Home Arts & Entertainment Blowing Rock ONE on ONE With…Bryan Toney, In Transition (Again)

Blowing Rock ONE on ONE With…Bryan Toney, In Transition (Again)

Toney’s first album, “With A Y”

By David Rogers. September 21, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — His hair is longer now, and it is gray — which seems just perfect when you consider the number of aging music legends that have performed even into their 70s: Brian Wilson and Al Jardine (Beach Boys), Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Stephen Tyler (Aerosmith), Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones, and so many more.

Coming out of college in the 1980s, Bryan Toney was one of those entrepreneurial “whiz kids” who capitalized on the PC revolution.  Fast forward a dozen years and he sold his company, reinvented himself as an academician, and started sharing the business wisdom he won in the trenches of capitalism with thousands of university students and community-based entrepreneurs in the High Country and, more recently, in the Piedmont.

Now, a couple of decades later, this 50-something “the glass is half full” kind of guy has reinvented himself yet again, this time pursuing a livelihood in the passion that heretofore has been more of a hobby: songwriting and performing music.

Toney was in the High Country recently visiting friends and performing with his trio at Lost Province Brewing Company in Boone.  An old friend and business mentor, he stopped by Blowing Rock News in late August and agreed to an interview about his self-reinvention, his music, and a lot about the business world, especially as it applies to the music industry.

He was candid, insightful, and enthusiastic — and we covered a lot of ground.

Blowing Rock News (BRN): Let’s provide some perspective for this conversation. Where did you grow up?

Bryan Toney (BT): I am a native North Carolinian, born in Marion. One side of my family is from Rutherford County and the other is from Catawba County. Going back, both sides  are pre-Revolutionary War. I am probably about as much North Carolinian as you can get!

My father worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and kept getting promotions, so we moved around a little bit as he was re-assigned. Most of my elementary school education was in Roanoke, Virginia and I went to junior high school in Cary, North Carolina. The rest of my school age years were in Nashville, Tennessee. I went to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And I did graduate studies at Georgia Tech.

After nine years, like a lot of entrepreneurs I got a little bit restless.

BRN: Well, we met while you were heading up the entrepreneurship program at Appalachian State, so you must be a little confused when it comes to rooting for a football team: Tennessee, Georgia Tech, App State, and maybe even a little Chapel Hill, NC State and Duke thrown in there, too.

BT (chuckling): Well, probably I have more affinity with Appalachian because I spent the most time there than at the schools where I was actually enrolled.

BRN: Besides business and music, which we will find out more in just a minute, what are your interests?

BT: Music and business, that pretty much covers it. Of course, I still love the outdoors and hiking.

BRN: What is your favorite hiking area up here in the High Country?

BT: We circulate among a lot of different trails, but generally a favorite would probably be between Moses Cone and the trails that originate from Price Lake park. It was a long time ago, but I did the Profile Trail on Grandfather Mountain. Elk Knob up there above Meat Camp is pretty special with its 360-degree views.

BRN: What prompted this transition, this reinvention of yourself?

BT: This is the second time I’ve done a major reinvention of myself. The first time..I had a software company in Atlanta that I had started. It was a custom software development firm. I started that at a pretty young age, just a year out of graduate school. It was the mid-80s, a great time to get into the business because PCs were starting to take off. There was a lot of need in the business community.

At that time, “very different” was going into higher education.

BRN: So this was really very early in what I will call the PC revolution?

BT: Yes. Very early and a great time to get into the software development business. My company grew pretty quickly and I ended up with 25 employees within about nine years. We were very successful, but after nine years like a lot of entrepreneurs I got a little bit restless. I asked myself if I wanted to continue growing that business or do something else?

I had an opportunity at that point to sell the company, so I sold it. So that was a point at which I said, “This is an opportunity to reinvent myself.”

I decided I wanted to do something very different and, at that time, “very different” was going into higher education. I had always felt there was a need to have more real world perspectives, particularly in business schools.

