Bebo Norman Q/A
I had the chance to interview Bebo a few months ago for The Brink magazine. That interview will be coming out in this Summer's issue. We had leftover material that didn't really fit with the theme we went with. Here is that material. It's a very rough edit (especially on the last question and answer). I thought it might be cool for you to read it exactly as we spoke, which is code for "I'm lazy and don't want to make it sound pretty." So without further adieu, here's the interview with Bebo.
Jacob: You've been at this for 14 years. You've put out nine albums. How has the industry changed since the early days of 1996-1998?
Bebo: Oh wow. Man it has changed a whole lot. Not just on my personal landscape but on just the music landscape in general. Obviously it changes stylistically because people's tastes change as they grow. My musical tastes have changed too.
Jacob: iTunes has really changed the way people buy music.
Jacob: How is your mentality different in writing since customers can pick and choose what songs they like or don't like instead of buying an entire album? Is the art of writing an album gone?
Bebo: That's a great question. And if it is, which part of me believes it may be on a wavered slide, even if it's not already gone, it makes me sad. I value in a dramatic way the art of writing an album. Certainly a song is what first captures you, but it's like one chapter in a book. You can have a really great chapter in a book that's moving but until you hear the whole story I feel like you're missing out on something. That's the way I feel about music and the way I feel about making records. I don't think it's gone entirely. I think that definitely on a mass level—and the truth is, maybe this hasn't changed that much except for the fact that songs are most accessible. Although you can buy songs individually on iTunes, people have always been drawn to "the song." When I was in elementary school, we listened to the Top 40 on the radio. You heard "the song" and you just had to buy the whole record in order to get "the song." You know? But when I started really falling in love with music is when I started really falling in love with entire records and realizing there could be a journey in a record and an entire story being told in a record. So, for me as a fan of music, that's what I enjoy and love the most. But I'm as guilty as anybody, if you can use that word, of sometimes just loving one song and not necessarily always needing to have the whole album and the whole record. So, long answer short, I don't think the art of writing a record is gone but I do think it is very different now than it used to be and I think there's a much smaller minority that really still looks at it that way, especially in the context of the business side of music. You know, I think labels very much look at records as not a collection of songs anymore but a collection of two or three singles that have a group of songs built around them. That's not the way I see it but I may well be in the minority. I don't know that I'm in the minority of real music fans but I think I am in the minority in terms of the mass that listens to music.
Jacob: Along those same lines, the way that we communicate now is so different than it was back five, 10 years ago, and so it's kind of encouraging for, like, a small band who does a unique sound but it doesn't sound like Leeland so there's no label out there that's going to be signing them any time soon. But you know, they've got the software on their Mac and they can record themselves and then they can put it on their Facebook page and everybody can listen to it. How do you think that changes the music industry?
Bebo: The music industry has changed so dramatically in the years that - I mean, when I first started playing music there were, I didn't even have a cell phone. I didn't even have a pager. You know? Like when we - this is going to sound crazy - but when I was touring back then, you know, if I went out with a runner to go run an errand or somebody dropped me off at a mall to, you know, just go buy basic needs that, you know, because I'd been out on the road for a few months at a time, I had to go to a pay phone to call my road manager at a land line in an office in a theatre that we might be playing in and hope that they happened to be there. You know, that's kind of how dramatically things change. And then I was way on the cutting edge when I got a pager and I could actually page somebody.
You were really on the cutting edge when you could actually do the text page where you called somebody and told them what you wanted and they typed it in and they sent it to somebody's pager. You know what I mean? Like - it was a crazy - like an operator, that's who did it. All that to say that in and of itself it's changed - technology has come a long way in really just about a decade and a half. I mean, it's pretty amazing how quickly it's changed. The way that I see that it's changed, I think you're right. I think that it has changed for the better in a lot of ways, to me, especially for bands who may be smaller and don't have quite the audience or the stage necessarily that some of the larger bands have, but I think one of the main ways that's changed, I mean, it seems for me, is that when I first started playing music, I mean, I was one of the few Christian acts that really toured nonstop. You know, not because I thought, "Wow, this is a good marketing strategy," but because that's all I knew. You know, I thought, "Well, I've got an independent record," it was 1996, "How are people going to hear this if I don't get out and play songs for people?"
Bebo: You know what I mean? And so I spent 250 days a year on a road for the first seven or eight years of playing music.
Jacob: Oh wow.
Bebo: As a single guy in my twenties, that was a blast and it was fun. The thing is, now it kind of seems to me that markets, every market that you go to, is inundated with people that are touring, and everybody is out - I mean, back in the day me and people like Jars of Clay and Caedmon's Call and random independent bands from back then were the only people that really - we were all playing - just come out of college, so we were all touring and playing music and that's kind of what we did, and it was kind of nonstop. There were definitely Christian concert tours back then but they were kind of small - not small, but they were very segmented. Just, you know, they would do 20, 30 cities in the spring and 20, 30 cities in the fall and that was kind of it for them and, anyway, long and short is that I feel like everybody tours now, everybody plays music. I feel like people are, consumers are - and I use that word loosely, consumers. I mean, fans are almost over-saturated with music at this point, you know, because it's accessible on every level, so sometimes that can be a little bit difficult, and truth be told, I don't want to spend quite as much time on the road as I used to as a 36-year-old who has a wife and two kids at home. You know, I certainly love being home as much as I can be. So, for me personally, I love the idea that it has offered me a new avenue to connect with an audience without having to be before them in person, you know, and that's what things like iTunes and Facebook and, you know, the avenues online and what technology has sort of afforded us. So, all that - a very, very long answer. Obviously you can weed out most of it, but the bottom line is that I think the opportunities are amazing in terms of being able to connect with people because of technology but it also means that people are, I mean, listeners are really over-saturated with music, to me at this point, and so things can all start to sound the same so I think it requires you being, having a very unique platform to really connect with people at this point on a musical level. So I think it's important to be true to what you do and really kind of be unique, if that makes any sense, more than ever.
Be sure to check out Bebo's music on his website http://bebonorman.com or on iTunes (of course).
Jacob Riggs is editor of The Brink magazine. http://twitter.com/jacobriggs