“Well, I gave you the grittiest shit I could find.”: An Interview With Scottie McNiece

I recently sat down with Uncanned Music founder Scott McNiece to pick his brain about his process and, as it turns out, a bunch of other stuff. As you'll see, I essentially got him to tell me how to do his job, which could come in handy. The great irony of the experience was the amount of noise we had to deal with, sitting on an outdoor patio basically in the middle of Milwaukee Avenue. Garbage trucks, etc. In addition to restaurant work, he's deeply involved in promoting great Chicago jazz, and has put together the great Chicago Overground series, and also regularly DJs, and puts together music nights at several restaurants/bars. For me, talking to Scott about music is kind of what I imagine it's like for friends of mine who have very little time to spend on music to talk to me. In short, he just knows way, way, way more. Thankfully, he's a genuinely down-to-earth and generous dude, who literally devotes his life to making sure we all hear great music. The next time you're in a Chicago restaurant and feel like the music is better than usual, you probably have Scott and his partners to thank. Follow him @UNCANNEDmusic on the Twitter, and learn more about what he does at uncannedmusic.com

Josh B. Fox: What’s your background? I know that you are a drummer, but what’s your musical history?

Scott McNiece: Well, drums, I guess. That was my life for a long time. I still play every once in a while, but I was most actively doing that in Bloomington, Indiana where I lived for six or seven years.

J: Is that where you grew up?

S: No, I’m from Crown Point, IN, which is not too far from Chicago. Bloomington was such an intensely active music community. There’s just a long tradition of independent music there. The music school is huge, at the university. It’s been like that for a long time, and I think it just rooted this culture, even non-university related stuff, it has an excellent music culture.

J: Are there a lot of nice clubs to play in?

S: Mostly it’s just DIY stuff.

J: What bands were you in?

S: Prizzy Prizzy Please was the main one, a kind of punk rock/r and b band. I played in a hardcore band called The Bradleys. A folk-rock band called the Kentucky Nightmare. I played with this electro-pop guy called Totally Michael for a long time. There’s a band called State that I was in for a long time. I was never in any band that was incredibly successful. Totally Michael and Prizzy Prizzy Please were the closest I ever got to being in a band that was middle class at least. I guess lower-middle-class was as far as I got.

J: (laughs) That’s a funny way to think about bands.

S: I lived off of very little money, so I was able to just do my instrument for years.

J: What sparked the move to Chicago?

S: I think I was really comfortable there, and I didn’t really want to be comfortable. I thought I could live there forever, and it was so easy, and there were always plenty of bands to play in, and I knew everyone. I was feeling pretty strong, and figured “This is probably a good time to take this energy somewhere else.”

J: Did you come up here to play?

S: Yeah, when I first moved up here that was still the idea. I was just going to take it even further. The other members of Prizzy Prizzy Please moved up here and we were pretty active. Then, that band dissolved and I got burned out in general. There was a long 60-day tour, and for about the last half of it, and when I got home, I was like “I cannot wait to start thinking about what I’m going to do next in life.” Then I decided I was going to go to college and be a teacher. So I enrolled in National Louis University (chuckles), and I got a job at a restaurant to pay my bills. That was Gilt Bar.

After I started working there, I started making playlists for the restaurant and it just went really well. The next thing I knew I was way more interested in restaurants than in bands or school. I was running food there and asked the owner if I could mess with the playlists, and he was really happy with it. I kept doing it for free for a long time, and then he was like, “I want to start paying you to do this.” I think because he wanted to create some expectations for the job. The idea of someone paying me to make a playlist was incredibly ridiculous at the time for me, and for a long time I insisted that he didn’t pay me. Months without. Then the money became real, you know?

He opened a few other restaurants in a year period, and every time he opened a new restaurant my workload would get more intense. So then, in the summer of 2011, I was bartending and he came into the bar and said, “Hey, I think it’s time for you to be a fulltime music curator.” And I was just kind of like, “All right. That’s fucking awesome. I definitely want to do that.” So then the question was, “Okay, well what’s my job?” And the answer was basically, “I don’t know. You just have to figure out how to create your job title and whatever it is you do on a daily basis.” And that was really frustrating for me for a long time.

