Singer/Songwriter David Berkeley is no stranger to the music industry. At the age of 4, Berkeley was singing door-to-door to his nanny’s Avon customers. He has since gone from singing for cookies and applause from middle-aged women to self-releasing critically acclaimed albums to the masses. With his recent Strange Light, Berkeley drew comparisons to legends such as Cat Stevens, Jackson Brown and James Taylor. His upcoming release, Some Kind of Cure, is already being called the one that could give Berkeley “the big break.” To fund this project, Berkeley is asking fans for donations and getting more than he expected—a testament to the emotional depths of his music.
Jay Sweet got the chance to catch up with Berkeley and talk about Some Kind of Cure, his fan’s generosity and the industry over the years.
OS: You’ve been in the music business for a decade now. What has been the biggest change you’ve noticed?
DB: There have been a ton of changes—the demise of label-domination is a pretty big one, although I’ve never felt my career depended on label support. iTunes has affected a lot of things. One big one is how easy it is for fans to buy singles instead of whole albums. That’s an unfortunate one for me, as I believe in the album as art form and don’t want to see it go away. The rise of Facebook and social networks is up there, too. We have to keep updating more and more sites to reach our fans. It’s a blessing and a curse. I’d be pretty happy if MySpace just disappeared.
OS: On your latest album you are asking for direct fan donations. What has the process been like?
DB: I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started this campaign. But the response has been overwhelming. I suppose if I expected anything, it was that a few wealthy fans would give big chunks. That hasn’t really happened. Instead it’s been a wonderful widespread effort where most donations are small, but they add up.
I asked fans to help me fund this record, realizing that my fans are my biggest and most reliable support network. My career has been a result of their faith in me almost as much as my work. This has been an amazing chance to get them involved. I’ve set up a page where, similar to an NPR fund drive, fans get different thank you gifts in return for different donation levels. For anything over $50, you get an annual membership as well as whatever other thank you gift you get. I make a handmade membership card, and you get some free tickets and backstage passes. But for bigger donations, you can get a private concert, a phone serenade or even a song written for you. I also detail what your money will pay for. I’m obviously super grateful for all the support. Surprising, however, has been that it seems fans are excited to give, to be involved and to know they’re helping.
OS: You career has really grown one fan at a time. How do you publicize yourself without being over the top? In other words, when you make up the core of the company, is it hard to keep the artist in you happy as well?
DB: I care most about being honest about the music I make and being present when I perform. I certainly care about the business side of my career, and I am really involved in every move. But I believe that as long as I am emotionally honest on an artistic level, the rest will follow. In keeping with the discussion about fan funding, I believe that a slow build of fan base matters a lot more than the spikes that come from radio singles or placements. That stuff is great, for sure, and makes you money and fills rooms. But it passes when rotations stop, when the show ends. I am proud that fans of mine who discovered me almost nearly a decade ago are for the most part still fans.
OS: How do you discover new bands? CD’s? Radio? Friends?
DB: Friends, primarily. But, I discover a lot of new music on the road, meeting other acts, exchanging names. I just did a Daytrotter session. It’s nice to look through their archive to discover new bands. La Blogotheque is a great spot, too!
DB: I love singing for people. And I still love that space I’m in when I have a new song that I’m working on. The chaos hasn’t impacted that, as frustrating as it can be at times to get people’s attention amid all the noise out there.
OS: What music do you listen to as inspiration that might surprise your fans?
DB: I listen to the hip hop that my trumpet player Jordan plays me. Brother Ali is on rotation quite a bit nowadays.
OS: Knowing what you have learned in the music business to date, what would you tell yourself if you were just starting out today?
DB: Don’t do it unless you need to. A lot of kids starting out see only the good things and don’t realize how much work and patience is required. That isn’t meant to sound bitter. I love what I do. But like all things, it’s important to see the full picture before you give other options up. And it seems easier to romanticize the performing life than the life of, say, an accountant.