Friday, September 2, 2016

I Would Like To Spank The Academy

A.      Tell Me Again How Awesome You Are

If you hear somebody say, “I don’t understand why musicians do cover songs.  I only play original music" you should ask them if anybody has ever covered one of their songs.  The answer is no.  100% of the time, the answer will always be no. 

If you pick an artist that is frequently covered, be it Lynyrd Skynyrd or Selena Gomez, I guarantee you that artist is prone to frequently covering other people’s songs.  That artist knows that it’s all about the music.  It’s not about your ego or your pathetic need to have people tell you that you write great songs.

Johnny Cash wrote great songs (I Walk The Line), Johnny Cash was often the first artist to release great songs that were written by other songwriters (Ring of Fire), and Johnny Cash did covers of great songs that were made popular by other performers (Hurt).  Mr. Cash understood that the music was all that mattered.

B.      No Excuse For Poor Dental Hygiene.

Our newest single is a cover of the song Horse Race by the band Colourmusic

 The budget for this song (a cover song) exceeded the recording budget for our entire last LP.  In addition to that we also spent $4,500 making a music video for the song.

Having always produced our music ourselves, for this song we hired producer Michael Trepagnier (Coldplay) and engineer Kevin Lively (Rage Against The Machine).

In addition we collaborated with David Goad from the band Kali Ra.  He sang lead on the song.

In the internet age of releasing music everything has to fit in a very narrow outline.  We wanted to release our song as LESS LOVE and Kali Ra, but two bands can’t release a song together.  

The distributor will allow you to list it as two bands, but the retailers will only list one band name.

To ensure both bands were credited we had to list our co-collaborator as “ft. Kali Ra.”  That seems stupid considering David is singing lead. 

The more liberated we believe we are, the more confined we become.

The single has done well.  The reviews have been positive.  The music video thus far has been featured in a few indie film festivals.  It won two awards at the KSCR Music Video Awards for Most Dramatic Video and Most Likely to be an Indie Film.  It won Best Music Video at the Hollywood International Moving Picture Film Festival, and it was nominated for Best Music Video of 2016 by the Global Music Awards.

In addition the song was nominated Best Rock Song / Hard Rock Song of 2016 by the Independent Music Awards.

All that attention for a fucking cover song.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

You're OK. I Can't Be Trusted.

Relationships are hard.  Being in a band with four other people consists of being in a situation that revolves around 20 individual relationships.  If one person decides they can’t work with another person and leaves, then there is a possibility a third person may decide they don’t want to work without the person that left and also leave. It can all fall apart because one out of 20 relationships didn’t fit. 

Heaven forbid that two members of your band start fucking.  If you have a coed line-up then romantic entanglement is likely inevitable, and that never ends well.  

A friend of mine that makes a nice living playing other peoples music told me “fuck friendships.  Hire some musicians, pay them a fee, and tell them what to do.”

When we were recording the first album Chris Snyder played violin on one of the songs.  He and I were talking and he asked me what kind of music we were doing.  I told him it was Grunge and Country.  He laughed and called it Gruntry.  Because of that, as a joke, I put on our bio that we were “heavily influenced by the Gruntry music trend taking place in the Ouachita and Kiamichi Mountains.” Nobody else would understand it, but I thought it was funny.  The Ouachita Mountains are not known by many people.  I grew up in that area.  It is Southeast Oklahoma and there is nothing down there.  Have you ever seen the Ed Norton movie Leaves Of Grass?  It takes place near that area.  It is a very poor area where people can’t be burdened by trends. The Kings Of Leon claim to be from Talihina Oklahoma which is in the Ouachita Mountains.  At this time they were VERY trendy so saying we were a part of a fictional music trend taking place in their home town made me smile. 

After Bria left the band we tried a few different female singers.  Nothing clicked. In addition Billy and I were struggling with whether or not to just let Less Love die.  In 2012 one of the bands we were promoting, Big Okie Doom, did a video shoot and needed extras.  Billy and I went to participate.  On the set I met Brooke.  We talked and at some point it was mentioned that she was a singer. Before that but around the same time Rebecca and I began exchanging emails via the music social network page Reverbnation.  She and I met, and decided to see if our musical tastes aligned.

