Loog B-Sides: Eric Alper (Or the Man Behind All Those Twitter Music Questions)
This is the fifth episode of Loog B-Sides, a series of conversations that celebrates and shines a spotlight on some of our fave Loog Community members. You can also listen to excerpts from this feature and others from Loog B-Sides on Spotify.
We’ve always said we make guitars for kids and kids-at-heart; and there’s nothing that we love more than a fully-grown adult with an intact capacity to marvel at the world (and music!). This is the best way to describe Eric Alper, Canadian music publicist and the man behind one of the most fun and engaging Twitter accounts in music.
If you’ve ever logged in to Twitter, you’ve probably seen him or any of his infamous questions (the man tweets a zillion times a day, it’s insane!). Eric has made a huge following by just throwing the mic into the audience and tweeting music-related conversation starter after conversation starter, offering a wholesome, well-needed musical break from the world around us, in just under 280 characters. Or, as he puts it, “to me, it’s not about being a music critic - cause the world has enough critics - it’s about being a music champion more than anything else”.
And it’s this philosophy that has powered his career, from wide-eyed fascinated boy growing up in the 80s, to working for Ringo Starr, Sinnead O’Connor, The Smashing Pumpkins, Ray Charles, Bob Geldoff and more. Fueled by our own curiosity, we recently sat down with Eric to talk shop and find out how someone who loves music can get to work in the industry - even if they can’t make music themselves. Definitely an inspiring read!
Don’t feel like reading? You can also listen to an excerpt of Eric’s interview on Spotify.
When did you first fall in love with music?
My grandfather has a bar in Toronto where I live called Grossman Tavern, and it was one of the first bars to actually mix music and alcohol. And that was a really big deal in the 1940s because the two would always be separate; you would have bars that wouldn't have bands playing, and then you would also have bands playing, but have a dry bar. So my grandfather was one of the first in the city of Toronto to kind of merge that. Growing up in the 1970s, you had all these different ethnic groups and students and business people, working-class, lower class, upper class… everybody kind of converged in this bar because there were no egos in this place.
And growing up, I remember watching the bands performing magic, and I'm not talking about actual magic tricks, like flipping a card. To me, what they were able to do was magic because I couldn't do it. And I was mystified that these people could make these sounds. I was mystified that they could bring the entire community together using music. And so growing up, it was always about community: music to me was all about having, not just a sense of self, but a place to make the world better or worse, depending on what your mood was that day.
People old enough to remember life pre-Internet, what are some less obvious things you miss about that time?— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) May 31, 2022
I had a subscription to Billboard magazine because I loved reading the stories of record labels and distributors and managers. These people were like my Star Wars figurines, they were my characters in Dungeons and Dragons that other kids would play. I wanted to know more about this otherworldly industry. It was completely like that. I had no idea how to be a part of it. I just knew that I loved it. So I developed that love. I was the geek that taped songs off of the radio in the 1980s. And then in the 1990s, I went to university and started a record label right after that, which became a distributor and a booking agent. And then that led to doing publicity. So a large part of it was being in the bar and seeing The Beatles and Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard performing on the TV and wanting to be a part of that world. And then now it's just like in the beginning of my career, back in the late 1990s, I was trying hard not to suck at it.
It was trying hard not to be bad at it because I didn't know what else I could do. This was the only thing I wanted to do. I knew I couldn't play an instrument. I knew that I stunk at singing. I have no musical talent whatsoever. I'm sorry to say, but I don't even think your guitars could have helped me back then. I was that bad. I know it's super easy for your guitars. I've seen it. I could not get there. I was just one of these kids that loved music, but had no talent for it. But playing and watching those instruments and stinking at it made me want to be a part of it even more. And that's where I am now.
In my teens, I wore the same 7 band shirts every week.— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) May 30, 2022
Now, I wear the same band shirt, just at 3x the price from a clothing store.
What does a music publicist do exactly?
So the reason why I became a publicist was when I was in university, writing for the campus newspaper and working for the campus radio station, I would get approached by these people that worked at record labels. They were publicists and they would be inviting me to go and see the shows that they were promoting, or getting free records or CDs and writing about them and talking about them on the air. And I thought that was just the coolest job. What cooler job could you have had than to give music out for free and have everybody essentially love you for that? And you're the person with all the concert tickets! So when I started the record label, I realized that without shows nobody would come and buy the record that we were putting out.
