Aaron Mercier is guitarist for Kings Of Carnage, and a Musicians Institute alumni who is keeping very busy in many areas of the music industry, both as a performer and a man behind the scenes. On a recent visit back to the MI campus, Aaron spoke to The Mix about his life after graduation, his business endeavors with Mercier Guitars, and his advice for current students.
MI: Give us a run-down of your most current projects.
AM: I’m the stage right crew for Lamb of God…and I just got asked to do Stevie Wonder, so i’ll be doing some dates for him in September…and Avril Lavigne. I just came back from doing GWAR, DevilDriver, and The Dirty Knobs. I also work with Johnny Depp and I do guitar inlays (at Mercier Guitars.) I just did a big project for Willie (Adler of Lamb of God.)
Note: You can find more info and products from Mercier Guitars here on their official page HERE.
MI: When you were here, you were involved in a few programs..
AM: Let’s see, I did Guitar craft, Guitar Craft acoustic, guitar, music business, audio engineering and live sound.
MI: In what way did those diverse programs contribute to what you do now?
AM: Well, everything is based around it. In the crew industry, it’s more of a “homie” kind of thing like, you get a gig with a band because your friend’s the guitarist. In order to get a leg up on all the other techs, becoming a luthier has been insane because everyone wants a guy who can repair on the road. I can do set-ups, so no matter where we are in the world, the instrument will always play at its maximum performance…
MI: So you feel like many times you’ve been that person that can say “I can do that!” when many others weren’t as skilled?
AM: I would say 90% of crew out there don’t know how to do setups, don’t know anything about repairs–they can restring it, but that’s about it. Even doing music business, [it helped] when I was out with Jeff Tate and being asked about contracts and everything from photographers to advancing shows. I’ve come to the situations where I’ve had to use my audio engineering experience to push faders because the monitoring engineer has disappeared…and we need to do line check.
Prior to coming here, I really didn’t have a musical background. I played in some bands…but going from a bedroom to a professional backline stage, coming here was absolutely needed.
Prior to MI, I was green as can be… [I am now very confident] in any and all aspects of being in a touring position.
MI: Why do you feel it is important to study the music business? Would you encourage a performance student to take music business classes?
AM: Absolutely. A lot of it is knowing how to protect yourself and learning about sharks and people that want to exploit you. [Some of that is] learning about PROs and publishing, how to get involved with ASCAP and really knowing the difference between a contract that benefits the artist versus a contract that benefits management.
If anybody is serious about taking their career to the next level, then knowing your career is absolutely beneficial to being successful.
MI: Many musicians now are making their own careers…
AM: Yeah, if you get a million views on YouTube that comes out to be about $300,000 a month, so you can make careers just based on YouTube. But if you want to be with a professional band, like the Jonas Brothers, for example, knowing how to protect yourself and negotiate rates, it’s all part of it. People get really weird when it comes to talking about money, but if you’re confident and know what your rate is and what you’re willing to go down to, it’s always O.K. to ask for an insane amount, but then they will know your worth– it all falls into place.
MI: What are some goals that you still want to accomplish in your career?
AM: I would love to find any kind of artist that would be willing to give me a great rate and keep me on retainer. For most crew, that’s kind of the end goal, finding a camp that you absolutely love, where everybody is awesome and everybody gets along and they’re willing to pay you, just to be available.
MI: And then in the meantime, you can still do your own stuff…
AM: Yeah, I can work on my inlays, do my own solo stuff. I still play, which being on crew helps my band Kings of Carnage because I know a lot of the promoters and I have personal relationships with them. That was how Kings of Carnage got Knotfest the second year, and the first year we won a battle of the bands.
MI: What is the most important advice you can give to a student that is just about to graduate or just did?
AM: Networking is everything. This is an industry of homies. Anybody can do the job, for the most part, at least for crew. As a musician, if you have the chops, that’s great, but if you don’t know anybody and you’re not out there pushing your name and being somebody that people want to be around, you’re not going to do anything.
Your name is everything. If you get a tarnished name, people are not going to want to hire you.
MI: Do do you feel like you met a bulk of your connections here at MI?
AM: Yes and no. Student-wise, [I met] Mateus Asato because we were classmates, he has an amazing career now. I have actually given more students out of my class jobs in the crew world because they found out that they can make money in the industry rather than just being a struggling artist.
The faculty has been a big part [of my connections] because they know people, but it was really just getting out into the town.
I was lucky enough to be the tech as Lucky Strike for the Ultimate Jam Night and those are just a non-stop cycle of professional artists and once they start seeing that you’re more than just a backline tech and you can offer a lot more services, that’s where my career exploded.
MI: So you would say to be multi-faceted…
AM: You have to wear multiple hats and knowing that for you it’s a job and for them, it’s an adventure. And you have to be able to separate the two. You have to be professional and act accordingly. If you’re doing drugs, drinking and bringing homies to the side stage and doing all that, it’s a quick way to get you the boot. It’s not about you and it’s a big problem especially in this industry. As soon as you get a little bit of it [success] you can almost exploit it too much.
Keep it cool, plug your name, work hard, be a positive person and somebody people want to be around.