Music is infinite and freely available. So if you’re a small band it’s hard to get someone to take a look.
If you an admission fee for a small band’s concert, you will win that band no new fans. Who is the consumer that pays for live music from a band they’ve never heard of? That person is a chump.
That’s why it’s my solemn goal to play as many free shows as I possibly can with my band The Push Push.
I do not hate money. On the contrary, I love money. I’d be happy to pass the hat at any show. But charging even a nominal fee for a concert is really counterproductive, because it keeps people from coming into the show in the first place. The artist can’t control many of the most important aspects of a concert. How much you enjoy a band has a lot to do with the audience: how familiar are they with material, how do they react to the venue, do they jump up and dance and, importantly, how many other people are attending? Read more
The Horseshoe was dying long before I ever set foot in it. I had heard rumors about a big scandal that had ruined the owners, somebody running off with the money, somebody having to give up on creating their dream bar halfway through. A new owner not perceiving it as an amazing opportunity but, instead, as a burden, somebody else’s unfinished project that was now unfinishable.
But, the bars that don’t make money, the bars that reflect an offbeat sensibility, are usually the best. So I hoped to make this deeply offbeat and out-of-sync bar into a clubhouse for me and my offbeat band(s).
Playing at the Horseshoe was perfect. You could get a gig whenever you wanted. The owner was a funny old guy who liked our music and would give us a cut of the bar tab when we brought new drunks into his bar. No one cut us off when we played over our allotted hour. The Special was always $5 for a beer and a shot of whiskey*. There was never any cover. If you wanted to be paid, you could pass the hat. You could always get a sound check if you wanted one.
But at the same time…
Playing at the Horseshoe was terrible. The sound guy was often late. The venue drew almost no people. One time, my buddy plugged his amp into the wall and it immediately shorted out because the bar had some weird electrical problems. When we were promoting shows, no one had ever heard of the Horseshoe, and, inconveniently, neither had other venues. The food was… uneven. Sometimes it was hard to tell if the bar was open or closed. They left the house lights up until people came in, so people didn’t come in, so the house lights stayed up. The TV was not tuned to any particular type of entertainment, meaning the Horseshoe didn’t show the most important sporting events or movies or broadcast any particular genre; the TV was just turned at random to whatever the random bar tenders wanted to watch. They left the TV sound on well into sound check. Read more
I Won’t Give Up by Lou Pride
Chicago bluesman, Lou Pride, played clubs around the country for over 40 years. When he released this album in 2000 he was already a veteran. From its packaging, the album looks like a homemade vanity project but, when you put the record on the stereo, the tracks sound big and full. His lyrics reveal swagger and confidence.
The title track is, as you might expect, all about preserving in the face of adversity. Being a club act can’t be an easy life, “People try to tell me I ought to get a job,” he complains. That might not sound like bragging, but it is. I stumbled across this album when my wife brought it back from work at Space in Evanston.
I couldn’t love it more. It’s a manual on how to be an excellent front man. Read more
Lake Street Dive, a four-piece band makes pretty songs with sexy stand up bass hooks that stay in your mind for days.
I saw them play with my girlfriend’s band (Midnight Moxie) a few weeks ago and I had to get their album.
Watching the show live, I assumed that the songs had been written by the female lead singer with the smooth torchlight voice but when I looked at the liner notes I found out that the songs were mostly written by the other members of the band. Each player had contributed a few songs to the album. This blew me away, not because the singer wasn’t the main writer*, but because of the consistently high quality of the music by different authors.
It’s not that the songs all sound the same, they don’t. But they do all have the same singer regardless of the writer, and the instrumentation changes based on the needs of the songs, not because one or another of the band members wants to play guitar on the song she/he wrote.
This may seem to be a small thing, but it’s not a given with all bands, and it really works for this one. They have a dynamo singer and it would be a bummer to sit her down for a song.
*As the singer in a band, I guess I give my counterparts extra credit because I naturally identify with them. Maybe it’s natural for folks watching any kind of popular music to identify most with the singer. He/she stands in the middle, he/she tells the story, and he/she doesn’t have a trap set in front of her/him or a flute blocking her/his face. That doesn’t mean that person is the most important part of the band, it just means she/he attracts the most attention.
Beloved blog readers,
I’m working on about a million projects right now, so this is a quick roundup and link dump.
I have been writing graphic novel/comic book reviews for Josh Hanagarne over at World’s Strongest Librarian. It’s the spiritual stepchild of the Book a Week project on a site that a lot more people read. My first two reviews are of Sweet Tooth and Blast Furnace. I’m thinking the next entry will be on a collection of some of my favorite black and white comics.
I also just turned in an interview with Irish tenor Paddy Homan for New City, and continuing the Irish theme I’m writing a cover story on St. Patrick’s Battalion for Extra. I hope both will run St. Patrick’s day week. If they do, I’ll post links in the comments.