So I became a booking agent along with the record label. And then I realized that without publicity, without contacting the media, without contacting the radio stations and the newspapers and the TV outlets, letting them know that this artist is coming into town, nobody would come and buy a ticket for the artist that I booked in order to sell the records. So then one day I just realized that I could just cut out everything and just do the stuff I love to do, which is promoting music. And so I became a publicist. I'm the one that is the go-between between the media and the artist. So I'm talking to the media (and that could be blogs and newspapers and magazines and radio stations and campus radio shows, TV shows, Spotify, playlist, listers, TikTok, music critics, YouTubers), talking about the artists and working on their latest video or song or album or tour date, and trying to find the stories that I think others would be interested in.
Because the media aren't interested in writing about the new song. It's not really about that. It's hard to write about music. So you have to come up with ideas on what they could write 600 words about, what they can talk to you for 12 minutes on the radio about, and very rarely does that have to do with the tone of your guitar, the way that you wrote the song. Cause most people, they don't care. What they really wanna know is what was going on in your life as a human being. And what kind of passions were you having and what kind of thinking went into the actual creation of the song that they could connect to. And that's really what music is truly all about. It's not just the fact that you may love The Beatles or The Stones or The Who, or none of them. It's like you try to find the connections between yourself and what is going on in your life and the artist that you love. And that's why you love music. So as a publicist, my job is to try to find the stories for the media outlets to connect to, in order to reveal more about what the artist is all about and the act of creation of the song or video or album.
What are your most memorable concerts?
I saw ABBA in 1978 with my parents and I was seven to eight years old. And they came out wearing Toronto maple leaf hockey jerseys for the encore, and I thought “that's so cool.” And I was blown away at the fact that they knew what city they were in, not knowing that every band does that. I think I'm still kind of chasing that little bit of a concert high, being eight years old and the lights going down. There's no more excitement I think I've ever felt than the moment that the lights go down and before the artist or band gets on stage where you can feel the actual energy and electricity in the air and just being a goofball, knowing this is gonna be amazing.
What's a great song from the 80s that still holds up?— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) June 2, 2022
I saw Genesis in 1981. They were my favorite band back then. They're still my favorite band now and I got to see them. And that was wild. I saw them with my sister. So it was the first concert I ever saw without my parents, and my sister’s a couple of years older. And it made me feel like such a big kid. It made me feel like such a guy going to it, cause everybody else around me was all adults. I saw The Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1991 in the same week as I saw Nirvana, all in a small club. And it was the first time that I really saw artists that were not so much older than I was, being able to do something with music. There are so many of them. There was a band I saw - and nobody's gonna care about me saying this anyway, but it means something to me. I used to go down to Austin for South by Southwest for about 20 years, and in the mid-1990s, I was just walking down the street and I heard the greatest band I've ever heard in my entire life.
And I walked into a club and I watched three songs and they were amazing. They had a hundred people in there and it was at the right moment, with the right time, with the right little kind of buzz going inside of me. And I watched this band and it was like, this band is gonna be massive. They should be massive. This is what music is all about. Somebody told me who they were. I promptly forgot about them. And I never remember what their name was after that. And it always bugged me that I didn't know who that band was. That to me just so signifies my life. It's just every opportunity I get to work with independent artists, they could be that band to somebody, could be that artist to somebody. So that's why I continue to do what I do. It's just to help spread the word about that kind of stuff.
You seem to have such a childlike, wide-eyed approach to life. Has music had anything to do with keeping that kid inside of you alive?
Everything! I mean, people can't see this, I'm still wearing the same clothes as I wore when I was 19. I still wear band shirts. Like I'm in my fifties, I still wear like my Doc Martens. I still wear jeans with holes in them. I'm stuck in an era that makes me always feel young. But absolutely, there's no better time travel than to listen to a song, than to listen to an album, than to go back and check out a concert. There's nothing that puts you back in that moment where you first heard that song or listened to that album, or watched that video. It's the best form of time travel.
And because music has always made me feel good when I wanted it to. And made me feel sad when I wanted it to as well. When I was feeling sorry for myself, I would put on the sad blues and it makes me feel better knowing that somebody else is having a worse life than I am. That stuff never, never leaves you. And I know because I’ve hung out with so many artists.