So I went back to Georgia Tech where I had previously attained my master’s degree, and started down that path. It is a path that took me to three different universities: Georgia Tech, Appalachian State, and UNC-Greensboro.

When I left my most recent post at UNC-Greensboro, I looked at it as another opportunity to reinvent myself.

But all along the way I have had this passion for music, from taking piano lessons at six years old, and later on taking guitar lessons. I played in a high school garage band, and continued to play some in college. And I was writing songs, too. Of course it was all on the side.

But when I left my most recent post at UNCG I looked at it as another opportunity to reinvent myself. I asked, “What do I want to do for the next phase (of my life)?”

I went back to my original passion, music.

BRN: Why did you leave UNC-Greensboro?

BT: Well, there was a change in direction for the university. To be honest, my position was eliminated as part of a strategic re-alignment of university resources. I looked at it as a new opportunity presenting itself. I could continue in higher education and go to another university, or maybe try and do something different.

I had already been doing more music over the last couple of years. I really had gotten back into writing songs, as well as performing. And I had even started recording a little bit, so I had some momentum. I was getting some good feedback.  I was at a key transition point, so I said, “Maybe the time is NOW.”

BRN: While you were in your business career, did you continue to write songs?

BT: Oh yes!

BRN: What was the time frame for the songs on this first CD?

BT: All of them were written in the last couple of years, most within the past year. But I was writing and playing music with others pretty much the whole time I was in business. I always have had some musician friends. Mostly it was informal, but once in awhile we would do a show at a club.

When I was in Boone (working at Appalachian State), I was in two different bands. One I formed when I first moved here in 1997, called, “Four Wheel Low.” We played at the old Klondike Café.  You probably  know one of our guitar players, Kevin Rothrock (now Planning Director for the Town of Blowing Rock) and John Spear in Boone was the drummer.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We later asked Rothrock to confirm this part of his life and he laughed while admitting with a hearty laugh, “Yes, Four Wheel Low. We weren’t very good, but we were loud!”

BRN: Now did Kevin have long hair at the time?

BT (laughing): No, Kevin actually looks exactly the same today. I saw him at the end of July and I told him, “You haven’t changed at all! You haven’t aged. I got older and you didn’t!”

Anyway, we had a lot of fun playing. The fourth member of the band was a guy named Chris Nelson, who was a friend of Kevin’s going back to elementary school.

Music was never very far away in my life.

Coming around full circle, Chris Nelson plays live with me now. We had lost touch for a number of years, but he now lives in Winston-Salem.

The key takeaway to this is that music was always not very far away in my life. It was always there. I was writing songs, mostly for my own pleasure. Occasionally I would record and send cassette tapes to my friends, but I never pursued music very seriously other than playing neighborhood parties or the occasional club gigs.

I played with a band here in Boone around 1999, called Kava, which was led by a female singer-songwriter, Sarah Evans, who later started Appalachian Signs, a really creative company doing great sign work. Sarah was a fantastic singer-songwriter. I played with her quite a bit. That was probably the most experience I got playing in clubs. We played just about every place you could possibly play in the High Country, and we also went to Atlanta, Charleston, Roanoke, Raleigh, Knoxville…We played a lot around the Southeast.

Music was always there, but it was one of those “extra” things.

BRN: What do you feel that your time spent in the business world contributed to your music?  In looking at your lyrics, some of the messaging seems to be coming from a dude who has gone through a lot in life and learned some things.

BT: Absolutely, and really that is the advantage of having been in two different careers, one as an entrepreneur in the high tech world and the other in higher education, teaching.

While I was in high tech, I was living in Atlanta. Back in that era, when you graduated from college in the South and you wanted to live in a real city, you went to Atlanta. That was the only “real” city, a place that had the vibrancy that people like about cities. Downtown Greensboro, downtown Winston-Salem, really anywhere in North Carolina, there was nothing going on. Charlotte…all of those cities back then there was nothing very appealing about them. So Atlanta ended up becoming a sort of mecca for a lot of young college graduates. It was a great time to be there because there was a lot of energy and excitement.