J: Did you actually write out a job description?

S: Yeah, we tried. But then I got really depressed because I didn’t really want to do any of the stuff that I had written down for myself. Then eventually, he decided, “This isn’t working.” No job description was the best way to do this. Having that openness and freedom allowed me to create all the different systems, because I was forced to do something. I had to do something with my time. I figured, “I’m getting paid salary. I can’t just not do anything.” So, I would just dick around with playlists, coming up with different systems and ways of categorizing it.

J: What do you mean by systems?

S: Just like, how I was going to make all these different playlists. Apply to all the different restaurants, how I was going to keep them all refreshed.

J: What’s an example of a system? Do you still think of things in terms of systems?

S: Well, not necessarily. Systems is a bad way to think about it. It implies some sort of pragmatism, which I don’t really have very much of. I guess mainly, just honing into programs of each space. Finding more music for them. And coming up with subjective parameters for what it’s going to be.

I guess there are objective ways to look at music. You could split everything up based on tempo. Based on modality, major or minor. You could split it up by instrumental vs. vocal. Whatever. There’s all these objective categorizations. I tried doing a lot of that stuff, especially when I was trying to figure out what I was doing. But eventually, I found myself ignoring those things, and just being like “I just like the way this feels.”

J: You were just moving intuitively through stuff.

S: Kind of, yeah. I think it’s important to have some understanding of all those things. All the different attributive ways to break things down. I did do a lot of research at the time. I read a lot of studies. I read a lot about music liscensing.

J: Were you reading about music theory?

S: A lot of psychological studies. There are more than a handful of them out there. Marketing studies. Some geared specifically towards restaurant atmospheres. Stuff about how music affects scenes. “This is how music and self-awareness can affect a consumer’s perception of a brand.” That kind of stuff that doesn’t really matter so much, I think, but it’s cool to internalize if you are interested in it.

J: When you’re thinking about a space and what kind of music is going to go in there, do you brainstorm and write down your ideas? Is that a part of your process?

S: Writing is a huge part of the process. That’s what I do a lot with my blog. You write, so you probably understand this – writing is not necessarily a way to put some well-formed thoughts down, as much as it is a way to discover what you think. So, yeah, I’ll go somewhere and take notes about whatever I’m thinking about. I’ll talk to the owners. They’ll say, “This is one kind of clientele, and we like it to feel like this between certain times.” I’ll write all that stuff down. Then I’ll go just take notes. Like, there’s an Italian restaurant that I did a playlist for. I noticed they had a couple of old film posters, old Fellini flicks, on the wall. Details like that. Notes about people, food. From there I’ll start writing out a program. Figure out what the different times of day are. Figure out how many different identifiable moods can happen in the restaurant. Happy hour, dinner time, late hours. Just through writing, I’ll start to figure out ways to differentiate those things from each other, incorporating correlations to different details and style points that I notice through my time there.

I’m not sure that’s very helpful. Like I said, I’m not much of a pragmatist. There’s not a very objective system for the way I do things.

J: It sounds like there is, though. It sounds like you have a framework for thinking about what you’re doing. You’re not just going in blindly.

S: Yeah. Sometimes I kind of do, though. I guess at this point, I just have experience going through it. But, it’s very seldom that I’ll show up to a new job with an itinerary of how I’m going to think about the place. I don’t think I ever do that anymore.

J: One of the things that you said at the panel that really caught my ear was “A mix is meaningless until you give it a narrative, a name.” I’m really curious what you mean by that, and how you think about it.

S: Well, I guess it goes back to the inception point. Through writing about what it’s going to be, you kind of define what it is. Once you know what it is, and you believe in it is based on what you’ve written, then you can create it. Let’s say you are making a 200-song playlist. If you can apply your terms for what you said it was going to be to every one of those songs – if it fits, it fits. If it doesn’t, it goes.

