Crossroads: Greenwheel's Ryan Jordan
Pivotal moments propelling musicians from obscurity to infamy
by Mark E. Waterbury
Photo Credit - James R. Minchin III
There are rare instances where a band may quickly realize that dream of the major label deal. Very very rare instances indeed, and when that does happen, it is still the result of hard work and dedication. Some people may call it luck and, while there is an element of that, the harder a band works, the luckier they can get. Such is the case with the St. Charles, Missouri rock band Greenwheel. The fivesome has inked a deal with Island Records, who released their debut "Soma Holiday" in May of this year, and they are currently on their first U.S. tour, opening for Our Lady Peace. On the surface, they look like one of those bands who got their lucky break. But it took some serious effort as well as making the right connection for them to get into that position. And even though they are signed, the work is far from over.
Ryan Jordan didn't really have dreams of being a "rockstar." In fact, the artistic endeavor he wanted to pursue lay with the theater. Then he started singing cover songs at parties with a guitarist buddy of his named Andy Dwiggins. "I never really knew I enjoyed it as much as I did," Ryan remembers. "We had just been jamming at high school parties and trying to pick up girls, basically, but things just started to come together soon after that." Andy knew another guitarist named Marc Wanninger, so the two got together and began going over different music ideas. They soon recruited Brandon Armstrong, who was the bassist in the jazz band at school, and after a couple of misfires behind the drum kit, they found the final piece with Doug Randall. Greenwheel was ready to start rolling. "It just started progressing real rapidly on a creative level," Ryan recalls. "So we thought we could really try to make the band work, and we became real motivated and serious about what we were doing."
Greenwheel dove into the local club scene around St. Charles, and soon started cultivating a fan base as well as an inner chemistry that was creating a desire to succeed. They realized to be successful they would have to keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone. "We started to meet people and slowly move up to better venues by meeting bands who were doing better than us and having us open for them. That way we got our names into the bigger venues and made acquaintances with the people there so we could headline. We'd promote ourselves a lot, by going out and flyering everywhere we could before a show and doing everything we could to get people out." One person who would notice what Greenwheel was doing was producer Malcolm Springer, who worked with bands such as Full Devil Jacket and Liquid Gang. Malcolm attended a Greenwheel show one night, and the band interacted with him well enough that eventually he helped them produce a demo that made to Island Records' A&R. Malcolm impressed upon the label the band's pedigree and work ethic so a showcase was organized for them in New York City. Once Island witnessed firsthand Greenwheel's emotive live performance and heard their hard-edged but hooky brand of rock and roll, a record deal was presented. "With the way we were always moving and making these giant steps, I guess we must have been doing something right," Ryan comments. "We always dreamed of a label deal but never thought we really had a shot. That night we ran into Malcolm was being in the right place at the right time. Island knew Malcolm quite well and he told them a lot of good things about us. He really helped us get the showcase. We showcased for other labels as well but Island seemed to be the most sincere and career-oriented."
With a major label and producer in their camp, Greenwheel began to record their debut album. Deciding that Nashville would be a better place for a fledgeling band, they moved there and started working on the songs in a rented storage shed for budget purposes, knowing that even a label deal does not necessarily mean you get a lot of money right away. More recording was to be done in Gatlinburg and Memphis, as the band's creativity flowed. "We made the writing very band-oriented, the ideas can come from anyone. We all also respect each other's areas of expertise, and that's what makes the songwriting process so cool; we can all tap into each other. We all have little notebooks and add things here and there. It's hard to put a finger on exactly how we do it because each song can be written in such a different way." The result of the sessions was "Soma Holiday," released in May of this year and already starting to make a splash on the music scene. The band immediately began touring to support the album's release, first with labelmates Injected and currently with Our Lady Peace. The reaction so far has been very good as the rest of the nation is realizing what folks in a particular corner of Missouri have known for some time. "It helps that we have been out with really good bands who are the same genre as us, and we get to play in front of full houses where the crowds have been very receptive. I get a lot of people telling us how they like ot that every song seems to have a different emotion to it. We've always had a great reaction to our live shows since we've started, because we play live with a lot of emotion. The response has been incredible so far."
There may be some out there who think since Greenwheel has that major label deal all they have to do now is sit back and let the cash roll in. Ryan and his bandmates know better, and know that even with the label support, their great tunes and live show, they need to keep up the hard work to take their buzz to an even higher level. "I'm very happy at where we're at right now. We made a great record and have great people working with us. All the bands we have worked with have been great. We've worked to establish camaraderie with them. But as a band, we're always going to be hungry and want more and more. We need to keep touring and playing at as many places as possible and be sociable with the fans. We're always hanging out after the shows and talking to people. That gives the fans a connection to us. They feel like a part of us and they are. So we're going to keep working our butts off and as long as we're doing everything we possibly can to make it happen, I'll always feel satisfied. There's a whole lot more to do and go through yet."