One of the best things about international travel is that a college student’s perspective changes on just everything: how they view themselves, how they view their country, and how they view the rest of the world.

Those experiences come through in some of my songs. And of course my time in academia exposed me to a whole other set of experiences, at three different universities and three different places: Atlanta, Boone, and Greensboro.

Then of course there was some of my international travel. I was really fortunate while at Appalachian to travel a lot overseas. I went to over 25 countries through my work at Appalachian State. I was leading student groups, but also meeting people from those other countries, exploring those cultural differences, including views of this country from the outside. Particularly for a college student, one of the best things about international travel is that their perspective changes on just about everything. How they view themselves. How they view their country. How they view the rest of the world.

BRN: How did you come to be at Appalachian?

BT: At around the time I sold my software company, Georgia Tech, where I got my master’s ten years earlier, was just starting an entrepreneurship center. I went back to them and asked if I could help in any way. They offered me an opportunity to be entrepreneur in residence and said, “We can’t pay you anything, but here’s an office.”

The way I got the job at Appalachian…my wife and I decided that with young kids we wanted to leave Atlanta, and wanted to go to someplace like Boone. I ended up cold calling the dean at the college of business at Appalachian State, which at the time was Ken Peacock. I introduced myself and told him that I recently got out of the software business in Atlanta, wanted to move to Boone, and asked if I could come talk to him. That led to a conversation up here. He took me down the hall and introduced me to Lyle Schoenfeldt who was chairing the management department. It turned out that six months later they had an opening for someone to teach full-time, so that’s how I got started at App State. It was a full-time job as a lecturer, teaching four classes per semester. That’s how I started, then that evolved into international stuff and I developed the entrepreneurship program.

BRN: Were you the person responsible for getting Transportation Insight into the school of business as lead sponsor for the entrepreneurship center?

BT: Yep. That was the last thing I did before I left Boone. I was able to talk with Paul Thompson about making a very sizable commitment for the naming rights to the program.

BRN: Well, that may have been your last contribution in Boone, but Ben Powell did a really nice job as the interim director and Erich Schlenker has done a bang-up job as the permanent director.

BT: I know Ben very well and I have talked with Erich a few times since he took over.

My wife told me should would support my decision to do anything I wanted — except if I chose to run for political office!

BRN: Was it a difficult decision to uproot your family and move to Greensboro?

BT (chuckling): My wife once told me that she would support my decision to do anything I wanted – except if I chose to run for political office!

BRN: Well then, let’s get to the music – which is your “new” profession. Tell me about some of the musical influences that are maybe helping to shape some of your music.  You reported at least some of those when you sent me your CD. In listening to your debut CD, I really recognized the influence of Neil Young, as well as the Beatles. Some of the others are, for me, more obscure.

BT: There are a lot of late 1960s and early 70s influences, because that is when I first started listening to a lot of music. That’s what I heard. The first 45s I remember buying were the Jackson 5, Simon & Garfunkel and the Edgar Winter Group.  Looking just at those three, obviously I had some diverse interests.

Then when I started buying albums, when I was 10 or 11 years old, the first albums I bought were The Beatles and Harry Nilsson, who was fairly obscure and is probably still fairly obscure.

BRN: Remind me what song Harry Nilsson was famous for…

BT: He had a couple of hit songs. “Without You” was one that got big. Then there was the more comical song about the lime and the coconut. He was really known more as a songwriter and influenced a lot of musicians, even if he didn’t personally have a lot of commercial appeal.

The first records I remember buying were the Jackson 5, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Edgar Winter Group.

