Interview: Jason Hartless

You have started playing and touring at a very early age. How do you now look back to that time?

I was very lucky to have parents that were very supportive and a father that understood the business and guided me into the direction to get me where I am today. It’s really crazy to look back and to think I was only 14 years old when I toured for 3 months opening for Motley Crue; but I got my feet wet with touring very early that it has allowed me to walk into many gig and touring situations without having to audition.

You have attended music classes at Berklee College of Music. How do you see the need for formal education in the music industry?

I am a Music Business major and I feel that it is extremely to have the proper education in an industry that is as fast paced as the music industry. In the age of DIY musicians try to compete with each other, the artists that are making money are artists that have industry professionals behind their career knowing the ins and outs of the whole machine that is the music industry. So learning the real tricks of the trade helps me build my career in other aspects of the industry.

How scary a moment was to decide to become a full-time musician? Were there people around you discouraging you?

I started messing around on my dad’s drums when I was about 6 months old; once I was about 3 years old, I really began to play the full kit and jamming with musician friends of my dad’s. By the time I was 5 years old, I began to play professionally around Detroit doing cover gigs and really found a love for the instrument. I really began touring North America around the age of 12, its funny because I have been playing music my whole life, so I never really even thought about it as a job; I really didn’t even realize that this was my career until I had been doing it professionally for a long time hahahaha.

What are some of the best drum songs out there?

Hmmmm That’s a hard one, each song created has such a different vibe and groove that it is very hard to pick the best parts.

Being a session musician, you have been involved in a lot of diverse projects. Is there still some style you would love to experiment with but haven’t had the chance?

I am always listening and working on different styles that what happens is I get really into a certain style for a while and try to learn as much about that style as possible, and then move on to something different. After a while I end up revisiting a style and work on that more. So its always about getting better and learning new stuff.

You are also a managing partner of Prudential Music Group. Can music and business coexist, or do they take parts from each other?

Prudential Music Group is a music conglomerate that houses 2 record labels and a publishing company. We are very happy to be distributed through Sony RED/Orchard for many years. As a musician and as a business executive, it really helps allow me to look at the industry from both sides and really allows me to be as ethical as possible when working out deals between my company and artists because I understand the value of artists work. I have always been a fan of the commercial aspect of the industry and figuring out what music and product would appeal to the consumer because if there is no consumer appeal, there is no business.

With Rouge Records, you are re-releasing vinyls. In an industry many claim to be dying, why go into record and vinyl sales?

Well the vinyl industry has been growing each year; vinyl sales were up 19% the first and second quarter in 2018, so the consumer want is increasing. Vinyl is really the only physical format that is really selling these days and I believe it is a combo of people from 40-60 years old that want to relive the joys of rebuilding their vinyl collection, plus the millennial generation wanting have a more kinesthetic experience listening to music. Plus, in the age of streaming, we are able to generate revenue quite easily due to the prices that vinyl is at these days, however the downside is manufacturing costs are very high. The big plus doing in the vinyl industry, we are headquartered in Detroit, MI, which Jack White just opened Third Man Pressing in the heart of downtown, so we partnered with them to press all of our vinyl.

If we look at big rock festivals, particularly in Europe, the headliners are the same as 10 or 20 years ago. It would seem that there are not that many younger bands able to “rival” the greats. What do you personally make of that? 

The biggest issue that I see these days is the oversaturation of the number of bands; plus, the amount of DIY bands that think that they are “make it” by putting their music on iTunes. It is very strange because I have been having this same discussion with a lot of colleagues lately. As you pointed out, when you take a look at the bands headlining festivals, arenas, theatres, stadiums and amphitheatres, most of those bands were headlining in the 70s and 80s; other than a few newer country and pop artists. Looking ahead 10-15 years, most of those 70s and 80s bands will be retired, so the real interesting questions are, “who will be filling 2,500+ cap rooms in 2030?” “Will there be enough artists that can keep some of these venues open?”. It will be a very interesting topic that will become more relevant as soon as more artists retire.

You have also been involved in educational videos and school programs. What would you say makes a good teacher, particularly a good music teacher?

A great music teacher exposes students to different musicians, different styles and different music. I approach my teaching to really teach the student work ethic; I don’t hold hands and will call a student out as soon as they play something wrong. It might sound harsh, but really a job as a teacher is to give them the info, let them give the info a try, and then tell them when the info is wrong. This very much how my teacher of many years, George Dunn, taught me. It teaches musicians to think on their own, and when you hold hands in a lesson, the student doesn’t get to fail and learn from their mistakes.

When you step outside the studio or concert hall, what are your favourite things to do?

I am a huge hockey nut. So, I am always at Detroit Red Wings’ games when I am home from the road.

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