Gabriel Marin Of Consider The Source Talks Touring, Radius Clauses, Crowd Funding, Tour Managing, Filming Videos, Endorsements, And His Band’s Incredible Fans
Consider the Source is a niche band. Their genre is sci-fi Middle Eastern fusion, which is how they describe their mashup of prog, metal, traditional Eastern and Near-Eastern world musics, open-ended improv, and shred. They’re an instrumental trio—featuring Gabriel Marin on double neck fretted/fretless guitar plus an assortment of traditional acoustic instruments, John Ferrara on bass, and Jeff Mann on drums—and despite their music’s complexity and difficulty, they make it look easy, which other bands sometimes find intimidating.
“I once heard a guy saying about us, ‘We can’t play like that, but we get laid,’” Marin laughs. “I was like, ‘If that’s how you justify it, that’s cool.’ But we’re not thinking, ‘Let’s play this Balkan song in alternating measures of 9 and 13 to get laid.’ That’s not what we’re doing. We’re not talking about other musicians. Not everyone who picks up an instrument has to have the same goals on their instrument.”
But eclectic tastes and monster chops aside, Consider the Source is not an idiosyncratic side project, it’s what these guys do for a living. The band has a strong, loyal, dedicated fan base, which they built up over a decade of relentless touring, and they did that without signing a record deal or touring with a more prominent artist as an opening act.
“We’ve been on tour for about 10 years, and not once has a bigger band taken us on tour with them,” Marin says. “You look at any band that has success, that’s what happens. Every band. But that hasn’t happened for us. Everything we’ve gotten has been from hard work, word of mouth, playing shows, and people telling people.”
But that dedication paid off. Consider the Source is an established act. They play about 120 shows a year, and are listed in bold font on festival posters—that’s a mark of distinction in the touring world—their videos garner significant traction online, and they have a new album in the can, due later this spring.
I last spoke with Marin back in 2015 for Premier Guitar, and we nerded-out about music and pedals. Here, we focused on business. We talked about discovering the jam scene, the logistics and legalities associated with playing festivals, the basics of the band’s business model, how they fund their albums, endorsement deals and free gear, and their underlying idealism and work ethic.
When did you start Consider The Source?
We started in college, in 2004, and we would play together once or twice a month. I met our original drummer, Justin Ahiyon, at a party. We were jamming, and I started to play the weird stuff that I play. He responded playing Middle Eastern-y music, too, and we spoke afterwards. We had played a show together back in the day, and he and John, our bass player, grew up together. John was awesome on bass and I said, “Bring your bass player down and let’s have a jam.” That was it. We got in a rehearsal studio in Manhattan, had a jam, and right off the bat, it was cool sounding.
How did you develop your audience?
At first it was just friends. We didn’t have songs really, we had three loose eastern melodies and we jammed on each one for 20 minutes. We started developing more tunes and started playing weird parties in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, that was probably around 2007 or 2008. Lower Manhattan was the cool spot and then Brooklyn became the cool spot. We played these crazy events, people liked it, and it made no sense. We thought we’d play to 20 or 30 people in a jazz club—because that’s what our heroes, the guys we look up to, do—we were not expecting to play these party shows and have all these people really seem to like it.
How many people were at those parties?
Some were loft parties with about 50 to 100 people, but some were these huge things where there would be a couple hundred people on the floor and who knows how many others. My eyes are closed when we play, so I’ve missed crazy things at these parties. I remember once opening my eyes and the whole front row was naked and painted. I’ve missed people getting arrested during our shows, because my eyes were closed.
How did you start touring?
Justin, our original drummer, and John took the initiative back in the day on MySpace. They would reach out to other bands and trade shows. Being from New York City, we had a cool thing. Would could say, “You can open for us in New York if can we play with you in Philly, or Albany, or wherever.” I think Albany was the first place we played outside of New York City. Then Oneonta, Philadelphia, and places that were within a couple hours drive.
Are any of those bands still around?