J: What would be an example of this?

S: Well, I can show you. I don’t deliver someone a playlist and say “This is your lunch playlist.” For example, I’m doing a playlist for a new Xoco location, and it’s not “Lunch Playlist.” It’s “Terma de Dia,” which is “lunch shift” in Spanish. You give it a personality, and then below the name I’ll give it some descriptors.

This is a program design for Francesca’s. (He show’s me on his phone.) It’s important to know what the hours of the restaurant are. I decided they needed four different programs. You could use one of those at any time of day and it would be appropriate.

J: So, these descriptors. Is this what happens before you pick the music? Or is it in conversation?

S: Essentially, I send the client this form (with the descriptions) after we’ve talked about what I’m going to do, and they sign off on it. It’s like, “Okay, yeah. That sounds good to me, so go ahead and do that.” Then we put together a contract, which includes these subjective terms. That way there’s some understanding of what I’m going for. Because, shit can get… I’ve delivered playlists to people that were exactly what I told them it was going to be, and they’re like “This isn’t what I wanted. I don’t like this.” And it’s like, “Well, actually this is exactly what I told you it was going to be.” You know. This is a bunch of old Polish music, or whatever. This is what we talked about. And they’re like, “Well, I don’t like it.” Especially in the restaurant world, once you start talking about the feeling of a room and the food, it’s not very…

J: …concrete.

S: Yeah, concrete. So, some restaurant owners, especially the more bullish ones, their qualification for what is a good product is just whether or not they like it. And that’s not necessarily true. You know, I did 35 hours of work for you, and because you don’t like it I have to do another 30? No.

J: So, your written work is a way to come to a common understanding with the client about what you’re working on.

S: Absolutely. That’s why I talk about narrative. It’s so essential. If you can’t articulate what it is you’re going for, you can’t defend it. Otherwise, you’re just handing someone a collection of songs. It’s just songs. Even if you have the best taste, and these are the coolest songs… You can’t put a price tag on that. It’s the only way to include them in the process. You go through this conversation, talking about what they like – and you’re throwing words at them. “Vivacious.” Whatever words you come up with through conversations. Then you’ll say an adjective or something that really rings true with them and they’re like, “Yes!” Like “gritty.” Gritty’s a really popular one.

J: Gritty? (laughing)

S: Yeah. You write “gritty” in your program list. Then, when you send them some songs and they say they don’t like it, you can say, “Well, I gave you the grittiest shit I could find.”

J: As you’ve built your skill and professional practice, has that affected your relationship to music in your private life?

S: Yeah, I think so.

J: How so?

S: When you’re listening to music all day for your job, and thinking about what works for other people and not for you, you start to lose focus. Someone who’s not working professionally with songs, their only qualification for what is music that’s worth their time to listen to is whether or not it feels good to them. I’m forced to have to think about it more.

J: Do you have any way to delineate personal listening from work listening?

S: For me, a big part of that is records. It’s not a functional way for me to work, with records. When I’m making a playlist I’m working in Spotify or iTunes, or whatever. I’m just doing ten-second samples of songs a million times over and over again. At the end of all that I can throw on a record, drop the needle in the margin and just let it play. That’s a way for me to still be listening to music, but be totally out of that zone.

J: That makes sense.

S: Also, since the beginning of Uncanned Music we’ve been curating performances, and a lot of them are improvised music. Improvised music, for me, has been hugely therapeutic. After a long day of working on playlists, or thinking about music – how it applies, how it can be categorized. Sampling ten seconds of songs. To just go and sit and just listen to someone freely improvise with their instrument for an hour. It can just wipe all of that clean.

J: Because there’s no way to anticipate or have expectations. Parse it down into little bits.

S: Yeah, and there’s no message. It’s just – here’s this thing that is abstract, amorphous. It’s happening and you don’t have to think about it. You can just drift off, let the music in. Let it pass through you. You know what I’m saying?

J: Yeah.