There are a number of other projects I’m working on, including a couple original comics of my own. I have written scripts for these, but I need a comic artist. So, if you have an interest in that or know somebody who wants to draw a comic about a goat in the cutthroat world of ingredient purchasing I would be happy to talk to them about that. Also in the comic book vein, I recently interviewed great penciler Emma Rios, and I’ll be covering C2E2 for Extra again this year, so look forward to that.
Finally, H for Hombre is back in action. We played a show back in February. We recorded a down and dirty, quick and dirty mix-tape/album, that maybe you’ll be able to buy (for cheap). We will play at my brother’s wedding next week (holy crap, my brother is getting married next week). We will play a show that you all can come to on April 7th at Goose Island in Wrigelyville.
Thanks so much to anyone checking in on this site and my writing. I ain’t quit yet, I got more stuff for you.
“El frio me a tormenta” or the cold torments me, is the chorus of Making Movies pulsing rock song Tormenta. It’s about missing your family and wanting to visit your home, and family at Christmas. That’s something that many immigrants in the US, who fear they will not be let back into the US, don’t have the freedom to do. It speaks to a difficult situation, but it’s not self-pitying or sad. The song is defiant. It makes for the kind of building, anthemic, song that the group the specializes in.
Making Movies, whose name was inspired by a 1978 Dire Straits album with the same name, is a truly bilingual band. Their music doesn’t throw the odd word in a different language, it’s not Black Eyed Peas yelling “mazel tov” for some reason. The band crafts powerful songs in English and Spanish that are fully realized ideas.
Making Movies’ chief songwriter Enrique Chi is a truly bilingual writer. Born in Panama, Enrique writes most of his songs in English first, “Writing is a very unconscious thing… I live in the US so still most of my day I speak more English than Spanish, so when I go to write a lot of times it starts in English and have to go from the English to the Spanish.”
Asked to elaborate on when and how they choose to translate a song into Spanish, Enrique’s brother Diego Chi (who is also in the band) adds, “It’s another tool in the tool box.” If something isn’t working on a song one option they have in changing the sound or the feel is changing the language. Enrique finished that thought by saying “It’s funny ‘cause some of our songs just don’t work in English.”
Extra spoke with Making Movies at the House of Blues on a night they were scheduled to open for Andres Calamaro. After the show was cancelled, the band was disappointed, but still excited about their tour. It’s a reality for an up and coming band on tour that not every opportunity works out, Making Movies talked about having been stiffed by shady promoters on other tours. Happily, this tour, which brings the band back to Chicago Saturday the 15th to play at Juniors in Pilsen, seems to be more good than bad so far. Juan-Carlos Chaurand who plays percussion and keyboards for the band talked about how they have started to build a following in some cities, while others are brand new.
The band’s touring the country in a 15 passenger van that the five musicians share with their instruments. Each taking turns driving. With 20 shows scheduled on a three-week tour they play a show just about every day. Before starting the interview Enrique talked about how much he and the band love to play. For a band with a lot to say in two languages, a lot of shows is a good thing.
Eyes and ears need training. A photographer can see a beautiful pattern in a heap of scraps; a musician can pick out a subtle difference in pitch that would be impossible for the audience to pick up on.
Travelers are untrained in the sights and sounds of the place they are visiting, especially if they are going for the first time. The more foreign your surroundings, the harder it is to identify what you’re seeing or hearing. This unfamiliarity is part of the fun, of course, but just like it is useful to dip your toe in and get familiar with basic vocabulary of the language in the country you’re visiting, a little familiarity with local music can go along way in a new place.
Both foreign and domestic travel offer the chance to explore music that you wouldn’t otherwise seek out. Some cities, like New Orleans, Seattle and Memphis, are closely associated with the music that was born or grew up within their limits. But places not necessarily thought of as homes for music scenes, or museums to a musical past, can be that much more exciting to uncover.
For example, if you’re going to St. Louis, a quick Google search might lead you to a song like W. C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” while a less adventurous traveler might just pick through some old CDs to find a discarded Nelly album. Omaha was the birthplace of Elliot Smith and is the home of Saddle Creek, the label that Bright Eyes and Cursive are on. A little music as cultural background can go a long way.
The digital music revolution has made finding the music of whatever place you’re heading to so much easier. Once you identify a couple tracks that come from or mention the place you’re going to, you can likely hear them on YouTube, iTunes, or Spotify. It’s easy to sample different styles and find something you like. Then when you are there you can have a soundtrack to play over the sites.
Use the Internet
If you knew exactly what you were looking for you already would have found it. Use the internet to help you find music you wouldn’t normally come in contact with. Start with a general search about the music of the place you’re going to and let the randomness of the internet lead you to places of interest. Once you have found something interesting, use a music-streaming site to dig deeper.
