David Scott Norton: Hey everybody, David Scott Norton here The Local Music Podcast. Today's guest I have Dave Bernal. Dave is from joining us from Los Angeles, California. He is the leader and founder of the Just Dave Band out there in LA and he is the host of the California Country Show on radio. Hey, Dave, how are you?
David Bernal: I'm good. How are you doing, Dave?
Norton: Good. Good. Good to have you. Good to talk to you again.
Bernal: Yeah, I'm actually not in Los Angeles right now. I'm in beautiful Pismo Beach on a little bit of a break from some gigs with my folks in an RV park. We just got to join them for a little bit in between some things and so if you hear big trucks pulling up, that's the new set of vacationers coming in.
Norton: Fun. Fun. Yeah. I'm up here in Maine still in the cold, but it's getting warmer.
Bernal: Yeah, it was hot over here man t-shirts, you know, we got the super bloom going on all these flowers and stuff. That will change where I live in LA. It's going to immediately go back to being a hundred nine every day but for now, yeah, we're enjoying it for now.
Norton: Nice. Nice. Well, so glad you could join us. For my listeners. I met Dave probably back in 2014 or 2015 out in California and it’s really good to have him on my show because he kind of highlights the networking aspect of local music because I'm not sure if you know this Dave, but I came to your Open Mic or your Country Jam at the Maui Sugar Mill there. I was referred to you by Dave Tucker who I met at an open mic in New York City just because I walked in and started talking to this guy. I put on my social media that hey I'm going to LA for a week, where can I go? And he immediately said hey, you got to go to the Maui Sugar Mill see Dave. Did that for a while. I met somebody else and they sent me to another another live jam over in Islands 32 and then I met, you know more people and was able to record my CD.
Bernal: Yeah, that's where you met John Schreffler. He produced your CD and got a lot of us guys to jump in there and play just from knowing dudes.
Norton: Yeah. Yeah, and I think that's one thing that I walked away from Los Angeles with was the community. There's a pretty large music community and in my experience it was pretty sharing. Everybody was really friendly, you know, the occasional people who are cutthroat I guess but everybody worked together and it seemed like it wasn't you know a single band, you know, if you're a musician out there you're playing in two or three or four bands. And if you have a band, it may not be the same people you see every time because people you know,
Bernal: It wasn't - oh, yeah, of course, I mean it wasn't always that way Dave, you know, when I moved to town I was a harmonica player. So I got involved with a lot of like blues jams and and things like that and kind of reverted back to my country roots somewhere in the middle of that. A lot of it, to be honest with you, had to do with the fact that I was just discouraged with that cutthroat thing, you know, there's a couple things that I just understood when I became a band leader, you know, the fact the matter is you know, there's no such thing as a Garage Band anymore. Everybody is in different bands that we're all just trying to make it play music as much as we can with as many people as we can. Also too there's a lot of venues. We happen to live in a big city where there's not like one or two places to go. There's a lot of places that you can play. Of course some are better than others in whatever field you're in but you know, there's more than enough work for everybody. So I was in a position where I always wanted to stay positive as much as I can with, you know, if you're if we're just speaking about the gigging part and having places to gig having places to go play either your original music or just kind of a bunch of fun cover tunes of your friends. The the cutthroatness of things did permeate over. That that feels like it's like a rock thing like a Sunset Strip rock and roll our band’s better than your band and we're going to talk some smack and get our place. You know the mentality of if I say something negative about someone that brings me up and them down as opposed to if I remain positive about everyone around me that's going to bring us all up together and that's where I really started to kind of develop the concept of hey we’re California country. We’re not Austin who has a great, you know, social base. We're not Nashville who has an amazing recording and touring social system. Like we don't have that it's disconnected. I really wanted to work very hard to stay positive amidst all that and I kind of - my thought along this instead of instead of me changing into some sort of a cutthroat person. I thought it best if I worked hard on changing the scene that I love and or at least the positive mentality and that you know manifested into being the host of a jam night, which I never thought that I wanted to do because I never enjoyed jam nights. It was like sign up get put up with these people who don't care. They just want to do their three songs. Their shuffle, their slow blues in C, and their, you know, whatever the other third crazy song they do and it was all about you know, and most of those jam nights were like, oh, let's get you know Bob on guitar and Bill on bass and Steve on drums and oh, by the way, does anyone sing? My thought was like, you know, the the song is the most important part of all this not the least important part. It was all just kind of like a slow change that I kind of like, you know, I can't take credit for but I can certainly you know, keep in mind that I wanted to change the way I thought about things and I kind of saw things change around me around that time. So that was great. Like I said, it wasn’t always that way.
Norton: That's just what I experienced and I was very happy I did, you know, because my one week turned into nine months. I was there nine or ten months and yeah, it was really great to come out and play with the professionals. You know when you did a jam night you organized it. You had a band that knew what they were doing and I remember I think it was Vern. I don't know. I had some Hank Williams song. I said I was gonna sing Honky Tonk Blues or something like that and I was like Hank Williams, you know him? He was like yeah. And I said Yeah Honky Tonk Blues. He goes you want the 1947 one or the 1950 one? Umm, I’m not really sure. But your guys knew their stuff.
