A computer programmer by training, Joe Melillo has slowly been uncovering his musical talent his whole life. He is now a singer and songwriter with one album to his credit, and three of his children’s songs made into children’s books. Inspired by such artists as Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel, Joe has a voice and writing style that makes him feel like a friend you’ve known for years, even though you may have never met him. Recently Joe Melillo gave us some insight into his world in an exclusive interview with Jamsphere.
- How long have you been in the music business and how did you get started in the first place?
Joe Melillo: While I’ve been interested in music since the first day I can remember, I didn’t jump into “the music business” until about 2008 or so. It never occurred to me that I had the talent until I started seeing my vocal coach, Janie Barnett. She was the one who exposed me to songwriting, and I took to it like a fish to water. Now I joke that I’ll never need therapy again as long as I live, because I can just get my thoughts out in song!
- Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Joe Melillo: Billy Joel was the first person I heard on the radio that really spoke to me. I was probably about seven when I first heard “Just The Way You Are”. Then, in 1984, came “Dancing In the Dark”, which was my first exposure to my musical deity, Bruce Springsteen. Most Springsteen fans will believe that, since that was my first Bruce song, that makes me a poser, but I’ve made up for lost time since then.
- Which artists are you currently listening to? And is there anyone of these that you’d like to collaborate with?
Joe Melillo: Billy Joel’s been using Gavin DeGraw as his opening act for his Madison Square Garden residency (of which I’ve attended most shows), so I’m listening to him a lot now. I’m also into Matchbox Twenty, Train, Ed Sheeran, John Mayer, Sara Bareilles, and I’m not ashamed to admit that Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga are phenomenal singers and songwriters.
- Have you suffered any ‘resistance’ from within the industry, and if so how have you handled that, and how do you handle criticism and naysayers in general?
Joe Melillo: I don’t think the industry is aware of me enough for me to get resistance from them. I guess I don’t like the bookers I deal with for the smaller clubs in New York. You get one chance from then to draw the minimum, then you’re persona non grata. I can very much respect that, but then do NOT solicit me again just to ignore me when I respond. If you KNOW you’re not going to use me, then don’t contact me. It’s just rude to get hopes up, then crush them.
Criticism in GENERAL I get PLENTY of! They usually come from armchair fans, and I usually show them it’s not a good idea to insult the guy with the microphone. Afterwards, I just dwell in one half of why I love singing so much: it’s a creative outlet for myself, and I would probably sing, even if no one thought I was good, because I love it that much, and, in general, don’t care what people think of me. The other fact I dwell on is that, more often than not, my critics can’t do better than me.
- What are your thoughts on visual media and Youtube? Do think that video is an appropriate marketing tool for your music, and do you have any videos published for fans to see?
Joe Melillo: Videos are absolutely a great marketing tool! I do have a YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/joemelillo, but most of those performances are either live or amusement park studio videos of cover song performances. There are SOME live performances of some originals, but I don’t have any official music videos of my originals.
- Which do you ultimately prefer? Entertaining a live audience or creating songs in a studio setting?
Joe Melillo: Entertaining a live audience. I enjoy studio time, but only with the end goal of creating something that people will find entertaining. I embrace entertainment, because I enjoy making people forget their own troubles, and just have a reason, in the words of Billy Joel, “to forget about life for a while.”
- Tell us something about your lyrics and music production on your releases. Which part of these processes do you handle, and which do you outsource generally?
Joe Melillo: I’ve got a relatively unique songwriting process. I start with a beat and a simple tune in my head, but this gives way almost immediately to lyrics. I write all the lyrics, and sing the song in my head to Janie. She’s got a much better ear for chords than I do, so she determines the chords I’m singing, makes some suggestions, and writes the chords down. We perform it together for a rough recording, and there’s our song!
8. What is the title of your latest music release and where can fans find it?
Joe Melillo: I’ve recently released a children’s album called Parker The Platypus. You can learn all about it at http://www.parkertheplatypus.com and http://www.joemelillo.net/discography/parker-the-platypus. You can purchase the CD at http://www.cdbaby.com/joemelillo2, or download it from lots of your favorite sites, like iTunes and Amazon.
