Zach Bair Only Slows at Speed Bumps, Never Stops [Buzz + Watch & Listen]

Zach Bair: Singer, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, champion of mental health, music technician, force to be reckoned with.

With inspiration being taken from The Beatles, Boston, Foo Fighters, Journey, Tears for Fears, and Soundgarden, Zach Bair has taken a handful of ingredients from some of the greatest musical acts in history to create his own original sound and authentic rock style. The cherry on top of his delectable musical work? The amount of advocating he does for other people and other artists. With a partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and a business venture to bring both power and revenue back into the hands of artists, Bair is proving that with enough passion and motivation, nothing can stop you from doing well by yourself and your peers – even during a global pandemic.

You partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention when releasing your latest release, “Ordinary Girl,” which tackles suicide in itself. What prompted you to work with them? Because it is so commendable and so important to recognize, especially in the music scene.

Yeah, absolutely. Obviously we’ve all been touched in some way or another by suicide. I originally wrote that song a number of years ago for a young woman who was considering suicide, but after love and support, she changed her mind thankfully and did not. I ended up shelving the song for a long time in a demo state, if you will. Then a couple of years ago, literally two years ago this past August, we lost a young woman to suicide who worked at one of my venues and it really hit it hit us very hard. I kind of started thinking about revisiting that song. Eventually I went to the studio and got it done during this pandemic to get the song out. I met a really cool new York-based DJ by the name of Zach Martins and he and I started talking about this and had this conversation. He said, “You know, I know this great organization in New Jersey, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.” And I said that I’ve been thinking about wanting to partner with an organization like that and donate some of the proceeds from “Ordinary Girl” and from the EP to a cause. He made the connection for me and ever since then, what I’ve been doing is partnering with the organization and for each state that is downloading and playing “Ordinary Girl,” whether it’s streaming or if it’s downloading, I’m donating 20% of the proceeds of both the single and the EP to the organization’s chapter in whatever state that it was downloaded to. I’m really excited to be working with them. I think they’re doing a lot of great things for suicide awareness and they’re a great resource for people who need help.

It’s so wonderful that this song meant something to you, but that it could also mean something to someone else. At the end of the day, the song is just reminding people that life is precious.

If you look at New Jersey alone in 2017, 795 people died by suicide, which is an average of about 2.2 losses each day. I’m sure now during the pandemic and with people being isolated it’s much worse. I mean, I’m sure it’s gone up with people being isolated and losing loved ones – or not even being able to talk to or be around their loved ones. It’s not been helpful at all.

You’re right. Now more than ever, for people of all ages and all backgrounds, I feel like people really need to pay extra attention to their mental health and work towards being in a more positive state of mind, regardless of what’s happening around them. What do you do to combat negative feelings and the stress that can come with this time?

Me, personally, I’m lucky because I am surrounded by friends and family and bandmates, so I’m pretty active. I think a lot of people are like me in this respect, in the music business, in that I started writing music to kind of express some of the things that have been going through my head (and probably many of others). You know, I guess it’s not really a silver lining per se, but during this pandemic, when all these musicians and artists and creatives have been isolated, it has actually been a very good time for creativity. I think you’re going to end up seeing a lot of the results of that in the next couple of months with a lot of new releases. You’re already starting to see that obviously now. For me,  though, kind of really delving into the music and focusing on work and just keeping one foot in front of the other is what I found helpful.

Of course, and you are more than a musician, too. You’re an activist and an entrepreneur. You really do so many things, so I can imagine that this pandemic kind of put a halt to some of that. What did you learn about yourself during this time? Either as an artist and as a creative or as a business person and just as a human being in general?

I think if anything I’ve learned that I do have a fairly good threshold, I guess in order just to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pivot fast. I’ve always overcome obstacles and to me, the pandemic is just another obstacle that popped up. My mantra has been, “Don’t give up, just keep doing your thing. It’s just another speed bump in the road of life,” so to speak. If anything, I think I’ve learned that, personally, life is about resilience and perseverance and continuing to do the things that mean something. Staying focused on the things that matter and that are important is important.