Bernal: Having a jam night with experienced players, especially ones that you can brag about, that have been through many places - Vern, that particular guitar player has played with like Freddy Fender and Gary Allan and all these very well-known players and band leaders. A lot of being part of a host jam band is it makes you fearless. I've experienced inviting so many lead singers or I say, hey, come on up sing some songs come to the jam and they'll say well, what should I send you? Should I send you my songs? What can I - Do we need to rehearse before we do this, you know, and I'm like no just - you know of the three or four people on that stage that are backing you up one of us is going to know the song well and enough to lead the others and we all just kind of follow together. And what's the worst thing that can happen? We don't get it right the first time around so we get it right the second time around. By the second chorus we know what we’re doing.
Norton: Right. Yeah, you're moving then.
Bernal: Yeah. Good players don't hit wrong notes. They just take a little while to hit all the right ones. It all comes together and it made us fearless. You know, the thought that we could back anybody up at any time just by listening, you know, looking and listening and you know, someone like Vern, a wealth of information, just points to us. You know, we have what they call the Nashville number system. So every chord every note in that scale of whatever key we’re in, once we find out what key the singer’s in, is number associated. So, you know, he points to us and we go to the 4 which is if we're in the key of A that's going to the D. It's just a really easy simple language that makes it so you can record in any key, you know, we could do that same song for you and the key is C and for female vocalist we’ll do it in the key of you know, F# and we’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.
Norton: Yeah, everything will work out. And I mean it was just a great model. So, you know part of what I do for my music company Acadia Music Group is we also help venues, you know, we're not just about promoting music or musicians. We also help venues figure out, you know, what they can do to be part of the music community. And so many people get really discouraged by just a regular open mic, you know, because just, you know, a handful of people show up and they bring their friends and then you see them sit around and drink water and it's just not sustainable for the venue for the coffee shop or the bar or the restaurant. And so this model you had going where you had a professional band be the house band for the night brought a lot of people into that establishment who wouldn't just come to an open mic.
Bernal: Well, we give them a first set, you know, there's that first set to establish that these are some great players. Having that weekly model was great for me. I got to try out new songs. We got to experiment and really make some of the original songs that I wrote tighter just just a better arrangement because you know, we had the same guys or at least I was able to teach my songs to whoever was available on guitar that week and we just really establish that these are some great players we can do almost anything and then, you know, we start the jam and I couldn't guarantee that my entire house band would be available for each singer but I could guarantee - what I would do and this is maybe something that was a little different and might have infuriated some players that came just to jam, but I would lead my jam by the singer.
It was the opposite of what the jam night was in like a blues jam or even an open mic situation where there's a sign-up list. I got rid of my sign up list, like week three of my five and a half year, you know my five and a half year residency at that place. I got rid of it week 3. If you were going to get up and play you had to introduce yourself to me. If you were going to get up and play and sing a song that was an original or something that we're not used to you had to go and talk to who I assigned to play with you. So if I knew someone was a female vocalist that had a very Sarah McLachlan vibe or there was someone that was a classic rock enthusiast that had kind of a Janis Joplin Vibe or maybe someone who wanted to do, you know, a Joe Walsh song or an Eagles song I would go to the players that I knew would be good to back them up. My buddy Owen who plays with the reincarnated version of The Doors with Robby Krieger like, you know, if there was a classic rock song dude, Owen, get up with this guy this is going to be great because you know all that stuff. You're currently living that. But it would be based on the singer of the song. Who is coming up? Incredible players like a like a Preston Smith who can play any instrument and sings and it's a whole wacky show - my band would request to play with this guy because he would take us over the hill and back again. You know, he would you change the tempo, change the keys he would just go up and down. Just because music is fun. And that was a crash course in like being able to back people up. We would just request, you know, let me put my beer down I got to play with this guy for our own, you know benefit. For the most part, yeah, everything was led on the singer. It wasn't a sign-up list of like, you know, Jim on drums and Steve on bass and okay who can sing now? And that really helped us kind of make in my opinion not only the music better but it made people social. People would talk to each other. Can I do this song with you next week? Oh, let's let's do this. I'm going to send you my charts. I'm going to send you my original song. People were trading CDs, you know music charts and also too the number one thing that I really hope that everyone benefited from was that people got to meet people that could play in their bands at actual paid gigs. And that was the biggest benefit of having a jam night as a social scene that is based on people. I've got this show going on over here. Can you play drums with me because we got along great for those three songs that we were up there? If I have any legacy in this world, It's really based on that. Keeping it a fun group.
Norton: Keeping it positive and keeping it social. Yeah, and that's you know, that's like I said, that's the experience I had because I did have to you know, I guess the first songs I got up and just sang a Hank Williams song. But you know after that initial introduction, of course I talk to you when I wanted to get up and do more songs. You know, I had to talk to people, you know, hey, do you want to play in this song? You know, do you know this one? Want to come play with me? And I met the people who ended up, you know recording my CD which was awesome was great experience great musicians. Which is a complete contrast. I do open mics all around the country, but I think the night before I came to yours I had gone to some coffee shop in some beach town. It was the same thing. You sign up on the list. You sit there and don't talk to anybody until you know, it's time to go up and play and then you play and then you do three songs and go home. And me being new in town it was great. You know, I'm not a huge social person in the first place, you know, but it was great to be forced to get up there and introduce myself and talk to people and learn. I learned a lot.