S: I really enjoy that about it. For me, I know for a fact it’s been incredibly helpful for balancing my listening lifestyle. Just to be a spectator.

J: I was thinking about what you do, and imagining the possibility of getting burnt out listening to music.

S: Oh, it happens.

J: Are you purposeful about silence?

S: Definitely. No question about that. In the beginning, I was having a hard time. Especially when I first started the company. I was nervous all the time because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was constantly stressed out. I would get really sick of music. In the car no music. No way. I don’t ever walk around with headphones.

(The conversation stops while a very loud fire truck passes with sirens blaring.)

S: Um. I don’t remember what we were talking about…

J: (laughing) Silence.

S: (also laughing) Oh, right.

J: Ironically. Along these lines, when you’re out socially do you find yourself being distracted by what’s going on sonically?

S: Yeah. Before I started doing this thing, I don’t think I ever thought about what was playing in restaurants. Maybe once in a while, if I loved the music. Another weird thing, as a side note – I realized after the fact, that when I was playing music all day, every day, I almost never thought about music. Then, as soon I stopped playing my drums all the time, it’s all I could think about. The last two or three years now, I’ve heard every song that’s played in every restaurant I’ve been in. There’s almost never a song I don’t hear. Or, like, “Oh, I just realized I haven’t been tuned in for the last 20 minutes, and I missed the last few songs.” Every song that comes on registers.

J: I have a really difficult time with that. My dad, my girlfriend – they go to sleep listening to music. I just can’t do that. If there’s music on, that’s activity. I’m engaged. There are times, if I’m trying to concentrate – there can’t be music on. Over the years I’ve learned that’s just different for me from most other people.

S: Yeah. That makes sense.

J: I worked at restaurants off and on for twelve years. Among other things, the way that owners and manager would deal with music was constantly bewildering to me.

S: Yeah. I think it is to them too, for the most part. And that’s the reason there’s a fairly ubiquitous demand for what our company’s doing. Even when people aren’t willing to pay for it, almost every single restaurant that exists there is at least one conversation in a management meeting about it. Where the manager’s like, “What are we gonna do about this music problem?” And the owner’s like, “Well, I don’t like this music.” It’s definitely an issue. A lot of people don’t want to pay for it, but almost everyone recognizes that it’s an issue. Almost no one has a restaurant, unless there’s no sound at all, where they walk in and don’t give a shit about what’s playing. I don’t think there’s a single person who doesn’t care.

J: There are people who don’t register.

S: They think they don’t care, until that one day when they walk in and some employee is listening to Pandora on their phone, and they’re going to eat with someone they want to show off their restaurant to, and there’s some terrible song playing. You know, Michael Bolton or something. And they’re like, “Oh my god, my restaurant sucks.” Then the next day they Google “music restaurant,” and then they call my business.

J: I was reading a short interview with Ruth Reichl, the food critic and writer, and one of the questions was, “Are there any trends in restaurants that you’re unhappy with?” She said that the volume in restaurants is getting so loud. And it seems like people who run restaurants have this idea that in order to make a restaurant exciting or engaging it has to be loud. And it’s gotten to the point where you can’t have a conversation. I’ve noticed that there are places I just don’t want to go, not just because the music’s too loud, but the sonics of the room, just people talking, is so insane that you can’t hear anything.

S: I don’t know if she said specifically volume, or she was talking about music. That’s something that I’m constantly trying to clarify with people. They’re like, “I’m so tired of going to restaurants that are super loud. Everyone just needs to turn the music down.” You’re talking about a difference between acoustics and music. That’s one of the first things I tell most people. It’s kind of counter-productive for us, because maybe they'll just treat the space instead of hiring us, but I’ll tell them before there’s even a single song playing in your restaurant it should sound good. Your music won’t matter, it won’t sound good if your restaurant doesn’t sound good. The amount of money that is spent installing lighting in a place, and also speakers – you could spend a couple thousand dollars for some acoustic treatments for your ceiling, for your walls. And make it so much more comfortable. Then, once it’s that much more comfortable, you can turn the music up as loud as you want. The music is not the problem with the loudness, it’s the loudness. The music is one part of the loudness, but the harshness from someone’s silverware, or glass, or conversation – the reason you can’t hear your friend is because everybody else’s conversation is reverberating and drowning out. It’s all in the same frequency range. Music has a broad frequency range. Conversation, regardless of how low- or high-pitched your voice is, it’s all in the same relative frequency range. And that’s why you can’t hear your friend, because you’re hearing a thousand other voices bouncing off of everything.

