Friday, November 21, 2014

What Happened To The Music Scenes?

The rash of "What's Wrong With The Music Industry" articles is welling up again. I read these and just shake my head. Pretty much everyone has a theory or a story, but few can make any really sense of it.

I've been a working musician for 35 years. For the first few of those years, I played music that few wanted to hear at the time (punk, mostly). Really, that shit didn't flush in the redneck dives where I lived. There weren't enough of us around to even try to get an indie event going (you know, rent a hall and a PA system, bring in some bands, charge a cover, etc). If I was really lucky, a band I was with would get to play a house party or some skeevy underground club an hour or three away. And we wouldn't make squat. But it was fun.

I started playing in a rockabilly band when I was 16. This is when I started to see MONEY. We'd play old rockabilly stuff, throw in a lot of 50s covers, some country, some Beatles songs, and at least one slow song per set. We usually did 4 sets per night. We often played from 9pm to 2am. We earned our money. We brought our own PA system, and on occasions, our own lights.

When I was 18, my rent was $150 a month, all utilities included. I made my rent with one weekend of gigs. The rest was gravy. We played dive bars, redneck bars, animal clubs (Moose, Elks, etc.), VFW's, and places like that. We always went over well...even if they thought we looked like freaks (me especially, with lines shaved in the side of my head or a mohawk). But as long as we didn't suck too bad, played stuff the people recognized, and could dance to, we were fine. Our job was to entertain the venue's crowd.

Sure, we had a following, but they didn't come to every show. Hell, I didn't always feel safe in some of the joints we played...so I could see how some of my more freakish friends would be reticent to show up. But like I said, the venue had a regular crowd who wanted to hear live music and be entertained. Our job was to do just that. If a fight broke out (and this happened at least a few times a month), we usually just played louder and faster, or were told by the bartender to stop playing until they got the situation under control. More than once I smacked someone in the head with my bass. (NOTE: a P-bass makes the ideal weapon AND it will stay in tune)

We always got paid and we always got free drinks. That was a given back in the day. Not anymore.

Nowadays, things have changed. Venue's might have regulars, but they couldn't care less about live music. They've heard so many crappy wannabe bands, that they just can't take it anymore. The venue now expects the band to bring in the crowd. Sure, sounds good on paper...but it doesn't always work that way.

Yes, a lot of venues now have house PA and lighting systems. This helps the bands, as well as the venue. The band has less gear to haul, and it takes less time to set up and tear down...so less hassle for the regulars and the venue. The venue also can make sure the sound will be, at least, decent.

So what are the problems? Why can't anyone make any money? Simple. The venues, bands, and crowds have changed.

The Bands: Nowadays, everyone thinks they have what it takes to be a rock star. Their mom told them so! They got a trophy just for showing up, so they must be great! Right? Wrong. Most of you suck. Take the time to learn what you're doing. Just because mom & dad bought you the most expensive shit they could find doesn't make you sound any better. You don't write interesting songs. Your 3 best friends might think your latest opus is downright awesome...but if Bubba at the bar thinks it sounds like ass, you just lost your gig.

You better be able to play some requests. You don't have to know it verbatim, but it helps to be able to at least wing it. People will appreciate that you at least tried. You better be able to play all night too. Oh wow...you and your band learned 10 of your awesome songs, and you think you're ready to headline. Think some more. I remember a friend's band being caught in this situation. They had booked themselves and two other awesome bands at a decent venue. I played the venue often, always got paid well, and played from 10:30p - 1:00a. We changed our sets every time we played, to keep it fresh. But my friends...oh these poor slobs...they got caught in a bind. They had maybe 12 songs in their repertoire. The other two bands never showed. Rather than cancel, they tried doing three sets of the same 12 songs. 10 minutes into their 2nd set, the place was a ghost town. If you can't do the whole job, don't book it. Period.

There's a lot of competition...and most of them suck just as bad as you do. So, putting three mediocre bands on one bill...that should bring in a huge crowd, right? All of them have friends. If each musician gets 5 friends to show up, and an average of 4 people per band, this adds up, right? That should be at least 60 people. Guess again. Your friends might show up...or they might not. No guarantees there. If the venue doesn't have regulars, you're playing to the bartender...who really probably doesn't care. He or she is looking at empty seats and an equally empty tip jar. Regardless of how awesome you are, you probably won't be coming back.

So what if your band really IS awesome? Guess what kiddo...you've been screwed by the aforementioned "bands". They left a bad taste in people's ears. They don't want to risk it. You're going to have to raise your level of awesome to "freaking amazing". You still might not get a gig. Be sure to thank the wannabes.

If you're going to book a show, make sure of you have the following: decent gear, transportation, and more than enough songs to play at least 3 hours. Keep the music fun. No one cares how deep or introspective your music is. Not in a bar. They don't want to hear the depressing ass dirge you wrote about your friend that died. (Don't mention death onstage...it's a downer) Know how to talk to the audience. ENTERTAIN THEM! Be personable. Be amusing. Be charming. Contrary to what your girlfriend/boyfriend/online sycophants say, you are not The Screaming God Of Love. You're just another schlub on a stage in a bar, pretending to be a star. If you really were a star, you probably wouldn't be playing in a bar. Dig?

