Interview with Chrys Johnson – Artist Relations
Some say that the folks at Ampeg design the best bass amps in the world. The bassist for Pink Floyd, the Dave Matthews Band and Black Sabbath are just a few of the high-profile artists to endorse the product. Someone has to listen to these artists and try to fulfill whatever demands they may have. I sat down with Chrys Johnson and asked him to discuss his role as Artist Relations Manager at Ampeg. We talked about some of the highlights (and lowlights) of the job, as well as what it takes to be an Ampeg endorser and more.
One Louder Magazine: You are the Artist Relations Manager at Ampeg. What does that mean?
Chrys Johnson: It means that I manage almost every aspect of artist involvement with Ampeg. I am the direct liaison between Ampeg and the artists that use and endorse our gear. It is not always a direct connection with the artist; sometimes I work with their tech, personal assistant or management.
OLM: Is Ampeg the only brand you deal with or are there any others?
CJ: Currently Ampeg is my main focus and takes up about 175% – yes, 175%! – of my time. Mackie takes up the other 25%.
OLM: Take me through a typical day in the office. You fire up the computer, grab a cup of coffee, then…?
CJ: …then I spend at least the first hour marking the priority of all the fresh emails I received overnight or over the weekend and empty the voicemail on to a notepad by my office phone. In this line of work, almost everything is marked red for high priority and everything was needed yesterday [laughs]. It took awhile, but I eventually numbed to some of that anxiety.
From there it’s kind of free form as I generally try and knock out as many emails and voicemails as I can before any morning meetings or lunch. I also field new incoming calls and emails which could include taking gear orders for Stanley Clarke, Miranda Lambert or anybody in between. This regularly involves taking phone calls from up and coming artists looking for an artist deal from Ampeg, as well.
Between emails and phone calls, I also help moderate our Ampeg Facebook page. I’ll add new material that’s artist related or answer questions when need be. After lunch I typically confirm that any shipments of gear or parts leave the building for artists that are out on the road. Next, I continue with emails and phone calls, as well as plan, organize and secure contracts with big name artists. I also work on promotions and photo shoots with our current endorsers.
I lend a considerable amount of my time and experience to product development, as well, so I am routinely involved in coming up with new product ideas and testing new products when they reach that phase.
Having said all that, every day is a little different, so I don’t really settle into any kind of routine. What may have worked yesterday won’t necessarily work today. What works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. The ability to think on my feet and adapt are paramount to my success in both this position and in life.
OLM: What steps did you take to become Artist Relations Manager?
CJ: I have been a music junkie for the majority of my life, but I’ll start at what I think is the moment things shifted for me. My first big concert was Pantera in the Summer of 1994. I was lucky enough to party with the band and Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell shaved my head! I felt like I was blessed from that moment forward. That experience basically set the tone for the rest of my life. From there I seemed able to meet many of my musical heroes time after time.
My jobs have always been in the musical realm. Throughout the years, I’ve worked at a few different record stores (Tower Records, The Underground and Silver Platters) and a few different music stores, too (Band Aid Music, Guitarville). During this time I was also taking and giving guitar lessons, playing gigs and booking tours with my band ONLY HUMAN.
Then I took the leap and enrolled in the Music Business/Performance program at Shoreline Community College. There I was able to learn a lot of the basics of the business in order to go searching for a ‘real’ job in the music industry.
When I graduated, I was still working at Guitarville, but had heard about job openings in the Sales Department at Ampeg. I applied twice (once for Sales and once for Tech Support) and wasn’t hired! I bugged the Sales Supervisor every other day for two weeks until they finally hired me. I stayed in Sales for about a year before being recruited by Tech Support.
During my tenure in Tech Support, I befriended the folks in Product Development because I really wanted to be a part of their future; I wanted to help create new products and bring them to market. After a while it happened and I was hired on as a Product Manager.