That’s a great perspective. It’s finding something that means something to you and utilizing that as motivation.

Absolutely. That’s exactly right.

That’s great. Going back to the new release of yours, Ordinary Girl, the single and the EP have obviously come out during these times, but what prompted you to release it now during this period, rather than maybe push it off to a less uncertain time?

Well, that’s actually the question. Number one, when the pandemic did come along and affect my other business – I work with a lot of major artists and we go out and record artists on the road. We were supposed to go out with Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 to record his tour. Obviously that got put off until next year, so that part of the business really took a nosedive. I mean, we have gone from working with quite a few artists last year to not really doing any of that this year. That presented me with a lot of extra time on my hands. In the beginning of this, especially because it was so uncertain and still is, you didn’t know if you’re genetically going to be the guy who has been healthy and then all of a sudden catch COVID, and then 10 days later you’re dead or whatever. You know, you have friends and family and others that have cases and there is a lot of uncertainty around that. I just decided that it’s kind of now, or never. I wanted to take advantage of this time. I want to get these songs out that I had in some type of working process for a long time. It also presented an opportunity to work with some friends in the industry that normally are completely covered out with business. For example, that producer of the EP, his name is Skidd Mills and he is a Grammy winning producer. He’s worked with artists like Saving Abel and 12 stones and a bunch of others. I enlisted him to do a really good production for these songs. I enlisted another guy by the name of Brad Blackwood who did the mastering on it. He works with a lot of big folks like Evanescence and Maroon 5 and guys like that. It just was a really good time to get this done and leverage these types of relationships in order to make the absolute best product that I think I could make. When the single came out, it was around the time of National Suicide Prevention Month, which is obviously in September, and I wanted to make sure to try to be as vocal around the release of that song and what the song’s about in order to bring more awareness to suicide. I really thought the time was right. I think it’s a good message to have in the midst of all this chaos – and really, most of my songs are all positive anyway. 

For sure. There’s a lot of warmth to your music, and I really appreciate that personally, but I think a lot of your fans do, as well. I know you also included “Rutherford Drive,” on the EP, which is a release from last year and an absolute gem of yours that people love. What made you want to bring that to the EP? 

Thank you. “Rutherford Drive” had really done well as a digital single here when it was released, and it had been a little bit different in flavor than the other music on the EP. I know that we were pushing this EP to rock radio and to active rock stations and whatnot, so I wanted to make sure that people that maybe have not heard “Rutherford Drive” and like heavier music would enjoy that song, as well. You know, I just wanted to kind of have the full spectrum of the different flavors as the writing styles on the record and give folks a chance to hear that. Plus we’re going to be coming out with a physical version of EP at some point soon, and there has never been a physical release done with “Rutherford Drive,” so it just seemed like a good opportunity to do that.

Zach Bair and Jeff Cobble

That works perfectly full circle for both you and your fans. Now, I know that you are the CEO of VNUE, which is a whole other endeavor and a story unto itself. But, for myself and our readers, can you delve into what you are doing there and the idea behind the company?

Absolutely. so I’ve been VNUE for a long time now, about four years…. Well, I guess, not that long, but I’ve been in the music and technology space for about 17 or 18 years including VNUE. I guess my history is that I’ve always been very much of an advocate for artists, either trying to figure out a way to put more control into the hands of artists or more revenue for them or both. VNUE is really focusing on both of those topics. We’ve got two kinds of two funnels of business, if you will. One of those funnels is our consumer side, where, as I mentioned earlier, we work with major artists and we go out on tour and we release the content to fans immediately after the show. We do that through physical products, like CDs and USB drives and things like that, but we also have a very innovative mobile application platform called, where if you go to a show and we’re recording that show, literally two minutes after the concert, you can download the audio from that concert directly to your mobile device – high-quality, fully mixed and mastered, the whole nine yards of work doing that. That’s probably really the cusp of what I’ve been doing for us and after the last 17 years having worked with everybody from Slash to Devo to Blondie. We did over 110 shows with Peter Frampton in 2011 and 2012. That’s kind of one side of the businesses, really creating a revenue stream that artists don’t have to do anything else other than they’re doing right now, which is playing music on stage and monetizing that content rather than having just fans download poor audio and video quality of their songs and share them that way where the artists don’t really have any benefit. 

