South Hadley native on front lines of industry

Jen Schwartz
Reminder Publications submitted photo
Oct. 31, 2011

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

LOS ANGELES — Jen Schwartz grew up at the end of an era in music where vinyl, radio play and cassettes were the standard way to get out one’s music.

The South Hadley native and Mount Holyoke graduate, though, is in the forefront of independent artists using digital technology and social networking to attract new listeners.

Schwartz recently released her new album “You are Here” featuring her band

Me of a Kind (www.meofakind.com) and has completed her first film scorefor the new documentary “I Am.” The album is available worldwide via digital outlets such as iTunes, Spotify and Rhapsody, and physically through CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com).

Speaking to Reminder Publications from her home in Los Angeles, Schwartz described the latest chapter in her musical career, which started at age 11 — she has played as a session drummer and as a member of the band Tribe 8 — as a do-it-yourself project. She wrote the songs and played many of the instruments heard on them and is the vocalist. She and her wife built a recording studio in their home as well.

Schwartz has also taken entertainment law classes — her wife is an entertainment lawyer — to better understand that part of a musical career.

Schwartz was going to follow a career as a sideman and producer, but encouragement from Village Recorder owner and industry veteran Jeff Greenberg changed her path.

“You are Here” took Schwartz two years to write and record enough songs to make up an album. Controlling the process each step of the way meant “I had one foot on the business side and one foot on the creative side,” she said.

In an industry that constantly seeks shorthand phrases to describe artists, Schwartz said the simple answer to the question of what kind of music she writes is alternative rock.

“Alternative rock has changed since the 1990s,” she said. “You maybe heard it on college radio. Now it’s used as a catch phrase to describe anything that is not nearly pop.”

She added that Billboard magazine’s list of top 100 selling recordings frequently features alternative rock.

“You Are Here” has a full lush sound that might surprise a listener expecting more severe or limited compositions and Schwartz has a powerful but lilting voice.

She said she wants her music to be “atmospheric” and is happy to hear a listener note some of the various influences and inspirations she has incorporated.

“I try to write from a visual place,” Schwartz said.

“Not many artists are singing about the experience of being a woman, or queer, or bullied, or voted against by your neighbors, so we end up with very limited points of view in modern music. When I sat down to write this record, I wasn’t interested in only talking about desire or lost love in my songs,” she added.

Schwartz has produced two videos so far to help publicize her release. One shows what the recording process was like (http://youtu.be/VSYLB4TyI_0) while the other is the music video for the song “The Last Time” (http://youtu.be/1wHakHcz4cQ).

She explained that a successful video channel on YouTube is an essential part of the potential revenue flow for a musician today. She said that with the closing of brick and mortar stores that used to sell CDs, more and more younger people are using YouTube as a way to discover and listen to new music.

“Today it’s not just enough to have a great song,” Schwartz said.

She is concerned because of the access through the Internet to various forms of entertainment there is an “environment of entitlement for the consumer” who have grown used to getting video, blogs, images and music for free.

Although she uses Facebook and Twitter as well as YouTube, she explained musicians still “have to have a human element.” She talks with people about where they get music and she fears there is “an over-saturation of media.”

“The live show is still very important to people,” Schwartz said. She had begun rehearsing a new band in order to perform the songs from her new album live.

Her composition of a film score came about because of social media. Schwartz learned about the project through Facebook. Sonali Gulati, the director of the film, was looking for a composer and Schwartz responded.

Gulati, who lives in Virginia, sent Schwartz a rough cut of the film and some suggestions about what kind of music she wanted in key scenes.

Schwartz finished the score in two weeks.

“I liked it [the experience] because it was definitely challenging because we couldn’t sit in the same room.”

“I’m not really sure if she knew what she wanted,” Schwartz continued. “She wanted colorings instead of statements. It was different because I was working with someone who was not a musician. We didn’t speak the same language. There are barriers between different kinds of art.”

Schwartz described herself as a “full time musician” and added with a laugh that means she is “broke.”

“You have to hustle,” she said.



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