Entertainment lawyer turned Americana artist Trevor McShane joins us at Unurban Coffee House in Santa Monica to discuss his latest album Boom Boom, his experience in entertainment law, and adapting to the modernization of music marketing.
So after a three-year break, you’ve released your newest album Boom Boom. Care to give us a little insight as to what inspired some of the songs on the album?
Trevor McShane: Of course. So there are four covers that I do: “Crystal,” “Only Want To Be With You,” “Lonely Weekends,” and “Sea Of Heartbreak,” and I was inspired to include those songs because I’ve always loved those songs. “Crystal” no one’s ever really heard of because it was written by a friend of mine. “Lonely Weekends” and “Sea Of Heartbreak” were from like ‘59 or ‘60. “Only Want To Be With You” was about ‘64 by Dusty Springfield, and I’ve always wanted to try a slower version. On the other songs, I’ll go down the list here. “Eloise” is a song I wrote with a couple of other guys about a girl getting dumped in the parking lot, and then somebody moving in to pick her up. “Boom Boom” is about what I had remembered about going to school in the Bay Area. There was the Boom Boom Room in San Francisco, and I always thought it was a good name for a club. Turns out there’s another Boom Boom Room at The Standard Hotel in New York, so I figured ‘Why not use it for the album title?’ “California,” the lyrics were initially started by Merrily Weeber, with whom I write with sometimes. She had a very haunting idea and melody that went along with the lyrics we worked on, and it ended up becoming a tribute to the state. With “I Retired As A Spy,” I’ve written about sixty spy poems and will be releasing a book in the not too distant future of secret agent and private eye poems, so this is a spoken word of the spy. “Down On The Farm,” now I am not from the country, but this is a true country song that’s just really fun. “Na Na Song,” I wrote with Dave Yates that’s just an absolute rocker that we did. “Power” came to me from Peter Burke, who brought in these lyrics which were iconoclastic with the power structure of unfairness. “Double Trouble” is Paul Graham and I writing that about a guy who’s two-timing, which I thought would be amusing to write about. Lastly is “New Mexico Sunrise,” which is an instrumental. I publish books as well, and that was a mystery book by an author that we represent. It was based in Albuquerque, so this is a theme for that book.
Awesome! Well, it sounds like you’ve got a lot of inspiration from literature and the music that you’ve loved for a long time. And how was the recording process for this album different than your previous work?
Trevor: You know, I’ve done a lot of recording, but I think it depends on the producer. The producer of this album Boom Boom is Barry Keenan, and basically, he plays most of the instruments out his home recording studio. But in the upcoming album that I haven’t released yet and I’m very proud of, was produced in North Carolina by Don Dixon, who produced R.E.M., The Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw, and many others. He plays bass on it with Mitch Easter, who’s a fabulous guitarist, and we did this at his recording studio, The Fidelitorium, and we recorded that live. I basically overdubbed the vocals, so that’s a lot different than what I had done with Barry Keenan. With Barry, we usually have the track more or less finished for him, and then I come in and sing the vocals. In North Carolina, we cut two songs a day for four days in a row, in which we did eleven songs total, and it all turned out fabulous. So it really just depends.
And since you had mentioned the live recording aspect in comparison to the studio aspect. Would you say that live recording was a bit more difficult to do than a studio recording? Or maybe even equal or vice-versa?
Trevor: If you have quality musicians, you can always record live. That wasn’t the first time I had recorded live with a rhythm section all operating at the same time, but it was still an enjoyable experience. I like doing that, and it’s probably less expensive to do, but I have to have the team of players around to be able to do everything appropriate for it. I would say they’re about equal.
Which song was your favorite to write and record?
Trevor: I’m proud of “California” because it has a mystical and ethereal quality to it. I really liked writing it and I really liked recording it. I think the other one that gets me is “Na Na Song” because it’s a really powerful rocker overall, and I’m getting ready to put out that live version of that song soon.
Why did you choose “Eloise” to be the lead single for the album?
Trevor: That wasn’t really my decision. *laughs* I have people behind me that are promoting my music, Tom Hayden in particular, who’s a long-time record executive. He’s listened to all of my music, in fact, this record is a collection of music that I’ve created over the years. According to him, these were the most radio-friendly songs, and he thought “Eloise” was the strongest so I went and rolled with it.
You had also released a music video for “Eloise.” If you had an unlimited amount of money, what type of music video would you have done with the music video?
Trevor: I’m actually very happy with how it turned out. David Michael Frank directed it, and he’s an artist in his own right. If you look at other videos I’ve done like “Big Wedding Day,” that one has actors in it and a whole story is told in it. I think that the more you have a video that has a narrative feel and quality to it, the better it can be. But we did it right with “Eloise” and have been getting a good response from it.
