After leaving the corporate world in 1996, Andrew McKnight’s path of following his passion for music and performing has produced five CD’s, award-winning songwriting, devoted following of fans and a passion for community and environmental causes.
Busy with his music, songwriting, touring, presenting workshops, as well as many other passions, Andrew has graciously set time aside for an interview with Associated Content.
You can find more information about Andrew and his music at: www.andrewmcknight.net
DL: Your story of coming from a corporate world job to focusing on your creative and truest passions is a similar story to me. What event made you make this change in your life?
AM: I know people probably want to hear that there was some instant where something happened and I just walked away for good! But truth is most engineers don’t do things rashly, and that’s more the story. I’d always played in cover/jam bands, typically rock/blues trios, to make money in high school, college and grad school. When I graduated and went to work, I put away all the amps and retired the come home from smoky bar at 4am stuff for good, and said I’m going to play music for myself.
My big mistake was sharing the songs I was writing with other people! By the end of 1996, things had gotten pretty crazy – I’d played the Kennedy Center and the Atlanta Olympics that summer – and I realized I was being blessed with a chance to follow my dreams. I still got my engineer’s license 2 years later as a backup, but thankfully I haven’t needed it yet.
DL: Who were your musical heroes and sources of your beginning inspirations?
AM: My dad moonlighted in cover bands, and some of my earliest memories of rehearsals in our basement working out the harmonies to stuff like Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Beatles, Doobie Brothers. All that intricate harmony, acoustic/electric rock kind of sound I guess. It made some lasting impression. I still love that stuff. A lot of it has a timeless quality that I strive for in my own writing.
DL: You have various passions, from writing articles and presenting workshops of learning. to being a touring musician. How do you find the time to do it all and do you find it difficult to balance this career with your personal life and family?
AM: I hear sometimes with surprise when people talk to me after a show that, “you’re just the same guy as you are onstage”. I find that amusing. My life and my work are inseparable – one informing and sustaining the other. The things that I do “off the clock”, like gardening and being the resident indentured servant to the needs of our old house, are also the stuff that get into my writing. The way that I share things with my wife and 3-year old daughter are perspectives that inspire my work. And in turn, when I am away I return to them inspired by the work that I’ve done. It’s not easy to balance the time away, but we cherish the time together that much more because of it. And when they can, they travel with me.
DL: When you write music, do you find that you can sit down and think about writing a song, or do you find songs come to you and then sit down and write them?
AM: I’m finding now, five albums deep into my career, that I’ve gotten a little lackadaisical about catching song fragments and giving them the work they are due. It’s probably because there is so much work to do as an indie artist to keep the shows booked, growing the audience, all the marketing and PR – the thing that always gets short shrift is the creativity. I’ve been getting better about it lately. I have ideas for songs, and then I sit down and pound away at them for an hour.
It’s like taking batting practice. You have to write to keep the creative muscles limber, even if that day or week’s output is pure trash. It’s just a point on the path towards a great song.
DL: Many musicians wonder if they should continue their careers as an Independent Artist or sign with a manager or publisher. Do you have suggestions or advice for young musicians and artists about this?
AM: It’s your art, it’s your livelihood, and it’s your “brand” for lack of a better description. You’d better understand how all of it works, and get it working as well as you can on your own while it’s not costing you precious dollars. One of my bandmates is a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band; he walked away at the top of the mountain after their double-platinum Will the Circle Be Unbroken album came out, thoroughly disgusted and discouraged at how the band always seemed to be in debt while the managers and label people were riding in nice limos and such. The music biz today is markedly different. I read recently how you have almost as good odds of enjoying modest, sustainable success with the help of a few tech-savvy friends and some seed money. I think if you understand all the aspects of what you’re doing, you can seek out the right relationships for the right kind of help when you’re ready, rather than just seeking vestiges of the old industry machinery. They’re not all that sure how to survive in the new music biz either, except that there is an overabundant supply of musicians out there who are willing to pay money to get closer to their dreams. The folks who’ve figured that out are doing quite well right now!
DL: What is your opinion of how technology has changed the recording and performing musician’s world and do you think this has been a positive or negative change for the lovers of music?
AM: Both. Anyone can make music and share it. That’s good. There’s also a shortage of reliable “gatekeepers” to keep the quality of that music at an acceptable level. So it’s very fragmented, and much harder for a song or album to get a critical mass going. On the other hand, there are myriad ways now to get music directly to the people who most would be receptive; the challenge is that their attention is demanded by so many things.
Music has become a commodity in our culture; something you put on while doing something else, or a soundtrack to the deep drama of characters in a TV show. Music used to be a soundtrack and a touchstone for important things in our lives. As a culture, we don’t seem to value it as much as we used to, certainly when it comes to buying and collecting music. I still have collector instincts personally, wanting to have certain albums to have them as opposed to wanting to listen to them repeatedly.
DL: Do you have any ideas or opinions of what the future of music looks like?
AM: The crystal ball is pretty cloudy J All I can do is keep “drinking the Kool-Aid”; believing that the Direct-to-Fan models that have cropped up will continue to increase and deepen the direct relationships between artist and music listeners. In a way, I’ve been ready for this model almost since the beginning. I’ve had an email list for over 15 years now, signed a ton of CDs for people after shows, and done a lot of shows in people’s houses, many of whom are fans on my email list. Direct one on one contact, and a chance to express my gratitude that they and others like them make my life in music possible. Whatever the means for delivering live and recorded music will be in the future, they will still be built on that foundation, so keeping it strong and constantly growing and reinforcing it will remain the #1 priority.
DL: Do you have one momentous story or experience of your touring performances to share with our readers and potential young musicians?
AM: Got home from a tough tour a few years back, long drive, a couple of lousy shows. Sat down to check email before going to bed, and a woman had written how a couple of my songs saved her from committing suicide. I’ve gotten to know her a bit over the past decade; she got help, got married, has a couple of kids. Bottom line? You never know what your words and melodies might mean to someone. Honor the possibilities, respect the unknown and intangible. A life in music is a gift meant to be shared. If it’s the career or the bright lights that are motivating you, you might be missing the real essence of what sharing those talents is about.
DL: Your website also mentions about your article writing and story telling. Have you ever considered writing a book or novel?
DL: What projects are in the future for 2011 for you?
AM: We’re hard at work mixing and producing a live CD and limited edition DVD filmed this summer with my band Beyond Borders. Kind of a career retrospective to date, in front of a passionate hometown audience in a local theater, with a big-screen projection show including some of my photography. That’s going to consume a lot of next year, but I’m also looking at solo, stripped-down project of some sort. My bandmates and I are starting to write together, and the next chapter in our lives will be more collaborative now. No doubt there will be a few different live shows on Ustream.tv, another cool thing we started doing this year.
And who knows. Maybe making enough money to replace my tour van, the Honda Odyssey with over 240,000 miles on it? That would be nice! That’s not asking too much, do you think?