I'm a songwriter, and I play a lot of original songs. I learned long ago to mix it up. As much as people enjoy my music, they like to hear something familiar. It's the nature of the beast. Know some cover songs. Like I said, you don't have to learn it verbatim. Make it your own. If that was good enough for Elvis, The Beatles, and The Stones, it's good enough for you. Hell's bells, even the Sex Pistols did a few cover songs. Get off your wannabe high horse. Remember, your job is to entertain people. Nothing else. If you entertain them, you will make money. You just might move some of that merch!

Remember, you have a lot of competition. Some are better, some are worse. Your opinion doesn't matter. What does matter is how much money the venue makes. Years ago, I was in the house band at a local joint. Popular place too! We played every Saturday night. We got a guarantee, free booze, and were treated well. How did we get this gig? Because the owner knew that we brought in a drinking crowd. 50 of our "fans" (I loathe that word) would drink more than 150 of someone else's. We were a money maker for the venue. If you're not generating money for the venue, you won't be back.

NOTE: Be courteous to the venue staff, as well as the patrons. Work WITH the soundman. His/her job is to make you sound good, but he/she also knows the room and their gear better than you do. They are not miracle workers. Tip the bar staff. They will appreciate it and most likely remember it. This can work in your favor. If a patron says they would love to hear you play ______, make a note of it.

The Venues: First off, to all of the venues that have learned the value of a house PA and/or lighting system, THANK YOU! You have done yourself, and the musicians a great service. Now let's work on your other problem; empty seats.

You need regulars. Those are the people who are going to keep your lights on. How do you get them? A number of ways: location - be someplace they can easily get to. (Duh) Keep your prices reasonable. (Duh) Have a good atmosphere. (Duh) MAKE SURE THE DAMNED BATHROOMS ARE CLEAN & FUNCTIONING! I really can't stress this one enough. If, after 35 years in the biz, I am reticent to use your bathroom (and I survived CBGB's), you have a serious problem. It's probably a miracle that the health department hasn't shut you down yet. All of the fixtures should not only be clean, but functioning. Broken sink or toilet? Get it fixed immediately! No one wants to wait in line, so make sure that you have an ample number of facilities. The longer people have to wait to use the toilet, the less time they have to spend money on drinks. See the correlation?

Should you have live entertainment? In this day and age, the venue has a number of options. You can have a jukebox, DJ, karaoke, or live entertainment. Which is right for your venue? What do your REGULARS want? Remember, they want to be entertained. When in doubt, ASK THEM. If the answer is "I don't know" or "I don't care"...probably best to not waste time with live entertainment. These folks will show up, night after night, and drink...and you'll make money. Will you get rich? Probably not...but adding a band to the mix won't necessarily fix that either. If your regulars want live entertainment, they have to be willing to foot the bill, not the other way round. Raise your drink prices or charge a cover. Those are pretty much your options. If there is a cover charge, even your regulars have to pay it. If they don't like it...don't have bands. You want to stay in business, so you have to give the people what they want. You have to decide who is spending the most money in your place. Is it the regulars who want cheap drinks so they can get drunk or is it the crowd that wants live music? If it's the latter...what is going to keep them coming back?

To answer that, I will reference a venue that existed here for 20+ years; The Decade. The Decade wasn't the biggest place, nor was it the smallest. It wasn't the classiest either. What it did have was asses in seats, listening to music, and paying a cover charge and drinking overpriced drinks. Night after night, week after week, month after month, year after year. Why? Simple. The Decade made damned sure they had QUALITY music. You didn't get a gig there just by asking. You had to prove yourself. If Dom didn't want you, you weren't going to play there. He understood that quality brings in quality. That was his secret weapon. When "Roxanne" hit #1 on the UK charts, The Police were playing at The Decade to a small crowd during a snow storm. They were touring in a station wagon at the time. They did pretty well from there on. The next time they played Pittsburgh, it was to a packed house at the Civic Arena. The list of national and international acts that played there is mind boggling. The list of people that frequented The Decade is just as amazing. I can honestly say that I never saw a bad act there. I saw some under-attended shows...but the next time those acts were in town, they played to packed houses. Remember, this was in the pre-internet days. This was all done word of mouth. People knew The Decade would have a good band...so if they wanted to hear good music, that's where they went. If you want to run a music venue, THAT is the model you need to follow. It might cost you in the beginning, but it'll pay off in the long run. 20 years is a LONG time in the bar biz. I also have to make note of two other local establishments: Moondogs and The Electric Banana. Moondogs has long been a mainstay for the blues crowd. If you dig the blues, you've been to Moondogs. It's not in the best location, but Ronnie has been bringing in top notch acts since Day 1. He still is. The Electric Banana was best-known for it's days as the areas' "punk bar". You didn't make money there...but you got to prove yourself onstage. Johnny & Judy gave you a shot. I played there bunches of times. Johnny Banana has often said that he and Judy practically raised a lot of us. And it's true! They were supportive as can be! A lot of great folks played that stage. It was a great starting point for so many...locals, nationals, and international bands alike. Again, why? Quality. If you sucked, you weren't coming back. But...if you had that something special...even if you had a bad night, they could tell, and they had you back.

