Steven Tyler Walks This Way
On May 8, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith stopped by Berklee and gave a clinic for the students in the Berklee Performance Center. Tyler, former co-manager Keith Garde, and Professor Livingston Taylor sat on stools on the stage and spoke casually with Taylor asking the questions. Tyler answered candidly and provided an inside glimpse of what it has been like to be in a major rock band.
Tyler spoke of his humble beginnings as a teenager playing swing and show tunes on drums during the summers at his father's New Hampshire resort. He recalled becoming entranced by rock and finding his identity as a rock musician. "I pretended I was someone else until that person became me," he told the crowd. "It would have been easy to get blown out of the water with people saying your music sounds like the Kinks or that you look like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. We had to believe in ourselves. The first song we wrote was 'Movin' Out.' After that happened and we realized we could write songs, it was all over." He went on to say that the band developed their identity and worked hard to attract a following. "We wrote a bunch of songs, and we stayed together as a band," Tyler said. "Up until this minute, I pinch myself every day because this is such a trip."
Tyler also spoke about the realities of keeping a music career alive by making concessions to the powers that be without feeling that you have sold out. "I'm a rocker at heart, but I like the ballads too. You put songs like 'Young Lust' and 'Train Kept a Rolling' on a record and then put on songs like 'Angel' or 'Dream On' that the radio plays to keep your head above water. Otherwise, you're gone, out of the picture. Do you call that selling out? I happen to like having a million dollars in the bank! You can be angry and hate your label, but then you'll never get your 'Dream On' on an album with 'Train Kept a Rolling.' We still get to go out there and rock. We've got the best of both worlds."
Tyler addressed questions about being on a major label. "We have a great deal worth millions of dollars with Sony. What it's all about when you make it big is that on every dollar they keep 75 cents and give you 25 cents. Then every time they see you, they tell you how shiny your quarter is. The best thing about being on a big label is the distribution. Your record comes out here and in Indonesia on the same day."
Taylor asked if things get easier or simpler once a band makes it. In reply, Tyler gave a rundown of what it costs to keep Aerosmith on the road for a week. "It goes like this," Tyler said. "Video screen $75k, sound $44k, light $53k, seven busses $23k, trucking $40k, staging $7k, security $3k, crew payroll (60 people) $72k, crew hotels $45k. That's what costs us each week before we start making money." He illustrated that problems don't go away and expenses just grow when a group is successful.
Tyler went on to answer a number of audience questions. The crowd clamored for him to sing, and Tyler obliged with a few songs at the piano before finally saying goodbye.