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Frontman, guitarist, producer, songwriter, businessman—these are some of the many hats that musician Tom DeLonge has worn throughout his past dozen-plus years in the music scene, whether as the on-stage co-lead to bassist Mark Hoppus in platinum pop-punk powerhouse Blink-182 or as the sole frontman of the more experimental, alternative rock act Angels and Airwaves. Or perhaps it’s as the head of Macbeth Shoes or the visionary behind the social networking website Modlife. No matter which angle he’s viewed from, DeLonge’s years in both the underground and mainstream circuits have found him delivering interesting and important perspectives on the ever-changing entertainment industry, specifically in terms of tastes, technologies and traditions

Hailing from Southern California’s San Diego region, DeLonge received his first major break in the commercial music scene in the early ‘90s with the formation of Blink-182 and their eventual signing to a major label. Driven by his hook-laden guitar riffs and edgy voice—counterbalanced by Hoppus’ slinky bass lines and smooth vocal style—Blink-182’s material featured lyrics that alternated between comedy and contemplation, and boasted robust rhythms performed by drummer Travis Barker that propelled pits at every venue stop. The trio would eventually sell millions of albums, particularly with its most famous releases, 1999’s Enema of the State and 2001’s Take Off Your Pants and Jacket.

However, after the band’s 2003 self-titled album release, Blink-182 went on hiatus and DeLonge embarked on his most intense musical journey to date by creating a new band, Angels and Airwaves. With this new musical unit, DeLonge was able to reset his musical vision and direction, taking the recording reins by self-producing his albums and merging it with other technologies, including video, film and art. It was an education for an already-experienced DeLonge, in that the learning process yielded not only a pair of great albums (We Don’t Need to Whisper and I-Empire), but also a host of new techniques for the famed guitarist/vocalist.

With a reformed Blink-182 currently in action, DeLonge is now balancing his life and career between two popular bands and his aforementioned businesses. In speaking with Guitar Center, DeLonge shares some of his thoughts and insight in starting Angels and Airwaves, marketing his music to the world, creating recordings that’ll attract attention, navigating the ever-changing music business, reaching successful musical goals and employing the tools in his studio setup and signature sound.

Lets talk about your guitar rig

I discovered early on that mixing amplifiers was the thing to do. You have British distortion, American distortion, a blues kind-of clean, or that new wave chiming; you have all these different types of sounds. If I wanted a really big modern rock sound, I was mixing a Marshall and a Mesa Boogie together. That’s the perfect blend of what makes a modern distortion sound. But as I became a better guitar player, I started using combos like Vox AC30s, Matchless Chieftains and Twin Reverbs from Fender, creating a fuller classic rock tone. With Blink, I don’t need any effects. I’ve got a flange—you hear that all the time, I’ve gotta stop using that—and in Angels and Airwaves, we’re using stereo delays, filter sweeps, and phasing - all primarily from the TC Electronics G-Force.

Studio wise, what gear are you utilizing to craft your sound?

Some of the more experimental things we do are running percussion or vocals through guitar amps. And before or after coming through the guitar amplifier, we’ll put it through some old analog or MicroSynth pedals. We might even put a snare drum next to it so it’s vibrating and you have a few different mics picking up the room sounds, the vibrations of the snare drum and the guitar amplifier itself. The ambience and weird resonance of those sounds mixed together can be really unique. The more you can use real knobs, handmade pedals, and things made by human beings rather than software, you’ll get a different sound.

You’ve built an impressive studio. What compelled you to do it yourself?

When Angels and Airwaves started, I knew that we wouldn’t have the budget that Blink-182 had to start doing these types of records that take a year to do. You’re paying a thousand bucks a day in a studio, if not more, so I learned that I could build a studio and put the gear I needed in it. It might be more upfront, but over the course of the next couple records, the recording process would start to become free. And that’s pretty much what we did. We’d add a few things each time we did a record, but at the end of the day, we’re not paying rent, we’re not paying a studio rental fee for gear, we can just sit there and create. That’s the goal. I think a lot of young bands and artists can take a laptop and get something done.

What are some of your favorite pieces of gear in the studio?