So, if you're booking music acts into your venue, what reputation have you developed? What have you done to fill YOUR seats? It takes more than a PA system and a steady string of bands. All bands have these in common: they all want a gig and they all think they're great. It's up to you to decide who is and isn't. Sometimes, you have to say NO. If a band that you've booked happens to have a large following, that should be seen as bonus, not your business plan.

OK...but what about the "major" music scene? Isn't that supposed to be ruined too? Yes and no. The old ways are done...and probably for good reason. But, Steve Albini can explain the upside better than I can, so I suggest reading THIS.

Next time: Touring: Maybe you shouldn't bother.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

This one's for the Veterans! THANK YOU!

Thank you to ALL of the vets who have served our country.

We all know a vet. It might be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, the guy at the bar...you might be one yourself. To all of you, thank you.

Please don't forget the vets that you don't see every day. The ones that gave more than they had to give...for you and me. I worked in a facility that housed a large number of vets, from all branches of the military. Some were enlisted men, some were officers. The facility was a licensed personal care home. These guys, all older gents, had all lost any hope of a 'normal' life. They had seen things they couldn't forget. Some took to the bottle, some to drugs. Some of them, their minds just snapped. They were, for the most part, very humble about their service. Their bodies were spent. Their days were spent drinking coffee and bumming cigarettes. They wore cast off clothes. If you saw them on the street, you'd probably just see a bum or a psycho. The reality? These are men who served our country and gave it everything they had.

PTSD, depression, schizophrenia, addiction...those are the medals they received. Yet, if mentioned, their eyes would brighten when discussing their service. On Veterans Day, I made damned sure to thank each of them, personally. They each seemed to be genuinely happy that some remembered them.

Military service has been common in my family. I was permanently disqualified, otherwise I probably would have gone career. My father was a captain. My uncle a paratrooper. My step-grandfather stormed Normandy. My cousin is a general in the USMC. Many of my close friends served. In my younger days, I used to run around with a lot of bikers. Most of them served.

Be sure to thank them ALL today. If you see a homeless person, or a drunk, or a junkie...remember, they just might have served...and gave more than they had.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

No Witty Title For This One...Sorry

A friend found out that I'm a Christian and an ordained minister. She honestly didn't believe it. It took a while to convince her, as well as convince her that yes, some Christians do have a sense of humor. I've long held the belief that God must have a sense of humor. Just look at the platypus! Either the Almighty has a great sense of humor, or He really likes smoking pot.

And on the 9th Day, He burned a fatty, looked around and thought, "Gosh...what would happen if I mixed some duck parts with beaver parts, and made it poisonous?!"..and then reached for the bag of Divine Doritos.

OK...maybe ALL Christians don't share my exact sense of humor...but then again, I loathe cheese. You'd be surprised at the number of people who are certain that I'm the anti-Christ because of that.

My big question is this: why are so many people always busy trying to put down my faith? I don't force it on anyone. I don't run around quoting scripture. I can...but I don't. My Swiss cheese brain often gets the numbers mixed up anyway.

I, like most Christians, see my beliefs as a sense of faith...faith in humanity, if you will. We see it as a philosophy. The Bible, as we know it, has been translated, re-translated, and edited numerous times. We can't even begin to say what exactly is supposed to be in it...except for the basic gist - be nice to each other. That's pretty much it.

The Bible is a book of parables. These are stories with a moral lesson. Some of them are pretty far out. Some are downright creepy. But if you read the whole thing, you get the idea. Be nice to each other. Persevere in being nice, even against the odds.

OK, sure...some Christians believe that The Bible is the unerring word of God. He sent down the almighty ballpoint pen and told a bunch of guys to start writing and what to write. No...probably not the case. More like, as in most histories, myths, and legends, it was handed down word of mouth from one to another. Ever play telephone as a kid? If so, you get the idea. Again...parables...gist of the message...be nice to each other.

I often see people posting articles about the historic accuracy of the Bible. Comparisons are made between Christian theology and other religions. Oh my, the brouhahas started by it! Atheists, agnostics, and those of other faiths love to jump in on this....why? Aside from the sheer rudeness of it...it's kind of stupid. Why is anyone, in this day and age, that concerned with how another person thinks, acts, or believes?

Look. I have my faith. I don't need anyone to validate it for me. I believe what I believe...for my own reasons. I take my faith very seriously...again, for my own reasons. Should I be proven wrong...oh well. I spent most of my life being nice to people. Oh my goodness...how awful! Just think how mean I could have been! Sorry...not an appealing thought to me.