Of course I was also influenced by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and then Crosby Stills Nash & Young. I got into college, and started listening to a lot of jazz. Somebody I met my freshman year introduced me to musicians like Chick Correa, Gary Burton and, later on, Weather Report. It was more jazz and jazz fusion stuff.

So I ended up with this hodge-podge of influences. I have to credit my piano teacher, too, when I was in elementary school because I thought it was brilliant on her part. To keep her students really interested in the piano, once a month she would let me pick any song I wanted to learn. She would then go to the music store and buy the music for it. That would be one of the songs that I would work on for that month.

That was basically stuff that I heard on the radio.

(Chuckling) I have the original sheet music for the Beatles song, “Let It Be.” That was one of my songs. I was 10 years old. I had heard “Let It Be” and I wanted to learn it on the piano.

The business of music has changed a lot. It has been turned upside down.

BRN: That is probably a collector’s item now!

BT: It probably is. The graphics are the same as the album cover!

BRN: If we put this in the interview, you better get top rated security for your house!

BT (laughing): Well, I give the piano teacher a lot of credit. She realized what it took to keep her students interested, instead of just playing classical music and most of the stuff kids play when they take piano lessons. At least it worked for me.

BRN: When I took piano at 8 years old, my piano teacher in Oildale, California put gold stars on the songs that we mastered! I don’t remember many songs except “American Patrol,” “Blues In The Night,” and “Wayfaring Stranger.”

BT: I got stars, too! I remember the theme song from “Mission Impossible.” That was fun!

BRN: How old are you now?

BT: I just turned 57.

BRN: I was blessed with the opportunity a couple of years ago to interview Ed Cash, who is a Grammy and Dove award winning songwriter and producer, really concentrating more in the Christian genre. His parents live here in Blowing Rock and his brother, Chip Cash, is national marketing director for Search Ministries and for several years led the Men’s Connection prayer breakfast during the summer’s here in Blowing Rock. A neat family, but Ed has been very successful in the music industry, based in Nashville.

I mention this because Ed hinted to me that the business of music has changed a lot with the digital world we now live in. As a business guy, can you speak to those changes, how they are impacting artists and what the successful business models are now?

BT: Yes, the business of music has changed a lot. I always look at it, though, as change always creating opportunities.

Frankly, the business of music has really been turned upside down. Twenty years ago and going back to the beginning of recorded music, historically, the financial model for musicians was you record your music on LPs and later, CDs, and most of your revenue would come from selling a physical piece of music, those records, 8-track tapes, cassette tapes, or CDs.  From time to time you would go out and perform to build support for those physical sales, from which you received royalties.

Some recording artists didn’t perform at all. Harry Nilsson is a good example. I don’t think he ever performed live, but he had Top 10 songs. Back in that era, too, was a band called Steely Dan.  They perform now, but they didn’t go out and perform for years. They produced hits, but they didn’t go on tour.

There are now networks of house concerts.

Part of the issue with Steely Dan, of course, is that their music was so complex and so “produced” that it would have been challenging to take on tour.

Selling records was the model back then. That’s how you made money. But that model has been flipped on its head, now. Today, unless you are a megastar like Taylor Swift, you can’t make any money selling the physical product. For the aspiring artist and even those with a decent following, it is difficult to make money selling recorded music because nobody pays much for recorded music anymore. They are streaming most of what they are listening to, through Apple or Pandora, that sort of thing. They pay $10 a month to Spotify or Apple Music and basically get access to the entire world’s library of music, on demand, in the car, at home, or at an office desk.  Why would I want to go out and by a CD if I am always constrained by needing some device?

So now the way to make money is to go out and perform live. For all intents and purposes you are giving away your music to generate interest so people will come and see you perform live.  That works pretty well for a large artist, but think about what that does for the emerging artist. They don’t have an audience base out there that will pay to see you. It is a Catch-22: you need an audience to pay to see you, but you can’t sell your music to build that audience except for maybe a few CDs at shows.

