Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Dispatch Rant #2

I. Upping your game

There’s a big backlash to what The Phoenix has referred to as “the Karaoke Culture” in Portland. I have to say that I agree with a lot of the arguments, but not all. The reality is that people like what they know; this has been true since the dawn of man. This, however, is not the sole reason people aren’t coming out to see live, original music. Aside from the economic downturn, a lot of the responsibilities lie on the artist’s shoulders. My suggestion is not to complain about people not coming to see original music, but rather to go out of your way to make damned sure that the next time you play people will want to be there. I remember when Rustic was in it’s prime in the late 90’s and we would quake with fear when we’d find out that Motor Booty Affair was playing the same night because we knew they would draw like crazy! It’s easy to not have your act together and then point to acts that are doing well and blame them for your lack of success; it’s actually a classic Portland condition. For every artist who has made a name for him/herself in Portland, there is a stable of detractors, drinking their PBR pounders and pontificating about how much the successful people “suck” or asking, “how come I’m not on the radio?” Well, I can’t say why exactly, but I bet if they spent more time upping their game rather than complaining about someone else’s success, they’d be in a better position. There are two appropriate quotes to end this section. a) “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” —Anonymous; and b) “We’ve upped our standards, up yours.” —Dave Gutter. Classic.

II. Delivering more/expecting more

You’ve done your bit and made sure your show and imaging are amazing, and you’ve effectively promoted it both online and on the streets. IF (and only if) you’ve done all these things, then it is well within reason for you to lean on the booking agent or promoter of the clubs you’re playing to make sure they are doing their jobs. Too often have I seen bands do nothing for themselves and then blame the club when no one shows up; conversely, I’ve just as often seen clubs do nothing for a show and blame the band’s draw. If you are doing a great job promoting, then you have an obligation to make sure the venues are doing their part. Sure, even if everyone is hitting on all cylinders there will still be nights when the club is empty, but it takes everyone doing their best all the time to make things work over the long haul. To accept failure is to be an adult; to prepare for failure is to be pathetic.

III. Times are tough, work harder

I know it’s hard out there, and these days, it seems as though you have to work five times harder for about half as much in return. It’s a super bummer when you put all that work into a show and do your best to let people know about it and no one shows up. Believe me, I know ALL about that. The deal is that the market is incredibly competitive right now — there are a lot of venues, a lot of shows and a very limited pool of expendable income in our community. That’s why you need to work harder to give people a reason to choose your CD or show as THE CD or show to spend their hard-earned cash on.

There are a couple of things working against us right now that are out of our control — one is the economy, and the other is the World Wide Net. For every bit of good that has come out of the accessibility of information on the Internet, there has been a terrestrial entity that has suffered as a result (retail, photography, radio, magazines to name a few). As I was discussing this with a friend (a restaurant owner here in Portland), I mentioned how hard it is now to sell records and get people out to shows. He kind of gave me a “mah, well, you know” response, to which I retorted, “Just count your blessings that people haven’t figured out how to download sandwiches for free yet.” It’s true! As musicians, we are constantly faced with the daunting task of coming up with all the capital and energy required to finance a band and its recordings, yet it seems more and more impossible these days to get people to throw down for either the record or the show.

It’s funny, too, because Portland is nationally recognized as a great music and food community. Yet so much money is dumped into the restaurant industry, and so little poured into the music community by comparison. How can we rectify this? I don’t want to take away from restaurants; I want to add to music.

I don’t pose to have a solution to these problems. I just wanted to reach out and say, “Yeah, it’s tough, but let’s keep slugging away.” It is my firm belief that the music community in Portland is an unstoppable force. I know there’s a solution out there; I just haven’t put my finger on it yet. To quote my Lord and Savior James T. Kirk, “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.” AMEN!

IV. Good Job, Jim Begley

Good job, Jim Begley.

V. Everything can’t be amazing, all the time

Ease up on the superlatives people. Seriously, I’m getting a sugar headache over here. A golden giraffe wearing an Iron Maiden T-shirt flying through the air atop a 4,000-pound whoopie pie being chased by the ghost of John Belushi in a DeLorean is “amazing.” Your bagel is simply “tasty.”

Time for a smoke and a pancake.



Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just a few subtle summer reminders!

We are in the throws of a beautiful Maine summer so I just wanted to remind our campers of a few rules that are being overlooked. I won't mention any names, but you know who you are!

1. Sidewalks are for walking, not cycling (Didn't you learn anything in the other Portland?)
2. Turn signals...use them.
3. Being alone in your Rav4 and blasting electronic music from your shitty system with the sub woofer farting out is more embarrassing that being caught by your mom masturbating at a Justin Bieber concert (while wearing a Dr. Phil T-shirt and eating Taco Bell.)
4. Socks and sandals=nope.
5. "Allowing" scooters, bicycles and pedestrians to go by waving them on at a 4 way stop when it was their turn to go makes you look shall I say this... like an "asshole."
6. Is it ever really so hot that you need to walk shirtless down Congress St?
7. No, I don't have an extra cigarette.
8. Offering people "Summer Jobs for the Environment" by printing 45,000 11x17 posters and stapling them up all over town is, let's say, best.
9. People from cruise ships won't spend a dime at your restaurant, stop telling your employees differently.
10. Riding your extremely loud Harley down the streets of Portland and blasting the engine sucks for everyone but you. Please report to the nearest old-school bike gang fight. Unless of course you're a lawyer. (It's funny how so often, the people that can afford things are so seldom the people that deserve them.)
11. Dear hipster-punk-rat-hippies: When it warms up, we can smell it.
12. If you're begging for change, you shouldn't have a dog.
13. It might be a little creepy to hang out near the kids fountain/pool in Deering Oaks if you're not with a child. Just sayin'.
14. I have nothing against illegal drugs or their tradespeople. That said, is it too bold of me to suggest that Postman's Park is to obvious a location for free range pharmaceutical vending...especially unprovoked. Let's keep it to a dull roar. If you don't know people personally that sell drugs, you don't probably shouldn't buy them. Likewise the opposite.
15. Remember, if you're running a free outdoor concert series and you get the best bands in Portland to play it for free, make sure to place the beer garden as far away from the stage as possible. That really helps keep the front clear for the crazy people who will give the kids TB.
16. Use sunblock, drink water and be safe out there.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dispatch Rant #1