I’ve found that my guitar I have with Gibson is the most versatile and best sounding guitar around, hands down. That’s one thing that I’ve used on almost everything I’ve done. I’m not used to using my own guitar in the studio when I did stuff with Jerry Finn, the old producer of Blink. He had so many crazy guitars that I never got to use my own ‘cause it never sounded as good, but now I do. I have certain synthesizers that we use all the time, like our [Roland] Fantom G7 and Yamaha Motif. There are a couple plug-ins that we use all the time, called SoundToys. You’ve got the EchoBoy, PhaseMistress and FilterFreak. They’re the best plug-ins that would emulate the old Moog Voyager

What inspired you to take on the role of a producer?

In my experience, you get a producer to bring in an objective ear and an objective mind to the scope of the project. But in Angels and Airwaves, I didn’t have a producer two months into the first record, I was like, I need to get a producer, this thing’s not happening. Then I got a new engineer and it turns out I just needed a confidant on that side of the fence and once I didn’t have to worry about the tones, I could then concentrate on the other side - the framework of the songs, the overall tonality and color of the album, and songwriting. What I learned is that if you challenge yourself and back yourself into a corner, you can learn a lot. I’ll probably never work with another producer in my life, because I get it.

How has the music business evolved most over the past 5 years?

The one thing that I learned is that like any other type of art, it evolves. And if you’re a business that supports the art, you need to evolve with the art. Now, a lot of things have happened that made creating art a lot easier with the computer and it’s made the distribution of the art easier too. So at the same time a kid can go out and record a record with little or no money on their laptop, someone can steal that record and pass it around. I believe that if you look at your band with a modern filter, you can create really cool merchandise, live experiences, an amazing website and monetize all these elements and not worry about selling the record itself. In fact, I believe you should take down every barrier and put as much music out there for free.

What advice would you have for a band looking to take their music to the next level?

You have to lay in bed awake and figure out how you can make your band bigger. You can’t just go to sleep and think it’s going to sort itself out. Any entrepreneur, no matter what facet of business, loses sleep because they’re constantly worried about it going under and thinking about how to make it work. You can’t expect to just live this free rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, where you just party around and you don’t have to do anything but get up and rock on stage. You really have to think it through. The first thing I tell young bands is that you have to think about who you are, what the music sounds like, what the graphics look like, what the merchandising campaign is, how you present it live, how you present it visually in film and videos, the website, everything—you really have to think it through because you have a very limited chance to present that message to the people. We’ve just launched 30 or so small bands on Modlife, a free network that provides a band with tools that will allow you to make money in ways that you never thought of. You have to take it into your own hands and do something with it. And the bands that really think things through are the ones that shine.

How vital is it for a band to be financially savvy?

I think it depends on what kind of band you want to be. You can save every dime that you have or you could use that money to reinvest back into the band. With Angels and Airwaves, we took every dime we had and we reinvested it into the live performance, films and artwork surrounding the band. What it meant was that all the guys in the band might not have been making as much money as we probably could’ve right off the bat, but it also made our band bigger. On the second record, the shows doubled and tripled in size, instantly, because there’s so much for people to grab onto.

Where should a band invest?

You have to have the graphics, the logo, the artwork, which spreads to merchandise, to your website and to your album cover—all that has to be really good. It has to be more than cool, it has to be clever and it has to be a window into your mind. When people listen to you, they know what to picture and they know what kind of person you might be. They start to guess where you’re going to go with it.

What are the best ways to market a band online?

The Internet is a funny thing because anything that is shocking—whether it’s shockingly beautiful or shockingly gross—anything that cuts through the noise on the Internet, will get found. It might take a little more time for some than others. So for a band to try and make its presence known, you have to think about how to captive people online first. It can be with a video, a film, or a song. It has to be something clever. And to do that, you have to study the campaigns that work, like the “Obey” campaign from Shepard Fairey. He put up stickers of Andre the Giant and no one knew what it was. The next thing you know, he’s creating the Obama “Hope” poster.

How important is good songwriting?

You don’t hear about a band 20 years later because they have really great moves on stage or they have crazy, scary graphics or they wore tighter jeans than somebody else. There’s a reason why you still hear about U2, Pink Floyd, The Cure or the Beatles and AC/DC. They wrote amazing songs. True art isn’t necessarily in creating the music, true art is in seeing how many people that music can touch in various ways. At some point if you’re not moving forward, it’s good to have people that you respect tell you why. It might be a friend or someone in the music industry, but being told the sad truth, so you can reinvent yourself is a good thing. That happens to me all the time.

 
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