Development Part 2 – Private Victories (Sounding Out the Words)

I didn’t come up with the concept of private victories. It comes from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. (An excellent and extremely helpful and empowering book that somehow gets lumped in with manipulative pseudo self-help books and get-rich-quick schemers.)

I won’t go too much into author Steven Covey’s writings on private victories other than the concept that you must have private victories before you can have public victories.

It’s hard to refute this logic. I’ve used the marathon metaphor before and it works here – you have to build up to running 26.2 miles. Getting there requires lots of frequent, small private victories of running a little further and and little further every day. By the time you run in the event, you will have essentially already run a marathon privately!

(The amazing thing about marathons is that if you run one, you’re pretty much a winner in everyone’s book. It’s like a private and public victory at once. When my mom ran one in her late 40s, it was a massive private victory just to finish the event and everyone around her recognized it. Friends and family and neighbors congratulated her. None of them knew or cared who actually placed or won the event but they knew she was in it. In their minds, she may as well have finished 1st!)

I think a lot of times, though, musicians and bands want that public victory (a sold out show, a good review, money, etc.) so badly that we try to skip past the private victory stage and wind up presenting something that’s not really what we had in mind or is some half-assed version of it.  This is like trying to turn a private failure into a public victory?  “We couldn’t play a single song competently but we were signed to Geffen on the spot!”  That doesn’t happen… often.

Before I moved to Austin, I was really into practicing and preparing before a first show with a band. Over the years I fell into the same trap as most Austin musicians: Performing in front of people was really just as private a victory as a good rehearsal because no one was going to be at the show anyway so why not at least get the name out there and start building it up? The problem with this Austin way of doing it is that, really, every show is an opportunity for a public victory… or a public embarrassment!  Most people who see you live will only see you a few times in their lives. In a lot of cases they will only see you once. In spite of decades of fandom, I have only seen Van Halen – one of my favorite bands – one time and, while they played well, they sounded like crap.  I didn’t go see them last month in Austin because they’re known for terribly live sound and I didn’t need to pay $100 to experience that again.

What If you suck or are half-assing it when someone sees your show?   “I saw a mediocre band stumble through their first show!” Not exactly the kind of word of mouth commentary that spreads like wildfire through a community of gate keepers.

Comments from random people occasionally remind me of my own rush to public victory. “Oh, I’ve seen you guys before. You have the accordion and trumpet player.” Wow. That means they have seen the band in 11-12 years. And no wonder. They band they remember was pretty mediocre… except for the apparently memorable instrumentation.

(Of course, at some point, you just have to say, “This is good enough,” and go do your show or run your marathon. Austin is a great place to incubate your ideas/band, I just think we sometimes need a little more time under the heat lamp.)

I think private victory is ultimately more important than public because it HAS to come first. Public victory may never come, but private victories MUST. They may never make your wallet fatter, but they will make your life richer. I’d personally rather spend time on my death bed recounting the greatest moments I lived rather than counting the dollars I accumulated (especially the ones I never even used).

Here’s a list of private victories that many (most?) of us take for granted:

learning to walk
learning to read/write
learning to speak
learning to count

Those are some pretty basic skills but think about how much you use them!

I recently met a fellow who, at the age of 51, cannot read. Now, I have known that illiteracy exists, but really seeing how it affects people is staggering. Without reading skills, this guy doesn’t know what’s in his food, what street/warning signs say, what his mail says or even that he’s picking up the right supplies for his job. He can’t use the internet. He drives but not legally. Without that private victory of learning to read, this poor fellow is relegated to the most menial of tasks from temporary manual labor employers because there are some really basic things he just can’t do – like filling out paperwork.

It’s hard for me as someone who learned to read as a kid to understand why this guy has gone so long without learning to read. I mean, it’s a shame that his parents or teachers didn’t teach him but he’s 51 and knows that not having the skill has held him back.  He could learn and could’ve learned at any point. Yet he chooses to go out there and find work that he can do with his current skill set and seems happy enough. And that’s totally cool. I don’t hear him complain.

But it makes me think about the bands and musicians I’ve seen or heard that are just barely stage-worthy wondering why they make such slow headway. So often I’ve heard some sentiment akin to “we’ve paid our dues, we deserve a weekend gig/opening slot for a big show/more fans/etc.” And paying dues is a GREAT metaphor for this kind of thing because paying your dues only guarantees membership — not success. I mean, I pay my dues at the YMCA, but if I want my abs to be as mouthwatering as my glutes, I’m going to need to do more than just walk on the treadmill a couple times a week. I’m going to have to do some exercises I don’t like or even know – get out of my comfort zone and take the time to develop my six pack before I start playing shows shirtless again.

Going through the process of achieving private victory prevents unnecessary public failure because you get the chance to “sound out all your words” (to keep the reading metaphor going) without criticism or scrutiny from anyone. It gives you luxury of (mostly) private trial and error. This is why school was invented!

When I was much younger, I was really into skateboarding but I was really terrible. I’d often get angry and throw my board on the ground. I felt so embarrassed to be so awful – especially in front of the kids a little older than me. Looking back on those days, the older and better skaters never made fun of me — because they had all been through the same process I was going through. They’d needed individual time to develop.

Plenty of people with a LOT of public success realize the value of private victory, too. For many of them, public victory can even lose its luster… “I’m the top selling artist of all time. Neat! Now what?” For many the answer is golf.   For some, it’s a whole other career – Brian May. For others is philanthropic work.  There are plenty of examples of people who achieved huge public success and then practically disappeared. I feel certain that Mark Hamil has had a very fulfilling life since Return of the Jedi in 1983. (Of course, that’s about to change since a contractual obligation will force (ha!) him back into the role of Luke Skywalker.)

Regardless of what’s next for already-successful people, they will need time to develop whatever it is – even if it’s just more of the same thing like a new movie or album – and that development is never or barely seen by the public.

You never stop having private victories and the most publicly successful among us know it.

Confidence and Over-Confidence (or The Band “People” Magazine Mentioned By Name)

10 years ago, when I was much newer to the money losing business of music, I used to waste time perusing the sites of “booking agents” that were representing bands that I’d seen play at clubs like Room 710 and Beerland.  I was usually surprised at the way these “agents” (usually just a friend, lover or dealer of one of the band members) played up their bands — and even moreso by their selection.  Most of the bands lasted about a year at best or had a better name than they did music/talent. I was baffled that these bands that were lucky paid $50 for a gig had representation. (I still see this. There’s just no accounting for taste – even my own.. which apparently is out of touch with everyone else and has been forever.)