- Which ingredient do you think makes you special and unique as a performing artist in a business thriving with young newcomers?
Joe Melillo: Well, for one thing, I’m an OLD newcomer! But I think my maturity gives me insights into life that a lot of other people might also have in their minds and hearts. I’ve been told I make people feel like I’m an old friend, even if they’ve never met me. Much like my idols Bruce and Billy, I’m just an ordinary guy singing about life, and those are the types of songs that we carry through our entire lives.
- If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to be a part of this tough business?
Joe Melillo: Love. Love for music in all its forms, obviously, but also the love I feel for all the people in my life. People enjoy being entertained my me, and I enjoy bringing them enjoyment. More than anything, the ability to make people feel something, and feel better for it, is my motivation for trying to make it here in the music business.
- Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?
Joe Melillo: I think the most exciting part is getting to BE a part of the business! More than ever in history, thanks mainly to The Internet, having a platform to showcase one’s works is extremely accessible. If I were born fifty years earlier, I’d have to find a record executive who wanted to take a chance on me. I haven’t found one yet, but I’m still able to release material that people can listen to and purchase.
The most discouraging is marketing. That’s a broad topic, but I haven’t found one aspect of it that I enjoy. I have less and less people coming to my gigs, As a result, finding places to perform is getting harder. My CD sales are lower than ever. Whether it’s a lack of funds, a lack of time, advertising in the wrong ways on my part, or people just not finding me as entertaining as they used to, it’s very disheartening to pour your heart and soul into any artistic product, and find that no one cares about it as much as you do.
- How do you market and manage your music career? Do you have a management team or do you control everything by yourself?
Joe Melillo: I do everything on my own, with occasional advice from Janie. Not having a marketing team is probably the source of the frustration I mention above.
- How do you achieve your sound? Do you work from a private recording environment or do you use a commercial sound studio?
Joe Melillo: Tommie Sox at Empire State Studios is my go-to guy when I want to record something for the public. He’s extremely gifted, and also has the advantage of being my next-door neighbor. The instrumentation is usually done either by Janie in her studio, which I record directly on to my little Sony recorder, or done through a piece of software I own called Band In A Box, which I record from my laptop directly into Tommie’s Pro-Tools setup.
- The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
Joe Melillo: I haven’t received too much advice from anyone inside the industry except Janie. The best advice she ever gave me was to try and write a song. The first attempt was terrible, but it put me in the zone to do things my own way, and be able to extract the music inside me.
I’m the type of person that, if I don’t know or haven’t thought about something, will take any and all advice from someone I trust. However, if I have thought about it, and come to my own conclusions, it’s VERY difficult to get me to change my mind. Knowing almost nothing about the music industry, I can’t think of very few pieces of advice I didn’t take, and, out of that, none I regret not taking.
- How and why did you get started on the Karaoke circuit?
Joe Melillo: Just to qualify: the circuit I’m on is the New York City BAND Karaoke Circuit. I sing with bands that know a lot of songs, and invite people up to sing with them. I make the distinction because it allows more freedom to perform than plain-old traditional KJ karaoke. The only KJ karaoke I do with any kind of regularity is with The Gotham Coty Karaoke League.
The first time I tried band karaoke was when my friends in the cover band The Dirty Stayouts decided to try it themselves at a club in Brooklyn. I was VERY excited for an opportunity to sing with them, and I ended up doing seven songs with them that night.
My band karaoke performances were limited to when the Dirty Stayouts felt like doing it until I looked at the calendar for a bar I frequent on Manhattan’s Upper East Side called O’Flanagan’s. They had band karaoke there every other Thursday, so I went to check it out. It was then I first met The Human Karaoke Experience, who have become very good friends of mine over the years. It was there that I met fellow band karaoke geeks like me, and would see them at other karaoke band performances (Rock Star Karaoke NYC, Crash Course Karaoke, Rock N’ Twang with The Wicked Messengers, and others). I now sing with these bands as much as I can, and count many of my fellow Circuit Travelers among the best of my friends.
So that’s the “how”. The “why” is a bit shorter. These are great opportunities to do what I love to do most: sing!
- Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Joe Melillo: Social media is key for my marketing, especially because I’m one of those acts flooding The Web! As I said above, The Internet makes one’s work more accessible than ever in history, and social media makes advertising and marketing easier and cheaper than ever before. Yes, the negative side to this is that a music consumer has more choices than ever before, and not everything is going to appeal to everyone, so it requires more time and a more discerning ear for a consumer to decide who to listen to. However, while it may be difficult for real talent to emerge above the “copy-and-paste” artists, it’s still an opportunity one wouldn’t have had years ago. Perhaps the ideal situation is somewhere in the middle, but I’m happier that the industry is on this side of the spectrum than when it was on the side it was on years ago.
- If someone has never heard your music, which 3 keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?
Joe Melillo: All about life.
- Could you tell us something about “Parker The Platypus” and your passion for writing?
Joe Melillo: As the legend goes, Parker The Platypus is a song which has existed since the dawn of time, and chose me to give it form. As I was waking up one morning, it occurred to me that the platypus is an animal that doesn’t fit into the animal kingdom very well (it’s a mammal, but it lays eggs), so why hasn’t anyone written anything for children about the platypus finding it hard to fit in with other animals?!?! I decided I need to write a song about this very topic, knowing full well that, as I wrote the song, I would try to write in such a way that the song could be converted into a children’s book. I searched for a name in a list of baby names I found on The Internet, and Parker was what I settled on.
The song was finished that day, and I recorded it not long after that with Janie on keyboards at a studio she was professionally associated with. I posted the song to my MySpace account, and all my ADULT MySpace friends LOVED it! I had to try and find a way to make it commercially available, which I was able to do through TuneCore, and other songs were coming to me about other animals with other issues that Parker could help out with. However, now the pipe dream of making the song into a book was closer than ever, and I had to figure out how to achieve that.
I went through the traditional route of trying to find a literary agent with a transcript I put together using publicly available clip-art. I had no success, but I did come across AuthorHouse, a self-publishing book company. This was the equivalent of getting your song up on iTunes without a record label, so it was JUST what I needed.
Now my next problem. I can’t draw worth a lick. AuthorHouse was willing to provide me with an illustrator for $200 a picture. At about 14 pictures for the book plus a cover, and me pricing the book at about $10, I didn’t see me making my money back any time soon.
Then, one night, as I was visiting my family in New Jersey, my niece Sami showed me a portfolio of all the pictures she had drawn for fun. Her talent and clarity were amazing. Naturally, I asked her if she would be interested in working on the book for pay (a lot less than $200 a picture, but pay nonetheless), and she agreed. I had her draw her design of the cover of the book, giving her no direction beyond the lyrics of the song. This nine-year-old girl designed the cover to the first Parker book: an image of Parker looking at his reflection in the lake, a tear rolling down his cheek. I claim that no professional artist could’ve captured the essence of the story as perfectly as she did. I had my artist.
Together, we’ve created three books (available on Amazon, BarnesAndNoble.com, AuthorHouse.com, and other Web sites), and she was in the middle of illustrating the fourth one before she decided to retire. I’m hoping she’ll come out of retirement one day, or one of my other nieces or nephews will take over when they’re old enough.
There are thirteen songs on the Parker album I mentioned above, which means there are lots of books yet to be created! Between the songs, the books, the merchandise available through CafePress.com, and the musical I wrote, Parker has become a regular franchise! EVERY child that has been exposed to this song or book loves it! Now I just need to figure out how to cost-effectively advertise this fact to the world.
- As you work your way through your career, which more than any other fires-up your imagination – A Grammy award, Platinum music sales or any other tangible milestone?
Joe Melillo: Platinum music sales intrigue me the most. The thought of doing what I love, and becoming independently wealthy from it, is my ideal life situation. I want financial independence to have the time to accomplish many things with my life: adopt a child, increase my charity work, and help out as many of my loved ones as I can.
- What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do EVER, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
Joe Melillo: There are many, but they can all be summed up in this way: I will never be untrue to myself. The very second I do that my passion for the music industry will fade.