The Popdose Interview: David Mead

He’s never been a household name, but since releasing his debut album in 1999, David Mead has become a trusted source of beautiful melodies and unforgettable hooks for a persistent group of discriminating pop fans (including more than one member of the Popdose staff). Naturally, when we heard that David was funding the recording of his next release through Kickstarter, we wanted to get involved — and after we reached for our wallets, we reached out for an interview.

Whether you’re already a fan or you love David Mead’s music and just don’t know it yet, this is a project that deserves your support. Here’s why.

I’ve been a big fan of yours since your first single, “Robert Bradley’s Postcard,” was going for radio adds. If there’s been a more perfect debut single in the last 15 or 20 years, I don’t know what it is.

Maybe one that got played on the radio. (laughs)

I’m still stunned that it wasn’t a huge hit, but that kind of set the tone for your tenure at RCA right out of the gate.

That isn’t untrue. I don’t know what it’s like these days, but at that time, if you were a new artist, and the label gave you a shot and your first foray wasn’t successful, it definitely had a big effect on the rest of your experience. As much as they tell you they’re in it for the long haul, if they come out of the gates and they hit a brick wall, it affects morale a little bit.

Since you left RCA, it’s sometimes been difficult to keep track of what you’re up to, partly because your label situation has been more or less constantly in flux.

Yeah, it’s never been a choice to change labels. It’s a pain in the ass — you have to completely reorient yourself to a new company and a new group of people, and it takes work. It’s a part of the process that nobody ever tells you about — that you don’t just show up and people are always excited to see you; I mean, you really have to go out of your way to get to know the people you’re working with, because it’s a team effort at a label.

I would have been happy to be on one label all this time, if that were possible. But I’ve been lucky in that a lot of people have been willing to take a chance on me, and my career has happened over this intense period of flux in the industry — the money and the infrastructure that allows a label to hang around and really develop a career like mine isn’t around anymore. So it’s been a series of one-offs since RCA, but at least they’ve been one-offs — better than nothing!

As you mentioned, your debut was released at an interesting moment in the history of the industry, right before the bubble burst, and you’ve gone from working as part of a giant corporate machine to assuming responsibility for pretty much all aspects of your career. What has that evolution been like? Has it been difficult?

It has been difficult sometimes, but it’s also worked well with getting older and becoming more responsible — I guess my point being that if I were only responsible for the stuff I had to do while I was at RCA, which was basically just showing up and making music or performing at shows that were booked for me, I think I’d be exceptionally bored right now. All that stuff gets really routine after awhile; it doesn’t require a lot of your range to do it.

Now, outside my solo career, I’ve also released a children’s album and I’m part of a band project called Elle Macho, and I work a part-time job, so I’m more fully engaged with life in general, I guess I’d say, than I was while I was inside the major-label bubble. It’s hard to even maintain relationships when you’re gone that much — and it is a bubble, because you’re surrounded by people who tell you you’re great all the time, because they want you to believe you are. It’s not very realistic, and it definitely contributes to building a fragile ego that doesn’t really interact with the rest of the world very well. Or at least it did in my case. (laughs)

You had the advantage of having one of the more robust fan sites during the early aughts, particularly for an artist at your sales level, and I imagine that helped you connect with your audience once you set out on your own.

Yeah, it’s called mineandyours.com. And there was another one called dreamawaythemiles.com — both of those things were really helpful at keeping things active, because I’ve never been particularly good at keeping a direct relationship alive with Twitter or Facebook, or anything like that.

I’ve noticed that — at least from my perspective, your online presence has been pretty sporadic. I mean, I didn’t even know the children’s album was out until I received the email about your new project. Do you have a plan for maintaining that relationship with your fans? What’s your approach?

My approach is to try and do things that will hopefully inspire people to talk about them amongst themselves. I mean, I’m inundated with emails — like everyone else is — that I don’t particularly want to read. I don’t really want to become part of that section of someone’s inbox, you know? It’s not really what I signed up for in terms of being part of a larger machine.

I guess I feel like if you get super active on something like Facebook or Twitter…yes, I realize people are comfortable with those interfaces, and in some respects it makes it easier for them to find you, but at some point, you’re just contributing more to the content of the machine, and it isn’t a unique space that’s connected to the music you’re making. I don’t know. I struggle with it, because I don’t want to reduce things to that. I realize that some people do it effectively, but most people don’t, as far as I’m concerned, and it feels like an annoyance.

I’ve never tried to do a massive onslaught through those channels, so maybe I’m missing the point. But I feel like if you’re going to try and get people’s attention, then whatever you’re offering should be quality, and I feel like what I have to offer is basically just quality music. I guess that’s what it comes down to. But when it translates to, for instance, you not knowing I had a kids’ album out, that’s obviously a problem that needs to be addressed, and it’s not really that difficult to address. But at the same time, it’s like, how do I get you to know about that? I’d rather someone you trust tell you about it, as opposed to sending you a bunch of events on Facebook that you didn’t bother to read because you already had 50 in your inbox.

What led you to try the Kickstarter route this time around?

My buddy Ethan, who’s playing on the new record — and played on Wherever You Are, too, and who’s toured with me — he told me about it. Basically, I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose by trying it, and I’ve been really pleased with it so far. The process is pretty easy — I just shot this video on my iPhone and put it up, and it seemed like it took about a week to get everything together and just…watch it grow. I’ve been stunned and thankful.