J: I’ve gotten to a point where, probably just through hearing damage, if I’m in a loud bar with a lot of people talking, I just can’t have a conversation. It affects the way I think about where I’m going to go. If I'm talking to somebody about “let’s go have drinks,” my expectations for the sound is a big part of my thinking about where to go hang out. If I know I’m going to be seeing someone I haven’t seen in a long time, and we’re going to want to talk, I’m like “let’s not go somewhere that’s going to be loud.” It’s become almost the primary thing that I think about.

S: Yeah, that makes sense. Hopefully, if we continue to grow our business, it’s something that we’d love to get into. Not only music curation, but acoustic design. I mean, there’s so many different ways you can make it better. There’s three important parts: the acoustics of the space, the sound system, and the music. Those three things are all a part of the larger picture of a great-sounding restaurant. A lot of people don’t get it, they say “I just want to hire you.” You don’t want to say “No, I will not do this. Okay, I’ll make a playlist for you.” You make it, you work your ass off on it, and it sounds so cool to you in your house. Then you go to the restaurant to eat dinner and it’s playing and you can’t hear it very well. The songs that sounded great in your monitors at home sound super tinny, because they’re reflecting off everything.

J: How do you hear new music? Because you’ve got to have a pretty encyclopedic knowledge.

S: I’ve been turned on to many genres. Things that, before I started doing this, I never thought I’d listen to, but now I listen to a lot.

J: Are you looking at sources online? Is it word of mouth?

S: It’s all of the above. You know, all of the live performances that we curate, we also do a DJ series. Actively DJing and meeting other DJs has been an incredibly insane source. I don’t know how it is for you, but for me the best way to find new music is not to find it yourself online, but to actually have a friend, someone whose style you like, tell you “Oh, check out this new thing!” You’ll always remember that song. And you’ll always associate it with that person and that energy.

J: Yeah. That exchange is the whole reason that Faux Sounds exists. I realized that for a lot of my friends, who don’t spend a lot of time listening to music, I was becoming a resource for them. Like, “Hey, what should I check out?” So, the whole thing started to share with my friends. Now it’s become a way for multiple people to share. It’s not just listening to the music, but for people to write about their relationship to it.

S: That’s great. That’s exactly what it is. I’ll spend probably four to six hours a week scanning what’s coming out, and listening. I listen to almost everything that comes out. I’ll at least give it a few seconds of my ear time. Even still, the biggest source of new music for me is just asking people whose taste I like what they’re listening to. Or going to listen to them play records.

I did this interview series for the Uncanned blog called Collection Selection. I did that for about a year, and interviewed almost forty different people, went through their records and talked to them. That’s a huge foundation for me. A lot of it was building on knowledge I already had. It’s crazy with records, and 45’s. They amount of lost music that happened when people were just cranking out 45’s. Someone will show you one song on one 45 that you could not hear anywhere online, and it takes you down a whole rabbit hole. Like, “What the fuck is that? I want to do some research.” Then you find this whole thing going on. It’s part of the fascination with the reissue market, too. I think it’s really an exciting time for music right now because all this old stuff is being unearthed and re-presented.

So, a lot of my excitement and discovering new stuff comes from interacting with people, word of mouth. There aren’t too many restaurants I go to to discover music. For the restaurants I work with, I try to be doing that for people. Showing them new stuff.

J: Do you keep lists?

S: Yeah. I’ve got a little Google doc on my phone, what I heard, what day, where, some notes about it.