Then the bigger focus of VNUE is called Soundstr and that’s S O U N D S T R. Soundstr is a music recognition technology cloud platform and a device that allows us to listen to and log music played in public spaces. That can be bars and restaurants and radio stations and just about any place that has music that’s played publicly. The reason we’re developing this is that the big companies that handle royalty payments for artists played in these public spaces, called PROs for Performing Rights Organizations, like ASCAP and BMI. These things go into these small logs through basically a business and they tell the business owner that, “Hey, you have to get a blanket license agreement so that you have the right to play this music. Otherwise we’re going to come in and sue you if you’re not on one of our songs’ plans.” This type of business tactic has been used for 50 to 75 years, if not longer than that and not only is egregious against small businesses that are in some cases giving young artists the opportunity to play music and start a career, but little does the public know that the royalty payments that they’re collecting typically don’t go into the right hands of the artists for whom they represent. For example, since there hasn’t been any technology that accurately tracks music that’s played in these businesses, the general consensus is they allocate these funds, which between the major PROs, we think it’s around a billion dollars a year that’s collected. They go to the top touring artists or the top radio artists, but seldom to actually get into the right hands of the songs that are actually being played. I’ll use for example Peter Frampton. He has songs that are played across this country in bars and restaurants. “Do You Feel Like We Do” is probably one of the most covered songs there are, but I can almost guarantee you that because of the way that the algorithms and the calculations are set up in PROs, he’s probably not getting paid for that. For the first time in history, we’re going to have technology that we can actually leverage an audit so that an artist can look and say, “Hey, man, my song was played 500 times across these different bars across the country. Why is that not on my royalty check?” That’s on one hand, but on the other hand, we’re leveraging the sounds for technology so that these business owners have an actual record of what’s being placed. They can take that back to the pro and say, “Hey, why am I having to pay a blanket license fee, this huge fee for music, that I’m not even playing? That’s not fair and I want to negotiate a better deal.” 

Ultimately what we want to do is create a pay-for-play situation, much like a utility that you only pay for the music that’s actually consumed in the business. That will, in turn, enable us to get more businesses licensed and make sure that the funds that are being collected go into the right hands of the correct stakeholders – like songwriters, publishers, and artists. That’s a long-winded version, but we think Soundstr is a very important technology. We really want to have a positive impact on this black hole of royalties that are collected, that nobody seems to know what’s happening to them.

I’m really glad you explained it so thoroughly, because I can’t imagine how vital that is to artists who are coming up in the business and don’t realize all these little tiny things that can fall through the cracks that someone like you can come in and hopefully fill with something that’s benefiting them.

Oh yeah. A lot of the focus has been on the streaming industry and how that’s not really paying very much to artists. The thing that’s being completely missed is how radio and how these brick and mortar establishments are paying royalties, but nobody really knows where they go to… certainly not the artists who are supposed to get the royalties in many cases, but that just isn’t happening.

That’s such a shame, but I’m truly so glad that you are part of creating and putting this technology out there that can solve an issue both for established artists and upcoming artists.

Oh, absolutely. We just started our beta tests with the technology we’ve been working on for over two years now and so far the tests are going quite well. We hope in the next two or three months, we’ll actually start getting these out into the field on a commercial basis. That’s just the start of it. I mean, obviously we have to get some momentum in order to really get a large dataset implemented, but once that happens, I think there’s going to be a lot of interest in the artist community about revenues that they may think they should be getting, but probably are not getting…. Yet.