January 13, 2011

This month’s staff spotlight is Scott Schaefer, one half of the Acoustic Sideshow and a newly minted deejay in 2010 for Cage and Aquarium. Here’s a peek into his life:

Tell us about your background in the music industry / What made you gravitate towards a music career? I came in to the music biz primarily as a performer. As the singer in my band, the tragically named Avocado Jungle Fuzz, I grew in to the role of booking all of our gigs, and being the “organized” guy, (and I still am, in my current indie rock outfit, FETCH). Thus, by default, I developed the aptitude for music management, and it suited me. Upon graduating from Northwestern, I continued to work at a campus cafeteria as a supervisor, that I worked at all throughout college. This allowed plenty of time to do band stuff, and we were busy at the time. NOT a great career decision, but much like now, jobs were tough to find in 1991. So, I worked there for about four years, taking advantage of the minimal responsibility, and pursuing more rewarding and meaningful extra-curriculars. I cobbled several other jobs together, and actually kept pretty well afloat.

It was right around this time that a couple of friends (ironically one of them being one of founders of Bloodshot), began a record label called Checkered Past. As I had free time on my hands, and as I mentioned, some music biz aptitude, I offered to help out. Eventually, my efforts began to pay for themselves and I became a full time employee! Unfortunately CPR fell upon hard times, through no fault of our own. Our distributor went bankrupt, shuttering their doors with our records and money piles inside. Hard to keep working out of your dining room, at that rate. So, I tracked down some old pals at Bloodshot Records, and told them I’d help out. I was in the right place at the right time, and took over the Radio Promotions dept, as soon as it opened up. Then I went on to oversee the retail department, and soon became label manager, my current position of nearly 6 years. It’s a labor of love. You could say I’m the secretary of state to the co-owners’ presidency and vice-presidency, with my primary roles being a conduit of information between Bloodshot’s various departments, and as the main liaison with our physical and digital distributors.

What inspires you the most? I’d say of all things, (and perhaps it is already obvious), music moves and inspires me, the most. It is both my vocation, and avocation. It is how I spend the bulk of both my time and my money! In one manner or another, music pervades my thoughts and consciousness, nearly constantly. It has been the catalyst responsible for my most enduring friendships, and most meaningful relationships. It has been the soundtrack and time line marking my past, as well as the compass steering my future. I am myself, in a perfect present, when I’m performing, and am typically at my most content when I’m working on new opportunities to perform. Further, I listen to music nearly constantly, and am fortunate to have surrounded myself with like-minded individuals. More than anything, music transforms and transports me: back to that break-up or new relationship, for example, that was unfolding when I had just bought that new album. For me, it is the most powerful mnemonic device. Similarly, when a change of mood is desired, music never fails. A perfect and immediate example: I was just in Walgreen’s, moments before sitting down to pen my answers here, and was barely able to contain my disdain for the Susan Boyle CDs staring back at me, underneath the horrible third-grade classroom fluorescent lighting, when out of nowhere, Elvis Costello’s “Radio, Radio” came on overhead…SAVED!

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing instead? I’d be really, really bored! (Well, hopefully not!) I’d likely pursue a career in the not-for-profit world, specifically in the environmental field. I envision myself continuing the work I started with both the Chicago Recycling Coalition, and with Uptown Recycling. Otherwise, I’ve also often toyed with the idea of working at a university, as a coordinator for entertainment and student activities. I think I would like the academic environment and campus life, and continuing to work with artists. Whether it be a scrappy indie record label, or a non-profit environmental education and advocacy organization, I resonate with causes and prefer to dedicate my time and energies toward goals that I deem important, and with people who I like and respect. I am extremely fortunate to love what I do, by both day and night, and to love the people who I do it all with. A rare gift indeed! I’m ruined for the “straight world”, I fear, and so look forward to finding my way toward creative causes, and alongside creative people. To me, the intangible rewards from such endeavors far outweigh the more “responsible” rewards from other, more typical lines of work.

What are your hobbies? Singing. Record collecting. Singing. Writing music (lyrics). Singing. Hitting a bike trail, occasionally. Oh, and singing!  Again, I spend the bulk of my time and energy creating opportunities to perform live. If you like golf, make a tee time and play a round. If you like to ski, buy a lift ticket and hit the slopes. If you like to sing: play a show! That’s what I do.

In ten years, where do you see yourself? Next question….  Ahem. Well, this is a doozie. I’d like to say that I’d still be performing in some capacity, and singing. I’ve been lucky to do so for the past 20+ years, so why stop now!  Additionally, I’d like to think that I’d have secured a modicum of security with a more secure job, albeit still a fun and important one. If I’m still in the music biz, then perhaps I’d be in a management role with a larger organization (ie within music distribution, artist management, or venue management). If outside the music world, then perhaps working in marketing with some other creative folks, so long as I was marketing something that I believed in. Otherwise, as I mentioned above, potentially working for a non-profit organization, or within an academic setting. I’ll probably still be in Chicago, and…I’ll most assuredly be the father of a 10 year old! Zoinks!

When deejaying or performing at an event, how do you prepare?  How do you choose your songs? I’m still a novice at DJing, but thus far I’ve started the process by following the lead offered by the couples themselves. They have done a great job, so far, of providing me with lengthy lists of specific songs they’d like to be played, or have honed in on multiple, specific genres that offer rich opportunities for danceable tunes. From there, I fill in the gaps with the songs recommended by Cage and Aquarium, and with songs that I’ve observed work at previous weddings. I also line up tunes that resonate with the songs and genres suggested by the bride and groom. As I am still relatively new to all of this, I spend a great deal of time thinking and re-thinking the master play lists that I’ll pull from, during the event. I’m hopeful that over time, I’ll become more spontaneous during the event itself.  In addition to selecting the music itself, I spend time mentally playing through the event, from beginning to end, to ensure that I have accounted for as many details as possible, and to ensure that the event flows smoothly and seamlessly.

Tell us a little bit about your group, Acoustic Sideshow. The Acoustic Sideshow has been one of my most enjoyable musical endeavors to date. Originally founded with my pal Tom Horne, who I played with in two original indie rock bands, the Sideshow grew from a side project designed to earn us extra cash and free beer, into it’s own admirable entity. Compounded by our relatively heavy performance schedule (we were playing up to three times each week), Tom soon developed some hand ailments that prompted his premature retirement. There I was, stranded, until my boss Rob, on our annual drive down to South By Southwest suggested that I tap Bloodshot’s publicist Stolie to join the duo…easily one of THE BEST ideas he has ever had.

Stolie has proven to be a musical pillar unlike any other I’ve ever worked with, and has become one of my best friends. Together, and really through her direction, we took a scrappy bar circuit duo and elevated it to an accomplished, and happily sought after, musical combo. We have played around the country, and in some truly remarkable settings. Our show has evolved to include trivia, games, and plenty of humor. We laugh a lot together, and really there can be no greater reward or indication of a job well done. With Stolie, the Acoustic Sideshow has delivered the goods I always sought through my original projects in the first place: ADVENTURE. We’ve made a lot of people happy along the way, including ourselves. With a gig already booked in Philadelphia in February, I’m enthusiastically looking forward to new sights and sounds with our partnership in the new year! If you’ve read this far, then I look forward to seeing you there!

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