J: The whole model of what I’m doing is built on the idea of the mixtape, being a teenager and making mixtapes for yourself or friends. Did you do that?

S: Back in the day? Totally. I got a car when I turned 16, and it only had a tape deck so I started making mixtapes for that. I remember my cousin Mark, when I was five or six – maybe 7. He came over and brought a bunch of his CDs. He was in college at the time, and me and my brothers were in elementary school. We hung out in the basement, it was just my seventh or eighth birthday and I got a little cassette boombox. He brought over a bunch of his CDs and we sat in the basement and he made tapes for us, and wrote out the track listings. That was really exciting for me. That was probably where it all started.

I don’t know if you know, but part of what we do currently is actual mixtapes.

J: The reel-to-reel stuff?

S: Yeah. We did it for Au Cheval first, when I was working on staff. We make actual tapes, and package them with a name and a little narrative. It’s still my favorite way to do playlists for anyone. To make an actual mixtape that has Track 1, Side A – Last Track, Side A – Track 1, Side B – Last Track, Side B. That’s still my favorite way to make three-hour playlists of music. Because I have to think about breaking it down on those terms. Unfortunately, most people just want the functionality of the digital list.

J: In my own listening, I’m generally either streaming from Spotify or I’m playing records. Sometimes there’s overlap, but they generally serve different purposes. Do you use Spotify?

S: Yep. Totally.

J: One of the things I’ve been writing about on the blog is all this hand-wringing about the way Spotify pays artists. And this idea, which seems to be native to people who are older and have been in the music business for a long time, that the digitization – the sharing, the Spotify – is killing creativity, or robbing artists. What do you think about that argument?

S: I think that there’s something inherently wrong with the compensation system. There’s things they could do to improve the situation that they’re not doing yet. But I also think that it’s a good thing. I think it’s a good place for music. It’s just changing.

I think a lot of the problem with that debate is that the way they pay out royalties is so lop-sided. They pay the labels and the owners of the recording a lot more than they pay the writers of the songs. Someone who wrote a song that eventually is recorded by Lady Gaga, she’s making millions a year in royalties, and that person is getting hundreds. On that same song.

I think it’s a complicated debate. The industry is just shifting. Everybody hated Napster when it first came out, and now look what it did for music. This whole reissue thing that’s happening – do you think that would be happening if people weren’t exposed to the breadth of music they are? No way. How are reissue labels who are based in America going to find rare Malian sounds from 1950, or whatever? You’re not going to do it unless you go to Mali, and there may be one reissue label that has access to that.

I’m optimistic. A lot of the stubbornness comes from people who got involved in the music industry in the ‘90’s, when everybody was getting paid. Everybody got paid big time in the ‘90’s. Sam Goody was selling CDs for $20. Now, not more than 10-15 years later, and they’re literally getting pennies from a song that’s been played 200,000 times. They think to themselves, “Wait a minute. If I sold 200,000 of these in the ‘90’s I’d be so rich.” It’s just different. And I think ultimately it will have a positive affect. It gives more people access to music.

J: And more different kinds of music.

S: Yeah. I think there are lots of ways it can improve.

To give an example, me and my partners are starting a record label to put out recordings of a lot of the avant-garde concerts we’ve been presenting. A lot of these musicians got their start in the ‘90’s, putting out records and doing fairly well in the jazz market. And making money. I just had a conversation the other day with a guy from that era, and he was like, “Man, people are just going to stream my music and I’m not going to make a dollar from it.” And it affects the way he and other people think about intellectual property. Like, “Well, it doesn’t really matter who is the owner of the copyright on this recording because none of us are going to see money anyway.” So, it could have some detriment in that aspect. The way creators are thinking about their work is “Well, this really isn’t mine anyways. It’s just for everyone to cannibalize. So why does it really matter if I put that much work into it.”

J: It feels like, from an artist’s point of view, that it shifts the emphasis away from recordings and more on the live experience.