There are a number of new alternative revenue streams that are emerging. One is the idea of performing at a house concert. For example, in Greensboro, there are at least three or four people, sponsors or patrons, if you will, who just love music. They have built stages in their respective backyards. I have a neighbor whose website is www.backyardstage.com. He puts on shows in his backyard and has artists from all around the country come and do performances in his backyard. He does not charge admission, but requests a $20 donation and all of the money goes to the artist.

So that is helping to break the Catch-22 cycle a little bit. He might get 50 people to show up in his backyard and the artist walks away with a thousand dollars. Now these are artists that probably couldn’t get a gig any place in Greensboro, because often they are artists that nobody has even heard of. But the people putting on the house concerts I guess you would say sort of “curate” the music and they have their circle of friends who trust their choices.

These new performance venues have popped up all over the country. There are now networks of house concerts. There are artists who go on tour and all they do are these quasi-private shows.

That’s just one example of how change is creating a new business model.

BRN: The house concert model is interesting, especially for local artists. That thousand dollars for a night’s work is fine, but if they had to travel down from New York or across the country from California or Idaho, those travel expenses can eat up those earnings pretty quickly.

BT: So in part it becomes a question of how many of those backyard opportunities can you get in a single trip. I forget her name, but there is a woman who wrote a book on how to do a house concert tour. So the artist might be flying in to Richmond, then travelling to Greensboro, Charlotte, Atlanta and Nashville. And because these are fairly intimate, personal experiences, oftentimes the host homeowner will let the artist stay in their house, which is an added bonus in being able to spend some quality time with the artist. The people hosting the house concert are not making any money, but doing it just because they love music.

How many of those backyard opportunities can you get in a single trip?

BRN: It sounds like a great way to make friends, to have music concerts in your backyard!

BT: Yes! But it is really an interesting phenomenon that is happening now and it is helping address some of this issue of how does a performer make money.

BRN: I think Kevin Troyer has sold participation in the Appalachian chapter of the Nashville Songwriters Association International honestly and realistically. He tells the members that the organization is not about how to make a million bucks writing songs because more than likely you are not.  It really is more about nurturing your love of music and that creative energy and passion that you have bottled up inside you.

BT: How to hone your songwriting skills and get feedback from peers!  I am part of a songwriting circle in Greensboro and we meet once a month. And there is another similar group called Gate City Songwriters that will start meeting weekly this fall.  These are sort of modeled after the Nashville Songwriters, but probably a lot more informally organized.  These are all about getting feedback and constructive criticism.

It also puts you in front of an audience that appreciates original material.

BRN: What are you thinking is the future of the music industry?

BT: I think what we are going to see is more creativity in how the industry works. The current revenue model for most artists is not really sustainable. I am actually surprised that there are as many people like me that are out there putting out music when it is so difficult to turn that activity into compensation, to monetize it.

BRN: So how are musicians even paying their bills, forgetting about becoming a Johnny Cash or Taylor Swift?

BT: Well, they have side gigs working in restaurants and financial services firms. They have other sources of income. That can be constraining, of course, because if you have an opportunity to perform across the state or across the country or even in another part of the world, but you have a full-time job in Blowing Rock or wherever you are living, it’s not easy to keep that job and go follow your performance and music passion.

BRN: Sounds like the proverbial “starving actor” in Hollywood or New York City, but even if you are performing locally, it has to be tough. If you are working construction all day then the energy level that you bring to your performance at night might be compromised.

BT: And your gig might require you to be out until one or two o’clock in the morning, so what does that do for your construction job!

You are going to see more creativity. For the artist, the current revenue model is not sustainable.

BRN: Getting back to your album, what has that experience been like.

BT: One of the things that I have enjoyed, with my background, has been the opportunity to learn a whole new business, because rightly or wrongly producing music is a business, as well as an art form.