Bernal: Yeah, you brought up a good point because a lot of the jams that I would go to and you know by no fault of leaders it’s just that was just how you did it. And which is why when I was asked to be the host of a jam I said, I don't think I can do this because I don't enjoy it. I had to kind of re-conceptualize what that was about. But what I what I don't like is that people know when they're playing, you know, I know people that would sign up on a list they know when they’re playing. They go to their cars or they would go and you know, and they would know to come back at a certain time do their three songs and then leave and then not be part of it. Not only not spend money at the bar which is really the core of the most important part. But keeping people on their toes as far as like, okay, I'm going to have you come up next. I wouldn't tell people that until the next group was already up and then I would do my walking around. Because I'm running sound I'm running the background music. I'm picking who's doing what or someone would tell me I want so-and-so with me great I'll make sure that happens but I would wait until like three songs that the current group was already up there. Once I set their sound levels I'd now go talk to the next group and say like, okay, let's get this together in this time. So you were just hanging. You were on your toes, you know, you were there and you know, occasionally I'd have to walk outside to the smoker section and grab you know, so-and-so who's out there for whatever song. But it was very mellow and you would think that something like that would - I always used to joke I run the the the most poorly run jam night out there. You would say that but it actually worked pretty well because people would hang out and wait and see and of course the thing is with that social system in place if you met someone that was a cool person you'd stay when you get done with your songs and see their songs and hang out and you know be part of that and maybe you'd get back up again, you know to join them. Whenever you know, people would come up on fiddle. I mean, I would just set their stuff to the side of the stage and they'd be ready to play with anyone. They’d just hang out - I guarantee someone will call you to get up there with them.
Norton: You bring up a good point. You know, it's something that I really had never thought about, you know, I was pretty new at playing music when I went out there and very nervous and doing that whole open mic thing, you know waiting for your turn you can get really nervous. Are they going to like me? You get all in your head when you're a new musician and I guess that's just occurred to me that I had to be ready. And I remember there were times where I walked in the door, you know with my guitar in hand. And before I set it down you were like, hey, you're up next like oh, okay. And so we have to be ready mentally just open not necessarily ready, but, you know be open to just jumping in and I think that's one of the things that has been a theme and most of my podcast guests is if you're a musician you need to be just open and ready to go and somebody says hey you want to play right now? Say yeah. Let's go.
Bernal: Yeah, I mean the good thing about being a musician in the sense of being a player is that you know, you do run your own calendar and you know, the the fact of the matter is if I have a gig for you that pays, you know, $100 on a Friday night, in no way is that a way to make a living but you know, we're still doing it. I won't talk about that right now, but what I mean is if somebody says hey just to that same player, you know, I've got a gig that pays $300 and it's going to be for a private party like granted, you know, the math doesn't add up there's as much as there's loyalty in the world. There's also a lot of good sub players and things like that. So when I have a band that has their core players in place I assign what's called the chair I give them the chair and I give them access to basically all my gigs. Which you know, month to month can be as many as you know, like 12 or 15 gigs a month and it could be as few as four, you know for only plan like once a weekend because I do a lot of solo stuff too, but the idea of the chair system is that you know, I don't mind that you have to take something especially when the money's better or if I only have one night to offer you and someone's offering you an entire weekend travel, you know, three three gigs versus one. But it's your responsibility as a musician to reach out to players who you know I get along with or know the material or you know can handle the gig and then beyond that it's your responsibility to send them the setlist and the songs. I keep everything that I have, all our cover songs and all our charts. I keep them all on a Dropbox and I did send someone a link to it and they can access what they need to access and and leave in the Dropbox what songs they already know but there's a commonality with that so it comes to the point where like, you know, yeah, I mean granted I would love to show up with the same group of players because we sound better the more we play together, but anybody that's good and solid and also cares about me and what I sound like will make that effort and find me the appropriate sub and make sure they have the appropriate material. That just goes with being in the chair and it's you know right now a bit nebulous because we lost you know, I always lose a great player like Storm Road. I lost him to Nashville, you know about six months ago. So there's a bit of a nebulousness going on now. I'm just getting closer to a guitar player now who is you know, we're there now. He's able to make the calls for me. You know, I give him the numbers of who to call when he needs it and we just make sure that it's a, you know, the business of the music part trucks on and we're fine, you know. It works well when people have responsibilities and investment in what they're out there playing it's not just a free-for-all. I'm not an agent or a manager or any of those things. I'm just a band leader with shows who is friends with a lot of other band leaders. So we find each other work. We refer each other to places that work and we send each other good musicians who we know will be part of a, you know, great team players. And if you’re not a great team player, the word gets out there too. I think it’s a fair system. Once we’re locked in to the next generation of whatever the band is, we assign chairs and go from there.
Norton: That's a good system and I never thought of it that way. I think of the band leaders, you know, you're the one who's responsible for filling all the chairs. But to have somebody take their own lead in that part of the band. That's that's kind of a cool concept.
