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It's a Hard Knock Life for Rock Musicians Today

By Kevin Card / Log Staff Writer
On March 1, 2012

It can be hard to make a living being a rock musician. Salem State University alumnus Jason "Jay" Wildes shares his experiences on the topic.

Wildes an alum of the music department, says that in the beginning, he took up guitar to manage his teenage angst and to become more popular.

"Isn't it everyone's dream to be a Rock-Star?" he asked rhetorically.

Wildes shared more about his past, stating that "it took forever" for him to mow lawns and shovel driveways to get his first Fender guitar. His new and old guitar setup cost him $3,000 altogether.

Wildes later joined two bands titled "Nothing but Heroes" and "Last Night Ride," and recorded one album per band at Zing Studios (of Kill Switch Engage fame). Both projects cost a combined $19,000.

"It was important for us to remember we were recording strictly to have the music, not to get signed or make money," Wildes said. "I do not regret anything; those albums were worth every penny."

Today, music works differently than it has in the previous decade.

"With the economy down, people only pay to see bands they already know and love," Wildes said. "No one goes to random shows to see new bands…. The entire local scene support collapsed."

Wildes originally wanted to be in a band to play rock music for people and started with crowds of 250 to 500 people.

"Suddenly, you couldn't get ten people to go to a local show," he added. "DJs have become the new Rock Stars."

Wildes recently took up being a music DJ as "JayNightRide" in honor of his old band "Last Night Ride" that broke up in 2011. He's now successfully touring around the United States.

"People come out to see DJs regardless of their name," he said. "More money is put into production, such as video and custom lighting, and people come to see that more than the performer; they may not know it, but it's true."

Wildes started in the visual scene and he's now running visuals at international DJ shows. "[I am making] money and performing for thousands. What local band can say that? Not mine."

Some musicians are often discouraged because of the high cost of recording and low income that comes from performing. Many musicians often seek alternative careers to make a living.

"The future of rock music is kind of scary," Wildes said. "It's great that we have all these new ways to share music, but it's making it harder to let the best talent make their way up the ladder. Anyone can put music on iTunes or in stores."

According to Wildes, labels and record stores are failing to remain in business and the industry itself feels as if it's slowly collapsing.

"There will always be great rock music, and I would argue that it's harder to find now than it used to be," he said. "When push comes to shove, everyone will revert to the classics that were huge before the industry started falling apart.

Hopefully, Wildes said, something amazing will happen that brings rock music back to the forefront.

"I'll be waiting for it," he said.

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