These days, I realize how hokey those “agencies” were. Still, as rinky-dink as they were, the bands on them had one thing I didn’t – someone that wasn’t in their band that liked them enough to take on the pain in the butt responsibility of booking the band and pumping up their image to the gate keepers.  Having someone like that in your corner is very validating for a young band and communicates something to talent buyers.  Even if they did a crappy job, at least these people were talking up their bands.

I certainly didn’t have that.  The only person talking up my band was me. So I set forth on the long road of building my own reputation.  I wasn’t any good at making myself look good. In fact, I was better at doing the opposite than anyone I knew.

Eventually, I gained a little confidence indirectly by simply failing so many times.  I developed what I now know as the “fake it til you make it” mentality.  I started saying yes to opportunities that had seemed unrealistic and outlandish or even undesirable because that’s all that was coming my way.  “Can your band be in San Marcos  on a Wednesday at 4:00 PM and play 2 sets outdoors in the freezing cold on an open stage in a parking lot to sick children?  Oh yeah and you’ll need your own PA.”  That’s character building (I just hope Tommy, Adam, Phil and Leila see it that way now) but it also opened some doors.  Lots of times we didn’t really have 2 sets worth of material or PA suitable to playing outdoors.  We did it anyway.  We faked it knowing that even if we blew it, we didn’t really want to play that gig again anyway so… what the hell?

But there’s some level of fakery that bugs me and I don’t think I’m alone.

I finally unsubscribed from a Dallas booking agent’s email list after receiving an invitation to the video shoot of a wedding/cover band with a link that read, “See the band that People Magazine” is raving about (I can’t remember that exact wording but it was something like that.)

I clicked the link which took me to a tedious article on People’s web site about a high society wedding for a pair of rich people I’d never heard of.  Buried among the paragraphs was a single sentence that simply said that that this band provided live music for the wedding.  It also mentioned the catering company.

I guess you’ve got to take what you can get… but this was free advertising at best and hardly a rave review.

Everyone in the entertainment business is always trying to play themselves or their clients up to be bigger than they are.  Why?  Because there’s some truth and value to the idea of “fake it til you make it.”  Plus, image is almost everything.  If you’re perceived as a pro who’s done this a million times it can often mean more opportunities and more money.

There’s nothing wrong with learning as you go. We often learn stuff best by simply doing it and confidence can be the key. As I started venturing into bigger soft-ticketed events, I slowly learned that simply stating something with confidence was often the difference between a confirmed gig and a “maybe next year” email.  I’ve wound up sub-contracting sound engineers and even staging, lighting and power when my knowledge about these things was cursory at best.   My clients (that sounds so weird) didn’t even have the cursory knowledge though.  As long as I seemed confident and positive, they were happy (even if I was actually pulling my hair out and cursing myself as soon as I hung up.)

You might hit boundaries.  That’s ok.  I just hit one a year ago.   I was trying to turn around a silent movie booking situation that had gone awry (original talent buyer booked it then quit the company as we were on the verge of confirming) and learned the hard way that Warner Bros. does not deal with third parties – only directly with movie theaters.  The theater felt embarrassed when WB asked them why I was trying to book a movie at their theater instead of them doing it. My final phone conversation with the theater made me feel like a 19 year old grocery sacker being fired because the boss was in a bad mood.

So you don’t want to be over-confident.  Afterall, there are some things that you can’t fake til you make.  If you tell a club booker that you normally draw 100 people when you really only draw about 25, it won’t take long for you to find yourself back on Tuesday nights – unless you pretty quickly find about 75 more people willing to come see you.

Well… maybe you CAN fake this if you have enough money.  A former artist manager I know used to refer to a concept he called “papering” the audience which is simply when a promoter can’t get people to buy tickets and offers discounts or even free tickets/drinks just to get people they know to show up. Even if they lose money, they made it look like the band sold a lot of tickets.  Remember Fletcher Clark’s “joke” about the best way to make a small fortune as a musician is to start with a large one? If you can’t get people to come see you even for free, why not pay them to be there? I think we’d all be surprised at how much this kind of thing goes on even at high levels  (Glenn Danzig’s comments about Ozzfest being a “corporate buy-on” are not the first I’ve heard of bigger bands paying to play even at high levels.)

But most of us can’t afford to do that.

Last year, I got an email from a talent buyer in Ft. Worth that I’ve worked with asking me I’d ever seen a particular band that was asking him for a high guarantee.  I hadn’t.  They had an impressive web presence and touring history.   They’d traveled as a supporting act in big venues for pretty high level acts with commercial radio airplay and name recognition among people who shop in malls.

But they’d barely ever played in North Texas.  I noticed they’d played Austin a few times but  only one weeknight at the Lucky Lounge (nothing against Lucky Lounge – it just wasn’t the even close to the size of the other shows they’d played) and a handful of unofficial dayshows during SxSW.   I asked the booker if there was any reason he thought they might do well at his club (which is the same size as the Lucky Lounge) and how he heard about them.  Apparently they just sent an email to DFW promoters with a pitch and dollar figure.   I guess that was enough to get his interest because he was considering it.  He kept asking around about them.

A few weeks later, I was dealing with him on another gig and asked about that band.  He said he told them to stick it.

But maybe I don’t know how to balance or manage confidence. Years ago, we played an official SxSW showcase with a buzzing San Marcos shoe gazer band who had a manager that was a total dick to the SxSW sound engineer. I thought he was way over the top. As negative as my experience with him and his band was, in the end, he was right – that SxSW showcase sucked. The stage manager was passed out drunk on the couch in back when we loaded in at 8 PM and the sound was pretty damn bad and this is not unheard of during SxSW. At least these guys had someone willing to stand up for them and say, “you can’t treat us like this.” I simply grinned and powered through.

(Side note – that band borrowed our bass amp when theirs blew and ours was never the same after they used it. They didn’t even thank us and then they played an encore AT A SXSW SHOWCASE that we had to follow. I wish I’d had their manager to yell at them.)

Vans

If you really want to get on the Warped Tour, start by firing your whole band (including yourself) and replacing them with some pretty boys with dyed black hair and lip piercings. Then print a bunch of shirts with your band logo on front and the offensive word of your choice in Impact font on the back.  Now you’re ready to …

Oh wait, different kind of van… let me shift gears(remember to edit that out later.)

