Central Vermont musician Chad Hollister has seen a lot of changes in the music business in his 20-plus years as a full-time professional musician.
A South Burlington native who has lived in Worcester for a dozen years, Hollister, 49, has been playing his original roots-rock music in a variety of band formations since his first proper solo album, “Chad,” was released in 1998. Late last year, he was signed by San Diego-based label Pacific Records, and released his fifth album, “Stop the World,” in April. The album is the first to feature Hollister’s 10-piece band, which includes four horn players.
The band celebrated the release of the album with a packed-house show at the Rusty Nail in Stowe, and has sold out the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center in Stowe four years in a row. A hard-working musician who regularly tours throughout the Northeast and across the country, Hollister has scored some big-time gigs opening for the likes of Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Tom Petty and, more recently, ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons.
Lately, though, Hollister said there have been some interesting changes in the music business that he is starting to embrace. For example, he has been increasingly performing at house concerts, which are organized and promoted by fans and have fast become an important part of an artist’s touring repertoire.
“There’s nothing like it,” he said of house concerts, describing them as some of his favorite gigs. “When you put the value (of the music) in the hands of fans, it’s a whole shift,” he said.
Hollister typically introduces himself before performing at house concerts. “I give them the speech, and the speech is this: ‘I’ve put my heart and soul into this record. Music is my life. And I don’t want you to leave here without my music. So, whatever you can afford as a donation, that would be wonderful.’ Nobody gives you less than $10, and most people give you $20.”
And it’s the same vibe for the show, he added, which typically has a suggested donation of $20 per person.
“What’s this show worth to you? Some people put in $20 but some people put in $100. So you shift it towards them, and once you do that, it’s a different thing.”
Hollister is quick to add that it’s not just about the money. “You do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he said with a laugh. But as a father of two with a mortgage and bills to pay, “money has been really important to make.”
And Hollister cites other differences regarding live gigs, especially in places like Newport, Rhode Island, where cover bands typically rule the roost. But Hollister’s duo gigs with Rutland guitarist Jeff “Primo” Poremski, a longtime member of the Chad Hollister Band, at a private events venue called The Meeting Place, featuring free drinks for patrons who are encouraged to tip the band. A sponsor provides the beer and wine and also pays the musicians.
“It’s just shifting these places that do all that cover stuff,” says Hollister. “And we’re giving them something really special. ‘This is original. We are from Vermont. Grab a beer and tip the band.’ So it’s kind of cool to find ourselves in those situations where we can create that vibe.”
Montpelier blues and soul musician Dave Keller has also been adding house concerts to his live calendar. “They’ve been a ton of fun,” said Keller. “It fosters a real connection that is priceless.”
A professional musician who has garnered glowing accolades for his albums and a Blues Music Association nomination for Best Soul/Blues Album (for his 2014 album, “Soul Changes”), Keller, 49, said the decrease in physical sales of albums and the increase of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have made it harder to make money through selling music.
“The royalties from streaming are, frankly, insulting,” he said. “Record contracts for emerging artists are few and far between, and usually not a good deal for the artist.”
Like most independent musicians these days, Keller has raised money to record and manufacture his last two albums via Kickstarter. “Crowdfunding allows me to tap into the goodwill of my fans, and really makes it possible for me to continue to release original music without becoming a slave to a record company,” he said. “It reminds us that we’re all in this together.”
Hollister said that while having the support of a record label has been helpful in terms of getting his music out to a wider audience, making it as a professional musician still means playing live as much as possible. “To stay alive … you have to just maintain gigging,” he said. “And so solo, duo, is really how I make my living and support my family.
“People use that term ‘livin’ the dream’ quite a bit, but I truly am doing it,” said Hollister about his career to date. “I’ve always done it on my own terms, and have always been my own boss, and I really like that.”
The Chad Hollister Band performs July 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Battery Park in Burlington, as part of the Battery Park Free Concert Series. More information is available at pointfm.com. Learn more at chadmusic.com and davekeller.com.