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Meet Jon Hershfield: Founder of IsGoodMusic (Music Without Pretense)

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Photo by Benjamin Hoste/LAist

Some would argue that trying to get a grip on the scope of the Los Angeles music scene is an impossible task. By the time you finished listening to every single band in Los Angeles county, half of them would be broken up and like a cacophonous hydra, a whole new generation of music would have sprouted while your back was turned. Few people attempt this daunting feat, and those who do seem to possess crazy, masochistic tendencies (myself included).

Fortunately for you, we have one such editor who undertakes that insane quest daily (namely Mr. Joshua Pressman) but should Tonight in Rocknot fulfill all your needs, and you want a radio station that plays all local Los Angeles bands all the time...Jon Hershfield has the the website for you. Founder of IsGoodMusic.com, Hershfield has set out to find the diamonds in the rough that are lying right under our noses. The website provides a social networking site for bands, a radio station with interviews, and a up-to-date calendar on all the local gigs that are worth catching. We caught up with Jon Hershfield recently and asked him how it was going.

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How did you start your radio show?
Well, I was trying my hardest to work as an actor in LA, surviving off of commercials and extras spots, so it was enough not to have a day job, but then I realized not having enough task oriented work in my life was slowly starting to degrade my psychological structure. I needed to find something to do. I was living in Glendale and there was this whole underground musicians’ refuge called the What Club. They let me spin some songs and stuff and by doing that I met some really cool musicians. Shortly after that I came across this little site called KillRadio.org, and I thought maybe I should start a radio show. So I worked my way into their little network of DJs and started interviewing my friends who were in bands. Well, pretty soon I ran out of friends to interview, so I was starting to DJ out in really small places, like rock shows at the Lava Lounge, and I would meet these really awesome bands and invite them onto my radio show. And then people started hitting me up on MySpace and before I knew it, it had become a regular thing. On my show, I would DJ for an hour and then interview a band once a week.

When did you decide to launch your own website?

I got the idea after had done about fifty interviews, so about a year into it. I was over at my neighbor Surj’s house and I showed him my MySpace page, which by this point was just links to interviews I had done. He happened to be an information architect and web developer and he said, “You know this is the makings of a possible networking site.” So we just started brainstorming together about how we could take information from the bands’ MySpace pages and put them all in the same place. Even with only fifty interviews, I was getting exhausted trying to go fifty MySpace pages each time to see who was playing when. So we just started working out ideas.

How do you keep track of all of it? I mean the sheer amount of information on the website freaks me out a little.
(laughs) Well, I mean each of the artists on IsGoodMusic.com has access to their profiles, so they can update them. I set it up for them initially and kickstart their page by putting on some songs and an interview. I like to spend couple of days straight, drinking tons of coffee, and getting everyone up to date, but of the two hundred or so IsGood bands a certain number of them use it like a MySpace page and keep it up to date like their other stuff. And then because I’m already on Facebook and all over the place, I find out that shows are happening and update the bands page. I mean, we’re still kinda new, so I’m just trying to keep everything up to date instead of hounding the bands to stay on track because I know they’re busy. So right now I’m still doing a lot of the stuff myself, but the intention is that the bands will start updating their own pages.

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Photo by Benjamin Hoste/LAist

That’s got to be exhausting!
Yeah it is. One day I will get this company to the point where all I’m doing are interviews and promoting live shows. Every interview I do is about an hour and it’s a half hour set up and a half hour break down. And then getting it live is about a four hour process. I need to edit it, save it, podcast it, integrate it upload it. I mean it’s stuff that anybody who is comfortable with basic audio editing could sit there and watch something upload, but because I’m not in a position to hire anybody right now, that person is still…me. I would love to start delegating that to some interns . Same thing with the website, I figure once you get the fans in there, bands will start to realize “Hey if I keep my page up to date, more people will show up at my gigs.” So they’ll have the motivation to keep those up to date.I know you promote a lot of live shows. Do you book all of the IsGood shows yourself?
There are two ways IsGood shows happen. I did not intended to be this promoter character that I’ve been made out to be. It’s more like, bands were coming on the radio show and were having an experience that was really positive and the thought, “Well if this guy can hang out with us for an hour and make us feel this way about our music and talk this way about our music, maybe he could present a show.” And because it had the word “radio” in it, it sounded even cooler. (laughs) I just started putting on shows. IsGood Presents shows were initially excuses for me to DJ because there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me DJ because I’m not a Top 40 club DJ. I have eclectic tastes. But it was also a way for me to say “Hey check out this band, they’re really cool!” So now there are two ways that these shows happen. One is me finding a venue and booking a band and doing it all from scratch. The second one, which is becoming increasingly common there will be a bill all ready out there where there are a fair number of IsGood bands on it so they’ll ask me to promote it. I fantasize that I just give them my logo and that’s it, but usually I end up promoting it on the website, MySpace, and Facebook and going to the show.