I spent a good deal of my time in the last two weeks working on our van (Van Halen). I had to perform the dreaded spark plug replacement job – a task that is relatively simple routine maintenance on most vehicles but is a huge pain in the butt (and fingers and elbows) on this make/model. In fact, mechanic shops have asked as much as $1000 to perform this on our van. Parts for the job are about $50. So I set about doing it myself.

Aaryn Russell (Muppletone, Flying Balalaika Bros.) and I changed a couple of them a 9 years ago. Then my dad helped me change the rest out in Salt Lake City. He said I used up all my car help from him for the rest of my life on that job. It really sucks and this time two of the plugs were stuck.

Thankfully, it seems to be working now but on day 10 after several other issues in addition to the spark plugs had popped up, I was really considering either buying a new vehicle or renting a van from then on.

Well, not really. Renting doesn’t seem like a good idea to me unless you’re just doing a few shows out of town a year. Otherwise, owning your own band van or vehicle is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

Opposite Day is about to do a 4 date run to Carbondale, IL and back (where they get to play with Cheer-Accident and Yowie!) so I’m going to use that trip as a possible illustration for renting versus owning.

If OD rents a van for 4 days from Capps Truck and Van Rental, it’s going to cost them $500 plus $0.25 for every mile over 600 that they drive.  OD is also doing Lawrence and Norman and I estimate the total trip in miles to be about 1900 miles so the total rental cost would be approx. $825.  That’s over $200 per date they’re playing.

However, looking at OD’s past shows, they haven’t played outside of Texas very much in the last 10 years.  So let’s use a more typical example to them.   If they picked up a single date in Houston and needed the van for just 24 hours,  it’d cost them $167 plus $32.50 in extra miles.  That’s about $200 just to use the vehicle for a single show.   Same as the above.  I think we can safely say it costs $200 to rent a van for a single date.

That’s not terrible.  If they only did this a few times a year, it’d be cheaper than bothering to buy, maintain and insure a vehicle.

So let’s break down what I payed to own by van per year.  I bought it ten years ago for $8000.  Let’s tack on:

  • $1000 interest (high estimate)
  • insurance for ten years – $3500
  • tires – 4 x $500 = $2000
  • oil changes – $120 x 10 = $1200
  • other repairs – $10000 (this is a very high estimate.  there were several years where my repair costs were nearly $0)
  • registration/inspection – $800

total = $28,500 – so let’s just say $30,000 or $3000 per year that I’ve owned it.

If the Invincible Czars only played 15 road dates per year (ha!), that breaks down to $200 per show.  Wow.  The same as Capps but with no maintenance and always in a van in good working order!

So maybe it’s worth it if your band doesn’t play out of town much.

But if you do more stuff and look at the long term, it’s worth it to own.  The Invincible Czars did about 30 road dates in the last calendar year.  30 x $200 = $5000 in rental costs.    That’s $2000 more than the average cost per year of owning my van.  We played out of town 30 times a year every year since I’ve owned it.  That means I saved approx. $20,000 by owning the van (I’m sure rental rates were cheaper in 2005 than now).

It’s worth asking, “What if my band doesn’t last that long?”  The good news is that you can use your van for any band.  Van Halen has been used by The Invincible Czars, Foot Patrol, Boss Battle (many times), La Mancha, The Genius Mistake, Poon, Sweetmeat and more that I would probably remember if reminded.

Plus, I had it available to me at all times and used it as my personal vehicle during that time.  It’s come in useful any time I’ve needed to move anything big. Several higher paying wall paper gigs paid me more because I was able to transport the PA system.

Downside – you will help everyone you know every time they move.

So, if you do buy a van here’s what I recommend:

  • research the best make/model and year for your budget and band size.  I bought one of the highest rated vans of all time in 2005 – the 1999 Ford Econoline.  One regret – wish I’d gotten one size bigger.
  • buy the newest used model you can afford.  DO NOT BUY NEW.
  • have a mechanic check out the vehicle before you buy it.  I recommend Lemon Busters in Austin.  They will go to the vehicle, drive it and send you a report and you don’t even have to be present.
  • Buy a repair manual specific to your vehicle and keep it in the vehicle
  • Learn to do as much routine maintenance yourself as you can (except oil changes – they’re so cheap, it’s worth it to have someone else do it and dispose of all the old oil properly).
  • Find a friend or relative who likes/knows about working on cars and get their help when something goes wrong.  Pay them back in other favors or chicken stew.
  • Find a good, affordable mechanic in your hometown.  (I have been very happy with Luu Automotive on Kramer in Austin)
  • Keep a tool kit in your vehicle filled with at least the bare minimum you’d need to work on most problems.  Very often you’ll find that the same size screw appears over and over in your vehicle.   I’ve found that I can go a long way with a ratchet, a 5/16″ socket and flat head screwdriver.
  • Live with little or cosmetic things that aren’t worth the bother or expense of fixing – dents, electric locks, etc.
  • Read and heed the owner’s manual and maintenance schedule.  Lots of oil change places have gotten a bad rap for selling unnecessary fuel flushes and stuff like that but some of that stuff really IS necessary – like changing fuel and air filters, spark plugs, etc.  Know the difference.  (I still get bamboozled by this!)

But don’t just listen to me.  I don’t like working on cars and remain mostly ignorant about a lot of things under the hood.   I’d love to hear more tips from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  Leave them in the comments.

 

 

 

Playing Out of Town

Playing Out of Town After my last post, Xander from Proud Peasant suggested I expand upon the notion that you have to leave town to actually earn any money or get anywhere.

This idea seems to fly in the face of what of most experts advise: focus on your hometown and when you can sell out a show there, expand your region. I didn’t heed that advice because:

(1) By the time I heard it, I’d already played out of town and earned more money doing so than playing in Austin.

(2) Selling out a show seemed unlikely. How many sold out shows have any of us ever been to? How many of those were local bands? If it was easy to do, it’d happen all the time.

(3) It’s very possible to live in a place where your style of music is simply not popular. Ex: Jazz in Austin. There are plenty of bands that play huge events in other towns/nations that just play the same old clubs in Austin for years. They’re big Japan.

(4) As far as I could tell, there were plenty of bands that weren’t selling out in Austin or their hometowns but seemed to do ok on the road.*

(5) Austin is a unique market – just because you do well here, doesn’t mean you’ll do well anywhere else.

So I always questioned the need to sell out a show before moving on to other markets.

But here’s the catch 22 – if no one’s heard of you in a place, there’s no point in playing there. BUT —- for most bands, no one will hear of you in a place unless you go play there.

