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.




  1. re: "amazing"-> no, just "tasty" -- I can't back that enough. Nice post. I'm reminded, too, of the old saying that success is just a period on the end of a long sentence of failures and/or false starts.

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