Industry Profile - Entertainment Attorney Greg Seneff
by Mark E. Waterbury
Greg Seneff has worn so many hats in the music industry that he could fill up a couple of multi-pronged hat trees. But it took him several years to find one that fit properly. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Greg knew from early on that his career path would be in the music biz, as his family was a very music intensive one. Greg actually did some performing on a limited basis while growing up, but would soon find he was more suited to the business side of music. When he went to college at Kentucky Wesleyan University, he became involved in their activities committee, which produced all the on-campus events including music concerts. "We usually had one or two concerts a semester, so I started to promote them," Greg recalls. In his senior year, Greg chaired the religious activities committee. He also was working on a double major; his original in religious philosophy, and a new one in communications. This also led to his being the student program director for the on-campus radio station. "I became very involved in the Christian music industry through meeting a lot of artists during that time. So I decided I was going to move to Nashville after graduation to get involved in the music industry." In Nashville, Greg first was involved in multi-track recording at Belmont State College, and then landed a job at a record warehouse with Benson Music Group. When they found he had a communications degree, they asked him to direct a couple video projects, which he did. A band he had worked with in college was having a farewell concert in Nashville, and they persuaded the promoter to let Greg help with the show's promotion. Greg then became a booking agent for the Salt Mine Agency. About the same time, Greg got married, so he took a second job selling sheet music through the Brentwood Music Group.
"One of the main reasons I moved to Nashville was I wanted to be on the road with a band, either playing or being a road manager." The opportunity for this arose when the Christian rock group Petra was looking for a road manager. So Greg left Brentwood and Salt Mine and accepted that job. Unfortunately, it only lasted a few weeks, as financial problems forced Petra to let several staff members go including Greg. During the following six months when he was between jobs, Greg attended a Christian music festival named Ichthus which he had attended since high school. A friend of his was head of the Asbury Seminary where the festival was held, and was looking for an assistant director of media. Greg worked there in that capacity for two years, and also wrote articles for the school's newspaper. "I started to get a little board of it," Greg muses. "So I started looking around and decided to move home to Louisville to work as a music buyer and as a part time disc jockey, eventually becoming full time at that. But after working eighty hours a week at those two jobs for three years, I decided I needed a career and not a job."
While in Nashville, Greg noticed that some of his musician friends had been taken advantage of by several professional sides of the music industry. One friend in particular who was a leader of a band received a large advance for their next album. The manager at the time pocketed half the money and they had to use the other half of it to produce the record. Then he had to pay the full amount back through recoupment. That personal experience was one of the motivating factors that prodded Greg to go to law school, along with a certain theory he developed about being successful in the music business. "To be in the music business for a long time, you have to have at least one of three things: You have to have an indispensable talent; singing, playing or whatever; you have to have an indispensable skill, such as in managing a group or promoting a record, doing the business side; and the third thing is to own a business. And sometimes people who own businesses don't have either of the first two things, but they can stay in the business long-term because they can control their own destiny. And I could play and sing but not to the point were someone would pay to hear me play or sing. I didn't have the money to own or start a business, so I needed to develop an indispensable skill, and that's where law school came in. I wanted to get my law degree, move back to Nashville and practice entertainment law." That is exactly what Greg is now doing. He graduated from the University of Louisville law school in 1992 and at first, was in private practice with a group of other attorneys who shared overhead costs. Because he had a good reputation from his days as a music buyer in Nashville, he was able to garner a solid group of clients. After three years of private practice, he was offered a position as senior director of legal affairs with the same Benson Music Group he had previously worked for hauling records in their warehouse. Greg also worked for EMI Christian Music Group and once again in solo practice before becoming an associate at the law firm of Farrar and Bates, where he still works today as separate counsel for entertainers. Greg is still general counsel for several nonprofit Gospel and Christian music organizations, which entails creating seminars for them, and has also been working as a board member with the annual 2NMC Music Conference. Since he has been with Farrar-Bates, he developed an audio program on music law to assist musicians, adapting the knowledge he uses in his seminars. "I found that people who are not educated in the business side of music who want to be an artist or songwriter long term will probably not have long term success. So I try to approach (the audio program) in a way that is understandable, without a lot of legalese and business terminology, to assist them in protecting themselves and planning a long term strategy."
Looking back, Greg definitely sees the distinction between the more job-like work he did before law school, and his work as a music lawyer which is his true career and passion. "In my earlier jobs, I hadn't seen any of them as being long term. But in law, I have been able to adjust and grow and stay current with the industry. There are some certain downsides to it, because in solo practice, I did have to actually start a business. But I find a lot of gratification in assisting people, negotiating contracts and being involved in trying to help them fulfill and reach their goals."
MONTHLY PROFESSIONAL ADVICE
From Greg Seneff
"Bands and musicians need to be as diversified in their understanding of music as possible. Too many musicians only listen to the type of music that they want to write, and that's fine to a certain extent. But the more tools that one has in one's toolbox, taking from other genres or at least understanding and appreciating other genres is important. They also need to constantly improve their skills no matter what their undertaking is. Musicians should never stop practicing and learning new ways to play and become as proficient as they can be. They need to develop interpersonal relationship skills; their ability to deal with other people that are not musicians is very important. If you want to have a career, it is indispensable to learn as much about the industry as possible - not only the technical, the business and the legal sides, but also current events, business events, like who is the current president of the record company you would most want to be signed with, or who's the publisher you would like to get hooked up with? Reading business books about the industry and learning the legal side of the business are so important. Attending as many music business seminars as possible is also helpful, not only for the information, but to network as well. It's a great way to meet very well-qualified individuals who otherwise would be inaccessible."
Gregory E. Seneff, Sr.
Farrar & Bates, L.L.P.
211 Seventh Avenue North, Suite 420
Nashville, Tennessee 37219
(615) 254-3060 PHONE
(615) 254-9835 FAX
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Editor: Sandy Serge
Writers: Mark E. Waterbury, Scott Turner