Bernal: Well, there's three rules of being a player and I was privy to this because just with all the harmonica that I'd done. For a time I was basically just a harmonica player that did background vocals. It's you know show up on time, in tune, and have a great sub. Those are the three rules of being a player. A lot of times people would think well, I'll just you know, this guy's okay at guitar. I'll give him that and that's kind of a poor way to think about it. You should hire a sub that - you know, think about this, Dave. There's so many times where you would say like, oh, I can't make this gig great I'll hire this guy instead. Well I have two ways of thinking about this. I like to have the chair because I like to have the loyalty but I also like the fact that if a guitar player calls another guitar player, we have a great time and that guitar player’s great. They might even be better than the guy that brought him in but guess what they’re friends. They're not going to go behind each other's backs and say I want this gig now. I'm going to take this gig. I'm going to give Dave this band leader everything he needs. I'm going to be the guy in this position. That doesn't happen in this system. It is a friendly way of keeping tabs about everybody and hiring a great sub is part of that. It's all friendly, you know. That keeps me honest too. They're talking to each other. I'm not calling people and saying, okay, now I want you. That guys fired. I mean, those musicians claim their gigs, you know, the calendar’s on line we mark what we can do and that works great, That that system is is a fair great way to do it plus you got a great player that you can call when you need it. You know that they're there. With the amount of shows that we have to play like we're constantly needing to find subs because that's just the reality of life. That's just the reality of things. You know, I can hire a great player, but they also if they're a great player that secret's out. They’re getting work.
Norton: I like that you don't necessarily have - I know some bands, they want complete loyalty like this is the only band. You be part of our band and you need to be available whenever we're available. So they don't necessarily get the best people in their band.
Bernal: Right. You get the loyal ones.
Bernal: Loyalty is silly, and this works for me too because I as a band leader, my strength comes from being able to be challenged by the people around me. If there’s a great - I love to rip it up on the harmonica and if I have a guitar player that is just a beast, just someone who knows their instrument well and knows the concept of what you can do in country music, I’m going to challenge myself to play harder and faster and compete with this guy back and forth. Friendly competition. It makes the show better. Many bandleaders will say, well I want to look better than all my musicians. I want to look like I'm the star. So I'm going to purposely hire people who are not as great as me so I look better. Just like the system of I'm going to tell a club owner that this band is not good so I rise higher. It doesn't work that way. You can only rise higher by being excellent. You can't rise higher by being, you know, conniving and sneaky. You need - the better the players around you, the better you are. It's like anything. It’s like any sales team or you know real estate office or anything. It's like anything like that. Any internet marketing firm or whatever it is. You know, you're recruiting the best people you can because it makes you better and that's what I always look for is just excellence because I want to be challenged. I don't consider myself a great guitar player. I can hold it down and I've got a good sense of rhythm to know when things are cooking. That's due to having great players who care.
Norton: I totally agree. I totally agree that you know, that's what I like to do is surround myself by people who are better than me which lot of times it's not that hard to get. When you get an environment - I step up and I you know, I rise to the occasion and that's not only in music but also in business and now I've found myself on consulting projects or working for companies, you know where I'm the star and it's not that great being the best. I like to have people who are way better than me to help bring me up because you're not learning if you're sitting there.
Bernal: Well, that's why you're successful in what you do because you recognize that as a challenge and not as competition. The music business is very cutthroat, but people do need to keep in mind it is a business and we are all trying to make money. My choice of being someone who does all music and then of course now the radio show these are all choices that I've made that you know guarantee that I'm able to sustain a humble living but there are still goals and ways to rise above. I want to be excellent in the field that I'm in and have a good name and reputation. I hope that people talk about me in a positive manner. That’s kind of where I live.
Norton: I think they do.
Bernal: Well, let’s see. God, I hope so.
Norton: They do. I’ve never heard a bad word about Dave Bernal, that’s for sure. That’s just a really cool system. The chair. And on time, in tune, hire a great sub. Those are good rules. I like them.
Bernal: That comes from my friend Matt Baldoni who lives in Vegas now. I grew up with him in Grass Valley, California. We were in our first high school band together. Well, we were both in high school band, but we were in our first rock band that got to play St. Patrick’s Day at McGee’s Pub outside. We were too young to get in so we had to play outside on the patio. Playing our first band. But he is one of those union backup guy musicians currently. Currently, he is Barry Gibb in the Australian Bee Gees show at The Excalibur in Vegas and tours with them and also does a lot of great other - you know, whoever's in town, he gets the call. His work ethic and his system and his way of simplifying the business is - let's just put it this way: Every time we talk it's way more than an hour podcast. That's for sure.
Norton: That's awesome. I’ll have to listen to some of those.
Bernal: Yeah, he’s great. He's great.
Norton: So that kind of goes into you know, so your first your first gig you had to play on a patio and probably didn’t get paid much but you went out and you took it. You jumped on the opportunity and you mentioned before about you know, you may get offered $100 or $300 gig which isn't that great. But if you take you know, if you stay open you do take that, that could lead to other things and typically does. That's what I've what I found. It just leads to other things if you're positive and you’re open.
