Books L.E.Kalikow

The Human Touch of Music in a Digital Age: An Interview with L. E. Kalikow

Friday, May 13, 2016 Kathleen Lieffers

L. E. Kalikow is not only the author of the book Sex, No Drugs, and Rock 'N' Roll: Memoirs of a Music Junkie, but he has worked in the music industry his whole life beginning as an aspiring singer/songwriter, music publisher, CEO, and now contributing blogger for the Huffington Post. In his book, Kalikow goes into details of his journey and how much the music industry can take a toll on a person as well as the changing dynamics of the industry. He's seen it all from stars going through hell to experiencing his own rejection.

Another perk of Kalikow's book is the music available in the very back. These are songs written throughout the years by L. E. Kalikow that he has put together to show his own journey and changing through the music industry. You can check out and purchase his book on Amazon and all of his songs from the book on iTunes.  His newest video, 'Corned Beef On Rye' was just released Wednesday, May 11th.

Along with receiving a copy of his book, I was able to snag a phone interview with the incredibly frank and mildly hilarious author.


Kathleen: Hello! Thank you so much for speaking with me today!

L. E. Kalikow: Hello, Kathleen. I looked at your videos. I saw your music!

Kathleen: Ha. Oh, really! Thank you for doing that. What did you think?

Kalikow: I think you have a really great voice and a good stage presence, too!

Kathleen: Wow, well that is great to hear - especially from you!

Kalikow: Ha. Yes, of course! So, what would you like to talk about today?

Kathleen: Well, I really wanted to focus on the music industry during the 60's and 70's and your thoughts on being involved with it for so long. 

Kalikow: Yes! I know you live in Chicago. And in the book I go into detail about Chicago during that time. Chess records really was going through a transformation when I was there and they were trying to go more mainstream with it. And unfortunately, that never worked out for them. I was left signed to a production company with a label and no one running it. So, that all fell apart. But, uh, it was an interesting time to be in Chicago.

But, yes. As you can see in the book, the music changed as the country changed. The country was going through stress and the music reflected that. The music changed substantially when I had first begun playing to when I wasn't so much anymore.

Kathleen: Oh, definitely. Do you think it has become more difficult for musicians to play now-a-days?

Kalikow: For a while it was difficult for the artist because the record company stole everything from them and unless you had a big hit record, you weren't going to see any money. Then, these 360 deals started coming where the Internet started to make digital downloads more popular and the record companies decided they wanted more than just the record royalties, they wanted everything. So, they signed these 360 deals with the artist where they [record companies] controlled everything.

Now those record companies have been swallowed up by big conglomerates. The old fashion record company doesn't exist anymore because they couldn't live on the royalties they were stealing. Ha! So, they then created these big mega-brands like the American Idol situation where it's no longer the music or the artist. It's creating a brand that they can sell. And, again, that is not so great for the artist.

It has also become much, much more difficult to make money with your music. You're up against a sea of thousands of musicians putting their music up constantly. There is no organization helping these artists because they are only interested in these mega-stars and mega-brands. It is much harder for a musician to make a living.

Kathleen: I completely agree. I know that was another thing you had touched on in the book. It's all about rejection and timing and how a musician really does have to be lucky. Do you feel that is the same in the industry today?

Kalikow: Absolutely. It's being in the right place at the right time. Well. Let's say putting yourself in the right place at the right time. Ha. If your particular music happens to be the right thing to be saying at the right time and your particular vocal style happens to fit a particular niche in what people want, then you might just have something.

Kathleen: You opened for Van Morrison (one of my personal favorite musicians) and he was too drunk and needed to be sobered up backstage. You had to extend your set when you opened for him. Could you explain more what it was like opening for these stars?

Kalikow: Ha! Yes. Well, Van Morrison was going through a rough time then where he had started drinking a lot. And Jefferson Airplane was going through a breakup. It was an interesting experience where I was the only one that might make it on the stage. Ha!

It was really exciting to open for artists and work with these great artists because the advantage for me was I would then be able to pick up some followers that came to see their stuff. If I was good enough, they would want to see my stuff again. In the old Greenwich Village days it was wonderful because those were all little clubs and the stars were playing in those clubs. There were acts like Peter, Paul and Mary that were playing in these little clubs. It was an exciting, explosive time for that kind of acoustic music that you're doing now, as a matter of fact! Ha.