Furthermore, if you play a town that has no bands like you, there’re no similar bands there for you to network/co-promote with and you’ll play to no one. If you go somewhere that has bands that are like you, there’s no reason the people there should come see you. They can see the local version of you any time (but at least you stand a chance of winning over some of their fans if you play together). This is why shows in music towns like Austin or Seattle are so tough.

When I look at Austin bands that seem to create careers for themselves, most DO sell out shows here and then move on. The Sword. Ghostland. Octopus Project. Bob Schneider. Spoon. Okkervil River. But why limit this example to Austin? Neko Case, Reverend Horton Heat, Mark Kozelek, Brave Combo, Built to Spill, Metallica, Secret Chiefs 3, Nirvana, Van Halen, Dirty Projectors, Flaming Lips, Daft Punk, etc. etc. etc.

They are all at different levels and from different places. It took longer for some than others but they all found something they did that people liked before they really took off.

(I’m not a big fan of Daft Punk, but I have to say that I admire their tenacity. I heard them for the first time in the 90s and would see them in alternative music magazines like Magnet. 14 years later, they had the worldwide number one hit of the summer.)

My own experience speaks to this in a small way. After years of booking shows all over the US with a modicum of success, I noticed everything suddenly got easier around 2011-ish. Booking. Rehearsals. Shows. Really everything. It only took playing most venues once for them to ask, “When can you come back?” Booking requests went from “may we?” to “when may we?” It was actually really easy to see why this had happened:

(1) We kept going to the same places and playing to people who I/we thought might really like us (instead of trying to force heavy metal dudes to appreciate our “ruined” version of Iron Maiden songs)

(2) The band was finally playing to its strengths and focusing on entertaining the audiences at least as much as ourselves. I finally had an act that people other than the band members could easily appreciate.

(3) The band line-up was the best it had ever been in every way. **

The point is – the band was finally getting pretty good at what we did and finding people who agreed. The better the band got, the more we resonated with others, the more opportunities and money came our way.

It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Make a cool, good thing. Then share.

And yet I and so many put the cart before the horse. That’s because it’s so easy to mistake the prototype for the final product. I like it so I bet others will, too. We’re wrong more often than not. I spent much of the early 00s playing road shows with a band/material that had no evidence of resonating with anyone else. It was a long and frustrating game with a very small chance of winning fans. I was too focused on satisfying myself. I think most bands do this. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just that the only way you’ll grow outside your region is if what satisfies you just happens to resonate with others.

Here’s the advice I’d give the me of 10 years ago — if your hometown audience is mostly other small time musicians, there’s no point in leaving town. Most of them are just there because they’re opening for you or vice versa. That doesn’t mean what you’re doing isn’t good. It simply means that your efforts to expand will be very, very difficult if non-musicians don’t appreciate what you do. You don’t need to drive to San Jose to play to indifferent people at a bar or furniture when you can do it right here in Austin.

As much as I didn’t want it to be true, Graham Reynolds was right when he said that I put the The Invincible Czars “on the map” when we debuted our Nutcracker Suite: It was the first thing ever did that attracted people outside our group of friends/bands in any significant way.

Another thing about playing out of town – unless some publicist picks you up, you’ll have to go through almost the same reputation and fan building process you did in your hometown in every town you play. This is made much easier what you’re really good at what you do.

 

*I may have been really wrong about this. Over time, I started to realize that most bands were losing money on the road – even the ones with booking agents and reputable record labels. I’ve never had illusions that the music I make will have mass appeal. The number of other bands’ sold out shows I’ve attended over the years is small because I tend to like bands that are the same way. Even when I was college age, my favorite bands were rarely on college radio or on the college charts. And yet they’d come to Austin and have great shows. I saw Oakland’s Sleepytime Gorilla Museum fill rooms several times including one amazing Monday night show at the old Emo’s inside stage.

 

** Leila, Phil and Hen3ry made the Invincible Czars really easy to book. They’re fun to watch, fun to hear, reliable and dedicated. This is not meant to offend past members of the band, it’s just that we were all on the same page at this time and it paid off.

ATX Music Census (AFTER)

The results of the census were pretty validating of my thoughts in last week’s post. No big surprise. There’re a lot of gloom and doom reactions out there but I think this census is a good thing, in spite of its seemingly grim picture.

Here’re my two favorite quotes from its summary and my thoughts on them:

It is entirely possible that musicians in Austin are no worse off relative to their counterparts in other comparable U.S. cities, but there are simply no parallel data with which to compare the findings in the Austin Music Census.

I made a list of reasons to stay in Austin but the biggest one is that the laws of supply and demand apply to every city in the world and the grass probably isn’t greener.  Leaving Austin sounds like starting over at square one in a new, different but probably equally challenging setting with the disadvantage of having no support network.

I’m writing this blog from Utah where, yesterday, I missed Built to Spill at the Ogden Amphitheater because they performed at the unthinkable hour of 5:00 PM. The cost for the ticket? $5.

Of course, this event was part of a month-long concert series at the venue and probably subsidized in some way to keep the ticket cost low. Still, the promoters of the show know that a cheap ticket means more bodies likely to show up. The demand for low ticket costs is a nationwide (worldwide?) phenomenon at all levels.

I often think about the big entertainment hubs of NYC, LA, etc. They’ve long been beyond Austin in the areas of of high cost of living, oversaturation, competition and glut of supply vs. demand. And yet, (as a day-job related friend once put it), every year bus loads of homecoming queens and captains of football teams arrive in LA with big dreams in spite of the odds against them becoming movie stars.

(Side note – the census takes into consideration all the jobs that aren’t “musician” in our scene. LA doesn’t tick because of raw acting and directing talent. It does because of the people who do all the other stuff. Make up, lights, camera, set builders, location scouts, etc. etc. etc. Austin, on the other hand, mostly just has the performers waiting for someone to turn them into stars.)

There’s a nostalgia in Austin for an age of the “working musician” that probably never really existed here. I’ve heard older musicians tell tale of the days they could pay their rent in gig money from a couple of shows a month… but How many actually could do that?  How many from that era had kids and realized they needed more income and dropped out of the scene and never said another word about it?

We don’t know but I’m guessing it wasn’t much different than it is today – more dropped out of the game than stayed in it and the ones who stayed in and made their livings didn’t do it just playing around town.