I. Stop Going on Tour of Portland

II. Good Job Lauren Wayne

III. Stop Complaining About a $5 Cover

IV. I Dare You to Go Out and Listen To a Band You’ve Never Heard Before

Let's get down to brass tacks.

I. Stop Going on Tour of Portland

You've made a CD, record, EP or whatever. You're proud of it, your girlfriend loves it and your parents probably paid for it. The point is you've created something and there's a general sense of excitement around it. There's a favorable write up of your work in one of the local magazines, Mark gives it a few spins on Spinout and you book your CD release show. You put up five million posters, blast the hell out of Facebook and drum up a ton of buzz about your show. You play your CD release party and all your friends, family and a bunch of fans show up and the show is GREAT! The club owner is psyched, you're psyched, EVERYONE IS PSYCHED! Now you:

a) Law low and wait for the next good opportunity to play a good club on a good bill that will be promoted properly that will honor your hard work and provide the best listening experience for your fans.

b) Book a bunch of shows all around town, all within a week or two of each other, gutting out your draw and eventually reducing your audience pull to nothing until no one will book you and your band breaks up. Orrrrrr...

c) Break up immediately.

If your going for the Mission of Burma approach and want a small handful of people to hold you in the highest regard then c) is your only option. If you're looking to ruin everything then choose b). Thusly, if you're looking to sustain a career, we can see that a) is the only option.

Obviously I'm not talking about TV appearances and radio spots, these are great opportunities, especially if they're used to promote a killer upcoming show in town. I'm talking about having a show on the books, then taking a gig solo acoustic, opening up for your buddy for free a few days before your headlining show that you're charging $5-$10 for. Then a couple weeks later you're going to play that sweet free show that the City offered you in Monument Square and then 5 days after that you're offered an opening slot for a national act and then later the next month you book another headlining show at your favorite club and SURPRISE, 17 people come. Here's why: It's no longer "special" to see you because people have the "nah, I can see them for free anytime" attitude. Plus the people have “brand fatigue”. They may just be sick of seeing your name everywhere all the time.

Let's put it in more of a business perspective. How often do Cake or Wilco come to Portland? Once a year tops? Hell, even Badfish and Soulive limit their Portland appearances to 3 or 4 times a year. Furthermore, would you rather play 20 times and make $50-$100 each time or play twice and make $500-$1000 each time? The choice is clear, now smarten up and get famous. We're depending on you.

II. Good Job Lauren Wayne

Good job Lauren Wayne.

III. Stop complaining about a $5 cover

Every time I go out to a show, I pay the cover. Of course I occasionally have had friends put me on the guest list and I appreciate that, but those instances aside, I reach in my pocket every time. Why do I do this? Because I know how expensive it is for a musician to put on a show.

Strings, sticks, picks, space rent, van registration, insurance, guitars, cables, mics, practice PAs, keyboards, drums, hardware, software, recording a record, mastering the record, duplicating a record, printing shirts, making posters… by the time any musician even hits a stage they’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to get there. I’m not looking for special treatment or sympathy, but I just want to put things in perspective.

If you needed your toilet fixed, would you not expect to pay the plumber? After you eat, do you not pay your bill? If you find a shirt you like, do you steal it? When you’re at a concert, don’t you buy drinks? The point is that musicians work harder for less than any other group of people I know.

Stop being insulting (and looking like a jerk) by complaining about a cover charge equivalent to one beer. If $5 is too much for you, then you probably can’t afford to go out anyway, so you might as well stay home and listen to your Creed CD and drink a 6 pack of Twisted Tea (sorry Kevin) by yourself. Or you could go down to the Old Port and do Jello shots and do the gun/hand thing every time the gunshots happen in “Paper Planes”. I’ll be paying my cover, thanks.

IV. I Dare You to Go Out and Listen To a Band You’ve Never Heard Before

This may sound hypocritical coming from someone who essentially promotes a weekly cover song party, but I promise you, seeing new music doesn’t hurt. In fact it feels good! Just imagine if you were at a concert for the first time a band played a song that soon became the song that everyone around knows! You would have been at that show and could lean over to your friends and say “I saw these guys when they played this song for the first time”. Everyone would think you were cool and would buy you drinks and people would find you attractive. People would then look to you to show them what is cool and before you know it, you’d have your own reality show and clothing line and would be rich and famous and powerful. I dare you to be powerful, go see live original music.

Time for a cup of tea. See you at the show.