Kathleen: Ha. Yes, it seemed there was a bit of a decline in that acoustic music.

Kalikow: Well, it's interesting to see acoustic guitars starting to be bought again and people doing more acoustic music again. I just did a blog piece for the Huffington Post. I had been writing about that very idea.

There was a book in the 80's. And the thesis of the book was that the more we got involved with technology the more we would want something with a human touch. I think it's moved that way. I think we have become so overwhelmed with tech oriented and digital sounds and such that people are longing for that human touch again. Part of that is that movement back to vinyl and you're seeing acoustic guitar sales go up. People like being able to be some place where they can actually see real musicians playing real instruments live.

Kathleen: Wow, I completely agree. I think the human touch is something in music that has been taken for granted for far too long.

Kalikow: There is another piece I did about what's happened to the music. The theory is put out by a friend of mine Rob Fraboni who's a very successful producer and engineer. Digital sound has a different effect on your body than analog sound. Analog sound is a wavelength so the sound comes in waves. Digital sound breaks those waves up into pieces and your mind has to put it back together to listen to it. It's like the difference between a florescent light and a condescend bulb. One is warm and comforting and the other is kind of jarring. The theory is that digital music - since it is all broken up into pieces of the wavelength - that your body reacts differently to it. So, I think part of that retro situation is because your human body reacts differently to that digital sound than the analog sound.

Kathleen: That is so fascinating and makes a lot of sense, actually. Ha. How else has the music industry changed from this digital age?

Kalikow: Yes. Well, it has changed the whole structure of the music business. The records companies used to filter and build and nurture artists. You knew if you liked Atlantic Records that a new artist from Atlantic Records would have people behind them and there was this filtering system. Now, the artist is on their own. The record companies have been decimated by digital. You are in this whole sea of other artists which makes it much more difficult to survive as an artist.

Kathleen: Exactly. And I feel it has always been said that in the music business, "It's who you know." I think this concept of networking and knowing people in the business has just become so much more important overtime especially with musicians being, essentially, alone.

Kalikow: Yes. For your generation, one of the keys is social networking. It's a marketing tool. You have to find key ways to attract people to your art. That's your most essential marketing tool. One of the keys is also what we were talking about before. They want to see live music again. If you can gather a following that come out to see your shows, then it works.

Kathleen: Do you think this acoustic music resurgence is a trend?

Kalikow: It is a trend and we will have to see if there are more talented musicians that take it further. Since people don't sit and listen to a song or an album like they used to, the music itself no longer has a beginning, a middle, or end to it. The music has now become a hook for the multi-tasking generation. While you are doing other things, it catches your attention. The perfect example is the song Happy. It's this hook that repeats over and over just to catch your attention.

Songwriting is not the way it used to be. You are not getting that songwriting that tells a story anymore. Maybe if people start going to see live acoustic music again there will be a songwriting trend that takes place.

Kathleen: Wow. I completely agree about the idea of a hook that has taken place in songwriting styles. I noticed that a few years ago, actually. I remember seeing some pop band playing at some awards show and they had water fall on them while playing and crazy lights and outfits and it made me think, when did music become this visual display? It used to be about the story being told and the passion behind it and just the music. So, yes. I hope songwriting that tells a story and makes your audience feel something makes a comeback!

Kalikow: Ha. I do, too!

Kathleen: Well that is all I have for you. Thank you so very much for agreeing to speak with me! It has been such a pleasure. And thank you for watching my videos, as well. Ha.

Kalikow: Yes, of course. Thanks kiddo!

Sex, No Drugs & Rock 'N' Roll:
Memoirs of a Music Junkie
by L. E. Kalikow
As you can see from the interview, the idea of having a human touch in music is something that people are beginning to want once more. Kalikow explains that there are, yes, scientific reasons behind this desire, but also this trend of songwriting that somehow got lost through the years.

Kalikow's thoughts on the matter and other writings can be read on the Huffington Post. I would also highly recommend L. E. Kalikow's book to anyone even remotely interested in the music industry as well as music from the early days of rock 'n' roll. He tells story with precise themes and inspires the reader to be a part of the change we want to see in the music industry.

You can check out and purchase his book on Amazon and all of his songs from the book on iTunes.  His newest video, 'Corned Beef On Rye' was just released Wednesday, May 11th.

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