Knowing so many artists personally, what’s the secret to being a successful musician?
Here's the truth with artists: when talking about their best love song, the most popular song that they've ever written, nine times out of ten, they’ll probably tell you that that song was written in 15 minutes, or that that song was the last song that they wrote for the album, or that they hate that song and that they stuck it in track 15 of the album, hoping that somebody wouldn't notice. And it became a monster hit.
And you can look at it two ways. If you're that artist you have to look at it like “I'm gonna play this song every single day for the rest of my natural life”. And “I'm gonna be asked about that song, every interview of my life”. You can look at it and say, “it allowed me to continue to do this.” Or you can look at it like it’s the most depressing thing ever and hate it and never discuss it.
I choose to have the opinion that it’s an amazing thing that happened to you. I didn't do much to get me here. It was everybody else. It was the artist that got to write the songs. It was me being in Toronto and not New York battling it out between like 16,000 publicists. It was growing up with my grandfather having a bar. It was such a privileged, lucky position that I was born when I was, where I was, and how I perceived something, enough to make it a passion.
And I think when you're a parent, you realize more and more how the things that you don't think about, or took for granted, allowed you to get to this point, both good and bad. So when you're a parent and you start to see that your kid is dancing a lot, when you put on the radio and you think, “wow, that kid’s got rhythm, it's the best dancer of a baby that I've ever seen,” your natural step is to “let's go and get the kid an instrument.” “Let's go play guitar.” “Let's go play piano.” And you try to find those passions. I had that. I had that and I stunk at it, but I knew well enough that if I just kept going and going and going and stinking at doing what I wanted to do, soon I would get better.
And soon maybe the bands would get bigger and bigger and bigger, and they did. But it was only like 1% of what I was able to do myself. The rest of it is all the people around me, which is why your company is so important, because you can't really wait for the kid or child to come along and say, “I think I wanna play guitar”. Sometimes it's those little things of picking up going, “well, let's just try this because we might have the next Carlos Santana, or we might have the next inventor around.” Because art is amazing. Music is amazing. Studies have consistently shown that putting an instrument into a kid's hands makes them feel better about themselves. It helps them with math. It helps them with science. It helps them with technology. It helps them with social skills. It helps them reveal something about themselves. It gives them self-confidence. There has never been a musician in the history of this world that has regretted playing an instrument. And the more instruments that we can put into kids' hands and earlier, the better it's going to be for everybody.
Did you play any instruments as a kid?
I had a number of guitars as a kid. I'm small, I still am small. So I find it really, really difficult to play. My parents never really were into buying so much of the instruments because nobody in my family played, and nobody in my grandparents’ families played. We didn't have cousins that really played a whole lot. So, forming a band, I never really saw that. But growing up, I played drums in a high school band that lasted four rehearsals and was awful. And the three people in the rest of the band went off to fame and fortune in Canada. And I was the only one that didn't do something in music and the world is a better place for it. But growing up, [my daughter] Hannah played a little bit of guitar and not much else.
And she was small too. So she found it a little bit difficult, which is a shame because I think we both could have used your guitars back then and kind of simplified things. But back then it was really hard to find lessons, it was really hard to find the first easy step to just not make it so difficult for people to learn how to play the instrument, at least for the first little bit, and then get 'em into the harder stuff later on if they wanted to.
You say you’re the go-between between musicians and media. One could also say you’re the go-between between people and musicians, via your Twitter account. Do you have any favorite stories between regular fans and musicians that were enabled by your account?
Yeah. You know, in the beginning, when I first got on Twitter, about 13, 14 years ago, it was really a small community of people. There weren't that many people on there, but we got on it because we just happened to fall in the same demographic and age group as the way that social media was developing, meaning that we were the perfect age on the demographic from MySpace. And then when MySpace started to taper off a little bit here comes Facebook. So we were one of the first people on Facebook. And then when Twitter came along, we all got on Twitter and so forth.
