Successful musicians in the new millennium aren’t just multitaskers by coincidence – they are multitaskers out of necessity. Seldom has an industry been so unorganized yet potentially lucrative, so subjective yet competitive as is the music business. Technical producing skills that were once reserved for music engineers using large analog equipment have now been taken up by the musicians themselves as recording software like ProTools and Logic progressively have become cheaper and more effective. Falling album sales since the 90s have made record labels more hesitant to invest money towards heavily advertising signed artists, consequently putting more of the burden on the musicians themselves.
The days of the compact disc have also long been dead; However, the challenges of receiving a fair compensation from selling music via iTunes or through streaming services have produced additional issues for artists, making social media and fan engagement all the more important.
Maxime Cholley is a drummer and composer who defines the said creative space many artists find themselves in today. Formally educated at Berklee College of Music and graduating Summa cum laude in 2016, Cholley has had to adapt to the rapidly changing music business landscape by developing additional networking, marketing and media skills in order to make his career flourish. Promoting his own work on multi month-long tours through France and China have taught Cholley which additional forms of media and engagement most effectively transcend cultural barriers and get audiences to listen to his music, with the answer being videos. According to Cholley, “releasing quality content, in the form of video is clearly the best way to build a strong audience… any happening in music, whether it’s recording an album or performing a show, needs to be on video. I feel like that’s what people want. By documenting everything you do on video, you end up having an extensive amount of things to add-up to your portfolio, and that’s never a bad thing.”
Finding out what audiences want is harder than it sounds. But rather than spend more time focusing tirelessly in the studio, Cholley has learned to gain inspiration and a better understanding of his fans through his travels. Touring has become crucial for artists trying to gain a following, and more importantly for Cholley, touring internationally has allowed him to build upon his existing musical repertoire through exposure to unknown cultures and tastes. To Cholley, part of that learning means being humble, even as a formally trained musician from one of most renowned music schools in the US. “No matter how big the stage is, who is in the audience, I think it’s important to let go of any ego-related feelings or fears. It’s all about letting the music express itself through you,” Cholley states. Given that every musician brings his or her own musical background and expertise, being able to adapt to the minute variations in the playing of other artists is a skill which has propelled Cholley’s career as a drummer to new heights, allowing him to schedule consistent gigs.
These lessons did not come overnight for Cholley. Both recording and touring with musicians like famed Armenian pianist Tigran Hamasyan and film composer Anup Rubens gave Cholley invaluable experience with veteran performers. Multiple days of long hours in the studio had to be put in rehearsing with Hamasyan and his band in order to achieve the proper sound for just one track, Drip. With musicians spending so much time together, the potential for flaring tempers or clashing personalities is an issue which has plagued bands since The Beatles, and is something Cholley keeps in mind at all times. “A lot of this industry is about human contact and respect,” says Cholley. “You can be an amazing player and not get calls because no one wants to be around you for a whole month of touring.” Part of that human contact includes the ability to listen, a talent that Cholley says goes far in the industry. Much like how every music fan has variations of taste and opinion, every musician perceives music differently. Listening and attempting to step into the shoes of other artists can consequently open additional creative avenues and widen one’s musical understanding, thus allowing a wider scope of potential inspiration from which to draw.
Culminating his tour of China with jazz-fusion band Yun & The New Definition with a performance at the Blue Note Beijing in September 2017, Cholley then took to the States in December, performing with Rubens on his tour promoting music from his latest movie, Hello! He then plans to further his worldly understanding of his craft and connect with new audiences through a scheduled tour of India this April.
Although Cholley has had the opportunity to perform in front of thousands in recent months, including a show with Ruben at the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory, he understands the importance of bringing his very best to every show and gig no matter how big or proclaimed. The road to success and stardom often begins playing in small venues for fans who may not be familiar with the performing artist’s work. “It didn’t matter how much I was paid, or what the job was. If I accepted it, I would make my contribution as good as I could,” Cholley recalls. While playing small shows may not seem glamorous, the great part about living in an age where the traditional methods of music distribution have lost feasibility is that after shows, a member of the audience can later look up an artist using social media or YouTube and either listen to songs or engage with the artist long after the concert has ended. Additionally, if concerts are filmed a portion of the emotion emanated at the performance can be recreated countless times over.
The grind of making it as a musician has never been more labor intensive and time consuming, but to Cholley, the reward of further developing his musical landscape through collaboration as well as playing in front of thousands of emotionally connected and energized fans makes it all worth it. With all that being said, I think I’ll keep my day job.