CLAY – The music industry is a big business with many nooks and crannies. While it has always been imperative for artists navigating the industry to find the paths that work for them, the need to diversify within the business is at an all-time high, especially since the onslaught of COVID. Diversification is the name of the game for local musicians, Tom Kellerowner and operator of Keller Guitar Studio. By taking on a variety of duties related to general music, lessons, performance coaching, etc., Keller has found a place to really dig into these aspects. Not only that, but he will lead a new initiative at his studio to bring together like-minded people in the region to discuss the business and provide an environment for mutual growth.
I had the chance to sit down with this artist. What follows is our conversation.
Lucas Garrett: Thank you for sitting down today to talk about what’s going on. I’ve known you for a few years but we never had the opportunity to discuss. How are you? What’s new?
Tom Keller: I’m doing pretty well. Keeping busy between working with my guitar studio here and getting on with the day’s work. Finding a good balance between studio and family and everything. It’s been busy but it’s been productive. Things are looking up. How are you?
LG: I’m fine, man. So, are you talking about a studio? Tell us a bit more about it.
TK: What Keller Guitar Studio is – it finally came to fruition in 2018, although I taught privately for about 25 years…bounced back a lot from living in New York and then living in Albany and return to Washington County. I never had a permanent workplace. I’m very lucky this place in South Argyle came to fruition.
LG: What are you doing in the studio?
TK: I give guitar lessons, one-on-one. I also do basic guitar setups, basic repairs and give general music lessons such as: vocals; basic piano; performance coaching – which I did a lot when I worked at the Greenwich Youth Center a few years ago; and some vocal coaching. That’s what’s happening now. Around last week, a revelation came to me that here in South Argyle, there really isn’t a central place for like-minded musical artists and people like that to meet. I was like, “You know what? I have room here. I can do it.” It’s been a blessing. I referred to it as a forum; it’s a broader title for what I want to do here.
LG: You certainly manage a lot of things in the studio. What are some of your musical influences?
TK: It’s a deep subject in itself. Thank you for asking this question. I grew up in a very artistic family; both my parents were artists. My father was a painter and my mother did other miscellaneous things: weaving, making books, etc. I grew up with NPR in the house all the time. It was between NPR and a lot of folk music from the early 50s and 60s. My parents had a lot of stories about life in Saratoga in the early 60s; they were friends with Lena (Spencer) for a while.
LG: Oh, good.
TK: I grew up hearing a lot of stories about it. There was a combination of this culture, this kind of people coming in and out of my house, while growing up with classical music. I started studying classical guitar at the age of 7. As for my influences, I have so many. Early rock, the Beatles, the Stones, early blues… When I got into my teens, I was very interested in progressive English stuff like Jethro Tull and Yes. When it comes to guitar, my big improvisational influences are Zappa, Jon McLaughlin and a lot of jazz – I’m a big Miles (Davis) guy. So that’s where it got me. Then I went to Purchase for that and studied with Bill Anderson, David Starobin, Ray DesRoches and Anthony Newman. Incredible people; I was very lucky that way.
LG: It really seems that you know the guitar well. In the future with the forum and Keller Guitar Studio, what would you personally like to see happen?
TK: Right now, it’s in an eggshell breaking phase right now. I just have the Facebook page in place, and I raise awareness. The idea is to have a meeting once a month at the studio, probably on a Saturday evening. It will be café style – coffee, refreshments, whatever. Bring your own refreshments, just be realistic about it. If you’ve written a new track and want to try it out, get feedback, that’s it. If you want to start a discussion on the current state of the recording industry, or similar things… Recently, I posted T-Bone Burnett and what he does with vinyl. I really want to engage people and have a party once a month here, open to all levels; beginners to professionals. I can’t wait to see where this will take us.
LG: You talk about the record industry, let’s talk about that aspect. What COVID has done, in my opinion, really shows in the live performances. Most musicians I know have made their money playing and performing. With the majority of streaming platforms taking everything from artists, it really forces artists to change their game plan.
TK: Live is difficult, yes. As you and I probably noticed last year with the lifting of COVID restrictions, everyone is here now. There is more involved in the weeding process. Everyone has a duty more than ever to maintain a level of quality for themselves and their profession.
LG: It’s important to find other ways to advance in the industry. Like you with your studio. I had to reinvent the way I navigate the music industry, and it looks like you are too. You have to know how to adapt in this job, you know?
TK: Absolutely. My strategy had to completely change; it is completely different from what it was thirty years ago.
LG: Overall, though, great things are happening in the region. Some venues really take care of their artists, and I’m very grateful for that.
TK: Me too!
LG: Is there anything else you would like to discuss?
TK: The first meeting at Keller Guitar Studio will take place at the end of this month, on a date yet to be determined.
LG: Ok, well thanks again for your time!
TK: Thank you. Calm down, Lucas.