Don’t let the fact that you generally listen to genre X keep you from trying something from genre Y. Travel is all about trying new things. This is your chance.
Check out Smaller Venues
Baseball fans may disagree, but to me a stadium is a stadium. Huge venues have trouble holding as much local flavor as neighborhood haunts. If you can find an act or a place that interests you, try and venture off the beaten path.
Do Your Homework
I may have given this tip before, but it is just as applicable now as it was then. If you can get excited about some music or a venue before, you go you’ll be all the more likely to enjoy it once you’re there.
This article is available en Español
Previous Vámanos Being a Good Houseguest
I had planned to bring you most of the performances from the North and Clark dinner, but we had an audio video meltdown at the last minute. Luckily, my buddy Chris recorded a couple songs on his phone. The video quality leaves something to be desired but the music is what I really care about.
This is Emily Claire Palmer one of the three great performers we had that night. I would call this the bootleg version, the version you might buy from a dude with a beard sitting on a blanket. Emily is singing a song that could be called “New Sled.” She has a gentle and sweet voice that she writes earnest and sweet songs for, and this is one of ’em.
The Economist recently did an interview with record executive Roger Faxon (Head of EMI music publishing), it fascinated me and it got me thinking about the future of music.
Music is not an object
For years music has been made into an object. There was a time when we wanted music to be an object–like a CD. Some people still do want that. But music is not an object and that makes it hard to make a living from it.
There was a time before anyone had this wrong-headed idea that music was an object. “(In the past) You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience” (David Byrne).
The record, CD or tape have had their day, and while they continue to exist, their importance is going to shrink and shrink. “The object is not the thing people pay attention to, it’s the actual underlying music that they pay attention to.” (Roger Faxon).
Where does that leave the Record Industry and Music Business
The digital download has yet to save the music industry and I don’t think it will. The record industries profits are still 80% from CDs 20% downloads and everything else. But, that 80% is coming out of a smaller and smaller pie.
The problem is that if we can access music digitally, and often for free, why buy it? “Any music that I want to listen to I can listen to at any time, (or at least that is the perception) and that makes me less likely to buy it.” (Roger Faxon)
Maybe there are other ways for record companies to make money, maybe there aren’t. But, there is a need for what record companies did and still do.
“Somebody has to shine the spotlight on somebody” (Roger Faxon).
To some extent, new media fills that void. People exchange information through social media and learn so much about the media they consume online. My friends often discover music through sites like Lala, Spotify or Pandora. These avenues did not exist a couple of years ago. That said, blogs, myspace and a couple of music sites cannot stand in for what a record label does, any more than iTunes can stand in for record stores. They might help but they aren’t a complete solution to the problem of marketing a band.
I don’t have a solution either, but if you want me to feature your band on this site your welcome to write me an email.
Good News for the Artists
Many of the costs associated with making music have gone down. Digital distribution is essentially free and recording costs have come down in recent years.
This is not without problems. While these pieces of music-making have been liberated for individual artists, the artist’s responsibilities have swelled. Deciding how to distribute music was the responsibility of a label. Now, it’s up to the artist how much to partner with outside entities to produce, and distribute music.
The Better News
The music industry is no more music, than music is an object. Though the industry struggles, it doesn’t mean that artists must do the same. Musicians may have supported themselves by selling records, but that isn’t all they do.
The music listener isn’t going down with the ship either. While we may lose permanence and tangibility in the form of a record, that doesn’t mean that there is less music or less engagement with music. The history of listening to music didn’t end with the record, or the download, and it won’t end here.
Hear Ye Hear Ye
Thursday, December 3rd
Dinner and Concert
2459 W. Wilson Apt#2
Featuring Singer Songwriters: James Farrell, Tom Fort, and Emily Clair Palmer
Bring 10 Bucks to Cover Costs
Why a Dinner Concert
I love to feature local musician’s on the site. I also like to bring you music in video and audio, but I always feel weird having somebody perform for me alone in my house. Also, I have been talking about homebrew beer for month and been totally unable to share it. I want to take the blog the people.
Enter the chef
All of this was in the back of my mind during a recent conversation with my friend Maren. After hearing that I was a home brewer my dear friend Maren Keeley suggested we host a dinner. Maren is a cook at Uncommon Ground and an all around food ninja, capable of making all seasonal holiday-onal deliciousness.
After Hearing this I immediately hijacked the idea and suggested that North and Clark sponsor a diner concert. Because there are a lot of musician’s I have been wanting to share with you guys on the blog. They are…
So Come on out
To cover the costs of dinner and other nonsense we are asking for people to pop for 10 bucks (I wanted to charge 20, but Maren insists). Either way it’s a steal.
If this sounds good to you leave a comment or write me an email @ email@example.com, but be quick about it cause we can only fit twenty five people and eleven of those spots have already been reserved.
So there are only 25 14 5 SOLD OUT.
See you there,