and ideas never die.

Sade: What are some of the difficulties (big or small) that you've faced so far in your business career? And how did you handle them?
Jon: There are millions of hoops that you have to jump through to keep your business on the ground, especially when starting it up. Of course you always have to keep in mind your competitors, always know your weaknesses and strengths, however, So Cal Musician in particular is notorious for the way we treat musicians, so we haven't had to deal with anything too difficult.

Sade: What career goals are you still trying to achieve?
Jon: So Cal Musician is only in it's beginning stages as of right now. We have a lot of goals that we are going to achieve in the next year alone. This includes managing venues from San Diego to Santa Barbara, the launch of the So Cal Musician Magazine and plenty more.

Sade: A lot of artists talk about how much they financially struggled, especially on the way to their dreams. What can an artist do to make sure that they are able to accomplish their dreams and not have to financially struggle at the same time? Or is it unavoidable?
Jon: Well the struggle is inevitable. No matter what your dream may be, you are always going to have to work hard to get there. Nothing in this world is easy! Of course you can always choose your battles and see how much of a struggle you are going to go through, by choosing the right people to work with. Again, there are a lot of sharks out there, and you have to be careful.

Sade: How important is the internet to an artist's career?
Jon: The internet is the perfect example of how the music industry has changed. Everything is digital now. When So Cal Musician first launched, 90% of the musicians we were working with were coming from myspace.com alone. Now, I would say that 80-90% of the new musicians we work with come from "word of mouth". But again, almost everyone in this world has access to the internet. Even myspace. It is the number one networking tool in the world, and it is good to use that to your advantage. You can get your music heard by millions of people without even having met them yet.

Sade: Do you think that internet sales may be more important than album sales these days?
Jon: Places like iTunes can help a musician with selling their albums, indie musicians tend to gain more support from people when it comes to selling actual CDs. People come and see a band that they love that is coming up and that inspires them to actually go and support the band by purchasing their album.

Sade: How has positive thinking helped you in your careers, and who is apart of your "dream team"?
Sade: (A "dream team" is a group of people who support you through the good and bad times, lifting you up when you don't know how to do it yourself. Can be family members, friends, managers, publicists, etc.)
Jon: So Cal Musician's dream team is the musicians of Southern California. No Joke. We get so much love and support from the musicians that we work with, they are there for all the good and bad times. There's good times, I remember when it was my 21st birthday, and we booked a band to perform in front of a huge national audience.. the band got the entire 1,200 seater venue of people to sing happy birthday to me. It was amazing! And of course there are tough times, and the musicians that we work with show their love and support during those times as well. Like I said before, it is the musicians of Southern California that really keep us going!

Sade: Recently I had the pleasure of performing in a show with you (Rock City Studios). Do you get performance jitters? If so, how do you get rid of them?
Jon: Again, I have always been a speaker, since I would compete in speech tournaments when I was a kid. I was always trying to be the center of attention too, so I don't really get the jitters, I just get excited! I take every ounce of adrenaline and use it to my advantage; and because of that, it is very common that you will see me on stage running around like a madman with incredible stage performance and enthusiasm!

Sade: What are your pre-performance rituals?
Jon: Practice Practice Practice.

Sade: Do you think that it is imperative for an artist to have a manager and agent? Why or why not?
Jon: OK this is a good and very important question!
Sade: Thanks!
Jon: With as many shows as So Cal Musician throws, we work with countless amounts of musicians, and every now and then we have a band "manager" or "agent" come into the picture. I will say that 90% of the time these managers do not tell the musicians everything they are supposed to (like telling musicians the requirements that venues have in order to perform), and it gets the musicians in VERY, VERY bad situations.

It is actually to a point where a lot of promotions companies avoid bands with managers at all costs! Our advice is to avoid a manager at all costs, especially when first starting your career. It is good to stay independent when you are first getting your name out there. When you get to the point where you yourself as an artist or your band is suddenly becoming the next big thing, and drawing about 350 people per show you perform, it is a really good idea to get a manager at that point. BUT BE VERY CAREFUL when choosing a manager. Bad ideas for a manager: Someone who is a girlfriend to one of the members of the band, family members, someone who has little to no experience in the music industry. Good Manager: someone who is humble, yet very professional, has plenty of experience in the industry, and can represent your band in a good manner. Keep in mind, your manager (if you choose to have one), is going to be the voice of your band. So again, be very careful when you choose someone to be it. They MUST know exactly what they are doing!

Sade: What is the most difficult part of your career? What is the best part of your career?
Jon: The best part about my career with So Cal Musician is seeing the "little guy" become the "big guy", and seeing the musicians actually climb to the top and achieve their goals. The most difficult thing about our career is seeing musicians get into bad situations with bad promotions companies. However, when we started So Cal Musician, I had to make a choice. Am I going to pursue my own performance career? Or take on the responsibility of helping thousands pursue theirs? And after seeing how musicians have been treated by other companies in the past, the choice was a very easy one to make. We are here for the musicians!

Sade: Any final thoughts?
Jon: I think that covered it!
Jon: You are indeed very, very good!
Sade: Thanks Jon!
Sade: Thank you for your time, I will let you know when the interview is up at Urban Music Strategies! =)
Jon: Any time, you rock!
Jon: Thank you!

Check out So Cal Musician's official website:

And check out their primary myspace:

Blitz The Insomnyac's myspace:

Also stop by their other myspace pages below:

To see more from Sade Champagne check out:

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