Of all of the responses to the census I’ve seen, I like Jeff Smith’s* the most. In it, it he mentions that Austin has too many stages and not enough headliners. I agree and I don’t think this is unique to Austin, either. Making a headlining act is very difficult. It takes time to build up a fan base – even locally. Sometimes, though, I don’t think Austin bands are really trying that hard. When our “show” consists of wearing street clothes and turning the stage lights off and playing the same songs everyone’s heard, we’re not exactly on the cutting edge of show business nor are we very compelling to casual audiences who don’t understand why our stage show isn’t as cool as Tool’s.

I think Jeff’s right that being in the entertainment business takes more work that most people (not just musicians) bargain for. I think it’s especially true of Austin. We’re as much the Slacker Capital of the World of as we are the Live Music Capital. Maybe moreso. It’s still a relatively easy going town where “everyone’s down to party”… to put it nicely (thanks, Ron V).  My experience is that as soon as something gets difficult, most people bail.

I’m not alone. A few years ago, a friend’s metal band was invited to play a relatively major festival in Europe. All they had to do was get there. She got pumped up and started trying to raise money but her band mates thought it just sounded like an awful lot of work. They never made it. All they had to do was buy 4 plane tickets, go to Europe and play the songs they’d been playing for years and they still didn’t do it.

Why? Because they were right – It was going to be an awful lot of work. Many Austin bands fumble the ball at the 10 yard-line of the best opportunity they ever have because they know that it’s simply an opportunity for more work.

And that’s what we’re all trying to avoid by living in the Velvet Rut, right? We just want everything to be free and easy so our hair can get good in the back and we can rub elbows with successful people rather than learn something more useful from them than their preferred brand of rolling papers. (sounds like SxSW!)

Most bigger musicians play more outside of their hometowns than they do at home and that’s not unique to Austin.  How often does Built to Spill play Boise?  Once a year?  Twice?  Demand for more is low, so they don’t over-supply their market.

Most Austin bands are just in it for the sheer enjoyment of performing and creative expression.  That’s totally fine – but I think there’s a disconnect when they start to think they deserve to be paid/recognized for simply satisfying themselves.  Their response to lack of demand is to simply increased supply.

If you’re not making a product (recordings, live shows, etc.) that people want or can use, it doesn’t matter how high the quality or how easily available.   It will not sell. Additionally, it doesn’t matter how good your version of a useful product is if there are already a lot of high quality providers in a market (definitely the case in Austin.)

It’s easy to blame audiences and club owners that your band didn’t grow – but it’s not their fault that you made something that only you liked and refused to do anything else when faced with the fact.

You don’t have to live in Austin to learn these lessons.  Musicians everywhere struggle and always have.

But at least our city cares:

It is a bold step for a City to move beyond the nationally competitive rhetoric of which city is best and to actually take an unflinching measurement of what is happening at the individual, citizen level: a musician, a studio engineer, a retail record store clerk, a show promoter. While this may seem like an exposing of vulnerabilities, in truth, it is a move of confidence and maturity. Only a city with a reasonable certainty that it will be able to address the issues with focused, realistic solutions and long term planning would invest in asking these difficult questions.

This is another of my reasons for staying. According to the census, it is the only one of its kind ever. That means they’re not really considering this in LA, NYC, Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Nashville, Seattle or any other music or non-music city in the US or world. That’s big. Even if nothing comes of this but awareness… well, heck, that might be the best thing that could come of it.

 

*Jeff Smith

June 3 at 9:43am ·

I see a lot of posts about the Austin Music Census today so I’m going to throw in my two cents. There seems to be a big “reality divide” – everyone who wants to make a living playing music in Austin will never do it (or anything approaching it) — plain and simple. It was never that way in the good old days and even less so now.

Most folks do not have the work ethic or wherewithal to have their egos relentlessly beaten down. You really want to make a living at it? Get used to playing restaurant gigs in the Hill Country where folks treat you like musical wallpaper and babysitters for their screaming children while they drink margaritas with their friends. Look at folks like Ray Benson. Dude has Grammys, a label and a management company and probably still works 14 hours a day producing, recording or writing when he is not on the road. He’s got chops, a name, has been at it for over 40 years and still works his ass off.

Austin’s scene is a mirror of the modern music business as a whole: ruled by lawyers, accountants, tech and advertising people. Except in this case the people in the above professions want to live in “The Live Music Capitol of The World” rather than work in the business. Their contributions are an increased lack of affordability, congestion and the culture killing gentrification that comes with their imported money. If you asked all these people “do you love live local music?” probably 96% would answer “absolutely yes” – the part they don’t tell you is that they don’t understand the difference between ACL Festival and a Tuesday night at the Continental or White Horse, and even for those that do get the difference the dictates of a real job or young family do not allow them to go to a weeknight gig more than once or twice a year. And what’s more, they absolutely can’t have that shit blaring anywhere near the vicinity of their recently built condo that’s across the street from nightclubs that have been in operation for 20 years.

The City of Austin is already wasting a bunch of money on consultants, but I have one really simple suggestion. Austin has too many stages and not enough headlining acts. I have believed for some time now that it would really behoove many of the smaller venues to band together and voluntarily close in rotation one week night each per week (Monday – Wednesday), encouraging their employees and regular patrons to visit another club on their off night, incentivizing with some sort of service industry/music industry night discounts or free shows. It is essentially the free week concept exercised on a weekly basis – with the motivation being stronger bills, increased weeknight attendance and club hopping. Scene building and cross-pollination in what should already be a well-developed scene.

Some folks will live the dream. Most will only have it. For the majority of folks – if you aren’t playing primarily because you love it, you best re-examine your motivations.

 

ATX Music Census (BEFORE)

Last fall, I started a blog entry after attending a roundtable of musicians, music non-profits and businesses assembled by the guy who wound up winning Austin mayoral election a few weeks later. I wasn’t happy with my behavior at the roundtable and put the entry aside and haven’t reviewed it since.

However, the imminent release of the results of the ATX Music Census and Needs Assessment Survey next week brought this night back to mind. I thought I’d clean up and post this hasty, rambling entry before the release of the results on Monday so we can see how my thoughts align:

 

Last night, I was part of a roundtable of music business people assembled to advise an Austin mayoral candidate on issues that affect the music community. I was happy to have been invited but once I got there, my attitude soured. My experiences from my days with Austin Music Foundation came rushing back and I thought, “This is going to be another fruitless meeting of the minds where a few people actually talk, the majority sit quietly and nothing really happens.”

Fortunately it wasn’t that bad.

