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Thursday, January 24, 2008

As in politics, all music is local

I'd like to share my thoughts on the state of live local music. I'd really love to hear Ray's European take on this, and feedback from anyone who's thought about live music and local bands. Every band is from somewhere and we all start as local acts. I live in Wisconsin. At one time Milwaukee was a hotspot for live music as I'm sure many cities were. At one time live music was a primary form of entertainment for people. It was for hundreds of years. That all began to change with the industrial revolution and the invention of recorded music. Making a living as a performer has always been hard. Only a small percentage of musicians and singers ever become superstars. I'm sure some problems I deal with are the same ones a young Charlie Parker dealt with. Even into the 70's and 80's live music seems to have still been a way many people enjoyed spending their time. But now... here's a list off the top of my head of all the forms of entertainment I compete with as a live performer:

Movie theaters
Sports events
DVDs (Video... Home theater)
The Internet
Video Games
TV
Live theater
Other live music (cover bands especially)
Karaoke
DJs

After WW2 people have live music, recorded music, movies, radio, theater and soon TV to choose from. However, at any given moment there would have been a half dozen radio stations, a few movies and plays, and a couple of tv stations which wouldn't have broadcast 24/7. Now I have to compete with forms of entertainment that run all day and all night, whenever you want them. We are saturated with entertainment. Why should somebody pay $5 to see me play when they can steal all the movies they want for free? If people do go out specifically to see live music they have probably fifty choices on any given night in Milwaukee. And in this area, cover bands are king. People seem to love just shouting at their friends over a beer with a really loud live jukebox in the background. I am pretty cynical about this, yet successful live shows are not impossible.

1. Get out of town. I rarely get paid much around here and thats fine. However, each time I've taken my solo act on short tours I have not lost money. That includes hotels, gas and food. So people seem to be interested in something new, something not local. One of the best compliments Strange Land often gets is "Where are you guys from?" People who have never seen us seem surprised that we're local. I take it that means we have a vibe and a level of professionalism that sets us apart from other bands who are just out to have a good time and party. We want to have fun, but we also want to push it farther than that. People seem to assume that bands from their hometown are no good. I've often been baffled when I go see Dream Theater at a sold out 8,000 seat theater and I wonder "Hell, why don't even 1% of these people come out to see local acts that I'm sure they would like."

2. Open for any national acts you can. Milwaukee is big enough to draw good national acts. Opening for them is great exposure for any band. You will play for people who've never seem you. I mean, it's great to see my friends at shows, but I really need fans more than friends. Being asked to open for bands like King's X, Event and Joe Stump are highlights of my career so far.

3. Always be professional. Get there on time. Don't gripe to club owners. Don't yell at the sound man. Don't badmouth the other bands on the bill. Burning bridges will get you nowhere. You might not like it, just save the bitching for your next practice session. There are plenty of jerks and egomaniacs on the scene in Milwaukee. Word gets around if enough people don't like you. If you can't take what you're given you shouldn't be playing out. I think the state of live music in Milwaukee and probably most of the US has degraded to the point we have to make the most of what we have and realize that the good old days are never coming back.


4. Work hard. This should really be first. And this goes for every aspect of music and life. As much as I hate to call music a business, it is. And in this business you put in 150% and get 10% back. But I still love it.

5 comments :

MAVIII said...

Excellent insight into the biz Sean.
And as always -articulate :)

Man, I can not imagine how hard it is anywhere in the world to "sell" your music to people who usually rather smoke, than to see an "opening" band. Or as you said, a DT fan that would love to see a LOCAL act such as yours but miss out.
I wonder all that, at my friends from Prototype/Psychosis and Artisan, they are sooo professional and skilled, but they play very out of the way clubs with NO foot traffic, unless they are VERY fortunate to play in Hollywood, or off the Sunset Strip, and maybe an opening gig for a major act (VERY cool that you got to open for Kings X).

But even the BIG guys don't get respect. 2 shows that were affiliated with TOOL from the same management as King Crimson, these 2 performed together as top bill, the show sold out here in Los Angeles within 2 hours! I worked at Tower at the time and I asked many customers that went, most were TOOL fans and I asked them, "So what did you think of KC?" - either I got "oh I left", "I never heard of them", "I heard a bit, but I went out to smoke" . . . 0.0
KC fans on the other hand were fans of Tool or became fans.
When TOOL came again, this time it was Meshuggah "opening", again sadly was not able to go because the show sold out in the same 2hrs.
. . . same story, "I was outside smoking when they came on".

