Jesse Cannon believes in the roar of the crowd.
He believes in the teens who tweet incessantly about their new, favorite bands, forcing friends to watch the groups’ YouTube videos and scan their Facebook pages.
He believes a T-shirt transaction is better served with 15 free songs thrown in, and that those tunes should be shared as often as possible.
“Free music isn’t a bad thing,” he says.
And after nearly two decades recording, producing and managing some of Jersey’s most successful rock and punk acts, Cannon believes music’s next generation will be shouldered by artists who reach their supporters directly, wherever they are.
In his new book with co-writer Todd Thomas, “Get More Fans: The DIY Guide to the New Music Business” (MusFormation, 732 pp., $29.99), Cannon, 36, details an ever-changing, do-it-yourself landscape in which greenhorn musicians defect from what he calls “a cookie cutter system.”
“Instead of trying to find that A&R guy who will leave the record contract under your pillow, it’s about focusing on making fans and those fans will shout so loud, all the music business will come to you,” Cannon says from his humble studio in Union City.
He stresses the need for bands to ditch the “rock god” persona and instead construct tightly woven relationships with supporters, utilizing social media, email, merchandise and time spent before and after shows to interact with the music lovers who will hopefully launch their careers.
In the book, Cannon provides numerous tips on how to cultivate a fan base and juggle the dozens of places online where admirers can hear songs and connect with the musicians, including Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Spotify and ReverbNation.
All of this is supplementary, of course, to “getting your music as amazing as you can before you ever go to the studio,” he says.
The approach sounds exhausting, especially for artists with day jobs, who may prioritize rent and groceries ahead of handwriting custom messages to every fan who buys a poster or bracelet.
But for bands who wish to survive in an industry in which any tech-savvy listener can follow them for years without spending a penny, Cannon insists that “always being available” is among the first steps toward a career in 21st-century rock ’n’ roll.
The Montclair native’s methods have already seen success, particularly with Man Overboard, a flourishing pop-punk group from South Jersey whom Cannon recorded and managed for about two years.
“He was the guy who told us, ‘You need to make a Twitter page, so you can connect with your fans,’ and eight months later, Twitter was the biggest thing in the world,” says bassist Wayne Wildrick. “He had a plan — we didn’t.
“We are so much further along with social media and our website, things that he put in motion for us, and we are reminded of it everyday.”
In 2009, Man Overboard were Cannon’s “guinea pigs,” as he pushed the goofy guys from Williamstown to tweet every day, never run out of a T-shirt size and post silly YouTube videos of the band, even when they weren’t recording.
As the group gained national attention, new ideas arose, such as modeling merchandise web pages after retail stores’ sites and maintaining email lists with thousands of names, to reach people directly with updates on the band’s new music and touring schedules.
Cannon focused on “owning fans,” and after many long nights enhancing Man Overboard’s online presence — and waiting for what he calls “the right record deal” — today’s product is undeniably rewarding.
The band, now signed to Rise Records, has migrated from basement shows to rock clubs and arenas all over the world, and will headline a North American tour this summer. The group is currently on tour with Baltimore pop-rockers All Time Low and will play the Starland Ballroom in Sayreville on May 2.
“We were the experiment, and everything he wanted to try with us always worked,” Wildrick said.
The “experiment” also yielded 250 pages of notes, which were polished and transcribed for Cannon’s book, along with the input of about 200 musicians, producers and business professionals.
A new edition of the guide, which was originally released in April 2013, is now available on Amazon.com. The update adds tips on how to run a band and squeeze rock star aspirations into a 9-to-5 lifestyle.
BEHIND THE BOARDS
Similarly to many of the artists he produces, Cannon began his career as a hopeful teen in his parents’ Essex County basement, recording local bands in exchange for “Doritos and Snapple.”
He played keyboard and drums in a few bands, but disliked touring and, in the late ’90s, chose mixing boards over trying to make it as a musician.
His tongue-twisting studio Cannon Found Soundation was born and has resided in Hudson County for eight years (it’s now co-owned by Cannon’s co-producer Mike Oettinger).
Other than Man Overboard, Jersey bands to come through the compact 39th Street location include Saves the Day, Senses Fail, the Dillinger Escape Plan and Brick + Mortar.
As the man at the switch, Cannon acts as a servant of his artists’ sound, tailoring records to the band’s quirks and learning from each group as they learn from him.
The philosophy mirrors the idealism fueling his book, following what he calls a “democratization of knowledge.”
“The big fear was, the music industry is really lazy … ‘Oh my God, if I give away that tip, everyone’s going to know this,’ ” Cannon says. “But really, if you give away that tip, we all just get better.”