Unfortunately for me, when the group was asked to paint a picture of Austin 15 years from now, I made the mistake of speaking and probably offended most everyone there by indirectly questioning whether anyone there actually goes to live music shows by local bands. I quickly felt like I needed to explain myself but my time had passed. I blew the only 3 minutes I was going to get and had to sit there feeling like a dick for an hour. I even tried to butt in over Michael Feferman at one point to redeem myself but, of course, that was stupid. I left the meeting feeling embarrassed.

I’m not very good in real time with these kinds of things. I get excited and haven’t mastered the art of presenting my point verbally in an organized, non-sarcastic manner. So I thought I’d use this entry to answer the question in writing here.

 

But first, I want to address my skepticism.  I should’ve come to the table with a positive attitude.  I didn’t because —– >

I perceive that these meetings are often focused on music businesses that seem more worthy of assistance than actual musicians – like clubs or other businesses that employ several people. Part of that is because musicians often aren’t recognized (even by ourselves) as businesses. Venues, for example, have to go through all kinds of hoops just to open (renting a location, hiring/managing staff, dealing with TABC, etc.) and essentially serve as a work place for the thousands of free-lance musicians, bartenders, sound engineers, etc. Musicians can just go start playing for tips on the street as soon as is convenient.

I get that.

However, I still think that these businesses only exist because musicians are here*. If Austin’s musicians all leave town, many venues and other businesses would close… or become dance clubs.  For this reason, I think addressing the issues the creative class faces are important if we don’t want to become the next San Francisco.

I also perceive that good recommendations have been ignored in favor of (often legitimately) more pressing issues. “Musicians who don’t want to get day jobs” aren’t as big a concern as managing resources, traffic issues, budgeting, emergency services, etc. But remember the Austin Music Task Force? That group had a lot of really good suggestions that were simply tabled when the City had a regime change. They never came back to the foreground again but the issues didn’t go away.

Other than legitimate music business people, these meetings are always attended by a few rich and financially well-connected people who are mostly disconnected from the actual music scene but pay a lot of lip service to it.  They may even make money off of it.

That’s why I asked the four other musicians present if they ever saw the other attendees at shows… because I don’t and I feel like a big part of the problem Austin music faces is the fact that we’re often just entertaining each other. Most of the audiences I see at all-local band shows are other musicians. That’s partly because of the kind of nerdy music I like but I see plenty of musicians at non-metal/punk/indie/avant garde shows.

The players in Austin’s future have rallied around the revenue generated by music for decades but musicians only get the trickle at the very bottom of that flow. Big events like ACL and SxSW draw lots of people who pay for parking, food, lodging, souvenirs, alcohol*, etc. Your parents spending two nights at a hotel in town for your CD release show is a drop in the bucket.

(I think Austin is becoming less about music and more about just partying. Maybe it always has been.  Maybe that’s not bad…  partiers love music.)

My point of all of this is that musicians concerns have been out there for a while and so far, we’ve mostly just been shooting in the dark to try to fix them. As a guy who worked on the inside of an Austin music non-profit, I can confidently say that no one really knows what the solution is and sometimes it seems like finding one isn’t enough of priority to really make changes.

 

OK so that’s why I’m skeptical.  Here’s my slightly more coherent reply to where I’d like to see Austin in 15 years:

 

City-Wide Awareness and Sense of Investing in Culture

In fifteen years, I’d like to see a city of people willing to say NO to making as much money as possible and YES to things we value that aren’t measured well with dollars in order to preserve those things that make Austin special – particularly the creative class that live in a realm of low wages/high expenses.***

I know – I’m living in a fantasy land but allow me to fantasize here.  If there are so many of us that are part of that creative class, why not do something to preserve it/?

There are plenty of not-very-profitable things that we value in Austin. The creative class, children/schools, parks, developing business ventures, new ideas, diverse neighborhoods, etc.   Heck, even people in boring towns care about some of those!  Losing them will surely put Austin on the same downward slope as San Francisco, whose loss of vibrancy seems to be coming to a head after many years of decline.

Austin has a very large community that cares about how special the city is – more than any city I’ve visited with the exception of New Orleans. However, plenty of people move here from other cities DAILY and plenty of them seem to just be here because we have jobs and water… for now. Not because Austin’s “weird”. They work their jobs by day, watch cable tv at night and spend their weekends at the mall with their kids. They may as well live in Pensacola or Dallas.  Most of them probably don’t care if “weird” comes to an end and if we don’t somehow indoctrinate them into it, the level of indifference will rise as they continue to pour into our town.

I know —- getting people to care about something that isn’t their kids or their livelihood is an uphill battle. But just like getting people to wear seat belts or to quit drinking and driving, it’s worth the effort!  Both of those became laws only after enough people pushed for awareness.

This is a tough sell to the couple who can sell the house they bought for $75K in 1998 for $225K now… or the businesses who can raise its prices because rich people are moving here will pay more… or the organizations and government that want incentivize businesses with tax breaks.

But if we behave as if money is all that matters, we will eventually make it so and we’ll be the new San Francisco.  “Not rich?  Try Waco!”

The good news is that I think we already have a good foundation for preserving the things we love about Austin. Whatever your feelings are about the phrases “Live Music Capital of the World” and “Keep Austin Weird”, they are excellent marketing slogans for exactly what I’m talking about. I mean, you can buy t-shirts with those things emblazoned on them at the mall. Even if they’ve been co-opted by souvenir shops, at least the sentiment of Austin’s uniqueness remains present in word.

Bottom line, I think that what seems most threatening to our music community is ignorance and indifference. If we make people aware, they will care. Doing so will be a never-ending effort.

 

*or is it because partiers are here?

**of all the industries that can make money generated by music events, alcohol seems like the biggest winner to me.

***and if you don’t think that what the creative class does is important, I hope you find a lovely condo in Dallas or San Jose someday!

Tribute Bands – Cruising in the “B” Ark

(or Shooting Free Throws Whilst Stand on a Ladder)

I was going back and forth with a fan from Chicago this week on the topic of original music verses playing covers and tribute bands. It got my wheels turning.

Before you read this, know that I don’t hate tribute or cover bands and I think that comparing them to original bands is not apples to apples:

I don’t remember much about my first gig in LA except being surprised to find almost nothing but tribute bands in the show listings of their weekly paper.  Someone (I think Bill Petersen) predicted the scourge of tribute bands would find it’s way across the country and it sure has.

Though I mostly feel neutral about them now, the idea of tribute bands becoming the primary contribution of a music scene to its region still bugs me. “Los Angeles – the Copy Cat Music Capital of the World” doesn’t seem fitting for a town that creates tons of good original music – even if it’s just as obscure as anything from any other city.