S: Yeah. And not just that, but the way things are recorded. If you think about how crazy the productions, the level of studio production that started having 50 people on a session, multi-tracking. Redoing a take on one solo a hundred times just to get it perfect because it’s all going to pay off in the end when the record makes a million dollars. But, that can’t happen anymore. As someone who values instrumentalism, as a fan of jazz and improvised music, I love people who are good at their instruments. I think people might start becoming more of craftspeople. You can’t afford to have this crazy production anymore, so what you’ve got to do is just play your instrument really well, so that even just a basic, lo-fi recording of you playing will be so impressive that everybody’s going to be interested in buying it. Hopefully it has that affect. Not just, who can afford to go in the studio with the most resources. But, okay you have to step it up and be better at whatever it is you’re doing. And not just because you need to go out and perform that, but because you need to make more impressive recordings with less resources. I would like to see a resurgence in craft.

Most of the music that floods the market is all style and no craft. It’s a lot of dude-and-chick couples doing sexy chillwave, you know? I’m so sick of hearing that, it’s all in the production. But that music is happening because it’s cheap and easy to record, too. And to market. It’s like, “Well, there’s only two of us, so we can afford to live off of this.” We can afford to record this ourselves in our bedroom because that’s the popular style right now.

J: But, the issue of technique versus style doesn’t necessarily fall down in alignment with expensive studio versus cheap studio. Some music benefits from a simple bedroom recording that makes clear the style over the technique, and that that’s what the music is about. Rather than having flashy studio techniques obscuring, or trying to whitewash all the blemishes that actually give the music its juice and power.

S: Yeah, you’re right about that, too. But I think about how a lot of the money is made and spent in the recording right now. It’s people producing the Katy Perry record. Actually, it’s funny because the guys who are producing that recording are probably all really great at their instruments. But it’s dumbed down so much, I guess. I don’t know where I’m going with that either.

J: I like shiny production, if it’s appropriate for the music.

But, my point of reference is live performance. I grew up in an environment where music was about people sitting in a room playing together. That, to me, is the quintessential music experience. That’s really what I want music to be. So, records that are capturing that feeling are what I want to listen to more.

S: That’s everyone’s immediate response – So, if people can’t make money from recordings, live performance is going to become the thing. And my thing is, once that happens – once people up their performance game, what you hear on recordings will actually be a higher caliber performance. As opposed to what they are right now – which is it doesn’t really matter how well someone performs in the studio. It can easily be manipulated. And it is.

J: So what’s next for Uncanned Music? You said you’re starting a new label?

S: Yep. The label’s a big part of what we’re doing. We’re trying to treat it as a separate venture, but it’s also taking a ton of our energy. We always want Uncanned to be aesthetically driven. We want people to hire us for our taste as much as our function. But we have to be realistic about it, it’s client service. So, ultimately it doesn’t matter as much what we think is good, it matters what the collective clientele think of it. And if we’re going to stay alive we need to focus on that. So, the idea for the label is that it’s our outlet. You know, “I don’t care what you think is good. Here’s what we think is good.”

What’s next for the background music, is we’re developing technology so we can update music remotely.

J: How would that work?

S: That’s what a lot of services are doing. They have their little black box, a device that you put on location that you can update remotely. Our spin on that is trying to recreate the impact and energy we’ve been able to create with our reel players. The reason that’s really popular is that it’s a big beautiful machine that sits on location.

J: It’s a physical manifestation.

S: Exactly. We don't want to just have a device that sits in the office under the shelf. We’re trying to develop something that’s big and beautiful that people will actually be excited to have on display in their restaurant. And it’s undeniably our piece. It’s built in our aesthetic.

J: Would it be a subscription? Every month you get a new reel?

S: Yeah, except it won’t actually be reels. Although we could call them that, I guess. We’re combining the functionality of those other boxes with the aesthetic of the reel player.

J: So it will still be digital?

S: Yeah. That way we can update from far away. You know, we’ll ship you our box and you can have it on location for remote updates. It’s just a matter of getting there. It’s hard, because we have to develop those technologies and systems while staying alive, which is hard enough as it is.