So maybe you’re trying to get a gig in Colorado, which I am actually trying to do right now. A lot of the business skills are transferable from or to other industries. Marketing, persistence. You often can’t call someone just once, but maybe have to call them three or four times. Those people who are more persistent and professional, even something as simple as promptly responding to phone calls or emails, those are things that a 22-year-old artist might not understand are important. One way to separate yourself from your competition is to be professional about it.

BRN: I was one of those 22-year-olds at one time, and in your naivete you think that because you have made an initial phone call or sent that one introductory email (not that we had email back in those days) that the person you are contacting should be automatically opening up their wallet for you!

BT (chuckling): Sometimes you get lucky, but usually the world doesn’t work that way. Certainly you have to have the talent, but that alone will not make you successful.

BRN: Will the revenue model ever revert back to the physical music? And as it becomes even more challenging for the artist to monetize their work, is that going to have an impact on the creative spirit?

BT: I worry about that, frankly. If we don’t figure out ways to monetize art, the artists will just get frustrated and quit. They will sacrifice their passion for a steady income to support themselves and maybe even a family. They might play music on the side, as a hobby, but never really follow their passion.

We are still transitioning to this digital model.  I just heard on the radio today driving up from Greensboro that Spotify now has 60 million paid subscribers. That is 60 million people paying $10 a month?

If we don’t figure out ways to monetize art, the artists will just get frustrated and quit. They will sacrifice their passion for a steady income to support themselves…

BRN: So their revenue because of music is $600 million per month. What is Spotify doing with it?

BT: Well, there are royalties that go out to the artists. They are miniscule, per play. I think something like $.006 per play. If you are Taylor Swift, how many people all over the world are streaming her latest single? Millions! She’ll make some money. The model is working well for the big artists.

BRN: Working well for the big artists…that really sounds sort of familiar. Is it the sort of thing where 80% of the royalty money is going to 2% of the artists?

BT: I don’t know the exact numbers, but it is that sort of relationship. The rich get richer!

So the question becomes how to become part of that 2%. It is a challenge for an emerging artist to, say, have 50,000 plays a day on one of those platforms.

BRN: And if my math is right, 50,000 plays, which seems like a lot, is only $300, over whatever time frame it is realized.

BT: That’s right. Now on the flipside, it has also gotten much easier for the emerging artist to get worldwide distribution. I’m a good example. I produced a CD. There is a company called “CD Baby” that I work with. Not only do they print the physical CDs at a very reasonable price, but for a one-time flat fee of $89, they also put your music out there on every streaming platform, worldwide. So for an $89 fee, I am on Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, Amazon, iTunes…almost any place you could possibly go to find digital music, you can search my name and I will be there.

So that aspect of distribution has gotten easier.

BRN: Is the physical CD available on these platforms, like Amazon and Walmart?

BT: For some of the platforms, just the digital version is available, but it has gotten a lot easier for musicians to achieve worldwide distribution of their work.

It has gotten much easier for the emerging artist to achieve worldwide distribution, but who is listening to him or her if no one knows of them?

Twenty years ago, getting distribution was the hardest part because you had to go find a record label to sign you and obtain distribution. So now it is easy, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone is going to listen to you!

You still have to make people aware of you. So it comes back to how do you achieve that? Well, it is through live performances. You have to build your market. If not live performances, then maybe radio spots. It is marketing.

BRN: Some of this reminds me of book publishing. When I wrote my book, “The 90% Solution: Higher Returns, Less Risk” (2006, John Wiley & Co., New York), the publisher came to me to write it, so I didn’t have to go through a lot of the stuff a first time author must endure, such as finding a literary agent. However, when it came time to promoting the book well, sure, Wiley bore the cost of printing and binding and getting it out to retailers like Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million, but all of the marketing had to come from me, the author. I had to find ways to promote it.

BT: Yep. The music industry today is similar. You can get your book or your music up on Amazon, but just because it is available on Amazon doesn’t mean people are going to buy it.

BRN: What are you seeing in terms of margins on these digital platforms?