OK OK OK...a lot of people here in America have issues with politicians mixing religion into government. Believe it or not...no one has a bigger issue with that than I do. SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. PERIOD. But guess what. Almost every single politician that YOU have voted for has used religion to get elected. If you have a problem with it...take it up with them...not with Christianity. Real Christians are all for helping people...not bombing the shit out of 3rd world countries so we have easier access to oil. It is not our faith that pads the bank accounts of military contractors.

Real Christians don't wave signs saying that God hates anyone. First off, it's not our place to assume what He does/doesn't hate. It's not our place to assume to know what He thinks about anything. We just try to do right because it is right...as my auntie always said.

Again...what's the big problem? Why do so many people have a problem with Christianity? I think that healing the sick, feeding/clothing/housing the poor and hungry, and generally being nice to people is a good way to go. Naive? Hardly. I've lived a harder life than most of you will ever imagine. I even know what happens when we die...because I was declared dead once. (that's a story for another time)

I don't tell anyone what they should believe. I do allow my faith to dictate many of my actions. Trust me, there are many times when I would enjoy nothing more than to crack some of you upside the head with a 2x4...but I don't. My faith dictates that I don't do that...or at least try really hard NOT to do that. Hey...I'm only human. I make mistakes. My faith tells me that I will be, eventually, forgiven.

Christianity, as we know it, is about 2000 years old. Islam is about 1400 years old. A lot happened in that 600 years...one of the things being better detailed records. There's your historic accuracy. Also, numerous so-called scholars have likened the story of Jesus to an older deity. Some will cry COPYCAT! Or...just maybe, it's a continuation of an older story. Perhaps Christianity is older than we know. Going back to the oral histories, maybe the names got changed, along with a few dates, and other details. I likened oral histories to playing telephone. We go by the gist of the message, not the exact words.

Words are funny things. Most languages don't translate word for word. Some words don't exist in other languages, so we have to substitute them for what we think they mean. Example: the word homosexuality didn't even exist until the 19th century. You can thank the Germans for it. Maybe God hates Figs. Or Germans. Or doesn't hate at all.

Be leery of organized religion. Any organized religion. It's all a tax dodge. It's also a method of controlling people. Unless you enjoy being controlled, don't fall for it. Also, don't fall for the so-called scholars who say this or that. They have their motives, and education is rarely it. A good theory can make their professional reputation. Always look at the source, the paper trail, and the money trail.

And if you can...be nice to people. You don't even have to call yourself a Christian to do that.

Realistic Thoughts On Aging, Death, and Dying

My grandmother died when she was 88. She lived a good, fun life. She and her sister were both widowed in the 1950s, so they became roomies. When my grandmother passed away, I moved into the house. My great aunt had planned to move into an apartment, but I pointed out that made no sense. She had lived in this house for over 30 years. All of her stuff was here. Her life was based in and around the house. No need to change it. She worried that I would be bothered by living with an old woman...but I assured her that our schedules would most likely be different enough that we wouldn't get in each other's way. Besides, she was family...and one of the few relatives I actually liked!

She was 85 when we became roomies. At that age, most of her friends were in their 40s. Aunt Ann could still party with the best of them. She was seriously a lot of fun. All of my friends loved her.

As with anyone who lives that long, and has paid attention to life, she had learned a few things and was more than happy to pass along what she had learned. She had a plethora of great stories...many which contradicted the more sterile family stories my dad had told me.

My aunt was born in 1905 and had watched the world change so much. She saw radio, TV, cars, man landing on the moon, the civil rights movement, 2 world wars...and so much more. Her best stories were about Prohibition. She had so many great stories about speakeasies and illegal drinking. Apparently, her hubby, a one time pro baseball player and bowling champ, made the best bathtub gin, and supplied most of the surrounding area with it. Like I said...colorful family.

As my auntie was nearing her 90th birthday, she imparted to me the most realistic advice on aging. "DON'T LIVE THIS LONG!" I was a bit surprised. I thought that living forever was the goal of most people. In theory, it sounds good. The reality is much different.

My auntie pointed out WHY we shouldn't strive to live so long. Agree or not, the old gal had some valid points.

* "You run out of money." Unless you're a millionaire, you're going to run out of money. My auntie was an accounting exec for a large insurance company. She made a good salary and had planned better than most for retirement. She was thrifty as they come. Yet, by her late 70s, the money was getting tight. She lived just shy of 94 years. As the executor of her estate, I can tell you...she was out of money. Social Security ain't a lot.

* "Everyone you care about is dead, and the ones that are left are assholes." This was an eye-opener to me. It was something I'd never really thought about, but listening to my auntie for years, it made sense. The majority of her friends were long gone. Out of 13 children, all that were left were her and her baby sister...and they did NOT get along well. From the stories I'd been told, they never did. They only lived a few miles from each other, but only saw each other a few times a year. Sure...they played nice...but the animosity was definitely there.