Bernal: Yeah, and you know that there's the concept of being a working musician versus, you know, an artist and someone who - the way I attribute these things is you can work in the private sector. You can work to sustain what you want to do, you know, what your passion is. I feel like my father, you know was a civil engineer and he worked to sustain his passion which was you know, having cool toys and electronics and supporting his family and all those things like that or you can make your passion be your work which is you know, some might call that a foolish and selfish endeavor saying I am so great that I'm willing to think and put my family through stress and worry that I'm not going to be able to pay my bills because I feel like what I do is so great. I'm going to make that my my career as opposed to the opposite. So there's different ways of thinking. I don't think either of those choices are wrong. I just think that there's a different level of patience and kind of a weeding out process. I mean, I know a lot of musicians that have oh, I don't do that anymore. I don't play music. I had to get a real job. I had to go and you know pay my bills and stuff. Certainly I did what I had to do to. I got a college degree. I worked a lot of different jobs to sustain what I wanted to do until I got started and then I made the decision that I was doing enough that I was able to sustain - maybe not thrive all the time - but sustain by making the choice that I had enough work out there for me to be able to do this. That's not just live gigs, Dave. I mean that's recording during the day, that’s the occasional television appearance with getting hired by people knowing that I play harmonica, that's royalties from recording on things that come back to me. And that's also like, you know, there's the diligence of entering the original songs that I play for every single gig that I do into BMI. BMI is my publishing and my songwriting service. People don't know that you can get royalties from playing your own music live because you're the jukebox. So that's kind of like learning how many ways there are that the world does not tell you about. I'm one of those people that made the choice that what I do is - my passion is my career.
Norton: The last guest I had on, Ian Tamblyn, all the way from Canada said the same thing. He quit doing other things and just dedicated his live to music. He knew he wouldn’t make it unless he had to survive on it. Then he jumped out and started doing all these other things. He worked in theater. He wrote songs. He wrote jingles. He branched out. And a good friend of mine, Paul Edelman, who I met in Philadelphia who was also my guitar teacher, he did the same thing. He was working lots of jobs trying to make ends meet. He just one day, just said you know what I’m just gonna do music. He moved to North Carolina and he’s just doing it and when you don't just jump out there and do it, sometimes music will take a backseat. You do run into those people who are like, well I couldn't make any money. It all adds up and so, you know, one of the things you do you play live with your band. DJ on the California Country Show which you must, you know, get a little bit there from ad revenue or you know, however you get compensated from that. You help in the record other people, you said recording like writing jingles or you work in the studios, right?
Bernal: Well, yeah, that's like the background music for you know, reality shows and things like that. I get the call to be a harmonica player for certain projects. One of them. I got lucky enough to meet someone who actually was good friends with a producer, which I hate to say it's who you know, but for this situation it was who you know, and we did a bunch about 80 different music cues of like harmonica and guitar just kind of talking to each other and so in the fall there's a new show on USA coming out. It’s a reality show called The Rad Keys. And so basically my harmonica is the comic relief bit that like starts and stops a lot of the different parts. So those are royalties that will be coming to me, you know, they won't come for about a year. But those are the kind of things you have to think about when you're doing these projects is doing things for free or doing things for pay. You have to make those choices. So I'll give you a quick story. I had a friend who I met him through - I also work in occasionally as a music producer and on reality shows are sorry game shows. I'm just kind of a music geek. I know music. I know songs. So I've been called in a couple times and that was from playing that referral came from playing at a show. A friend of mine had a friend who sold this this show to Fox and he said hey, I need someone who knows every lyric from every song has ever come out since the 1950s and without hesitation my friend said, oh, you should call my friend Dave. He knows everything. You saw him live that one time. I took you to see his band. Remember they played all that mix of all kinds of crazy stuff. Oh, yeah. That kind of started that little thing this referrals and you know. But from that I met a guy who said I'm doing music for a television show. I can either pay you per track or I could pay you substantially less, but I can give you 50% of the writing credit and let me tell you what I'm going to do just because you're - all he did was he just had a little, you know, a drum machine or he had beats and I just took different harmonicas and different rhythms and played different parts on different parts, and he would just subsequently take that little part that I did on harmonica and glue it into something that he had or he would write a track around that. That was about four years ago. That has paid in royalties. What he's done is he's taken that harmonica that I've done and moved it to another track or slowed it down or sped it up or changed the key of it or anything like that. He continues to use that. It continues to be used in shows today, you know four or five years later and he resells them to other shows or keeps them in a library where people are looking for, you know hillbillies going wild in the woods the back of the Jeep yeehaw. That's my harmonica or like uh-oh here comes the boss. He's walking in Mad. Look out. That's my harmonica and because I have writing credit on it I took that financial hit even though I might have needed the money at the time. It's paid me back, you know, it’s just those decisions that you make as a player versus somebody who thinks about the future.
Norton: So it’s not necessarily - part of it is who you know, but you also have to be ready. You have to be ready to take these opportunities and have yourself in the right position.
