All too often people go into the music business thinking it’s just about the music.
“It’s not,” said Brian Vander Ark. “I wish it was.”
As lead singer/songwriter of the band The Verve Pipe which had a No. 1 hit with the song “The Freshman,” Vander Ark knows the music business well, and knows the word “business” is just as important as “music” if you are going to survive.
The major label debut album the hit song was from, Villains, was produced by Wisconsite and Talking Head Jerry Harrison, and it put Vander Ark’s band from Grand Rapids, Mich., on the map.
A second self-titled album released by RCA Records in 1999 did not do so well, which Vander Ark attributes to the band falling into rock star mode. The band shifted gears with the next album, hiring Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne to produce the more power-pop sound of the album Underneath. It was released shortly after Sept. 11, 2001.
“When that came out on 9/11, that was sort of the end of that era of Verve Pipe. I did a solo record [Resurrection, 2002] and decided not to go with RCA, to do it myself. And create my own destiny here,” he said. “I went out and spent $5,000 on a solo record and recorded it in a tiny studio and went out and sold 10,000 copies. When you don’t have a record label taking 90 percent of the profit, then 10,000 copies is $100,000. That’s when I realized this is what I have to do, continue on this path and maintain control.
“Once the dust settled with The Verve Pipe and we started making records again, I thought, we’re going to do everything ourselves, with the help of our longtime manager, of course. But we’re not going to sign to any record label and we’re just going to make our own way, and that’s how we make it work.”
The Verve Pipe continues to tour and record, but Vander Ark has created his own solo career, a business he calls Lawn Chairs and Living Rooms, which brings him to people’s living rooms for house concerts around the country. On Dec. 7 he’ll perform at The Holiday Music Motel’s Tambourine Lounge, 59 N. Second Ave., Sturgeon Bay.
Vander Ark also takes his thoughts on surviving the music business on the road as a speaker.
“That’s been picking up quite a bit. I did 50-some last year and will probably do more than that this year,” he said. “I’ve been doing that the last few years. You have to do whatever you can now to survive. It’s just another thing that I do to help pay the bills.”
While he said many of the speaking engagements are to the corporate world, he also gets to talk at high schools and colleges, where he tries to put across the idea that anyone who wants to make music for a living has to treat it like a business first.
“That’s the way you have to run it,” he said. “Young bands will ask for advice and it’s always the same. Keep all the business to yourself, don’t sign anything away and run it like a business. That’s the bottom line for everything you do. That’s what helps me survive. When I do talk to young kids, I do hope I mold or shape their minds to believing in themselves first, and the realization that 90 percent of your time is going to be business with the band and the other 10 percent rehearsing and writing music. That’s how you make it.”
Since the reformation of The Verve Pipe, the band has released Overboard (2014) and Parachute (2017), as well as two kid friendly records, A Family Album (2009) and Are We There Yet? (2013). He also recorded a record called Simple Truths with actor/musician and fellow Michigander Jeff Daniels.
Vander Ark also has several acting credits under his belt, including as bassist of the fictional band Blood Pollution in the 2001 film Rock Star. Star Mark Wahlberg lip syncs Vander Ark’s song “Colorful” at the end of the film.
Tickets for the Brian Vander Ark concert are $20 and can be purchased at holidaymusicmotel.com/calendar-and-tickets or by calling the motel at 920.743.5571. Doors open at 7 pm with showtime at 7:30 pm. Reservations are strongly recommended.