One thing my auntie always told me was to live a happy life. Do something you enjoy for a living. Surround yourself with people that you enjoy being around. Be nice to people...even if you don't feel like it. Be responsible. Learn to drive! My auntie always regretted never getting a driver's license. It's OK to get drunk...but if you're hungover the next day, deal with it. You brought it on yourself. Basically, LIVE your life. Enjoy it. Don't worry so much. (and mind you, she wasn't a worrier...she was THE worrier!) Do all of these things and when it's your time to go, you'll be ready. The ones that are afraid of dying are the same ones who were afraid of living.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Tiring of social media...

As a rule, I've always enjoyed social networking...but lately, I'm growing tired of it. Maybe I'm growing into a different, less-tolerant person...or...perhaps I'm just tired of the 'same old same old'.

I've always enjoyed social networks for the social aspect. I enjoy hearing from friends, especially those that I otherwise would have a more difficult time keeping up with: friends in other parts of the country, overseas, etc. I enjoy being in the loop of their daily lives. I love to hear about their lives, see photos of their day-to-day existence, etc. Like the old ad said, "The next best thing to being there!"

But anymore...and I don't know if it's the social networks, society in general, or a combination of the two...I just don't like it as much. MySpace came and went. Facebook, for at least the past 5 years, was good. It's getting as bad as MySpace now...and I have theories about that. I'll be in the cold, cold ground before I ever Tweet. Google +....I guess it's still there...but does anyone really use it? And there's that new one...that everyone planned to jump ship and join...until they found out it was going to become, in certain aspects, a pay site.

Maybe it's just me...but I don't like businesses on my social network. That always seems to be the start of the downfall. I do not care to be "friends" with an insurance company or real estate broker. Call me crazy. Radio stations have decided that if they post silly photos/videos, their page will get more "likes". They must believe that this means these "likes" are translating into ad dollars. If so...I don't see how. Unless, maybe people really are stupid. As a rule, I try not to "like" or "comment" on anything originally posted by a business, radio station, etc.

When I click on Facebook, my social network of choice, I want to see certain things. I usually go on to see what a handful of close friends are up to. Maybe chat with one or two of them for a bit. I like to see what my sister, nieces, and nephews are up to...even if some of them are Browns fans. On a good day, I'll see a funny, inspiring, or surprising post from one of my many friends.

What I usually see is this:

The Political Poster: OK, I'm guilty too...but I've been trying really hard not to...basically because after 30+ years of being politically active, I just no longer care. The political poster sees FB as their own personal soapbox, and they always have an axe to grind. The negativity levels seem to rise every day. It's all so damned partisan. While I find the posts from my overseas friends interesting, especially when it's about the US, I don't find the "this party is better than that party" stuff very interesting. Here in good ol' Murica...every single politician is crooked as a dog's hind leg. I suppose they always have been...but damn, they barely even try to hide it anymore. While I would be interested in hearing plans for a real revolution, I really don't care about the state of the nation. The United States of America do not currently exist. We live in the Corporate States of America...Red/Blue States...a living hell. Simply put...I don't care like I should. I'm just numb to it all anymore.

The Reposter: We all have that friend (or friends) who feel the need to "share" or "repost" every single thing they see. Remember back in the old days of email when you had that person who would forward every single slightly humorous email or political email? Yep. That person is on Facebook now. And they found me. And they continually clog my newsfeed to the point where I hide them from my newsfeed. I sometimes feel bad about this...these people are usually my friend out in the real world...but online, I want to strangle them.

The Liker: I'm sure we all have that friend that "likes" everything we post. Whether it be a photo of the cat licking itself, to a music video, to a bizarre Dr. Who meme...they click LIKE the second it's posted. This tells me that didn't really bother to look at the post. They're just being....nice? Accommodating? Enabling? Something. I don't know what...but they're really good at it!

The Forever 14 Cheerleader: Most of my friends are in their 30s-60s. We have been out of school for a long time. So, why the hell am I seeing so much crap about my former high school's sporting events? I can understand if a friend's kid is involved....but this isn't the case most of the time. Personally, I didn't give a shit about this stuff when I was in high school, and I care even less (if that's possible) now. Why am I seeing this stuff? I keep trying to hide this stuff from my newsfeed...but it keeps finding it's way back.

The Quizzer: Welcome back to MySpace. One of the things I thought I had said 'good riddance' to when I left MySpace for the more bland pastures of Facebook was the online quiz. Lately, they've infested my newsfeed with a vengeance. Forgetting for a moment the real purpose of these, they're just stupid. No...you weren't royalty in a previous life. If you did have a previous life, you were probably a scullery maid. Deal with it. No, you don't think like Einstein or Tesla. If you did, you wouldn't be on Facebook in the first place. The "What Country/City/Planet Should I Live In/On?" ones REALLY piss me off because the questions are obviously directed to pre-teen girls. Trust me...Monaco is the LAST place I should live. (yes...I took that one once) I know where I should live. It's not Monaco. Trust me on this. I would, most likely, start an international incident of Biblical proportions.