Bernal: That’s exactly it. Yes. Be ready. Because those kinds of things happen quickly and when you write your own schedule - let’s say you’re on a job and you’re typically working a 9 to 5 or nowadays it’s really like 9 to 7 but you’re working on something and somebody says hey I need you to come in tomorrow at noon to do this thing. Like, you know, you don't have that option. You have to be there for your work. If you run your own calendar - and you know for me now, it just becomes you know, I stay home with my son who's two a few days during the week and when he takes a nap, I make all my phone calls and all my e-mails. The rest of the day I'm playing with him and then if I need to then we set it up so my wife stays home or we you know, take him to day care for the day and I can go out and do that TV show or that thing. You know, it's all just kind of measuring your opportunity and then being able to like you said jump on it and take - you know, be ready for it.
Norton: And also being able to track it. You have a lot of different things going on different royalties. And so you mentioned your BMI and the whole thing with the harmonica being in different movies or television shows. How do you track all that stuff? So the BMI thing seems interesting.
Bernal: It’s pretty easy to track nowadays. There’s a lot of things that people don’t know about that and I’m happy to share it. In fact, every three months when I get my royalty check I am online telling musicians like hey, are you singing your own songs live? Like you can get a check. People don’t know this.
Norton: Yeah. So I’m involved on the venue side where I can promote a gig and then it’s covered under my license with BMI, ASCAP, or SESAC. How does your piece work where you’re putting your own songs down and then you get a check back?
Bernal: Yeah. I mean this is something that musicians don't know and writers don't know. The problem is this information is not out there in a clear, you know, one page document of all the things you need to do. For my radio show I get sent by people oh, I just recorded this song. Can you play it on your radio show? Yes, send me the track - but actually what I asked for is CDs because I want to make sure that it can be digitally tracked because those things are encoded into what you do if you do it correctly. But like when you record a song, you know, you need to get those, you know, the recording industry codes. You assign your own codes. You have codes. Everything is trackable. Those need to be embedded into your tracks. That code is there. If I put a CD in my truck and there's no information on that CD, it just has track one, I throw that thing out. Not only is it not doing me any good to play some you know, it’s not doing the musician any good because if I play it on a radio show, those royalties get distributed from play. If I see Track 1, dude, like you’re already cheating yourself out of money. It’s not just about the show or the CD sales that you can make at the show because who buys those anymore? It’s about you with your original music - tracking this stuff. Then those need to be registered with a service like BMI or ASCAP or SESAC. Whatever you choose they all have different benefits. I chose BMI as both a publisher and a writer and the reason why I did this is because I was fascinated with this idea that BMI - this is a quick story. Well, I think I told you this another time but there was a club I played in in Fullerton, California where they were refusing to pay their BMI ASCAP royalties, and they - BMI or somebody or ASCAP - sent representatives into the into the bar and recorded every cover song that my band played. Not only that but every time the guitar player had a lick that sounded like B. B. King, we represent him or that sounds like so-and-so's thing, you know even just playing a Bo Diddley beat you're already in trouble for like four different songs there. They billed the club and you know, and I got a call from the club owner just furious. My relationship at that club ended shortly after that for reasons I have to think it is based on this. They never forgave me for this idea. And you know, my fear of busting a club of you know the fact that we were playing music you know that's a scary thing. A lot of people think oh, if I report what songs they play at this club, I'm going to get in trouble from this club. They’re never going to want to hire me again, but it's not that. You see, you can have televisions in your bar and you still have to pay ASCAP BMI royalties on a service because if you have audio of commercials and the music that they play for bumpers or if you have a jukebox, everything is tracked. So a musician, I learned that there's a BMI program called BMI Live. And what I do is, you know, of course because I recorded my songs I put them on CD I tried to get them on radio now that I had all my codes in place and we could track it. So whoever took the CD and played it on somewhere I could get some sort of royalty from that. With the clubs, you’re basically reporting let's say I play six songs from my original and I play those songs nightly throughout the course of my night and I just report that I played those songs. You do that for every show that you do and then you write down what place you played, what the capacity is, if they charged a cover or not, you know, what hours, what day, and it adds up. It really adds up of like what royalties I make because when you think about it, the songs that play on the jukebox you're always going to have Sweet Home Alabama or Free Fallin’ or someone's always going to request something, you know, those artists get paid from the fact that those jukeboxes track what the popular songs are and how much they get paid. But it comes out of what is a general fund, you know a general fund of music. So if I'm the only thing. If I'm the Tom Petty or if I'm the Bob Seger, I'm playing my own music for a club of 200 people, I'm getting paid, you know, probably like two or three dollars for that one song every time I play it so play six songs live. I'm getting paid, you know, 11 12 13 15 depends. If I play a festival I get paid like $20, but if you think about that in the sense of like how many gigs you play in the course of three months and you’re reporting, it really adds up to the tune of you know - I can see my statements. That's a big part of what I get back and it doesn't penalize the club at all. Granted that they are a club that pays their BMI ASCAP royalties and also, you know, there's a situation where I have been told by like a coffeehouse or something. Like we don't have BMI or ASCAP here. We're going to need you to play only original songs because we can't afford to pay our royalties and I will have to tell them I'm like, look, I'm sorry, but I'm a BMI songwriter and we report what songs we play. So, you know, I will tell you this. You know, that feels mean but you got to think of the music business model. If you're an artist on a record label, you hope that your record label is doing these things for you to collect your royalties and to track where they go and you know to get on a commercial, you know. Whatever it is you hope that you're getting paid for what you're out there in the world doing because it's a paying system. And so as an artist, there's no one to do that for me. I have to do that myself.
