An Exclusive Interview with Dave Curtis

Could you share the story behind your latest song and what inspired its creation?

For a lot of people Christmas Day is “sleigh bells in the snow, presents wrapped beneath the tree and party time”. I wanted to produce a song that talks to this but reflects the true meaning of Christmas…
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16

How do you approach the process of song writing, and are there any specific themes or emotions you tend to explore in your music?

For me it’s pretty much what works in the moment and I have done it every which way… whatever works!.
I set my brain into creative mode, either at the piano, guitar, driving down the road, by myself or together with a colleague in an arranged writing session. From somewhere ideas start to arrive, sometimes a melodic idea will come with a gibberish lyric.
The challenge then is to edit out the good idea (hopefully there’s a good one) and develop it as best as possible. Often the success of the process is where to take the idea next. I tend to record ideas on a Dictaphone & listen back later to see what catches my ear before I really get into it.
‘Christmas Day (The First Day of Forever)’ was written from a completed lyric that a colleague sent me. A lot of my songs historically have been written like this; as collaborations, either from a completed lyric I put music to, or a lyricist writes words to a melody and chord structure I have created.
This has started to change for me in recent times as lately I have been more motivated to start the writing process from a small lyric theme/ hook that I have come up with. Whilst melody is king for me, I don’t really get into the process now of creating a new song until I have that germ of a lyric to start to begin with. My Christian faith has increasingly inspired me to write from Biblical themes.

As an indie musician, how do you navigate the balance between creative freedom and commercial appeal?

When I was younger I probably did try to wite songs that had commercial appeal to boost my career possibilities. Looking back I believe that was a mistake that inhibited my creative freedom and prevented me from developing naturally into a more organic songwriter/artist
Now commercial appeal is not a big motivating factor for me. My main motivation is to write the best possible song I can. In saying that, I have always been drawn to music that does tend to be of a more mainstream commercial nature.

What do you find most challenging about being an independent artist in today’s music industry?

The genre of music that I embrace, country/folk crossover, is not a genre that gets much airplay at all on radio in my home country, New Zealand.
As an older, independent artist it is very difficult to get mainstream radio airplay at the best of times. The international record companies have mainstream national radio networks pretty much tied up in so much as what gets played. National networks are the only way to get heard by a large audience in NZ and the stations play mostly major international artists. Independent artists, such as myself, are limited to online indie stations with very limited audience numbers. This makes developing a sustainable career, financially, extremely difficult.

Can you talk about your experiences collaborating with other artists or musicians? How does it influence your creative process?

Most of my writing, historically has been in collaboration with a lyricist. Sometimes the completed music I wrote came first and other times I have written music to a completed lyric. This has tended to be done individually, each person writing separately. Christmas Day (The First Day of Forever) was written like this.
In recent times I have started writing with a colleague in the same room at the same time and share the lyric, music creation pretty much equally in the session. Sometimes one of us has an idea we bring to the table & if it resonates with the other person the process begins. I enjoy this way of writing most as it provides the opportunity to bounce of each other’s creativity.
Music has always come much easier to me than the lyrics

What role does technology and social media play in promoting your music and connecting with your audience?

The technology available now is amazing & has enabled me as an independent artist to make my own records in my home studio.
Social media is huge in promoting an artists music but I think it is almost a full time job to use social media well to maximise things. It is not something I know a lot about or something I want to spend a lot of time doing. There are too many songs I need to be spending my time writing & recording.
Self-promotion is not something I am very comfortable with. I need help with that … any one interested? Lol!

Are there any particular artists or genres that have had a significant impact on your musical style?

The Beatles and James Taylor were my 1st musical influences. James Taylor probably took me down an acoustic guitar path into the country crossover genre. Since then so many genres have influenced, inspired & distracted me over the years.
From an early age I have always loved pop music, which has given me an ear for melodic & lyric hooks. Burt Bacharach and Jim Webb have inspired me to appreciate the ‘sophisticated pop’ ballad with an emphasis on complex melodic, harmonic structures. In contrast, John Denver kept me on the path of acoustic guitar, beautiful country/ folk melodies on a simpler harmonic chord structure.
In retrospect my time spent in musical theatre in London, was probably a distraction but left me with a strong vocal technique and an appreciation of the ‘theatrical/ show’ in the business, not to mention some of the wonderful show tunes that have inspired me . In recent times I tend to listen mainly now to country singers Billy Dean, Michael Johnson, Mo Pitney.
Church hymns have also been a big influence on me.

Indie musicians often have a close relationship with their fanbase. How do you engage with your fans and build a dedicated community around your music?

Although I have been in the music business for decades, most of my career has been as a gigging musician hustling for the next gig to pay the mortgage & feed the family by performing classic hits. Whilst I wrote songs all this time, my finances were limited and the vehicle to get the song from the ‘living room’ to the radio, was not there for me. It has only been in the last 3 years that I have been able to set up my own recording studio and gain access to high quality online session musicians. This has enabled me to produce recordings myself of a radio quality. Consequently I am a new independent recording artist, learning how to develop and build a fan base for my music. I’m very much a novice in this area.

Could you describe a memorable live performance experience or tour that has had a lasting impact on you and your music?

I have been lucky enough to tour in concert with some world class artists early in my career. The Hollies, Leo Sayer, Richard Clayderman & The Irish Rovers. The experience of performing in front of a big audience & finding my comfort zone in that moment is a bit of a buzz.

In an era of streaming platforms, how do you feel about the changing landscape of music consumption and its impact on independent musicians?

When I was very young I had two national top 5 hits. I made two successful albums on a major record label and my songs were played on national radio. People would hear a song on the radio or TV and if they liked it would go down to the record store and buy their own copy & the artist would get a percentage of that sale. This doesn’t really exist now.

My understanding of how things work with regard to streaming platforms is pretty limited. It is very difficult for independent artists to get noticed enough to have sufficient streams to generate any reasonable amount of income.
I have heard that major labels invest an awful lot of money in advertising to generate enough streams to break a new artist or song. Independent artists can’t compete with this financially and I’m sure a lot of great indie songs & artists are getting lost in the multitudes.
I do think that the technology that is available now & the various streaming platforms do give independent artists the opportunity to get heard in a way that didn’t exist when I was younger, which is great. The trick is how to achieve enough streams to make it financially sustainable. I haven’t got the answer to that yet!