The Snarkotic: Snarky - snark·yˈsnärkē/ adjective
NORTH AMERICAN informal
(of a person, words, or a mood) sharply critical; cutting; snide.
"the kid who makes snarky remarks in class"
cranky; irritable.
"Bobby's always a bit snarky before his nap"

We all have the friend who only posts or comments in the snarkacular. They couldn't say a positive thing if their own existence depended on it. Sure, we're all a bit snarky from time to time...but every single thing posted doesn't have to be. Most of the time, it's not even humorous...but look out! The Liker is on the loose, liking everything...therefore validating and enabling The Snarkotic!

The Special Interest Poster: Yes, I'm well aware than many of my friends have their special interests...whether it be abused cockroaches, militantly deranged eskimos, or the lifestyles of the rich and funky...but for the love of God, please post something NOT related to your special interest...at least once in a while! Your constant online whingery has made my once honest empathy and compassion turn to an unabating urge to beat you with a fish. Great, you've decided to live your life eating only green foods, like M&Ms or Skittles. Wonderful! If this works for you...great. Please don't attempt to insist that everyone should...no matter how many blogs you've read on the subject. Most of us really just don't care.

The Chosen One: As a Christian, I know a lot of other Christians. Many of them don't seem to 'get it'. When every single post is about God, scripture, your own take on a Biblical passage, how great life is now that you're a Christian, etc...guess what...I'll call bullshit. God isn't a lottery ticket. He doesn't work "magic" for you. That's not how it works. While I am personally beyond thrilled that you've accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and saviour, I really don't need your daily reminder of it. P.S. God doesn't actually have a Facebook page. I know...you find that difficult to believe...but really, He doesn't. If He did, that would finally solve the Mac vs. Windows debate...and we all know that the corporations are not likely to allow that to happen any time soon.

The Moaner: I'm sure I'm not the only one with these friends...the ones who moan about everything! Yes, the weather is being less than perfect just to ruin your plans. Deal with it. Maybe if you didn't moan so damned much, you might realize that your life ain't so bad.

The Opinionater: This person argues everything...regardless of their actual knowledge or access to any known fact to back them. Hey, I like to argue...but anyone who knows me well has learned, if I say "Bet me!", get your wallet out. I only argue when I have facts. Or if I just want to get a rise out of you.

Ya know...I miss the good old days when Facebook was mostly just a few friends sharing pictures of their cats and food. Funnier still...most of the folks who read this will do so from a link from my Facebook page.

Monday, October 13, 2014

And yet more rambling thoughts on music...

Feeling inspired to write today, so this is what you're getting...

My mind has been, as I'm sure you've already guessed, on music today. Same as any other day. It's my raison d'etre, if you will. A wiser man would have walked away from it by now, but luckily, I'm not a wiser man. I find too much joy in it to simply walk away because I'm not earning great Mammonian piles of cash from it. Every day in music is, to me, a new adventure. No matter what the weather is like outside, or how my body feels, or what is going on around me, my head is filled with music. New ideas, new spins on old ideas, a different arrangement, different voicings, there's always something to keep me happily occupied.

I'm working on putting together a new trio. This one might make some money...then again, it might not. Either way, it's giving me a lot to do; coming up with arrangements, plotting the course I want this venture to take, exploring potential venues, etc. Always something!

This gets me to thinking just how long I've been doing this. Damn, have I really been enveloped in the world of guitar for 36-37 years? I honestly can't recall if I was 11 or 12 when I started. It's been so damned long. This leads me to a question I've been asked, easily, 1000 times or more: Is it easy to learn to play guitar?

Quick answer: NO. At least it wasn't for me or most of the guitarists I know. While I'm sure there are a select few out there who just happened to pick up a guitar one day and were magically gifted, for most it doesn't work that way.

What it takes is a level of dedication bordering on fanatic obsession. Once you start, you just can't stop. There are hurdles. The fingers aren't accustomed to doing the things necessary to play an instrument. You develop calluses. Muscles and tendons that you rarely use are awakened...and they will hurt at times. Sometimes you'll play until your fingers bleed...and then keep on playing. You'll often fall asleep with the guitar. My girlfriend often tells me that I play in my sleep. We've been together long enough that she can tell if I'm playing guitar, slide guitar, or bass in my sleep!

 For a kid as young as I was, and playing the type of guitar I was (an old Silvertone classical...which had a very wide, flat neck/fingerboard), some chords seemed damned near impossible. I still vividly recall the old Learn To Play Folk Guitar book that dad had. The chord charts and fingerings were damned near sadistic in my estimation. To a young kid, they seemed impossible...but that just pushed me harder! "I WILL master the G chord, dammit!", I often thought and even shouted out loud. "A barre chord? Who am I? The Incredible Hulk? How am I supposed to hold all of these strings down with one finger while making a chord under it with the other fingers???" "I don't WANT to use my pinky!" Yeah...that's what it's like. But a budding guitarist does this...because it's all he/she wants to do. They've opened Pandora's music box. They know what could be...what can be...if only they push harder and go farther. There is no end to the learning. No one ever learns all of it. Why?