Yeah, our friends iNFiNiEN from Philly, they’re awesome and they still play. There was a band called, Complex Complex, that’s not around any more, but we named a song after them. We found these three or four other instrumental or weird or progressive bands. It was like that until we discovered the jam scene, and then it was a sharp turn into that.
Is the jam scene primarily festivals?
That’s how we got in. We played Strange CreekMusic Festival up in Massachusetts. It’s one of our favorites, and we’ve played there every year since. We had no idea what to expect. One of my favorite memories is that we were googling hippie slang, because we had no idea what these guys were saying. It was hilarious. From that, we now do 20 festivals a summer. A couple of years ago, we did 30 festivals a summer, but now we’re in bigger print, so our radiuses are bigger.
Why is that?
If you’re booked higher, you get paid more, and your radius clause is longer. If you’re a blurry band on the bottom, it’s less. The more legible your name is, the more radius clause issues you have. But you can also play better festivals. Sometimes the festival is in a dude's backyard for 100 people. We still do those sometimes and they end up being really fun.
Are members of your band still booking shows?
No, we’ve gone through a bunch of booking agencies. First thing, we had managers, and then we got a booking agency. Our old drummers’ brother was our manager for a really long time, and that worked really well for a while—there are a lot of bands that have that success story where the guy starts with them and goes up—he worked with us for many years. Right now, we have our management team and our booking agency. We’re not in charge of the thing, but we’re hands on, and everything goes through us. We have meetings every week with management—we have a long phone meeting, with multiple email conversations every week.
Being in a band nowadays is like being a small business owner—unless you’re a pop band or you’re upper echelon success-wise—it’s like being a small business owner, and that’s actually wonderful. Growing up, I’d read about bands that I admired, and they would get the mix of the album presented to them and they wouldn’t have a choice about it. That was the mix. They would get t-shirt designs and those were the t-shirts. The thought of someone giving me a version of music that I was part of that I had no say in, that’s total cognitive dissonance to me. I wouldn’t have any concept of how to deal with that. But this, we’re a business owner. We’re in charge of everything, which is great. We hire the artists, we get to choose the designs, our album covers, we choose our set list, we choose the people who record us. It’s more work. It’s not like you get off the stage, go on the tour bus, and then wake up the next day, party, and get on stage and your equipment is set up. It’s not like that at all. But at the same time, it’s your 9-to-5 work-wise, and then you get to play.
At what point did you incorporate the band as a business?
We’re technically an LLC [limited liability company]. It took us a long time, we did things slowly. We were past the point of not making a living doing this—we’ve been making a living doing this for a while. We get along very well and we trust each other, we don’t have any of those business fears. We did the LLC because it made sense for us financially. One thing we’ve always done is we split everything three ways: money, credits, everything. Even if one person writes more of one song, it doesn’t matter, everything is the three of us. And because of that, we all have equal say in everything.
When Jeff Mann joined, did you bring him on as an equal partner?
Yeah, once he joined and was in. Jeff joined seven years ago. We wanted that from the get-go. We didn’t want an employee situation. It’s three of us, we need everyone to be all hands on deck. Musically, if someone’s not liking it as much and he feel like he’s an employee, it’s not going to work for a band like ours. Our singles are 11-minutes long, we’re not going to have a commercial breakthrough, so he really has to be in it to win it. And Jeff really is, besides the fact that he’s a great drummer—we knew we had to get a great drummer, but often with musicians that can be really good, you don’t know what you’re going to be getting—but he’s the sweetest guy, and he’s a great worker, and he’s great to be around. We got lucky in every respect.
Do you have any employees?
We had a tour manager who would travel with us. We had a lighting designer who’s now Tauk’s lighting designer. But now it’s just us and Nate McClennen, who does a lot of our art, and he comes on tour with us. The three of us tour manage. Nate sells merch and helps us carry stuff. I advance the shows. John settles after the shows. Jeff deals with all the routing—the hotels and all that stuff. But we’re hands on and it’s better. I would always ask our tour manager, “What’s the deal with this and that?” If something wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to be, when I would get to the venue I’d think, “Why the fuck didn’t you deal with this beforehand?” Now I am dealing with it beforehand, and if something isn’t the way I want it, I can only look at myself. Also, having the venue pay a band member after the show is nice. They’re not dealing with some other random person.