BT: Actually, they are pretty good. If you can get people to buy that digital version of your CD, the margins are good, depending on the service or website. They can be as high as 90%.

BRN: Let’s break that down a little more. If I spend $3.99 for a CD…

BT: OK, both the digital and physical versions of my CD are available on a website called CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com). If you do a digital download of the CD at $10, I get paid $9 of that. So that is 90%. For the physical CD, CD Baby would keep more.

BRN: Well, kudos to CD Baby because they understand the incentive model.

BT: Oh, yes. For them, it is about volume. They are clipping a little bit off of a whole bunch of artists by making the distribution platform available.  In the digital world it makes a whole lot of sense because the marginal cost to CD Baby for putting my CD out there on their website is minimal, practically zero. Once I send this all the information, I am not even sure a human being ever go involved!

BRN: Do you have any more CDs in the works?

BT: Oh, yes. Since I finished this current CD I have probably written another dozen or more songs that I would like to do something with.

BRN: Will you wait until you see what the results are in the sale of this first CD before you start the next publication project?

BT: I probably will, but I am already playing them. When I go out to do a live performance, they are in the playlist.

BRN: Can you tell me about a recent song that you wrote and, when you write, what are the sources of inspiration?

BT: Sure, I wrote a song just last week called “The Charlottesville Blues.” It is about what happened in Charlottesville. Sometimes the inspiration comes from an event that has happened, maybe something that has happened to people you know – but you don’t put their names in (the lyrics). There are characters that you might meet along the way of this thing we call life. Sometimes songs just sort of start falling out of the sky, and you try to catch them.

For the platform, it is about volume.

I think it was Ryan Adams who said of songwriting, ‘You are just standing on the beach and these waves come over you.”  When they start coming you want to catch as many as you can because you don’t know when the next big wave is coming!

BRN: Where are you performing?

BT: Up here, the trio that I play with we have been at the Lost Province in Boone. We’ll probably get back up here and play there again the first part of the year.

BRN: As a songwriter, where do you get the greatest satisfaction?

BT: For me, it is performing the song and seeing how people are reacting to it. Sometimes it is just eye contact, but you can see that the song and its message is resonating with that audience member. It may only be with one person in the audience, but you know you have made that connection.  It is hard to describe what that really is, but any visual or performing artist will know what I am talking about.

BRN: Obviously, you don’t get that kind of connection when your audience is listening on a CD.

BT: Right. Or even on the digital versions, although one of the nice things about the digital platforms like Apple is that I can get reports to know from where the download is coming. Somebody in Russia recently listened to one of my songs! You get a certain level of satisfaction in knowing that.

BRN: It is sort of like having Google Analytics available in publishing a digital newspaper. I can get a report on where my readers are coming from by country and metro area, and even what kind of device they are using to access our publication.

BT: Yes, but still you don’t get the more personal feedback from a live audience. That is a big reason a lot of people perform. They like the interaction. Someone in the education industry once told me that the reason people become teachers is because they are frustrated artists. They would rather be performers.  When you are teacher, you have the stage AND you have a captive audience!

BRN: And they have to be a GOOD audience, or risk getting an “F”!

BT (laughing): Yes! But that is where I am now, trying to get out there and play some and maybe build my audience a bit.

BRN: Thank-you for the opportunity to catch up with you. I think your insights about the music business and how it has evolved will be of great interest to some of our readers.

BT: Well, thank-you for the opportunity to gain some extra exposure and to see your operation. As a business guy I am always interested and have heard some really good things about what Blowing Rock News is bringing to the media universe up here and even regionally.








  1. Brian Toney straddles a unique border between punk and folk. The stories in his songs connect to the listener immediately, and challenge him to evaluate the choices he’s made with his family, his occupation and his pursuit of art. Given the right side men and promotion, Bryan Toney should become a figure of national attention. Go hear him if you have a chance, and listen to the words.


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