Because There Are No Rules!

Ask 10 guitarists who they think the best guitarist is, and chances are you'll get 10 different answers for 10 different reasons. It might be a matter of their skill or technique or tone or a combination of all of the above.

There is no right way or wrong way to play. There are basic guidelines...but even those aren't necessarily 'rules'. I've seen people play guitar on their lap. I've seen a guitar played with a spoon. Keith Richards often only uses 5 strings, instead of 6. I did a show in upstate New York once with a guy who only used 4 strings, and a capo. Big Joe Williams used a 9 string guitar! There are 6 stringed guitars. There are 12 stringed guitars. There are 10 stringed guitars. There are baritone and tenor guitars. There are nearly limitless different tunings. There's fingerstyle, slide, picking, tapping, chord melodies, single line playing, claw style...and every decent guitarist at least tries different ways to do things. At least they used to. I hear too many kids today say things like, "That's not how it's done!", thinking there is only one way to do it. It's sad. It says a lot about the mindset these kids are brought up with. A bunch of little future corporate slaves. (Yeah...you knew I was gonna work that in somewhere.)

My question to all musicians anymore is this: Why do you play?

Knowing that your chances of making it "big" are slim, and the financial rewards that used to exist no longer do...why do it at all? Is it a matter of ego? Instant gratification? Some inner need to feel special? Or is it something more?

For me, it's simple. It's a never-ending race to get these ever-accumulating ideas OUT of my head. I've often said that creativity is a form of psychosis. I hear things that don't yet exist outside of my mind. At any given point in time, I have a multitude of symphonies playing in my head. I'm, luckily, able to weed through them and focus on one or two things at a time, as well as temporarily mute them when I have other things to do...like work, or pay bills, or any number of every day things we all do. But give me a minute to myself...and I let them all come flooding back to full volume in my head. It's beyond wonderful!

Some people enjoy the music I make. Some don't. Some couldn't care less either way. Yet, I still do it. I feel compelled to make music. I know how I react to music. I'm pretty sure that most people have an innate reaction to it. There have been studies done as to how and why...but the point is, we do react to music. Even the deaf can react to vibrations. That's one of the reasons I enjoy playing loudly. I know that I enjoy the vibrations from it...and I've seen deaf people have a positive reaction to it. If it's too loud...you're probably too old. Get some ear plugs. You'll be better off in the long run.

If you're a parent, make sure your kids learn music. Don't make it a hassle. It's not like they have to be Beethoven. Just open that door to them. If your kids' school doesn't offer music (sadly...some don't), buy them an instrument. Expose them to all different types of music. You might be surprised what moves them. You might learn something yourself.

It's never too late to learn to make music.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Door Gigs N'at

For those of you not in or familiar with the glamorous life of show biz, a door gig is where the act gets paid whatever is collected at the door (or a portion of it), aka the cover charge. In a large venue with a built in crowd, this can be a nice payday for the act. The reality though, is less wonderful.

20 or so years ago, I used to play a joint called Kangaroo's. It was a large venue and there were easily 400-500 people there on any given weekend night. When we discussed our deal with the manager, I suggested giving us a buck a head. He was more than happy with that. We usually made at least $500 a night out of the deal, it was close to my house, the drinks were free, and all was well in the universe. Mind you, this was one of 4 or 5 shows we'd do every week. We actually made some decent jack for making music.

Things have changed. A lot of venues now go for the 'showcase' type show. This means 3 or 4 acts sharing the bill for one night. I understand the idea - it will, ideally, bring in more people. More people equates to more money, right? Wrong.

The showcase show is almost always done wrong. All this leads to is one group of patrons coming in to see their friends while the others are leaving. It also leads to long lags between bands while they switch over gear. If you're going to do a showcase, set up a backline. All of the acts get there early, set up the gear they're going to need. Share some gear. It ain't that hard. If you really know how to play, your sound will be the same as if you're playing through your own oh-so-unique amp. The trick to these showcases is fast turnover. If you can't do that, don't play a showcase. Get there early, stay the whole night.

A bigger problem for bands, with these type of gigs, is the pay. There won't be much of it. The average bar will hold 50-70 people comfortably. If there's a $5 cover charge, which is really pretty low considering how many need to be paid from it, this means $250-$350 coming in, minus whatever you're paying the door man, security, sound man, etc. This equates to little more than gas money. Is it worth it? Are you that much of an attention whore? Is this really the best way to promote your new and exciting sounds?

It is what it is. If you expect to make any kind of living as a musician, you have to ask yourself if it's worth doing these shows or these venues. They're a great way to get your name out there, provided anyone sticks around to actually hear you and pay attention to what you're doing. You have to be even better when doing these shows. You have to catch everyone's attention and get them excited. If you don't, you probably won't be back...and you probably won't be getting many other gigs in the area.