Norton: Well, and it seems like you can get paid multiple times for the same performance so if you're reporting through BMI, you're going to get a check. But the club is also I know when I do my set list, you know, I say exactly what what songs were played and you know who wrote them and then those funds get distributed according to that set list. And so if you play at one of my shows and you report it to BMI you get a check from BMI for playing one of your shows and then when I submit the fees and my set list you get another check for that you're essentially double dipping and people don't realize that. They don't realize that they can just put in their own songs. And in this it's an app right on your phone?
Bernal: You can do it on your phone. You can do it on your computer. You have a BMI login. This is the same thing with any of the services out there. I just think that BMI is superior in the sense that they offer the live program, and plus as a publisher. I'm splitting my royalties between my publishing company and myself personally. They go to two separate bank accounts because my publishing company is the one that tracks like radio play and CDs and things like that. You enter all your dates into a computer and it gets a lot easier, you know, once you start playing the same places over and over again that information is saved into their database. So there's an auto fill feature that can kind of fill up the dates. It can be tedious and I to tell you it's almost like just picking a day to count your receipts for the year. It's the same thing. It can be tedious and they give you a calendar, you know, if you report everything you played from January to March we will pay you, you know a few quarters later. Whatever I enter in the calendar of the gig I played on Saturday. I may not get paid until the end of the year for it. But that can certainly add up and there's a grace period like you can you can enter up to like six months back. So if you're really kind of lagging behind, but you just take a day and you just kind of punch your dates in and you know, certainly festivals where you're playing for a capacity of 5,000 people, you know the royalty rate’s a lot higher especially since they're charging ticket sales, but guess what? They're also paying royalties for people to be able to play music. They are not paying royalties on you David Scott Norton playing these three songs at this venue. They're paying for the ability to play music and to distribute out of a general funds to people and that money is waiting for you in an account somewhere and you are not punishing the places that you play by reporting it. You're just collecting what is already there for you and that is such an empowering thing and it's funny, like our good friend said Russell Camp, you know, I hate to call them out, but you know, I walked him through the process my good buddy Kenny of do our writers. Same thing. I said, you know, here's the system. Here's how it works. You guys owe it to yourselves because you play your songs out there in the world. You owe it to yourself to, you know, keep this. Again, that's a small part of how to make it as a musician. But you have to think of those things. Those things are out there in the world and we're you know, the songs you put out there in the world doesn't matter where you are that you know, nothing's free. Now everything is collected and you better believe those record companies are collecting that money. So if you're independent, you know and like you said with your club, what's the situation there? They pay something for a day to play music
Norton: They pay for an event. And so with my license you pay for an event and you have to submit a set list and then the funds get divvied up by the setlist. So most people are playing cover songs. So this even works for DJ's. So if you have a DJ into your restaurant and you don't have a license you could get an event promoter like, you know, like myself and you pay us. It depends on if you're charging a cover or if it’s just a free benefit concert is different rates, but it's usually no more than 40 bucks a night per event, which is really good compared to what you have to pay for an entire year. And in the end those funds get divvied up based on the setlist versus where a lot of places have what they call blanket licenses where they can play anything from anybody but the payout there - they could be playing all local artists, you know 24 hours a day at their bar, but it all goes into a into a general algorithm based off of billboard or whatever is happening nationwide. And that's it. That's how that money gets divvied up. But I know with my system it goes off the set list.
Bernal: Yeah, it goes off the general fund like, you know, the the writer of Sweet Home Alabama just knows that he's going to get a check every three months. And that’s kind of the idea of you are out there in the aether and your song is getting played like Ed Sheeran right now, I mean ever, you know, all these singer-songwriters that play these hotel lobbies are playing, you know, probably 2 or 3 Ed Sheeran songs a night and you know, like currently because the you know, his songwriting is still residually hot. He's getting extra money out of the general fund just because it just in the aether. But who's there to report the songs if not for people like you that submit the list and get this, you know, what's out there in the world. I mean they use that information to further kind of like keep this algorithm running smoothly but with me and being an independent artist whose only getting played on like small radio stations, and of course, whoever I hand it to. But that goes back to my radio show, I have a show on public radio right now and it's such a big source of pride for me to be able to say to artists who send me CDs - which I asked for CDs for a reason because I want that digital encoding built-in. So when I burned that that wave file, you get the highest audio quality plus I can guarantee that that information is built into that track instead of somebody sending me an MP3 off of their computer oh, I just recorded this. Play this. Well, you're not getting the benefit from this but you know, I do report, you know, I report that set list to the station and that becomes part of what I play and royalties are distributed from there. And you know, my goal right now, Dave, is to syndicate my show because it's on public radio. It still distributes royalties. But you know, my friend Casey and I put this podcast together years ago. We had it on Soundcloud. We didn't know what we were doing and I got dinged by a royalty collection company saying hey, you know, you don't have the rights to play these songs unless you pay money for your show because people are listening to it. So it kind of went two ways, you know, the iTunes part of the California Country Show is strictly interview and live performance from whoever's in the in the studio and the radio show part of it, which I'm working very hard - In fact, currently, soon as we get off the phone here, I'm calling the radio station I got in contact with and trying to find a way to send them a copy of our last few shows. I'm going to be now cutting up our Radio Show into whatever format they need it and add the bumpers for that show and then submitting the playlist to them and then guaranteeing that there's not a lot of cursing. So that'll be my my new business model and there's no money off of that yet. But sooner or later I'm going to be charging advertising and sponsors on my own but I've got to build that base first. But in the meantime, I can still say as long as I submit that playlist and as long as that artist has got that information on that CD properly put in there that they get paid off of me playing their tune and I mean dude, what a power what a great way for me to put it back in the world by those things being in place. I think a lot of Indie artists don't realize what it takes to do anything more than just what they get paid for that gig or that session but you know if this hour has brought up anything and you're just pulling it out of me, I mean I can go for days on this stuff, but as an indie artist, you gotta protect yourself and you got to think of the future and all the ways there are for you to collect that money. It's waiting for you. You just have to report it and get it.
