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By Ian Kirby
Among the few performers who have cemented themselves with ever-growing cult-like followings, Jason Levasseur is one who has truly found a home audience with the campus audience.
Racking up countless awards (well over 10 just with our mag, including his nominations this year), and thousands of dates on the road, Jason proves that sometimes personality and passion can mean as much as pure talent. "I don't even know how many awards I have won, but calling it 10 plus would be fair. It is very flattering, for sure."
The awards Jason has been able to accumulate are largely due in part to the amount of time he spends on the road and the number of fans he performs in front of on a yearly basis. "I usually do 140 shows a year at many different colleges, which takes up the majority of my schedule."
Jason is so busy and comfortable in the college market he doesn't seem to have any need to look elsewhere for work. In fact, he stays so busy on America's campuses he barely has time for anything else, including recording the new material his campus market fans so desperately crave. He managed somehow though, because the thing Jason is currently most excited about is probably the fact that his new record is finally done. "My new CD is done, I just went over to the plant today to sign the release form on the duplication of it, which is super exciting. It should be ready by Valentine's Day, so all young lovers in the world can hold hands to my new songs soon," he laughs.
This is Jason's fifth solo CD, but only the third cut in a studio. Two live albums also compliment his catalog. "Watching The Girls Go By" was his debut followed by "Live in Eddie's Attic." "Driver is the DJ" was Jason's second studio album with the title cut as one of his biggest hits, followed by "Live in Linonville."
The new album carries the title "In Another Life" and is the first album since "Driver Is The DJ" was released five years ago. Undoubtedly Jason's fan base is very pumped. "I have already gotten some great responses through Facebook and email. I put up a free download on Facebook, which has really become the main contact avenue for me with students in the last couple of years."
Facebook has certainly made an enormous difference in artists' ability to stay in close touch with their fans, but has it made much of a difference overall when it comes to the level of bookings or business opportunities they are getting? For Jason, he thinks maybe just a bit, but the true value in social networking is simply letting his fans get to know him and feel like more than just observers. "No, I don't think it has done a lot for me as far as bookings or merch sales, but I haven't really tried to utilize it for that either. I haven't put effort into advertising there or anything. But, what it has allowed me to do is be much more in touch with folks who already like my stuff or have already seen me play. Now that I really think about it, I don't really know if it has led to any more bookings; I suppose if people read my updates on a regular basis, they remember I exist. When a committee is making a decision at the beginning of the year about who they are going to bring in that semester, maybe seeing my updates will have me in their collective consciousness. So, I can't quantify that, but I would say yes, it has definitely helped on some way."
Every artists' individual development is unique and often the most interesting part of seeing a career progress. I ask Jason how much he feels he has evolved both musically and personally in the five years between "Driver Is The DJ" and "In Another Life."
"This album is a 12 song collection of music that I can perform myself live. I can perform these songs solo with confidence. On the last CD there was more studio fancy-ness going on; it was just a more highly produced and polished album. This one feels much more natural and organic to my ear. Whereas the last album had more icing on the cake, this album is more about making the cake so good no icing is needed. This is a raw version of me. There is still production value to the album with tracks of electric guitars, drums and background vocals. But there are not many effects or fluff; it is really about the songs themselves."
Jason attributes this shift largely to his continuing to mature as a musician. "I am more confident in my writing, now I can admit to myself a song is great and doesn't need all the flashy stuff on top of it. Because it has been five years since I have recorded," he says (we'll get to why so long in a second), "I have been playing many of these songs live for a while, so they have had a chance to be tested and gain popularity before they were ever recorded. Now, I am finally getting a chance to do so, but 2011 is a much different time than 2006, when I recorded "Driver is The DJ."
This brings us to the question of why five long years have gone by since Jason last released a genuine studio album. "In 2006, people bought CDs," he says, perhaps a bit wistfully. "In 2011, pretty much every student knows how to get any music they want for free."
This presents a quandary for a musician like Jason who, for multiple reasons, might be hesitant on pulling the trigger on a new album. As both a touring musician and a family man, Jason's time is precious to him, so any time spent not on the road proverbially feeding his kids or at home (actually feeding his kids), is a tough sell not to mention, it's really expensive. As an artist who has to pay for the recording process myself, there was a big debate on how much money I should spend on a project like this when there might be no way to make it back."
Having said that, artists create. That old mantra came back to win the day. "I went ahead with the project in large part to have the music out there for my fans and to continue to give my live show more content and depth. Also, with this album I would like to push more toward radio than my previous efforts. Like the other two albums, I also have an instrumental version of the songs, which we will try to market for use in film and television as well."
Jason explains that while having the music for people to listen to is important, perhaps the real difference between then and now is the way the music is distributed. "It makes no sense whatsoever to have my CD in a Target in Iowa. It doesn't matter, because people are not buying the physical CDs unless I am on the radio in Des Moines." It is hard enough for major label artists to sell CDs (just ask Diddy Dirty Money), let alone a guy that, while maintaining a solid fan base, is still completely on his own for production, marketing and promotions.
This all comes down to the same core issue so many artists face: Can I maintain this passionate pursuit and still eat? I love what I do, but food is also pretty cool too... "Producing this CD is a gamble that I have to take in order to keep moving forward and evolving as an artist and I can only hope it works out. I might not make the money back on this if none of my fans want to buy it. Now, they are all going to get the music. They will all wind up with the songs, but there is a chance none of them will pay for it." Perhaps those who want him to ever produce another album will take this into consideration when they do decide on their means of acquiring this new one.
The recent spate of record industry assaults upon peer-to-peer file sharing networks like Limewire perhaps will swing the pendulum back towards record sales and legal digital downloads, and Jason would be okay with this. It's really all a matter of listeners being honest with themselves and justifiably fair with the artists they follow. "I can only hope that helps to sway some of the momentum back towards supporting artists' music. I don't want to take anything away from the public and I can understand downloading tracks to check them out, but if someone listens to my CD 10 or 20 or 100 times, it would be nice for them to make a donation (laughs). The public would see a lot more great and original music coming out if artists knew they could a least make their money back on the investment."
Perhaps a future article will explore the costs of an independent artist producing a CD or even DVD for fans.
Right now, Jason is knuckling down and doing what he does best, hitting the road. "I had to take out a loan to finance this project, so now it is time to hit the road and tour like crazy to promote and support it. I will be sweeping across the country playing campuses everywhere and I am super excited to see how they react to the new album.
Jason has earned the respect of buyers across the marketplace and has racked up almost 2,000 performances for students the nation over! His level of professionalism and courtesy are second to none and he is even beginning to share these secrets with students. "Get Your Show On The Road" is an inspiring talk about finding your dream and pursuing it with passion and is a great talk to book in conjunction with Jason's music show. Ask about special rates to get both of these highlights together.
BOOK IT! For more information on bringing Jason Levasseur to your campus, contact Bass/Schuler Entertainment at (773) 481-2600 or for virtual links, log on to our website at www.campusactivitiesmagazine.com