“Nothing I can say to you means as much as what I do,” sings Nick Gallant on the title track of his new album, Wanderlust.
It’s a simple sentiment, maybe, but one that the Santa Cruz singer-songwriter is trying to give some real meaning with the “Free Music for Santa Cruz” campaign he’s put together around his new record. He’s making Wanderlust download cards available for free at displays in several businesses around Santa Cruz (including his wife Kendra Baker’s Penny Ice Creamery, Picnic Basket and now Assembly; as well as Verve Coffee’s locations and Bookshop Santa Cruz).
The thinking behind it is a fascinating bit of reverse psychology: by giving the record away for free, Gallant hopes to jumpstart some serious discussion about how much we value music as a culture—or more to the point, why we don’t anymore.
“I hope the act of giving my music away will raise awareness about the state of the music industry today,” wrote Gallant in the mission statement for his campaign. “Spotify and other music-streaming services like it pay only fractions of a penny for each song you download for free, and until this changes, artists will struggle more than ever to make money from their recordings. Many good ones will just quit; some already have.
“I don’t want people to pay for it,” he tells me of his record, “but I do want them to think really mindfully about how we support artists.”
In a best-case scenario, Gallant—who plays a CD release party on Saturday at the Reef Bar—would like to create a pay-it-forward effect. “At a very basic level, I hope someone can get my album for free, and then turn around and buy another artist’s CD,” he says.
If it sounds unlikely, well, it certainly might be. But from the moment he started strumming the first bright, wave-swept notes of “Wanderlust” on a ukulele after a surf session in Mexico—because of course it was—he felt like he wanted to take some new risks.
“I’m trying to weather through a mid-30s crisis or something,” he says with a laugh. As the album—his third—took shape over some 150 hours in the last three years, he found that the 18 songs he arrived at exposed a new level of openness and vulnerability in his writing. And he faced the fact that he wanted to get more serious about his music career.
“I’m giving it the love I think I should have been giving it all along,” he says.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Gallant’s aspiring music career is that his day job is also a music career, and an extremely successful one at that. He’s composed the music for many hit video games, including arranging and performing the cover versions on the early editions of Guitar Hero. He now works for Disney, for whom he composes everything from princess-themed fantasy scores to Star Wars pieces.
But his work as a singer-songwriter is fulfilling in a whole other way, and as he was putting together the new album, he had to ask himself a question that most musicians have faced at one time or another: “Why am I doing this?”
For Gallant, there was the easy answer about artistic self-expression, but it turned out that there was a deeper one, too. “Free Music for Santa Cruz” is his way of trying to do something bigger, both for his fellow artists and the place he calls home.
“I was inspired by watching Kendra, and her contribution to the community. She delights other community members with her talents, and I really admire that,” he says. “What it really comes down to is: I want my music to be my contribution to my community.”
Nick Gallant plays a CD release show Sat., March. 8 at Reef Bar in Santa Cruz; 7:30pm; $5.