But in the beginning, it was just marveling at the fact that Lady Gaga would respond back to one of my posts or Cameron Crowe, the director and writer of ‘Say Anything’ and ‘Almost Famous’ or David Crosby would retweet this stuff. Again, people that I grew up listening to and watching, but my favorite story was a question that I asked. I have a lot of these verified famous people, and musicians following me, and then of course I have your average run-of-the-mill people like all of us. And I asked a question: “Did you ever have tickets for a show and couldn't go in the end of it, but regret it?” And so I got a couple of thousand responses, and I do check them up from time to time. So somebody wrote that they were 11 years old and they had tickets to go see Sean Cassidy. And if people don’t know who Sean Cassidy was, he was like this pop idol in the seventies and eighties who went on to have a huge career in film and television on the directing side. But in the seventies and eighties, he was on the cover of every teen magazine in the world. And so this woman wrote that when she was a kid, she had tickets to Sean Cassidy, and she couldn't go at the end of it. And she's always regretted it because she's loved him still to this day. And you have to imagine that a 40-year love of an artist is huge. But for somebody like Sean Cassidy who really in the beginning - and he wouldn't like this what I'm gonna say - wasn't really well respected by the media... He was a pop idol who just happened to continue to do what he did. And Sean Cassidy responded back to her and said, “I'm sorry that you didn't get a chance to go to the show, but the next time I’m in your area, let me know,” cause he still tours from time to time. And they starting talking and it blew her away that Sean Cassidy responded back to her. And I looked at that afterward and I'm like, this is exactly the reason why I love social media and the reason why all of the hate and haters that I see and get can just go to bed, because that's really what it's all about.
And those things probably happen a lot more than I realize, but I just don't look at it as much, because I don't want it to get into my head that I need to stick to a certain road. I'll post about Drake breaking some kind of Billboard Hot 100 record, and then the next post do something about Fleetwood Mac, followed by Louis Armstrong and that's my world. It's not tied to a hundred percent rap music or a hundred percent classic rock. And I know what to do. I know if I just posted photos of 1970s classic rock artists like Pink Floyd and Styx and Tom Petty, I know it would get me a lot of attention, but it's not where I live. And it's not what I find interesting all the time. I love the fact that charts keep changing every week. I love the fact that there are still artists that are breaking records or that have 17 songs on the Hot 100. I'm kind of blown away by that. So I kind of wanna celebrate that and share that too. So I know something gets like 15 likes or retweets. I don't care. I'm just happy to keep posting and I'm just happy to be able to do it.
What do you enjoy the most about your Twitter presence?
A large part of it is nostalgia. People love talking about themselves, but when I'm asking those questions on Twitter, it's never about me. Nobody cares. I get a couple of people going, “how come you never answer your question?” And the answer simply is cause I'm not the one that's important here. What's important is that people love to talk about themselves and I don't do it to get more followers cause again, I know that that's not the way to do it. I do it because sometimes I just love reading people's answers. I just love the fact that it could bring up and conjure some memories of things, but also maybe, perhaps, introduce them to artists that they don't know. You reach a certain age (usually, that age is 33, 34, 35 years old) where you stop listening to new music for the most part. You have kids, you get married, you have a mortgage, you have a job, you start to vacation, spending your free money on concerts isn't the number one priority. So people stop listening to new music and sometimes they just have no idea what's out there, and it's overwhelming to go on Spotify and have 75 million songs at your disposal. So that's what I hope to do as well. It’s when I'm talking about new artists or I'm talking about how glorious Tom Petty was back in the seventies. I know that there is a 16-year-old on Twitter that's reading this for the first time that has never heard of Tom Petty's song. That's why I'm doing it.
What are your favorite prompts so far?
What was your first concert?— Eric Alper 🎧 (@ThatEricAlper) September 21, 2021
What’s the first concert you ever saw? What cover song is better than the original? And what's the best opening song on an album? Those are three, no-brainer ones that everybody would have an answer for. I'll never go negative, so I'll never ask like, what band didn't you understand in the beginning, but loved them? Cause I don't want anybody to be insulted by that. Or what band did you love and then saw them in concert and just thought that they stunk? Just a variation on those because everybody knows a song or their favorite song that opened an album or their favorite concert. It's inclusion rather than exclusion. I get direct messages all the time, all day long for people going, can you ask what people's best seventh song on a record is? And I get it, that would be really interesting cause you go on certain albums, and sometimes the best song on the record is the seventh song, but I don't want somebody to stop the car and turn around and go home and find out so that they can answer the question. I want them to answer the question in six seconds or less.