Maybe that’s what happens when a scene gets so big and saturated though — when a community has so many options that the fleeting and unrefined tastes of the majority practically dictate that anyone who wants to play the game must deal in lowest common denominators. The idea of asking the audience to make an investment as simple as listening to a whole original song or watching a whole original short film becomes too big a request. They don’t have time for that when they could be seeing one of two Led Zeppelin tribute bands tonight!

I’ve talked a lot on this blog about giving your audience what they want – and don’t tribute bands do that better than any original act possibly can?

I mean, The Egg Men are about as close as anyone under the age of 50 will ever get to seeing the Beatles live. That’s valuable to a scene – and possibly even outside it! Plus, it helps keeps the Beatles’ alive beyond recorded media. Cool.

But that’s not giving your audience what they want. That’s giving The Beatles’ audience what they want.

And this is why it’s so easy to hate tribute (and cover) bands when you’re a snobby, self-proclaimed artist like me (hey, at least I’m not alone!): They get to skip past the years-long investment and trial and error of creating music and a b®and and building an audience. Instead, they tap into an already-existing catalog of beloved classics that audiences already love thanks to the work of the most popular bands in the world ever and their team of managers, arrangers, handlers, publicists, etc. etc etc.

That sounds pretty smart from a business standpoint – but it’s kind of like shooting free throws on ladder three inches from the basket. Either you’re cheating or you’re not really playing the same game.

If you don’t care about playing the same game, that’s great because you are now mentally set to play high paying gigs right off the bat while furthering the catalog of your favorite band.

That’s why I now feel pretty neutral about tribute bands. They’re not playing the same game. I already know I can shoot ten out of ten free throws on the ladder as long as I don’t mess up majorly. I don’t really care about playing that game.

That’s oversimplified. Good tribute bands take work, talent and dedication just like original bands – but (I say this with total respect to The Egg Men and any really good tribute band) tribute bands aren’t artists.

OK OK OK – yes, there are some very cool tribute bands out there like that put their own spin on the music they tribute – Jazzus Lizard, Dung Beatles, Dread Zeppelin.  In that way, they’re more like a band covering the material in their own style rather than striving for an exact replica of what’s already been done.

But there’s probably a Beatles, a Led Zeppelin and a Pink Floyd (why are they all British?) tribute band in every major US and European city. Why should anyone outside of Austin care about the Egg Men when the Day Trippers and the Paperback Writers and the Number 9s are all playing the same songs we all know and love?

I posit that the number of people who choose to listen to a recording of The Egg Men over a recording of the Beatles is very low and probably even lower than the number of people who listen to recordings of obscure small time bands.

Original bands have the opportunity to make a direct and much deeper connection with their fans. Even if it’s small, it’s real, lasting and valuable to both parties.   Original bands can change lives and that can go beyond the boundaries of their home town or region.

Tribute bands only validate changes to lives already made by the band they tribute.  They don’t make as direct a connection so much as they act as a medium for one.  They’re valuable and even memorable but… ultimately they’re cruising through universe of music in a Douglas Adams-esque “B” Ark and the music business knows it:  Ever see a review of tribute band’s album?  How many tribute bands play at ACL, SxSW, FPSF or other music festivals?  Not many… if any.

Side Note: Anyone want to start a NoMeansNo tribute band?

Pure Luck – We Hate Malachi Constant Because…

(We wish we were as lucky as he!)

Over the holiday break, my wife and I read Kurt Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan on a long road trip.  It got me thinking about luck and how we envy and analyze the lucky.  As she often does, my lovely lady said something that made me  think for a long while:  We revere the lucky but they don’t deserve to be revered because of their luck.   Luck, in its purest form, has nothing to do with skills, quality, ability, kindness, intelligence or other attributes.

Applying the message of Sirens of Titan to the art/entertainment world brought me back to  bit from my own post on Resonating –  Why them and not me?  That trip is a sad spiral that leads us to critique others’ work in a rather childish way that begins focused on them but (if we’re willing to follow the thought chain to the end) ends up focused on us:

“I don’t like what they do because…” they can’t sing well….  they don’t really know how to play their instruments….  they sound too 90s…  they haven’t paid their dues  …my ideas are just as good or better…. I want to feel like what I do is valuable to others but it’s not.”

wah.

In truth, the lucky are often no more deserving that anyone else – they’re just… well.. lucky!

Still, I ruminated on that and wrote about 10 different drafts of this post.  Then I discussed it with my friend and fellow musician Erin Rodgers of Houston’s Glass the Sky.  Erin recalled this quote from her teacher (who actually got it from the Roman philosopher Seneca):  “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”  Thinking on that quote and the message of Sirens of Titan has led me to an interesting place in my own philosophy on luck.  I think there are two kinds.  While I think we have to be ready to harness the power of luck’s lightning bolt when it strikes, I do think there is some luck that you just can’t prepare for.

THE KIND YOU MAKE

The classic musician fairy tale is a good example – record label talent scout happens to walk into a club and catch a band that he or she really loves and strikes a deal with them then and there.  It’s luck that the talent scout happened to go into that club at that moment – but it’s not luck that the band sounded good and could actually play their songs well.  That was preparedness.

It’s this kind of luck that is analyzed in SxSW panels, by non-profit organizations, music business colleges and individual musicians all asking, “Why them and not me/her/him?”

SxSW – Maybe if we all get together and party in one place, we can figured it out! Wait… there’s a music business conference happening at the same time?!?

All that analysis has led me to identify the following things that all buzz bands have in common.  This is fairly obvious stuff:

  1. Somehow, they all find the money to finance their efforts
  2. They do something that resonates with enough people to achieve critical mass (something very difficult to do in Austin)
  3. Someone with the power/organization to do something with the band’s career notices and takes action

I hear (and have thought), “They’re so lucky,” about bands like Ghostland Observatory, Bright Light Social Hour, The Sword and every other band that’s ever swept the Austin Chronicle Music Awards.   It’s hard to make people CARE about what you do and can be hard to predict what they might like.  However, there a ton of clues out there to point us in the right direction.  The bands I listed all play a form of music that essentially already had an audience – synth pop (remember this from the 80s?), heavy metal (a la Maiden or Ozzy) and bluesy indie rock (My Morning Jacket with a ZZ Top twang).  That’s not luck.  Building on what already works is just good business sense!

I want to believe that’s all it takes – Good decision making and preparedness.  However, when it comes to art, your heart really has to be in it or it’ll seem phony to your audience.

