Matt O'Ree, New Bon Jovi Guitarist Gives Words of Encouragement to Aspiring New Jersey Musicians



For years, Matt O’Ree could be found at Surf Taco in Jackson entertaining diners with his weekly acoustic set.  This past fall, O’ree, of Holmdel could be found on stage with Bon Jovi after he was chosen to replace 10 year Bon Jovi veteran Bobby Bandiera as the band’s rhythm guitarist.    O’Ree, who formed the blues based Matt O’Ree band, another regular around Ocean County over the years, accompanied Bon Jovi on their 2015 fall world tour.A Letter of Encouragement for Aspiring Musicians in the Jersey Area:

To start things off in the interview with Matt O’Ree, Guitarist for Bon Jovi, and New Jersey Resident, I asked him to give aspiring musicians something they could sink their teeth into while they built their career.

downloadMatt’s Response:

One of the things that I could say for the benefit of upcoming players is the value of teaching their instrument to other students. The guy I studied from encouraged me to teach more, and that’s what really got me started. A lot of the value came in the freedom of making my own schedule, which gave me the time and resources necessary to pursue other gigs and opportunities. At the same time, a teacher is sharing their art and ability with other musicians, essentially offering them to help them along the way.

Through teaching a younger musician a classic, they get to be involved with music that they didn’t grow up with. The teachers refine their skills, and the students learn the techniques of previous masters, you know… Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Hendrix; those guys.

Tom Rexdale (Toms River), who was my voice teacher, has provided a humbling experience for me, working with him over the last 10 years. I could never pay him back for all for the help that he’s given me. He’s the one who gave me the inspiration of being a lifetime student.

I’ve learned there’s always something to learn from everybody. I’ve learned through teaching my students, I’ve learned through Tom, and I continue to learn. Tom told me once, “If my teacher was still alive, I’d still be going to him.”

Music is just one example of how to be a lifetime student — it’s never a process that ends, because there’s always something else to learn. The freedom of teaching provides income, sharing your art, and you have more time to balance those two out.

In getting hired to play with Bon Jovi, Matt has achieved a milestone in his life. Having the opportunity to talk with him, I wanted to pick his brain for his perspective on the industry, so musicians who hadn’t quite achieved the same level of success might find their way. First, I wanted to discuss the role of Social Media for today’s Musician.

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Matt’s Response:

I’d like to think that I got to the next level that I was trying to achieve, and the levels never really end. Once you’re where you wanted to go, you find there’s always more work to be done.

About Social Media and Musicians, it’s both fortunate, and unfortunate. There is so much work that gets thrust onto musicians, and it’s possible to really get sucked into it, and not be able to create art. The widespread acceptance of Illegal downloading, and the freedom of the internet has increased the work load of independent musicians. Self-promoting is a big deal, and you have to do it, but unfortunately, it becomes a lot more work that a musician needs to manage. On the positive side, musicians now have more control over promotional strategies, and what sort of content gets released; it’s a double edged sword.

When you think about making it in the industry in the 60’s, the bottom line is how much work gets put in your instrument and your craft, and how good are you at playing music — Nothing’s changed about the fundamentals — You need a great song, and a great image. Our responsibilities have increased, as well as our freedom; that is the only change. I have more promotion work to do now, than the practice time that I used to be able to have. I’ve had to find a balance, just like everyone else.

It’s not an easy thing to practice, improve your craft, and promote yourself. I will say something that gives me a lot of hope is Adele, It blew me away how many records she sold after her recent release. 14 Mil copies for a national record, I was shocked.

Next, I wanted to dive in a bit deeper about the financial side of things, so we navigated the topics of Illegal Downloading, Live Performances, and Crowdfunding, trying to find how Musicians can Adapt to current conditions.

Matt’s Response:

The best way to adapt… Hmm.

Illegal downloading really puts a damper on a machine. The Artist, the Record Label, the Promotion — they’re all affected; and that affects live performances, as far as attendance is concerned. In the music industry, prices changed from $17 a record, to a $10 record, and a $50 concert to a $150 per concert. I just paid $300 to see Eric Clapton. The show was great, but realistically, whose got $300 to go to a concert?

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Concerts are important through. The one thing that the internet can’t replace is seeing the artist in person. People are still getting illegal downloads, but hopefully they can minimize what they take. There’s a whole generation online that have no concept of thinking that pirating music is wrong, because they grew up with the internet; they think that’s normal. The first example that comes to mind is a Plumber. Just think — The next time a plumber comes over to fix your sink — Are you going to pay them?

For Musicians, hopefully your art is a service that helps make a positive impact on people’s lives. The internet can’t replace the live show, and that’s great. I really think the person to person experience is where the future of music is going to be. It’s a tough balance, but the industry is still thriving. Getting people to come to your show is the new focus for the Industry. People still care about the music, they want you to sign their record at the end of the show and that sort of thing. Smaller Venues are great, because you can meet people afterward and talk. Once you start playing stadiums, you don’t really have an opportunity to connect one on one.

Interaction is a big part of art these days. A lot of artists are doing a crowdfunding type of thing to finance a cost of their record. — There is a difference between a CD and a record. You can do a CD at your house, and a record has a difference in quality, and it costs a lot of money to produce a record in a commercial studio. The amount of money is high whether you’re buying the right equipment at home, or just putting something together in a studio. A lot of people are turning to Crowd-Funding to finance production costs.

With Crowd-Funding, you can interact with your audience as a means of saying, “Thanks, for your support.”

In return, your fans are going to get signed copies, a personal letter, or a few t-shirts. High end sponsors can get a free show in their backyard, or have executive credits listed on the record, which helps to recognize their contribution to the project.

The point is to provide an opportunity for your fans to support you creating something special, which can then be shared with the rest of the group. In return, you want to make a personal connection with them, just to say, “Thank you.” Unfortunately, that does cost money, but the connection is worth it.

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Having spoken to Tom Rexdale, Matt’s Vocal coach previously, I heard that Matt was playing music for a Charity Benefit, and I wanted him to have an opportunity to share what motivates him to play for a cause.

Matt’s Response:

There’s always a handful of benefits that we participate in during the year. The “Light of Day” is a concert series that raises money to end Parkinson’s disease. I contribute because it’s a great cause, and a terrible disease.

The concert will go on, Thursday, Friday Saturday, if you buy a pass, you can get access through all of the different venues. All of the music will be at Asbury Park, New Jersey.

At the end of our interview, I opened up the floor for any closing comments. He could have said anything, but these are his closing statements:

Matt’s Response:

I can’t thank everybody enough for all of the support that I’ve received after joining Bon Jovi. I’m absolutely overwhelmed with all of the support. People have said, ”It couldn’t have happened to a nicer, or more qualified person,” and that felt great.

A lot of people won’t know how many years I worked and worked to get to the next level. What was amazing to me was the amount of support I received throughout those years. I can’t thank folks enough in return for continuing to believe in me. Someone told me, “All of the hard work does pay off,” and it really did.

Even though the industry has changed a bit, success is about how much work that you put into it. Not everybody gets the ultimate success at the end of the rainbow, but if you work hard, and you never give up, you will succeed. You will achieve your goals. I can honestly say that I’m living proof of that.

Never give up. That’s the best advice that I can give to anybody. Its a nice thing to know that hard work will pay off.
You can go see Matt play with Bon Jovi, and help fight Parkinson’s at the same time!

Find more information about his benefit concert below:

Light of Day Winterfest 2016 dates for New Jersey/New York: Jan 10-18.
Light of Day Foundation.


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