The Business of Music: Spenser Liszt

Codie Barry, Contributing Writer

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For Spenser Liszt, music is business. Liszt is a Dallas-based jazz musician who heads a music collective called Spenser Liszt and His Disciples, a name that began as a joke, and has stuck for its humor and religious connotation. Liszt attended the music school at Southern Methodist University and then transferred to the music program at the University of North Texas. There, he took a course in business of music, which, as he says, was never something he had considered before. He realized that music and business are inseparable. Success in the music industry requires planning, innovation and hard, hard work.

This concept is not intuitive to some:

“Some musicians make an album, put it online, wait, and then wonder why their music never takes off,” Liszt said. Liszt’s own album “Until Further Notice” is the result of a class project. In college, a teacher asked each student in a business of music class to create an album. Working with a group to make the album, Liszt used the experience to learn the business of music making and to put his album under a label company. A friend from college made the artwork, and his girlfriend’s mother did layout design.

In other words, Liszt built this album from the ground up. He tirelessly promotes his album through social media, word of mouth, his own website, and said he uses his album like a business card. But rather than follow thousands of people on Twitter and Facebook and send out millions of automated messages, Liszt builds a personal relationship with the people he wants to touch with his music. This is just one facet of Liszt’s incredible sense of community.

Every part of the process, from conception to performance, is about community. Liszt writes his songs at the piano, then crafts the song with the group. Ask him who is in his band, and he may laugh — hundreds are. When Liszt plays a venue, he pulls from a rotation of musicians; every show, every performance, is different.

Liszt describes a fluid performance experience:

“If something happens onstage, go with it.”

The band members play off each other. Every song is different. Sometimes there are spoken word artists, covers of hip-hop songs or melodies.

Liszt is motivated by musical growth and change as well as the desire to create a living repertoire.

To fellow musicians looking for advice, Liszt said:

“It’s ok to follow. Ask questions. Help each other. The music industry shouldn’t be a competition. We are all on the same team.”

Lizst can play the saxophone as well as the bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, bassoon, piano and guitar. He began violin at daycare and saxophone when it was offered in the sixth grade. He was not, and still is not, confined to one genre. He has played for orchestra and jazz shows alike with renowned musicians such as Aretha Franklin, Franki Valli and the Four Seasons, Lars Jansson, renowned nu metal band Korn, and hosts of others.

Liszt credits part of his eclectic musical knowledge to his father’s old records and listening to music in the car with his mother, who, as he said,

“played everything on the radio — jazz, country, classical, rap. Even if she didn’t want me to be a country star, she still wanted me to be exposed to it.”

This vast experience of music is evident in Liszt’s multi-genre sound, and has truly informed his music process inspired by hip-hop artists such as the Wu-Tang Clan, R&B, rock, as well as classic jazz musicians.

Liszt’s album is an innovative jazz collective. “Until Further Notice” includes seven distinct songs, though the album still functions as a whole. The uniqueness of each song feels like the many experiences of growing up, whether happy, sad or troubling, making the album a collection of the way experiences make a life. The album employs haunting melodies, jaunty jazz riffs and massive swells of saxophone that leave the listener exhausted and gasping for breath. The Liszt experience is jazz at its finest, its most innovative and its most pure—what jazz is meant to be.

Liszt is currently working on a new album, “Patience”, an epic scale jazz production with tracks featuring a 42-string orchestra, chimes, bells and an opera choir.

Liszt seems to be constantly performing, but some notable performances include: free, all ages shows, Oct. 9 at the Whistling Pig Neighborhood Pub and Oct. 22 at Klyde Warren Park. Visit Liszt’s website at http://www.spenserliszt.com/home for more show information, including a free download of his album, “Until Further Notice”, if you sign up for his newsletter.

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