Michael Sackler-Berner is just like the rest of us. Sure, he can play, sing and write songs better than us, but when it comes to the business of music, he has the same thoughts as we do, wondering how some folks get huge record deals and make millions on tour while other, more talented folks get ignored. These days, musicians are also forced to be social media wizards, as quick on Twitter as they are playing the scales on their guitar. It can make you wonder if it’s all worth it at times. But New York’s Sackler-Berner says it is.
“In truth, it can get you down if you let it win,” he said. “But when you get into the studio or get into your writing space or you’re onstage with your band, that’s what musicians live for. That’s not work, it never has been. The work has always been lifting the amp to the gig, posting the Facebook thing, doing the Tweet. Can it be disheartening? Absolutely, but when I made my first record I had a wonderful producer named Bob Thiele Jr., and he said something that really stuck with me, which was ‘there is zero correlation between the quality of your music and the amount of money that it makes.’ And I think that’s 98 percent true, so I try to allow myself not to be discouraged.”
That doesn’t mean the 31-year-old has turned into a crusty curmudgeon grumbling at the world. When this is what you love, you make the adjustments necessary to keep that joy in your work while still dealing with the less appealing parts of the business. For Sackler-Berner, an old-schooler when it comes to the art of the album, that means putting out his latest work as a series of digital 45s, with a double EP release coming out on February 11th.
“I love albums and I really like making albums, but people don’t listen that way anymore,” he admits. “Ultimately the reason I did it is because people are listening a lot online and keeping people’s attention requires a steady stream of music, and one of the things that was starting to happen that I was noticing with my first record is that we see the stats come back about who’s listening to what, and it’s very clear that the single gets a lot of attention and the album cuts less so. So I figured one way to make sure songs don’t get buried is that instead of putting out a ten or 12 song album, put out a song or two a month and they’ll all get their moment in the sun, and then when it’s all over, put it out the way the artist might have intended it. So I’m trying to get the best of both worlds. I don’t want to live on another planet and be mad that the planet operates the way it does. It doesn’t make sense.”
He laughs, and his approach is a smart one, but it doesn’t mean much to us if the music doesn’t hit all the right notes, and in that department, Sackler-Berner is not just on top of his game with the new EPs, he’s getting better, and the testament to that isn’t just in the listening to the tracks, but by the cast of respected folks working with him, including Marshall Crenshaw, Stewart Lerman, Leo Sidran, David Mansfield, and Andy Burton. To some, that could be the signal to become star-struck. Sackler-Berner? He keeps his cool…for the most part.
“I don’t get star-struck personally,” he said. “The only time would be when you’re playing together and somebody plays something that’s that good and you go ‘oh, you’re that guy.’ (Laughs) But I’ve been lucky. I’ve never had a big record deal and I’ve never been able to pay people what they’re supposed to get paid. I just think they really liked the songs, and that’s one of the great compliments and joys in my life to have a guy like Jim Keltner tell you you’re one of the good ones or Liberty DeVitto want to form a band because he likes the way you write songs, or Steve Jordan want to get in the studio with you because he fell in love with a song of yours. That is massive validation for an artist because it’s from another artist. I treasure that and I’m proud of it.”
Now it’s time for the rest of the world to get involved, and with past songs showing up on television shows such as Sons of Anarchy and Law & Order, that possibility may become a reality sooner rather than later, and he’s ready for it.
“Pop music means popular music, right?” he asks. “You write so the most people possible can read it, and I hope that my music is accessible to as many people as possible. I wouldn’t take pride in being a total niche artist to half the population. Why would I enjoy that? That doesn’t do anything for me.”
When it all comes down to it though, Sackler-Berner finds peace in the little things when it comes to his music, and that makes dealing with everything else worth it.
“I’m lucky to call it life’s work,” he said. “I think it’s fantastic for that reason, and I feel like I get better. Whether that correlates commercially or not, whatever. I can feel it, I know it, and that satisfaction has nothing to do with anything else. That’s the process and the growing. If you don’t enjoy that, getting better for yourself, I wouldn’t advise that anybody do it, because that’s really the payout.”
Michael Sackler-Berner plays the first of three dates at Caffe Vivaldi in NYC on Thursday, November 20. For more information, click here. Other dates are December 12 and January 8.