Does that make them less likely to mess around after the show?
We’ve only been scammed once or twice in our whole career, it’s not like it was back in the day apparently. They get to know us, and if it was a great show, they tell us, “We want to have you back.” If it’s not a great show, sometimes they’ll explain why. The more personalized it is for us, the better, because our shit is so weird.
How is the band structured financially?
We pay ourselves a monthly salary that doesn’t change. Management gets a percentage of everything. But whether we have a month off or we play every day—we pay ourselves the same amount. It’s wonderful. We have two months off coming up, and we get checks from the band, because that’s how we make our living. To play the music that we play and zero compromises—and to be able to make a living doing that is—we count our blessings all the time.
How many years did it take you to build that up?
I’ve been on tour for so long that my frame of reference is terrible, but for at least five years rent is being paid by band stuff. And we all teach. We teach lessons on the side—not on the side now, it’s what we do—we play shows and we teach on Skype. We’ve done a lot of master classes at colleges, which is really great. Until we made it as a band, we all lived at home. We were on tour 180 shows a year, which means you’re gone 220 days a year. We’re all from New York City, and no one is paying New York City rent being gone for more than half the year. It was funny, when Jeff joined the band, he was joining this band that he always wanted to be in, and he moved back home. Now we do 120 shows a year, so we’re home a lot more. It’s a lot better now.
How does a festival work?
You show up three to four hours before your set time. But it really depends on how many stages there are. If it’s a multiple stage festival, you sometimes have an hour-and-30-minutes to set up, because that’s during another band’s set. If it’s a tight stage festival, it’s half-an-hour, because there’s a band on stage before you—and it’s very rushed. Festivals are weird, some are incredibly relaxed and some are incredibly rushed. It’s not like a venue gig. You rarely get a full warm up in, because it’s outdoors, and there are other band people that you’re seeing that you only get to see at festivals. Sometimes you’re playing at 6 PM, which means you have to get there at 2 PM, so it’s a whole different thing. But the festivals we play are not like the Bonnaroo-type festivals. They’re very much of the jam scene festivals, and they can range from 3,000 people to 20,000 people. Around the 20,000 person mark, it starts to get a bit crowded for me. But it’s nice crowd-wise.
What do you mean by crowded?
Everything. You need golf carts to take you everywhere. You need security to drive you around because catering is a mile one way, or the artist compound is a golf cart ride away. But I love playing the big ones because you really get to play for more people. At the 3,000 to 10,000 people festivals, most of the people there are music people. They go to shows most weekends. Once you get to the bigger ones, then you get to the people who see three shows a year. It’s really fun to play our kind of music to those people, because sometimes they have no frame of reference.
Are people responsive to your crowd funding campaigns?
The last one, people were incredibly responsive, because the Facebook algorithm was awesome. The Facebook algorithm is totally different now.
You have to pay for it now.
And even then, it’s not as good. I used to post a video of me and my dog and it would get 500 likes. Now I post an album announcement and it gets 80. It is really different now. That’s a thing that bands are still dealing with. Our old crowd funding campaign went so viral for us. At that point, we had 15,000 followers and everyone seemed to find out. Now we have 50,000, and no one is seeing it. Luckily, we have way more people, so people are responsive. But it’s not the same. It’s doing well, we’re probably going to meet our goal because the last two weeks are always the busiest.
But it is much harder than it was a few years ago.
Much harder than it was. Everything internet-wise, but we have wonderful fans. It’s truly an unbelievable thing. We play venues and the venue comments on how awesome our fans are. We owe everything we have to the fact that we have super wonderful fans. And they are a really wide group of people. If you look at our fan base at a show, it’s different age groups, a dude in a brutal death metal t-shirt next to someone in a tie-dyed shirt. Fathers and sons come. You see different religious things in the crowd—and it’s wonderful.
