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Published: Thursday, 9/5/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Musician Jeff Stewart using crowd-sourcing to fund studio album

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Toledo resident and local musician Jeff Stewart performs in an alley behind the Ye Olde Cock n Bull for a music video Wednesday in downtown Toledo. Toledo resident and local musician Jeff Stewart performs in an alley behind the Ye Olde Cock n Bull for a music video Wednesday in downtown Toledo.
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Jeff Stewart admits he was leery about seeking financial help to finish making his long-gestating album “Can’t Sit Still.”

For a man who is a member of a rare artistic subspecies — the working musician and painter who doesn’t have the luxury of a record label, wealthy sponsor, or a day job — independence is hard-earned and even tougher to consider giving up.

But his buddies — fellow professional musicians such as Gregg Leonard, Chuck Mauk, and Dave Johnson — kept pushing him to consider the popular crowd-sourcing approach represented by Kickstarter.com.

Still, he balked.

“I’ve gone this far without asking anyone for any help, so [bleep] Kickstarter, I don’t need that situation,” he said this week, admitting that he was “naive and ignorant” about the concept. “I realized that when they were getting frustrated about it, as smart men I needed to listen to them.”

So add him to the list of musicians as diverse as Amanda Palmer, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Birds of Chicago, Graham Parker, and Garland Jeffreys — all of whom have utilized the Web site to raise money for music and film projects.

Most of the songs for “Can’t Sit Still” are recorded, but the detailed work of adding finishing touches to arrangements, mixing, mastering, doing the CD art work, and pressing copies of the CDs and limited edition vinyl take time and money. His Kickstarter effort is looking to raise $12,000 to finish off the project.

Best of all from Stewart’s perspective, it gives him a closer relationship to his friends, fans, and the folks who have watched him grind it out in Toledo area bars over the years. By making a donation of $10 or more they will receive a digital download of the release, which essentially means they are pre-buying the album.

For $25 CD copies are provided and donation amounts of more money provide other perks, including his art work all the way up to him and his band, the 25s, playing at your house party.

“It is cool. I was really, really apprehensive about it and thought it was a charity thing, but it’s actually the complete opposite,” Stewart said. “I turned my head away from being stubborn about it. It’s a DIY concept and it gets people who believe in what you do on your team.”

Stewart, 44, elicits a passionate response from people who believe in his music and he was featured in the recent documentary Playing Nightly about Toledo’s music scene.

He’s a triple-threat performer as a singer with an excellent voice, guitar player, and charismatic stage presence. Even though he has a wealth of original songs, seven of which he released on the pared down 2006 release “Mix Tape Blues,” he also can draw from a wealth of covers on stage.

His sound is a mix of Americana with a dose of Springsteen-like singer/songwriter stories and confessionals.

Leonard, a former Toledoan who works as a producer and musician in Los Angeles and is a longtime friend, is one of the believers.

“He’s a great writer, a naturally talented, gifted songwriter and singer and he’s a great artist in an era of artifice,” he said in a telephone interview. “He’s a guy who has decided to make this his life and is slugging it out in the clubs every night and that’s a commitment that not a lot of people have.”

Stewart has been playing in the Toledo area since he was 19 in bands such as the Flecks and the Starlings and since 2000 he has worked on his own or with other local musicians. He is a fixture in area clubs, playing originals and covers.

“When Jeff made that leap [in 2000] he did it with both feet,” said Larry Meyer, a Toledo attorney and musician who has worked with Stewart. “Anybody who’s seen the movie Playing Nightly will come away with an understanding of Jeff’s work ethic, and anybody who’s a fan of Jeff will know about his ability to command a room.”

Stewart said his goal is to polish off “Can’t Sit Still” and then move into a rhythm of releasing an album a year, given his backlog of original material. Leonard said he’s eager to get the record done so he can attempt to license the songs for use in films and television shows, among other places.

He said Kickstarter is being used frequently in Los Angeles to fund music projects because of the collapse of recording industry and the record labels. In the past, the record company would advance an artist money to make an album, which the musicians would then have to pay back, but that model is virtually non-existent for everyone but major acts.

With Kickstarter, the artist owns his or her work while giving fans a chance to make a contribution that helps the musician finish the project and buy an advance copy of the album.

“It’s basically pre-selling the album,” Leonard said. “They’re purchasing this album and pairing up and being collaborators. What’s the difference between a label giving you an advance and taking everything and having your audience giving you an advance?”

If a Kickstarter project doesn’t reach its goal in 30 days the money is sent back to those who make pledges. Stewart’s campaign ends in 18 days and more than half of the $12,000 total has been raised.

For his part, Stewart said he is confident in the songs, many of which he has worked on for years. He just wants to get the album out and see what’s next.

“The bars are hard if you’re out in them every night like I am. I manage to have a good time just singing for my supper, but I think the songs are good enough” for a larger market, he said. “I think it’s strong enough where it can be picked up on so many different avenues now.”

For more information, go to kickstarter.com and type Jeff Stewart in the search field.

Contact Rod Lockwood at rlockwood@theblade.com or 419-724-6159.



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