Prototype is very involved in their craft while doing their 9 to 5 for their families etc. been lucky enough to attend festivals in Europe and are VERY approachable and friendly to other bands (Yet they told me how arrogant a popular DT-like band was toward them as a "U.S." band), now for the past 3 years or more, have had a terrible time finding a drummer that can "play" and keep up to their form of music. they may even inlist a HUGE
"math" drummer for their next project . . . even without a drummer, they still manage to record and write.

I still wish I had my Voice and had gear for my Guitar, I'd still love to give it a go with 2 different Prog bands, (but for now, I'm the guy who provides the Logo) yet I can not imagine the obstacles to get your music seen and heard.

I know Sean, that you take pride in your craft and treat everyone with respect, and your just rewards are around the corner, I hope you write more columns and wish you well.

-MAVIII

guitarsean said...

Thanks MAV, and I swear, the Strange Land cd is getting worked on and we will be asking you to finish that logo soon:) In addition to life's normal interruptions our photographer also had back surgery. But I think we've got some cover images now. And the recording process is coming along, slow but sure.

stringray said...

Quite good word, Sean!

Seems to be a global problem that people aren't interesd in local acts. Over here people mostly are interested in music from bands that are beyond the big pond, If it isn't from the USA, it's not worth its price or something like that. You can get a chance if you're from England, though. The metal fans, of course, like bands from Scandinavia, it is accepted that music from there is ok, too.

It happens here and then, when we hang around in one of the few metal bars and the dj plays one of our songs, that someone asks him what band it is he's hearing. When they got told that we are the musicians, they are very surprised, yes, stunned that a local band can make such music.
Of course we appreciate such moments, and are proud a bit, but in the end one still wonders about the over all ignorance about local bands.

I often shake my head about it.
I heard a friend of mine say about Freak Kitchen: "Their lyrics are so hopelessly European."
As if we "Continentals" had a certain inability in making music....

Well, I shouldn't make this a statement that concerns music only. We take everything that comes from the US and think it is cool. If music, movies, theater plays, art, fashion, tv serials, or whatever. Even the coffee from Starbucks is better. We seem to reject almost everything that comes from Europe. (espresso of course is great ...)

There is a movement at the moment that gives hope: A couple of pop bands that write German lyrics are quite sucessful right now. But I take that as a temporary effect, just like the silly Neue Deutsche Welle we had in the early eighties.

So how can we locals enter the stage under this situation?
Nobody would organize an evening for a band that has so little support so we do it ourself. We book a venue ourselves, invite other bands and hope they bring their fans with them. We even pay them to play at our event, find places for them to sleep, produce flyers, and all that.

Success is something different, though. Whether is is our own evening or one of other locals, I always see musicians, friends of the bandmembers , their students; an me in the audience.
But hey! I forget that Munich never has been a good place for live music.

But I won't give up. I'm a musician, and I need to make music. Dreamscape and Vanden Plas play on several progpower festivals, so why not me one time. :D

guitarsean said...

Thanks for your great commentary Ray. It sounds like you've got it pretty much the same as we do over here. And for the record I love Freak Kitchen and I dislike Starbucks :)

So we keep forging ahead and keep doing what we do because its like air for us.

Catherine said...

Hey Sean-

I appreciate the way you've articulated your perspective on the music biz in Milwaukee. Here in northern California, I see the small venues I prefer to play in as a solo singer-songwriter struggling to make ends meet. Coffeeshops and cafes come and go every year here.

However, I am very grateful that I was able to make a CD this year at SunSound Studios (www.sunsoundstudios.com). Having a CD helps me selectively submit my music to different festivals. A good resource is www.sonicbids.com for bands looking to submit their work for gigs.

I also recommend Groove House Records for duplication. They use real-time glass masters and eco-friendly packaging. Plus, they hook you up with a free membership to CDBaby and can hook you up with HostBaby for your band's website.

Of course, with a little know-how, most folks can design their own website. I did my own - would love to hear what you think of it!

www.catherinesmusic.com