It sure is! And what got you interested in pursuing music?
Trevor: Since I was a little boy, I’ve pretty much always loved rock n’ roll, so music has always continued to be a passion throughout my life. In college, for example, I was the music critic at UC Berkeley. I got into the law business as a music attorney, so I’ve been in the industry for decades now. I just love music overall. When I was twenty, I picked up a guitar and started learning, and twenty years later I’m playing with other people and doing some recordings.
If you could choose three artists to go on your own personal world tour with, who would they be and what would your tour be named?
Trevor: I would call the tour ‘Totally Bitchin’ *laughs* and I think the talent would be The Pretenders, Marshall Crenshaw, and possibly my client Mitch Ryder because he puts on a great show, or Lloyd Price, who was a big star in the 50s and 60s.
That’s a great mix. And which artists and bands have influenced you as a musician, sound-wise and performance-wise?
Trevor: Undoubtedly at the top of the list are The Beatles and Buddy Holly. I’m proud to say that I had done a lot of work for the Buddy Holly Estate as well as for The Beatles, specifically John Lennon’s Estate, as a lawyer. I have to say, the quality of their music is so unreal and extraordinary. Others would include The Band, whose first three albums are classics overall, and to some extent The [Rolling] Stones. I’m heavily influenced by doo-wop and pop music from the 50s and 60s and their singles format. And then Elvis [Presley] of course. *laughs*
And kind of going into that idea of singles being the main way that music was released back then. That type of format is actually starting to come back and be popular again. Would you say that releasing singles as opposed to a complete work like an album is becoming successful because of the convenience of releasing a song whenever you want?
Trevor: It’s just the way that it is in the marketplace because of technology. This is what’s happened with the creation of the internet and with Spotify, Pandora, and all the rest of them. People are back to the singles market where you don’t even have to buy an album anymore. In fact, you don’t have to buy the physical product anymore because the overall trend is streaming.
Now you were starting to hint at this, but apart from playing music, you are also a music lawyer. What had initially sparked that interest in pursuing a career in law, specifically Entertainment Law?
Trevor: I actually wanted to be a lawyer before I wanted to have anything to do in music. I had no intention of ever doing music professionally until I was in my forties.
Better late than never!
Trevor: Yes. I have always wanted to be a lawyer, and then when I was in my late teens, I figured out that I could combine that with my interest in music. So that’s what I had started off doing and it’s been great being a lawyer. I have nine lawyers now in Beverly Hills in a very thriving practice focusing on Entertainment Law.
And you’re a founding partner too.
Trevor: I am a founding partner. The firm is called Johnson & Johnson, and the other Johnson and I, ironically, are not related. *laughs* It was a complete coincidence.
It’s funny how things like that work out. *laughs* What are some of the biggest issues that you see musicians, or anyone in the music industry, face? And what are some solutions do you have for those issues?
Trevor: From a legal level, a lot of times people sign contracts not knowing what they’re signing, and they’re just horrible for the talent. People get involved with people that don’t know what they’re doing or are dishonest. Extracting one from such situations is extremely difficult and very expensive. On a practical level, the problem with being a musician is getting attention overall. The internet is the greatest thing that ever happened for music in the sense that there is no more distribution impediment to getting your music out. Ten or more years ago, if you weren’t on a major label when the majors controlled 80% of the marketplace, you had to be out on an indie label with indie distribution. Getting paid was always problematic in that area. Now, everyone can put their stuff up on the internet and can get on any of the services that are doing it, but competing and getting known is very tough because there’s so much out there in the marketplace. I’m in the book business too, and it’s the same because with so many books coming out, you have to think about how you’re going to get someone’s attention when you’re competing with video games and all sorts of audiovisual products. Getting known is the tough thing, but it can be done and there are acts that are breaking out independently and out of the internet that are successful.
Absolutely. So for artists that are unable to hire lawyers, because we all know that it’s expensive but necessary at times, what are some basic things that you would tell them to watch out for in order to keep their career afloat?
