Each week at SoundCorps we plan to post either a helpful tip to help you develop your career in the music industry or highlight a local music professional who has built a successful career out of their passion. This week our artist spotlight is on local legend Jason Foster.
When you first meet Jason, you wouldn’t guess that this soft spoken man would have a lengthy musical resume that drops big names like Ludacris, T-Pain, Bobby Valentino, and Don Moen. The start to his star-studded career began in church around 8th grade, where he played gigs for artists in the Yonkers, NY area. By the time he was 15, he began to make regular TV appearances on shows like Ellen Degeneres, Jay Leno, Jimmy Kimmel, and David Letterman while touring with some of the previously mentioned artists. Along with his love of music, Jason also has a deep heart for mentoring young adults and college kids so that they reach their fullest potential. He was part of several church plants and nonprofit start ups throughout the East Coast, and ended up in Chattanooga when he and a friend were asked to start what is now the Camp House and Mission Chattanooga. He and his wife Satoya Foster are both avid musicians in the Chattanooga community (Jason primarily plays bass, and Satoya sings) and they recently had a beautiful baby girl, Zoe.
I know that you play bass, but what else do you play? Do you play any other instruments?
Jason: I do. I play drums, all things keys for the most part, guitar, and bass. I don’t know if you consider this playing, but I also do producing and recording as well. I’m known most for bass, but I would say that I do unusual things on bass and that’s probably why I stand out.
Do you see any advantages or disadvantages as a musician in being stationed in Chattanooga?
Jason: Yes. Coming from NYC, I’m used to doing TV appearances. I’ve done SNL, Letterman, L.A. gigs, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen Degeneres, touring with big names…I’m used to there being opportunity and infrastructure and tons of musical employers like record producers and managers. There’s just all the pieces necessary for a functioning music economy.
So let’s talk about moving to Chattanooga and being a full time musician. With Chattanooga, the pros that I see are these: the initiatives to empower creatives are unbelievable. And for how small the city is, there’s a lot more room to pioneer something. It’s fertile soil with a lot of open space to birth ideas. As far as cons go, it’s fertile ground. There’s a lot of newness. There’s not something established that’s already gone through its process to become something attainable like Madison Square Gardens. It takes a while to be something like that. Also, there aren’t many employers in Chattanooga for music creatives. Because of that, an artist/musician trying to become full time has to start something new, and get enough attention. But Chattanooga doesn’t have that many consumers so they’d have to be realistic with where they are in relation to other music cities. They’re gonna need Nashville. They’re gonna need New York. They’re gonna need Atlanta.
You touched on this earlier, but what advice would you have for someone trying to start out their musical career? And that doesn’t necessarily have to be just in performing because you produce as well right?
Jason: Correct. For anyone going into the entertainment business, you have to ask yourself, “Who are you?”, “What do you do,” and “Who hires you?” You also need to know what they require so you can develop yourself to meet their needs. Typically when I ask growing musicians, they don’t know who would hire them. Because of that, people are shooting arrows without knowing where their targets are. Ten years later, they are in the same place because they don’t know where to aim. That’s what happened when I first moved to Chattanooga. I like to do as much as possible, so when I tried to break into the session scene I asked myself, “What kind of city are we in?” “What cities are nearby?” and “What are they dominant in?”
Nashville is so much of a recording studio knowledge kind of city. Making records and putting out albums. Atlanta is very similar. I do a lot of work there as well. That’s more of a songwriter/producer industry. I know how to be of value to each area. In Nashville, for instance, I had to learn a music charting system which is different from systems in other music cities. They have a system called the Nashville Numbers chart, and I learned from talking to producers out there and sitting in on sessions that they have a lot of gear and a vast amount of studio knowledge to help them create unique sounds. In New York, however, it’s all about the vocabulary. It’s about how much you could say, and how many different ways you could say the same thing while having the musical chops to execute it.
Usually I can look in someone’s phone book and tell their level of success. Let’s say a drummer is hoping to go on world tours with major artists, but I look at his or her contact list and only see other drummers. I can guarantee you that he or she is not being hired for world tours. If they have a lot of band leaders and managers in their phonebook, then it is very likely that they are hired all of the time. Actually, the question you’re asking is very important because it demystifies the music industry.
I like to look at the music industry as a sphere: the core is my goal, my ideal, or the dream, and surrounding that core are people that you interact with. It’s important to climb the social ladder and know where to start. Usually on the outside of the sphere are people trying to climb the social ladder, such as musicians or songwriters. They’re on the outer shell trying to get in. The next level are people who hire musicians, so I think of band leaders and music directors. They are the ones who get work for people. An artist might say, “Hey, I have this record I want you to produce” and the producer says, “Cool, I get to choose who brings this vision to life.” The next level would be managers and A&R representatives, who focus on delivering the needs of the artists and help them manage schedules. For example, if an artist got a date to do SNL, he would go to the manager and say, “Hey, this is the date. Now I need a band.” Each level builds and eventually ends up at the label head. You have to make sure that socially you are productive and make those connections with not only people like you, but others who can help you grow because of your differences.
Definitely. Diversify. So, are there any local projects that you’re excited about?
Jason: This might be weird, but I’m actually most excited about my wife’s project. She’s just so good! It’s cool because she’s that talent that everyone encourages to try out for American Idol. That skillful star quality that she still has to work for, but definitely has. So I’m probably most excited about my wife.
When is she set to start recording? Do you guys have a release date yet?
Jason: Actually, we have one song left on the record. It will be out before 2017, but we took a little bit of a pause because we just had a baby. We just had a business meeting and are planning a tour pretty soon. The cool thing about Satoya is that whether she recognizes it or not, she’s very well connected. There are a lot of people of influence who can’t wait for her to put her record out, and she has amazing musicians as friends. Every inch of it will be good, because they will play quality music and provide a great live show.
Photo Credit goes to Corinne Walsingham.