Here’s what I mean about having your heart in it.  I have a lot of respect for Ghostland Observatory and I’m glad that they’re doing what they do on their terms.  However, I don’t think I’d like to do what they do.  They’re fine enough, but it’s not a form of music I particularly enjoy.  They worked like hell in the last few years and were willing to make sacrifices because they DO love what they do.   I wouldn’t have made those sacrifices for that project.

(SIDE NOTE – Speaking of critical mass and the winners of contests like Austin Chronicle Music Awards?  It’s easy for non-winners like me to write these things off as just popularity contests – but popularity is the fuel of the entertainment world, not quality!  The quality of your work is a matter of opinion but the number of people that like you is a real – if hard to approximate – number.  When a lot of people CARE, the gatekeepers notice regardless of your quality or their opinion of you.  “They sold out Emo’s?!  Wow!  Let’s book them for our festival!”  Buzz bands are “chosen” because they are marketable and have proven that people already like what they do.)

So there’s the answer to “why them and not me?”   Right?

Well… not in every case.  Think about that sentence from before: “Luck, in its purest form, has nothing to do with skills, quality, ability, kindness, intelligence or other attributes.”  Ghostland has made a ton of luck for themselves by being prepared and good, but there are a ton of bands that you’ll never hear that are just as amazing and prepared… yet luck’s lightning bolt never strikes.  That talent scout from the fairy tale above could’ve walked into any bar that night.  What if he’d chosen a different one?  Now that’s just plain ol’…

PURE LUCK

There’s another kind of luck where preparedness plays less of a role, if any – the kind Vonnegut addresses in Sirens of Titan.  It’s blind, dumb luck – the kind that truly puts one ahead of the game by no choice of one’s own.

Real life examples include the Kardashians and Paris Hilton.  Tell me, what skills and abilities does our society revere about these women?  Being born into some of the richest families in the most powerful country in the history of our planet?  How exactly did preparedness play a role in their fortune?

Why, America?

We can prepare for potential opportunities we can identify, but most of us in this world have limited resources.  We can make our own luck to a degree, but not on the level I’m talking about here.

Have you heard this joke?

Q: How do you make a small fortune in the music business?
A: Start with a large fortune.

It’s not really a joke, it’s more of a truth.

The stereotypical broke-ass touring bands living show to show have been run off the road by high gas and food costs.  Most of the bands that can still afford to tour these days are often already well off.  Some of them can afford to finance one money-losing tour/album/project after another because they have a trust fund or a rich and enthusiastic parent or someone who’s done it before to guide their efforts.  (Granted, if they’re no good, it won’t make them any more popular… but at that point it doesn’t matter.  They can afford to do what they want to do regardless of resonating.  Permanent vacation!)

Years ago, The Invincible Czars did several dates with a band from LA that rented their van and trailer, had a merch display the size of a stage and a bunch of expensive gear, wardrobe, roadies, an actual stage set, make up, lights, etc.  At the end of each night, though, they were walking away with about the same pay we did.  At the time I thought, “These guys are going to go broke!”

I didn’t’ realize that they had money up front and advice from people in the industry that allowed them to calculate and take a risk most bands can’t afford.   They put together a great live show and went out and performed it for everyone.  What I thought was losing money they saw as investing money.  Eventually, they attracted higher level representation and now they open for bigger major label acts like Mudvayne on national tours.  That in turn put them in front of enough people that they can now actually draw enough people to play larger nationally known clubs on their own.

This wasn’t their first time around the block, either!  They’d done this same thing before under a different band name but with less success.  However they did it, they were able to afford to go out there and take a big expensive risk and fail at least once.  Without their resources, that first go ‘round might have been their only shot – they’d probably be just another really good band stuck in their home region like so many others.

(Now, there was definitely some of the luck-you-make-yourself involved in the example above. The band I was talking about was lucky but also – really good and had an easy target audience: goth rockers.  They inhabit shopping malls and black-lit dance clubs in every major city in the US.  It’s not hard to reach that audience plus that audience already liked what the band did before they even heard the band.  Who is the target audience for a band like Opposite Day or Octopus Project?  They’re a little harder to nail down because the music isn’t associated with a specific fashion or lifestyle.)

What about natural ability?  Singers are a great example.   Sweetmeat’s excellent singer Gina Holton has virtually no training.  She just sounds like that.  I can sit and sing and sing and sing… and I’m never going to sound like that.  I can’t be trained to suddenly have a different physical make up.  Think about basketball players.  You might be able to practice and train and shoot 10 for 10 at the free throw line — but nothing and no one can train you to be taller than Shaq.

(Gina Holton debuting a new song w/ Sweetmeat.  What pipes!)

SO WHAT’S THE CONCLUSION HERE?

Whether the chosen are better or more deserving is a matter of opinion and analyzing their luck quickly becomes a depressing game of diminishing returns.   I spent 3 years working at a place that did just that I think I got into some bad habits that have made me feel bitter and even hopeless at times.  While we can learn from those who were prepared, there are some things we simply can’t learn (like how to be a millionaire’s child or how to make your preferred genre come into favor).  The only reason to hate them is because we wish we were them.  Just as the people in Sirens of Titan did Malachi Constant.

But that’s a pretty lame reason to hate or criticize someone.  The lucky are just doing their thing.  Just like the rest of us.

I often feel unlucky because I like things that are too colorful, weird, silly or adventurous for mainstream audiences.  I sometimes wish that I could make it through a whole song by Fleet Foxes without falling asleep or that I found Radiohead more entertaining than my grocery list.   Most music that resonates with LOTS of people bores me.


(Brian Kenney Fresno – possibly the most entertaining live act I’ve ever seen.)

But those wishes are foolhardy.  In truth, luck’s lightning bolt has already struck me – and most people that will read this post.  Each of us in the Austin music scene, and every other scene in this country, is lucky enough to have been born in the USA to whatever degree of fortune allows us to pursue creative arts instead of hauling precious metals at gunpoint, searching for landmines or spending every waking hour making textiles so we can feed our starving families.  Even within our nation – we may be broke but most of us ARE the privileged people born into fortune with a safety net in place, not the ones working multiple day jobs just to keep the lights on.

I’m terribly lucky to have been born to parents that let me make my own choices and to live in a town that values variety and weirdness.  I also feel lucky, in spite of the lack of commercial potential, to like and make music that’s not run-of-the-mill.

I’m pretty damn lucky to do what I do whether anyone else cares or not.  What did I or anyone else do to deserve such fortune?  I think Vonnegut answers that question in Sirens of Titan:  Nothing.