If you're a musician, here's a few tips for doing the door gig/showcase gig. Come in with the realistic knowledge that you're not going to make money. Be there on time, or better yet, early, for load in. If there are 3 bands on the bill, EVERYONE should be there at least 2 hours prior to show time. This gives you time to figure out the backline, how long each set will be, and what order every one is going on. None of you are rock stars. If you were, you wouldn't be playing these gigs. Leave your ego at home. Act like a professional. Be polite and courteous to the other acts, as well as the venue staff. Especially the venue staff! They will remember you. Act like a douche, and that will be your reputation. Act like a civil, professional musician, and that will be your reputation. Once you have a bad reputation, good luck getting rid of it. The people in this industry all know each other. They talk. They network.

So you say these are the only gigs available to you. It looks like you have a lot of work ahead of you then. No one, especially in this day and age, is going to hand you gigs. You have to search for them and work hard for them. Each show has to be better than the last one. You like to be a drunken smart ass onstage? Dandy! Some places are OK with that. Some ain't. A lot ain't. Treat this like your job. If you're lucky, it will be. Do you get drunk at work? Probably not. If you do, you probably won't be working there for long. That said, it's OK to have a drink or two...just don't get hammered. Don't go get high. Trust me, you might THINK you play better then...but you don't.

Unless you want to do nothing but play these types of door/showcase gigs, you better have your shit together. You better be able to play at least 4 hours, nonstop. You're not guaranteed a break. Think about the last major concert you went to. Do the bands onstage take a 'pause for the cause'? No. They keep on playing. I've seen a lot of acts do nonstop 3 hour shows. If you can't, stay home until you can. Stay in shape. Keep your energy level up. The audience will be infected by your energy and they will groove right along with you.

Here's some things you shouldn't do: Do not show up late. Showing up during another act's set is disrespectful. If you can't bother to be on time, just don't bother. Sure, things happen sometimes...but do your best to not let it happen. Once you're there, don't leave! Stay the whole night. Get to know the other acts - network a bit! You just might even enjoy their music. If you can't do that, don't bother. Here's a biggy - do NOT try to cut out early and ask if you can get your band's cut of the door. Ain't gonna happen. That money has to be counted and accounted for. If the door man, security, and/or sound man is getting paid out of it, they're getting paid first. Unless you have a contract that states how much you're being paid, when, and in what form (cash, check, etc.), you're just going to have to wait. Balking at the money that came in the door won't win you any friends either. As a musician, you should know what's going on. If the cover charge is $X and there are only XX number of people in the room, you should be able to figure out how much money you're going to make, if any. No one cares how much you made last night, or how much you made the last time you played here. Seriously...as a door man, I'm forced to endure these conversations. As a musician, I'm appalled at how unprofessional a lot of acts are. It's that type of behavior that makes us all look bad.

Want to know why your band isn't making any money or any progress? Think how many things you're doing wrong. What have YOU done to pack the house? Oh sure...you've written some amazing, mind-blowing songs that will change the course of mankind as we know it. Who hasn't? How much promotion have you done? How much time and effort have you put into the show? If you're counting on the venue to do it all...think again. If you're lucky, the venue MIGHT have a person who is dedicated to good shows at their venue. Most joints, though, do not have such a person. Music is merely an added bonus to bring in warm bodies that they can sell booze to. If your crowd of 300 friends/fans shows up and only drinks water...you probably won't be back. If your crowd of 50 shows up, and they each spend $25 or more, you will. It's economics.

 If you're planning a tour, and you have a bunch of door gigs, I hope your piggy bank is full...because kid, you're gonna need it. Door gigs, as I said, equate to little more than gas money. If you're on the road, you need to eat, pay for motel rooms, do laundry, AND buy fuel and maintain your vehicle. Plan for it.

Lastly, tip the servers/bartenders. That's how they make their money. They are busting their humps to serve YOUR friends/fans. Their prompt, excellent service will often be a deciding factor in just how good a time your fanbase has at your show. Make it worth their time and show them your gratitude. A decent tip plus some free merch is always a nice touch. Give them a CD and a t-shirt. They'll remember it. They'll wear that shirt. They'll be more likely to say, "Hey! THESE GUYS are coming back. They were awesome last time! You should come check them out!" Treat them with anything less than respect, you've just lost a big chunk of your PR frontline. Years ago, I used to give shirts to the bartenders BEFORE the show. A lot of them would wear them during the show...MORE PUBLICITY! Then the patrons would ask where they can get one of those cool shirts...CH-CHING! Merch sales!

Yeah...show biz is harder than ever...but it IS do-able. Approach it professionally. Leave your ego at home. Don't be greedy. Don't be an ass. Play your ass off. Push yourself. Promote your shows. Promote your merch. Need help? Ask someone. If you see a band doing better than yours, ask them what, if anything, they're doing that maybe you're not. Ask the staff at the venue. They'll tell you. Most importantly, use a contract. Always. It takes out any and all guess work.

Bottom line: In the words of Dave Courtney, OBE: "It's nice to be important but it's more important to be nice."