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Will the the radio show aspect of IsGood Music eventually become separate from the social networking part? Do you see the site as two separate entities or as one whole?
It’s really connected. I left Kill Radio because I wanted to have more control over what we were doing. I wanted to have a station that was entirely devoted to good music in LA. So when we’re not doing a live show on the radio, it’s playing a shuffle of IsGood bands. Whether it’s my show or I have a couple of other friends doing shows, most of the music is coming out of LA. It’s just a chance to do, kind what Indie 103.1 was doing, but completely targeted towards this group of bands which is continuously growing. We went to Live 365 to figure out how to do it legally because everything about Kill Radio was anarchistic to the point of hilarity. It turns out to do it legally is really expensive, and a real pain in the ass, but you know, we wanted to do things right. We want to make sure that the bands that are getting played get their two cents from ASCAP or whatever it is, and we don’t have to hide and pretend that we’re doing something secretive. And I got a free t-shirt out of it! So you know, we pay our monthly dues, and we built a studio in my friend’s house in Silver Lake who also has a show.1 I see IsGoodRadio as something that could stand on its own, but it’s one of the features of IsGoodMusic. It’s the radio station power site!

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Photo by Benjamin Hoste/LAist

What do you do when you have a band whose album you really like, and they’re really nice people, but it turns out that they suck live? Do you keep them as IsGood bands?
It’s interesting. You know seeing a band perform live in a venue is not always the best way to judge their music. First of all the sound at the venue or the atmosphere of the venue have a lot to do with it, and also how they’re feeling on that particular night has a lot to do with how they play as well. In my case, the experience that I have is that I hear their recorded music and then I invite them on the show. After the interview they usually perform a very paired down, semi -acoustic set in the studio, so I get to hear their music the way that they would really like to have it heard, if we were all hanging out. The way they want to be heard is if everyone was just all hanging out in their underwear after a party, you know. Very stripped down, so doing that you really get to see the song underneath all that noise. So I don’t think it’s really happened where I interviewed a band and then went to the show and thought, “Man, I really misjudged them.” The only thing comparable to that is that out of the two hundred IsGood bands there maybe one or two bands I misjudged how interesting their interviews would be. I mean, my show is invite only because I have to spend an hour with these people. I never script the show, I only ask questions I want the answers to because I’m genuinely interested in what they have to say. So I might hear something or have a band referred to me and be in a really good mood that day and think that they would make a really good radio show. And then when they come on I’ll ask them some deeply convoluted question about their process and they’ll answer, “Yeah…I guess so.” (laughs) And then I’m left scrambling and usually say something like, “And now back to the CD.”

How do you choose the bands you’re going to interview? I mean you can’t have a site called IsGoodMusic if the music sucks.
Honestly my definition of good has evolved to some extent over the past three years. I mean I’m listening to stuff now that I wouldn’t have even considered when I first started doing the show. At the beginning I had this idea in my head that I hated country music because the only country music that I really knew was what I heard on the radio. Somehow having a band or two in the studio sit down and explain what country music and Americana meant to them and talk about the old school style of song writing, really opened up a whole new world of music to me.

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Do you have a favorite local band that you’re listening to right now that you’re really into?
I’m always afraid to answer that question because then all the other bands I talk to will come up and say, “Why didn’t you mention me?” (laughs) But Go West Young Man is probably the band I’m into right now just because there album is just so impressive to me. I mean, I’ll put their album in the car and listen to them as if I didn’t know them. Les Blanks are another band that I think are really good. Man, there are so many. Oh and Seasons, I love them so much. They haven’t put out much in the way of recorded music, but their performance never lets me down.

Well we'll be sure to check them out. We wish you all the best with this project. Thank you for talking with us.

Thank you. 2

1. Since this interview was conducted IsGoodRadio has moved and is now broadcasting from Bedrock Studios in Echo Park.

2. Postscript: As soon as the interview was over, a lady named Linda sitting at the next table came over and told Jon how wonderful she thought he project was. She invited us to her studio, Peach Tree Pottery in Mar Vista, which she was considering turning into a music venue with her friend. And then the cafe owner walked over and invited us to listen to his local radio show that was happening that night. It was a gorgeous local music moment.