Unfortunately, the Product Management position lasted only about six months due to the market crash in late 2008. This resulted in big cut backs and layoffs. Luckily, I was one of the few survivors, but in a new dual-role position. I worked in the Alvarez Guitar shop setting up acoustic guitars and also assisted with Artist Relations. After a short while, I was working less and less in the guitar shop and more and more in Artist Relations. I’ve been in Artist Relations full-time now for two solid years…living the dream [laughs]!
OLM: What are the perks of the job?
CJ: The perks typically include getting really great seats and backstage passes for awesome shows, doing photo shoots with legends like Geezer Butler [Black Sabbath] and Roger Waters [Pink Floyd], having dinner and microbrew with members from Wilco, watching John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl soundcheck before a Them Crooked Vultures show, drinking beers and post-show jamming with Glen Hansard of The Swell Season and The Frames, meeting one of my favorite artists in the world, Erykah Badu, going to the first Faith No More show in the States in over 13 or 14 years, going to the first Soundgarden show in a dozen, or so, years, watching a private Fleetwood Mac rehearsal, blah blah blah…the list goes on and on and on [laughs]!
OLM: It can’t be all fun and games, though. Otherwise it wouldn’t be called a job. So what are some of the disadvantages?
CJ: You are all too right about that [laughs]! As the only Artist Relations Manager, vacations can be tricky. I need to constantly scan my email for any emergency gear situations when not in the office. Also, I occasionally deal with some artists and their management that think they are God’s gift to the music world and they tend to make ridiculous demands. I always seem to have way more emails and voicemails than I can truly respond to. I love going to concerts, but right now I’m averaging anywhere from 60-70 shows per year which is causing a little burnout. I suppose if they were all shows I wanted to attend it might be a little different. It’s a good thing I like diverse music or I really wouldn’t be very good at this job.
OLM: Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with? Who are the most exciting or pleasant to work with and why?
CJ: Oh man, I could go on all day! Devin Townsend [Strapping Young Lad, Steve Vai] for his awesome, quirky nature. I just love joking around with that guy. Plus, he is such a great endorser because of all the time he spends making videos and talking about the gear he uses. Hutch Hutchinson [Bonnie Raitt, The Neville Brothers] is another guy that has been extremely good to me. I always look forward to our NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show breakfast every year and getting updated phone calls from the road; he’s got some of the best stories! Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová of The Swell Season and The Frames are some of the very best people I’ve met. But I can’t really put it into words. It wouldn’t do it justice. Mike Inez [Alice in Chains, Ozzy Osbourne, Heart] has been another artist that has been truly awesome to me both personally and professionally. He’s always willing to do whatever he can for Ampeg; he’s extremely loyal. This list is actually quite long and I could go on for quite some time…a few others that come to mind are Rex Brown [Pantera, Down], Darryl Jones [The Rolling Stones], Jon Reshard [Greg Howe], Cliff Williams [AC/DC], Tony Levin [King Crimson, Peter Gabriel], Joe Lester [Intronaut] and more…
OLM: What artists do you not currently work with, but would like to?
CJ: Whatever do you mean? Everyone already owns and plays Ampeg, don’t they [laughs]? Seriously though, my top three, in order, are John Paul Jones, Sir Paul McCartney and Flea.
OLM: How do you decide which artists you will work with or pursue?
It’s all about the visibility that the artist can bring to the brand for the most part. However, if an artist isn’t a household name but has considerable influence in their region, I’m all ears. If it’s an entry or mid-level artist that I’m considering, I really expect them to be very active in marketing themselves via social media and other outlets in order to have some visible return on my investment of time with them.
OLM: How do you go about making something like that happen?
CJ: There are various ways. It all depends on what’s available to me. I’ve already planted a seed with John Paul Jones this year. I worked with a band called Mini Mansions. They opened for Them Crooked Vultures where I was able to meet John. I brought him an Ampeg Micro-VR as a gift from Ampeg. We’ll see where that can go this next year when I get ready to pursue it more.
I’ve also just ‘Googled’ a band’s management to get the correct contact info fairly quickly. From there I was able to set up meetings with the artist to discuss working together. And other times I’ll have an artist that’s already on my roster; I’ll try and set up an introduction to see where that might go.