What’s it like making videos? After doing multiple takes and miming along, do you hate your songs by the end? Like that one you did in the woods…
That was for “Brother Nature,” which was funny. I am on a late schedule. I wake up late and go to bed late. For that, we had to wake up at 4 AM to climb a mountain—so I didn’t sleep because I go to bed at 5 AM. We climbed to the top of the mountain with a bass drum and all our equipment. We were about 50 feet from the top, and there was a parking lot. We could have driven. I looked at Jeff, I was like, “If I had any energy right now, I’d throw you off this mountain [laughs]. Are you kidding me?” But it was fun. We just shot a video for a song, the last single from our last album. I hadn’t heard the studio version of the song for about eight months, so it was fun the first few times. But by the end, it’s just hard. Miming along to a 12-minute song is harder than actually playing a 12-minute song. The hardest part is the solo sections, because I have no idea what I did.
And I haven’t listened to it since recording it—I’ve improvised 50 versions of it since—so I have no idea what I did. Sometimes, I’ll say, “At this point I remember I hit a bend, so if you can sync it up to this one part.” I don't know what I note am bending, but I know I am doing a bend.
Do you have the music playing along on a boombox? Is it hard to hear over the drums?
It depends. Sometimes Jeff will be the only one who has it in his ears, and we play along to the drums. Sometimes the drums have a click—not when we play live, but if we’re rehearsing, to hold something down—we’ll give Jeff a click sometimes and play to him.
How do endorsements work? When I was a kid, I thought that when you went pro, people gave you gear, but it doesn’t work that way.
It does if you’re at a certain level. A band like ours, we get artist pricing fairly easily. Most of my favorite endorsement companies are smaller companies. Their teams are five dudes at most.
You’ve been with Vigier for a few years now.
Yeah, for a while. My instrument is a one-of-a-kind Vigier. I endorse a few pedal companies and picks, Gravity Picks. For most of the pedals, I’ll either get free stuff or they’ll says, “We made 30 of these. We can’t give you one, but we’ll give you one for the cost of parts”—which is great.
For Vigier, do you have to play NAMM? How does that work?
I am not doing NAMM this year, though I will do it again next year. It really depends. John, with Hardke, has to be at the Hardke booth at NAMM. They’re flying him out—he works and he does that—he’s one of their main guys. My Vigier is a one-of-a-kind Vigier, it is not a production model Vigier, so it is different. But they gave me that guitar. That was wonderful. They also gave me a fretless and a single neck. I am connected to a few pedal companies, too. Sometimes I get some stuff, and whatever it is, it is always wonderful that I get to talk to them. That was always a dream—if it breaks or stops working or a pedal confuses me—I write to the guy who invented it. I am a nerd about a lot things and a lot of these pedal guys are similar, so they are very easy to talk to. That’s the boutique pedal world—it’s geeky—because it’s some dude who had a cool idea, built something, and other weird people concur.
As much as I’ve complained about the marketing being difficult, the fact is that a band like ours never would have been able to make it at all before, because we’re so weird. As difficult as it is because of our originality, there’s also the fact that we’re making a living, playing shows, traveling the country and the world, and playing uncompromising music. A boutique pedal company can make 30 pedals, which are weird glitchy pedals that only 30 people may want, but that’s enough to sustain them to make 30 more. You have this boutique world. Ok, I don’t have an MTV crib like Drake—is he still popular?—but at the same time, I can write a song with a Sudanese element mixed with an element from Bulgaria mixed with some cool psychedelic stuff, and we’ll work that out.
And it’s your job.
And it’s wonderful, but that’s the tradeoff. The amount of money and the amount of originality and creativity are inversely proportional. No one is going to be famous playing crazy stuff, but you don’t go into this to be famous. It would be nice, but I strongly believe that this kind of music—the more intellectual and spiritual music—effects people in a positive sense. It would be better if more mainstream people weren’t only hearing music made by machines with lyrics about pretty terrible things. It would be better for the world.
Photos courtesy Gabriel Marin