Name: Jim Olsen, President, Signature Sounds
Hometown: Northampton, Massachusetts
Latest Album: Golden Age: 25 Years of Signature Sounds
Personal nicknames (or rejected band names): Molson
What’s your favorite memory from working in the music business?
I’ve been in the music business in one form or another for over 40 years, so it’s pretty hard to break it down to any one memory. Without question my favorite moments are discovering great new artists and watching them perform for the first time in a small club to an intimate audience. I’ve had the good fortune to see amazing performers like Josh Ritter, Eilen Jewell, and Lake Street Dive way before the rest of the world knew them.
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to work in the music business?
I grew up in the NYC area, a huge fan of music and WNEW and LLIR, the great progressive radio stations of the time. A career in music never occurred to me until I discovered that my Ithaca College roommate had a show on the campus radio station. It seemed inconceivable that anyone who asked could get a radio show. I’ve worked in radio ever since and have hosted The Back Porch, a weekly roots music show on 93.9 The River in Northampton, Massachusetts, since 1992. Working in radio keeps me connected to new artists and the greater music community.
What advice would you give to an artist who’s pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter?
Aim for quality, not quantity. I think many new singer-songwriters are focused on making album-length statements when a few good songs would be more effective. The streaming age has changed the way we listen to music and the sad truth is that no one has the patience for 12 songs from an unknown artist. Take your time, edit and hone your best songs and present them thoughtfully.
Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?
I’m fortunate to live in a beautiful rural area, and I love to run and bike with a musical soundtrack. I can lose myself completely in the music and scenery to the point of not even being aware of time or commitments. The combination of deep listening and fresh air make it a highlight of the day. I also find that some of my best creative ideas happen on the road.
Since food and music go so well together, what is your dream pairing of a meal and a musician?
My dream pairing involves a fried oyster po’boy and an Abita Turbodog while watching a favorite Louisiana band, like the Iguanas, in front of the Fais Do-Do Stage at Jazzfest in New Orleans. It’s number one on my post-pandemic wish list.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Signature Sounds