Trevor: That it’s just as important as learning a musical instrument, writing a song and performing on stage. The knowledge of the basics of the music industry and how it works, how music publishing works, how distribution works, what the payments are that one gets, is very useful. You want to be as close to the money as possible. You want the money to go to you or someone that you can trust at least. But even beyond that is how you learn how to navigate the business waters. The answer to that is that you can educate yourself. There’s a book that I’m involved in called The Musician’s Business and Legal Guide 5th Edition, which lays out how the music business works about music publishing, distribution, production deals, personal manager agreements, and many other things. I co-wrote the chapters on music publishing and management agreements, and all I have to say is learn those! Read those! It’s not that difficult to learn the fundamentals of the industry overall. You can also take classes. You can also ask people who you think are wise in regards to potential agreements and situations. Ask around on what the reputation is for so-and-so and the company that you’re looking to work with. It’s important in anything that you do. If you want to play tennis, you have to learn the fundamentals of tennis. Likewise in the music industry. You’re a fool if you don’t pay attention to the business aspect.
It’s funny, I actually have the book that you were talking about. I used it for a Music Business class that I took in college. Even though I wasn’t a music major, I still wanted to know what I was getting into with the music industry after I graduated.
Trevor: A smart choice.
What are your thoughts in regards to the music industry becoming more of a streaming-focused platform?
Trevor: There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s happening. It’s life. When technology becomes involved, it supersedes whatever was previously working. If anyone is trying to thwart it or stop it, they won’t succeed. Downloads are diminishing at a rapid rate, CDs are only 25% of the marketplace right now and they’re going to be less, just like how hard it is to find a cassette tape nowadays. Yeah, vinyl is coming back, but it’s still such a little itty bitty portion of the marketplace. The public wants streaming and the public has gotten it, so you better learn to roll with the tides.
Do you think it’s more of the convenience factor?
Trevor: Absolutely. It’s the celestial jukebox. I can get any tune or album at any time now for the five or ten bucks a month I spend on Spotify or Pandora or Amazon Music. It’s fantastic! People aren’t going to have record collections anymore because they don’t need them.
Because $10 gets you whatever you want! So in an ideal world, what do you hope that the music industry would be able to provide to the artists who are looking to succeed? Especially independent artists trying to get their names out there.
Trevor: A better living. Up until now, streaming has been paltry for recording artists, and especially for composers and publishers. Now, there’s been an increase for publishers lately, and while streaming money is increasing, I don’t necessarily believe that it’s increasing at the rate that it should be in terms of payment for talent overall. That’s what I want to see happen. I mean, it was drying up revenues for publishers, writers, and artists such that they could really only make money off of touring or playing live and merchandise. That seems to be changing and becoming better for the talent, but I definitely want to see an increase in the royalties.
Yes, absolutely. Everybody deserves to be paid. And what do you hope your audience will take away from your music?
Trevor: That they had a good time. Ideally, you’d love to touch them so that they have an emotional experience of some sort. But even just having them be able to tap their feet along to the music is fine by me.
Sometimes that’s just what we need out of life. And lastly, apart from promoting your album, you had mentioned that you’ll be releasing a series of spy-related poems. What other big plans should we be expecting from you?
Trevor: Well Barry Keenan has just finished producing another album that I made, which I’m very excited about. Also, Paul Graham has produced an album I would call the follow-up to Neil Young’s Harvest. It’s all country with original tunes, and it turned out great. I’m playing some upcoming gigs with my band, which is eight people on stage, and this time I’m adding a horn section. So that’s what people should look forward to. For the first time in my career, I’m really trying to promote myself and get out there. I was not pushing myself that publicly before because I didn’t want it to interfere with my law practice. I didn’t want people to think that I wasn’t serious about my legal work, but everybody knows that I do this now and we’re doing just great!
Just rolling with the punches!
Trevor: Yeah, it’s going really good so far. So definitely more music in the future coming up. More great tunes!
About UnUrban Coffee House:
In a congested city like Los Angeles, it’s sometimes easier to go to the closest coffee chain just purely out of convenience and time. However, we end up losing the experience of stepping into a kooky hole-in-the-wall place that has clearly made customers happy for many years. UnUrban Coffee in Santa Monica is one of those hidden gems that can be the home for many fun experiences. Whether you’re stopping by to pick up your morning brew, reuniting with a long-time friend, or happen to be there to witness some type of cool live performance in their stage area, you’re sure to feel perfectly at home.
The first thing that you’ll notice about UnUrban is that it’s heavily influenced by art, which is clearly showcased from its building artwork, outdoor furniture, and even its logo. Luckily, you get that same amount of quirkiness reflected when you step through its retro screen covered wooden doors as you are welcomed by bright colors infused everywhere you can possibly imagine, and the displaying of unique local artwork lining its walls for patrons to enjoy. And the more art-focused the shop is, at least for me, the more options there are for food and drink that meets everyone’s dietary restrictions or preferences. I took advantage of their specialty drink menu and went with an Earl Gray Tea Latte which specific name escapes me. Overall, art lovers and caffeine lovers alike will enjoy their time here.