Norton: Right and there's not necessarily a playbook, you know, you have to go out and find this information and talk to the right people and learn about what's going on.
Bernal: I had a musician friend, sorry to interrupt. His name is Jay Leach. He’s friends with Chad Watson and Burr Monet and all those guys. He plays pedal steel and all the boutique instruments. Great guy. Really really smart businessman. His model right now is that he plays music for churches. He goes on tour and does like their musical programs and gets paid by donation. And of course they pay his travel expenses and he sells his material to a really dedicated list. But I met him on American Idol, I was hired to play harmonica one week and I explained to him that I had a CD coming out and I really would love to talk to him about you know, how he promotes and things like that and he sat me down. He took me to coffee one day and he drew a circle. He took a notebook and drew a circle on it and he goes, this is your CD. I want you to write down all the information that you think should be on this CD. And I go okay. Well here my logo goes here, maybe my songs here. And he goes, okay. Well, I need you to write down all your other information. And so I didn't know what he was talking about. He goes, I need you to write down your your copyright information. Your proof of copyright. Your year of songwriting for these songs. You got to write down how to get a hold of you. You got to write down all these things, you know, otherwise some CD shows up - by the way radio still uses CDs when artists get distributed. A lot of them end up in a box, but you know that having that information on a very clear way for the guy to be like, oh you listened to this and this is this and now you know, that information is all there for whoever is there. That's what you collect from that you know. You need to have that out there. Very important. The other piece of advice I got which is not from Jay but from someone very valuable in the realm of independent artists is when you send your CD out to radio stations take the time and take that plastic wrap off. If you're out there and you you're sending your CD to 100 different radio stations independents from across the country, take the plastic off. You can't imagine how much more you get played by just somebody not having to open up that CD for you.
Norton: Yeah, I never thought of that but that makes a lot of sense and also one of my first guests also said that, you know, people will try to be eco-friendly and send your just their CD in an envelope or you know without a jacket that has a bind on the end of it where you can actually read it. I think it's important that you need to have some professionality in your artwork and in your packaging.
Bernal: Yeah. Professionality is everything. Isn’t that funny?
Norton: That is funny, because I had all of mine cellophane wrapped. Probably for other reasons, they’re all sitting in a box someplace, but that could be part of the reason also.
Bernal: Well, my radio promoter just said, hey you got to mail me like 100 CDs that's part of our deal, you know? Okay great. I mailed him a hundred CDs. Or if you think every think ahead, you know, when you're getting your CDs printed you can get them sent to them. But I wish I would have had that advice given to me before then. So, you know, I wish I would have had somebody tell me that. I’ll know for next time.
Norton: Yeah. All right, Dave we're running up on our time here, but it's been great talking to you. Really glad you could come on. Maybe we’ll do it again and dive deeper into all these topics because, you know, we could talk about it for days.
Bernal: Well, I learned the hard way, Dave. I learned the hard way. It’s a slow process and I learned the hard way, but I asked a lot of questions and thankfully there were people in my life that were mentors that were able to tell me these things and I just wish it were easy for everyone to have that information out there. But there’s a reason why it’s kind of hidden and it’s because record companies want you to rely on them as anyone who’s independent will know. As long as everyone there understands that they need to share this knowledge with each other, I don’t think it brings me down in the line to share what I’ve shared with you. These are things that I’ve found out and I think it should be public knowledge that it’s out there.
Norton: Well, I agree and this is you know part of why I'm doing this podcast is to just take information that I've learned and get it out. There's like things that I wish I had known many years ago, you know, they’re just out there waiting to be learned. In this medium, you know the podcasting and then being able to broadcast through YouTube, you know, I've learned so much from you know podcasts and talks. Just listening to other people talk, it's been great. So it's been great talking to you. I’ll listen for your show. And don’t go away, I’ll be right back, but I want to sign off now because we’re running on our time and this has been Dave Bernal from the California Country Show and the Just Dave Band in Los Angeles, California. Thanks a lot for joining us, Dave.
Bernal: Thanks so much, man.