OLM: You hear from artists/bands from all over the world. How many press kits would you say you receive per week, on average?
CJ: Well it definitely varies from week to week, but nowadays I receive more EPKs [electronic press kits] which I prefer because of the lack of waste and the space it saves on my desk. Including snail mail and email submissions I probably receive an average of about 20-30 new requests a week. That doesn’t sound too bad, but add it up and it’s approximately 80-120 different bands per month wanting to be on the Ampeg roster that is already far beyond full.
OLM: What unknown artists/bands gave you the “wow” factor (enough to offer them support) and why?
CJ: Jon Reshard and Joe Lester are equally at the top of that list. It’s not really that either are “unknowns” at all; they’re just “lesser known” in the grand picture. Jon’s been on the last few Greg Howe releases, put out a solo record that had Greg Howe and Dave Weckl as guests, filled in recently for Thomas Pridgen’s band – The Memorials – last tour and is now working on his own new modern heavy rock project. I am really excited to hear this! Jon’s playing is great on CD but you really need to see him live to even have a clue to how incredible he is.
And Joe Lester plays primarily in a band called Intronaut that has been opening regularly for bands like Mastodon and Cynic. You will be hearing a lot more about this band in the near future…especially Joe, as he is strangely the center of attention in this band. Even with two heavy guitars, metal drums and vocals, Intronaut is very bass-centric with really great jazz fusion style breaks amongst grimy crust-infused stoner doom prog-metal. I know that’s quite the involved description, but it’s the best I’ve got at the moment! Go check them out for yourself and you will know what I mean!
OLM: What has been your best moment as Artist Relations Manager and why?
CJ: There have been so many ‘best moments’ that it’s really hard to choose just one. However, if I had to choose just one, I’d say my recent (and first) trip to New York City takes the cake. I was there to do a photo shoot with Roger Waters, meet up with Will Lee who’s part of The Late Show with David Letterman band, meet The Roots who are the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, visit and tour the D’Addario/Planet Waves/Evans Drum heads factory, and lastly meet with and help conduct an interview with Jess Oliver [Inventor of the famed Ampeg B-15] alongside Tony Levin and Chris Jisi of Bass Player Magazine. The trip was packed so full of awesome events that I was totally overloaded trying to look at everything and soak up as much of the culture as possible. I can’t wait to go back and spend more time exploring and a little less time working.
OLM: What do you like to do outside of work? What are some of your hobbies?
CJ: I like long walks on the beach, holding hands, shaggin’ by the fireplace [laughs]! Well, actually, I do like all of that, but seriously though, I love to run, go cycling on my Litespeed, mountain biking on my Cannondale, hiking, drinking great microbrew, mainly Black Raven Trickster IPA! Nothing like a good beer with a few good friends! I also play guitar and continue to write new music for two main projects. One is a mellow acoustic instrumental guitar album and the other is a ‘heavy progressive thrash groove math metal’ thing; an evolution of my previous work with ONLY HUMAN. More to come by mid-2011!
OLM: The desert island question: if you could take the collected works of five artists, who would the five be?
CJ: Al Di Meola, Bob Marley, Erykah Badu, Sade, Alex Skolnick (Trio / Testament / etc)
OLM: Who is your guilty listening pleasure?
CJ: Justin Timberlake, Top 40 disposable dance songs & Dirty Dub Step mixes
OLM: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, Chrys…last question! How can artists/bands contact you?
CJ: Hmmm that’s a dangerous thing to reveal [laughs]! You may submit an EPK to me by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or send a physical press kit to:
16220 Wood Red Rd NE
Woodinville WA 98072
NOTE: While it doesn’t hurt to submit a press kit, please be realistic and know that Chrys is only working with the most visible artists and/or artists with a unique ability to reach a lot of people through social media in some way. Just because a press kit has been submitted does not mean Chrys will respond. Please do not take it personally. He simply doesn’t have the time to respond to all submissions received.