Looking (or better: hearing) around these days, you’ll often find dishonest music out there. For many bands and acts, releasing the next track has become a run for the money, an attempt to maximize sales. This not only leads to decreasing quality of today’s songs, but also to artists having no own signature sound and (even worse) no soul in their songs anymore. Many performers are starting to get dishonest with what they do, and you can hear that in their work.
But then there are musicians you just stumble upon. Honest musicians. Guys who do what they do because they want to do it, not relying on music chart figures or on ridiculous amounts of clicks. Guys who love music, who feel what they do no matter what, showing what it’s all about. Guys like 63 year old Ray Santi from Trevor, Wisconsin, USA. We had a chance to talk to Ray about his way of creating tracks, what being a musician is all about for him, and his thoughts on the development of the musical landscape.
kms / When did you start with music?
Ray Santi / I started dabbling in music 45 years ago when I chose to walk into a music store that was next door to the bank that I should have deposited my money in. My “career” is not very long or illustrious. I have only really had time and resources into it over the last 8 years or so as I am semi retired. I have always had songs and guitar riffs floating in my brain and always thought that I could write songs that could hold their own amongst the great songs that have set the benchmark for us all.
kms / Describe your writing process from initial idea to released song.
Ray Santi / My writing process varies on the song, melody or genre. I have songs that came to me in an instant. Others have rattled around in my brain for 30 years and are only starting to come out. A song usually starts with a guitar riff ala Keith Richards, or a specific melody. I get melodies all the time. The hardest part is writing good lyrics. My friend and bass player Willie J. Rauch wrote the words to 3 of my songs. With Willie what I did was give him a copy of some songs that I had roughed out with instrumentation and a “scat track” vocal of the melody. He would come by a week later with a whole song written out in perfect meter. Amazing. On the song “Done Gone” the only ineligible words on it were “you paint your toes and your fingernails”. He finished the line with “to
match the monkey tattooed on your back”… he wrote a whole song from that one phrase. He also wrote the words for the tracks “Mae Beth’s” and “Brother’s Keeper”. Great guy.
kms / Do you play in a band?
Ray Santi / I am not in a band at the moment. I really hope that that will change in the future. For now, I sing all the songs. I play all guitars, (electric, acoustic, bass), I play the mandolin and I also play some hand drums. All other instruments are friends of mine that I enlisted as the songs needed.
kms / We noticed that your tracks weren’t recorded in the studio. How and where do you record your tracks?
Ray Santi / I so far have done all my recording in my home using a Tascam 2488 Neo porta studio. I record anywhere in the house free from noise or out in the shop where a woodstove keeps things toasty. (“Amazing Grace” was recorded entirely in my bedroom.) Acoustic instruments and vocals are usually miked with a condenser mic. Some drums are miked also. Many tracks feature a digital Yamaha drum set played by Keith Lehman, which is line in for total track separation of each drum. Most songs were recorded with a click track and added musicians as needed. I then mix master the tracks on the home stereo over a glass of wine. I chart the fader pans in a spiral notebook as I tweak the mix so as I listen I can layer the instruments so that nothing is too loud. Then I do the master. This usually takes a couple of days so I can hear it with “fresh ears”.
kms / What ways of distribution do you use for your music?
Ray Santi / At the moment I have a few songs available digitally at Reverbnation. Some songs also are available for streaming or download on most online music stores. I hope within in the next year I could actually have a 15 song CD for purchase. I hope to release a new single called “Delta Heartbeat” about a Mississippi tow boat captain and a man on the run. It should be available sometime in mid June 2017.
My plans are to keep writing and recording these songs in my head (the best ones have been in there for years but no words yet).
kms / Reaching out with your work, what is your experience with the music industry?
Ray Santi / My experiences with the music industry are very limited. The market is extremely saturated, in part because of so many artists like myself, and also the market mainly targets a few very narrow bands of the whole musical spectrum. Many young people are completely unaware of the rich diversity of fabulous genres out there.
As far as live music most of the venues around here focus on cover bands. What I am doing is a niche market at best but while I would like to have this be profitable I am more concerned about sharing the music I love and having others enjoy it too. I am not sure what the music “industry” will continue to look like in the future. Even that we refer to it as “industry” is a strange way to categorize and share art. It can probably go on “programming” it’s audiences to sell a mass produced, mass marketed, one size fits all product that will sell in their targeted market. I just want to make music that I feel in my soul. I just want to share the music that I hear in my head with others.