Greenie In NYC: James Aviaz (Songtrust) NYC – “Huge Scale. Huge Money. Huge Opportunity.”

For months James (James’ blog) and I had been courting each other online after being introduced over Facebook by some mutual friends back in Sydney. Eventually the world stopped spinning and we made time to have a coffee at Modca Cafe on North 4th St in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to talk smack about NYC and the music industry.

Greenie: What’s your deal in NYC?

James Aviaz: I just started as a marketing manager at a music publishing startup called Songtrust.

It launched just under a year ago as the brainchild of the President of Downtown Music Publishing, Justin Kalifowitz – he’s my boss and a fucking amazing guy!

Two or three years ago everyone was like “The Music Industry’s dead, don’t go work there” but now there’s some business models that are generating revenue.

G: What’s Songtrust about?

J.A: It’s an outlet for songwriters that won’t land a traditional publishing deal: on behalf of the artist we collect royalties, register their songs with groups like ASCAP, and we protect their copy-write – the key differentiator is that we do it all for a flat fee and take no commission regardless of what an artist earns whereas a traditional publishing deal may take 15%-50% and could take some of the intellectual property.

(I paused the interview to pass comment about how banging the girls were who served us)

G: Was the music industry a motivator for you to come over?

J.A: Not really. Back in Sydney I was working as an executive producer at Triple M online, so it was as close to being in the industry as you can without actually being in it.

Initially I came here wanting to stay close to editorial and work for Huffpo or Buzzfeed but I’ve fallen into the most remarkable situation, right now music tech is blowing up and to work for someone in the startup scene is a dream come true.

G: Did you have work lined up before you got here?

J.A: No I arrived no visa, knowing no one and a little naive about what the New York experience was going to be like; I genuinely felt that I was going to walk into jobs but I was very quickly disabused of that notion.

G: Was it the recession or was it because of the level of competition that made finding work difficult?

J.A: There were a couple of things working against me; I arrived in October and spent the first month sightseeing because I’d never been to New York before, then by the time I really started to go after it Thanksgiving had arrived and that is just a shitty time of the year to be looking for work, budgets are tight.

Writers note: (US financial year is the same as the calendar year).

Something I wish I knew before arriving – way more important than financial calendars – New York is a city where you have to know exactly what you want, then you have to tell everyone you meet exactly what you want.

G: I had the same epiphany, what was your elevator pitch when you realized that you had to let people know what you want?

J.A: Not so much an elevator pitch, just how I focussed onto what I wanted.

When you first get into NY, there’s million different opportunities and it can be paralysing, once you focus, that’s when you start to see the world you want (James is making some interesting birthing-procedure gestures with his hands and clearing our table but it really helps to get his point across).

What’s interesting about New York is that people want to help you, but their attention span is very limited so when you meet somebody it’s really helpful if they can pigeon hole you very quickly. Here, if someone can understand who you are then they can very quickly work through who it is they can introduce you to.

G: I agree with you completely.

J.A: If you genuinely believe in who you are and what you want to do and can explain your skill set that will do so much more for you than a) being self deprecating or b) inflating what it is you can do.

G: Onto the music scene, has there been a culture shock between hitting gigs here and back in Sydney?

J.A: The cost of entry is so much less here, you can see most shows for $15.

I was lucky enough to see Radiohead when they played their two shows here and that was $70!

G: What’s your opinion on how much control Pitchfork has with directing the music scene here?

J.A: They’re an enormous force.

G: Would you compare Pitchfork to Triple J?

J.A: They play similar roles but the way that they do it is very different. Triple J is more democratic, Pitchfork is very “we tell, you listen”. Triple J does a much better job of trying to understand what it’s audience wants.

G: What’s your view of Australian music here?

J.A: It feels to me that 22- 26 year old Americans have a real strong affinity for party music / indie electro which I thought was falling away when I left Australia, so when I first got here I kept hearing Empire of The Sun and Bag Raiders “Shooting Stars” everywhere!

G: Can you drop a couple of your favourite places to hang out it New York?

J.A: Without doubt the best place to see a show on the planet is Bowery Ballroom. Williamsburg Music Hall is good too but to me it feels like Bowery’s little brother. Terminal 5 is one of the worst places you could see a show, it feels like a barn – at all costs avoid it. And the Mercury Lounge is a great little spot to see bands too.

G: All of those places you just mentioned are controlled by the same promoter Bowery Presents, what do you think about that they control all music in New York?

J.A: It’s crazy but considering the pricing is so reasonable it’s fine. If they were to control the market to make pricing unfair it would be a bigger concern.

A little secret which I loath to mention but I will for the Aussies, there’s a great Twitter account called Andyssecretstash. It only has 700 followers and I don’t know how. I don’t know if it’s a Bowery property or it’s a Ticketmaster property but without fail sold out shows a day before, 3 hours before – this magic Andy character will just drop tickets at door prices. He’s a must follow if you’re a music fan coming to New York.

G: The future?

J.A: Right now I never see myself being anywhere else but here.

G: Why’s that?

J.A: If you have an idea here and the balls to make it happen there’s money here to do it.


Catch me on Twitter @HeyGreenie or Tumblr GreenieGreenie.com

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