Brian Choper: Reshaping the Music Biz
As a musician, manager, and producer, Brian Choper has flourished in the music industry. His first instrument as a young boy was a banjo his parents bought for him. He then briefly moved onto the violin. Yet, neither were his musical match. "The violin didn't have the energy that I wanted," Choper muses. "But, when I was nine, I saw a drummer playing at a school dance. I immediately knew that was what I wanted to do."
Choper's parents had never been jazz or rock oriented. While initially reluctant for him to take up the drums, they ultimately agreed. His first drum was a Heathkit snare drum. "My first teacher was a part-time physicist, who even taught me about the connection between the drum and the physics of sound," Choper beams. "Our family did not have a great deal of money, so he gave me lessons in exchange for dinner." Choper also practiced diligently - so much so that he was playing in Ragtime bands at the age of thirteen, alongside band-members in their thirties. He continued performing in college and beyond, as a freelance percussionist for ragtime, swing, and big bands.
Choper plays drums to this day. Presently, two of the main bands he performs with are T&L, as well as the New Klezmer Quintet. T&L is a highly acclaimed rock and roll cover band, covering songs that range from Heart's "Barracuda," to Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain." "When we cover songs, we aren't afraid to make them our own and copyright our versions," Choper explains. "With 'Set Fire to the Rain,' we re-orchestrated it to add jazz and rock influences."
Choper's cover band is so successful, they have expanded into doing their own compositions. The Klezmer tradition of music was founded by Ashkenazi Jewish people from Eastern Europe. Now, it often utilizes elements of jazz, frequently being played at American celebrations and weddings. Notably, the New Klezmer Quintet plays traditional Hebrew or Yiddish ballads, yet puts a unique spin on them. Sometimes rock songs are "Klezmer-ized." The band also has a bluegrass version of the Horah.
Doing things in a creative way has long been a staple of Choper's life. His innovation, combined with the lifelong gratitude he's felt for his childhood mentors, are largely why he too decided to mentor others. Choper was also driven by the drastic changes the music industry has seen since the 1990's. While record labels have become almost entirely focused on turning a profit, Choper believes this approach is actually counter-intuitive. "The industry is killing itself, and it doesn't have to be like that," Choper laments. "But we're working one step at a time to make a big difference."
The website, "Gigs For You," serves to guide and mentor artists. Excerpts from Choper's self-published guidebook, "The Entertainment Connection Career Guidebook," are also on the site. Said publication is a lifesaver for many aspiring musicians, particularly those who may be unaware of certain things. For example, Choper is adamant that musicians value themselves. He sees countless young performers willing to work entirely for free, or to play club gigs for smaller than standard compensation. He encourages musicians not to respond to people who will not pay them sufficiently. He also realizes that many young musicians are unaware of how to market themselves properly, if at all. Such issues are things he tackles as a manager and a mentor.
Choper had a turning point when he realized that to get the most out of the music industry, he had to form his own bands. It also occurred to him that if he managed other bands, he could help prevent aspiring musicians from falling into the industry's pitfalls. "Becoming a manager and mentor, while promoting other bands, has satisfied me in a way that playing the drums alone could not," Choper smiles. His company represents individual artists, along with managing thirteen to fifteen bands. He has even been known to have his mentees perform with his cover and his rock and roll bands. "I am more hands on than any other managers I know," Choper notes. "I run a 'Bandocracy.' I am the boss. But we encourage the musicians' ideas, and often implement them. If musicians are focused and do their homework, we will help them shine."
It goes without saying that musicians under Choper's label, Thunder Records, are intensely mentored. The label was officially launched because Choper did not want to seek out an outside label. Thunder Records is different in that the company goes above and beyond. Choper and his team promote clients, as well as help them write music and put together shows. "We've been doing the work that's done at Thunder Records for three years," Choper points out. "But only recently have we made it obvious online, making a public debut with the label's website." One notable Thunder Records artist is JRay, who was a runner up on "America's Got Talent." The label has been instrumental in pointing the singer in the right direction. "Before our collaboration, JRay had a great voice. He simply wasn't sure what the best songs for him to sing were," Choper reflects. "Now, when he performs with a jazz band or T&L, people say he's one of the best singers they've ever heard."
"Along with all my other work, I get to be the event coordinator and drum player at family parties," Choper laughs. In the future, Choper is looking forward to a publisher potentially picking up his guidebook. He is excited to keep performing. And he is thrilled to continue managing and helping budding musicians under the umbrella of Thunder Records. Choper emphasizes that, "Overall, the only requirements to work with us are that a musician be unique, have talent, and show ambition. We want to make a difference in the culture of the music business."
- Donna Letterese
For more information on Brian Choper and Thunder Records, please go to www.BrianChoper.com.
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