I really like how direct and simple it is. There aren’t any gimmicks about it — it’s just straight to anyone who’s interested: if you’d like to participate, you can buy in at these various levels, and you pay for it, and you get it. It cuts out so many gray areas. It feels like the most interactive thing I’ve ever done, in a sense, because people are taking responsibility for the album up front, and I feel like you’re a lot more likely to want to tell other people about it than if you just got another notification that there’s a record coming out. I’m really appreciative of people taking that step, and excited to know there are people anticipating an album for once, instead of just getting hit with another onslaught of marketing.

Your deadline for this is in January, right?

Right. January 18. And then we have 10 days booked at a studio in New York. If we get all the money, we’ll probably book a few more days to mix and maybe do some overdubs — I mean, basically, there’s a Plan A, which takes into account the full amount being raised, and then there’s a Plan B, which gets the album recorded, basically, not mixed or mastered. If we have to do Plan B, it’ll probably be a much longer process, but either way, it’s going to start in January. Hopefully, we’ll get all the money and be able to finish it and get it out by, I don’t know, March.

Do you have any plans for distribution or promotion?

I’ll send out physical copies to people who ordered them, and I’ll obviously do digital distribution, and that’ll probably be the focus of most of it, because…I don’t know, it’s always been a crap shoot to try and go after a lot of it. You always end up paying a publicist $3,000 a month and there’s no guarantee they’re going to come up with anything, so it’s easier to just kind of depend on the blog world and see if that takes off. It’ll probably be handing it out to friends, mostly, and seeing if anyone raises a hand and identifies themselves as being an advocate, and seeing where that leads.

It’s so different now — you used to put out a record, and it was absolutely imperative that three months out from the release date, you really started going after press and radio adds. And I think if you really have the budget to support a full-on campaign like that, it’s smart, but unless you can really follow through, I don’t know that’s necessarily the best way to spend your money.

I moonlight as a music journalist, so I get to see the back end of a lot of those campaigns — and I write mostly about independent music, so I know it’s coming from people who splurged, probably, for a publicist, and what the publicist is doing is just this mass mailing that doesn’t have anything personal about it. A lot of times there isn’t even a bio or an explanation of any kind — and if there is a bio, it’s the most trite thing, and you’ve already read it 500 times, so you just throw it away anyway.

You’re located in Nashville, but you’re planning on recording Dudes in New York. Why travel when you’re already in Music City?

Just because that’s where the people are that want to make the record. I mean, I’ve lived in New York, so I have a lot of friends there and it’s a very comfortable place to be. There are a lot of people in Nashville that I’d love to make the album with too, but I’m a big believer in following enthusiasm, and honestly, up until a couple of months ago, I had no real intent or motivation to record these songs, because there weren’t any funds, and a situation hadn’t really presented itself where people were champing at the bit to participate.

I know the studio where I’m going, I know the guys I’m recording with very well, and if nothing else, it’ll be a really good time. The older I get, the more I just love to play music with people, and if we can record it and capture something, then great. But it’s also step by step right now. Normally, I’m thinking 15 steps ahead of every process, right down to whether or not a banjo overdub works for this song, because it’ll probably be the focus track for radio, and whether it’ll get played at those formats — I’m always planning things to the nth degree, just because I’ve been around long enough to understand some of the ridiculous realities of all this.

But this time, all I have to do right now — assuming that the money gets raised, which is obviously still a variable — is show up and make a record that the people who signed up for the fundraising will like. That’s really all that matters, and that’s one of the main reasons I like Kickstarter.

To find out more about how you can help finance the recording of David Mead’s next album, watch the video below — then click this link!

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  • http://mulberrypanda96.blogspot.com rwcass

    Nice interview, Jeff! The main reason I contributed to Mead’s Kickstarter fund was because he consistently makes good albums — his most recent, “Almost and Always,” quickly became my favorite after I received it for Christmas last year — so why not invest in his new one?

    I’d read or heard that Bill DeMain, Mead’s songwriting partner for “Almost and Always,” is a music journalist, but I was unaware Mead’s done that kind of work as well.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    I know he used to write for Paste. I’m not sure who he works for now.

  • http://www.popdose.com DwDunphy

    Mead is another one of those frustrating stories where the artist is “too good” for the general audience to latch onto, and so they don’t. It is worrying that so many of my favorites absolutely need Kickstarter, fine organization though they may be. In that other, perfect world, it should hardly seem necessary.

  • Bob

    Thank you for the great interview, Jeff. Not only is Mr. Mead supremely talented and criminally under-appreciated, but he has one of the best pop voices you’ll ever hear.

    I’ll be loosening the purse strings to contribute to the Kickstarter “Dude” fund.

  • http://www.bullz-eye.com Anonymous

    One of my favorite rock star encounters is drinking with Mead in Chicago until the wee hours, making fun of Ron Sexsmith’s groupies. Good guy. I wish him nothing but the best.

  • Sally

    I love David Mead’s music. I feel like he is always coming out with new material while staying true to himself. I also love Elle Macho and the Children’s record. I donated twice to kickstarter.

  • Timpicks20

    He also contributes articles to American Songwriter (http://www.americansongwriter.com/category/blogz/david-mead/). They’re very well-written articles that give you a much deeper insight into how good songs are created. Very much worth a look!