A TV show contacted me checking to see if Less Love would be interested in performing on their program.  I liked the idea but had no band.  I contacted Rebecca.  She said she would like to do it but didn’t want to sing lead.  I contacted Brooke and she said “no problem.”  I contacted Mr. Snyder and asked if he wanted to do the gig with us.  He said yes.

With Rebecca, Brooke, Chris and myself we were going to play this TV show that, for some unknown reason, asked us to perform even though it had been two years sense our album came out.  Usually media only wants to talk about new projects. Plus our album was called Go Fuck Yourself so it was really hard for me to imagine they wanted to promote that.  I quit thinking about it.  Some of our friends had recently been on the show so maybe that is how they heard of us.

The show pre-records all performances.  We went in and did our songs, and they asked us to come back on another day to be interviewed.  None of our friends had been interviewed. They just performed. This was beginning to interest me.  I asked them politely why they wanted to interview us and the producer gave me a vague answer.

Chris and I went back on the specified day.  They put the microphones on us and told us to stand on the side of the stage waiting to be announced.  The show started and the host said something along the line of “we have a very special show for you today.  With this weekend’s music festival taking place in Pushmataha County…”  Leading up to that moment I was trying to determine why they wanted us on the show. I never once thought about our bio.  I wrote that over two years before the interview.  As a matter of fact I think at that point I had forgotten all about the bio.  When he said Pushmataha County I paused.  I know where that is.  It’s down near where I grew up.  He said “With this weekend’s music festival taking place in Pushmataha County we are dedicating the whole show to the music taking place in that area.”  OH FUCK ME!!!  FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCK!!!  I began to panic. The only reason we were there was to talk about the bogus Gruntry music trend taking place in the Ouachita and Kiamichi Mountains.

During the interview, internally, I was a mess.  My mind was running a thousand miles an hour.  As he would ask me questions about Gruntry music or what the scene was like in the Ouachita Mountains my inner voice was screaming at me “how could you be so stupid?”  I was wearing sunglasses, but in some of the shots you can see that my eyes are huge.  I didn’t want to lie.  With each question I tried to construct an honest answer that would hopefully change the course of the questioning.  It was a struggle.

I have experienced similar situations of extreme anxiety, and had people tell me that my fear did not show.  After it was over I was convinced that I looked like a fool, but when I watched the replay I thought “man I look calm and collected.  If that guy (me) was running for president, I would vote for him.”  

After the show I asked the players if they would be interested in doing an album with me.  Each said they would.

Aware of the fact that Bria likely left because of me, I tried to take a more gentle approach to this incarnation of the band.  In the end that approach also didn’t work. 

The desire to be an artist is a dreamer’s desire.  Most dreamers are not people of action. I have vivid memories of being a child laying stomach down on the floor, drawing pictures, and thinking “when I grow up I am going to be an artist so I won’t ever have to work.”  That plan didn’t work out.  As I got older, just barely out of my teens, I had children. Working no less than 60 hours a week became necessary for survival.  Being involved with musicians (artists) I often see in them that child that thought he could get away with never working.

All and all that version of the band lasted only a few months.  We recorded the album “Paradigms In The Design” between October 2012 and April 2013.  Due to Brooke’s success as a stage performer she was only available to record for one week in December 2012.  Due to Snyder’s family problems his involvement was limited and spotty.  

In addition to Billy and me, Rebecca was a main player on that album.  Her insight and creative contribution was unsurpassed.  I cherish every person that has ever been a part of the band, but my appreciation for Rebecca goes above all others.  There were often times I was unreasonably difficult.  She never hesitated to call me out on it.  She never coward away, and regarding the music she always had new ideas to offer.  She eventually had an opportunity to move to Washington D.C. and understandably jumped at the chance.

While all of this was going on Billy was trying to be in two bands: Less Love and Wondernaut.  In addition he and I were working hard to build our production company.  He was engineering several of the albums we were promoting.  During much of that year he was recording and mixing the album “The Ten Year Hangover” by the band 3 Dates Later.  During the same time I took on a project that was bigger than our ability.  It was the album “Come Morning” by the band The Harmed Brothers.  So while we were individually struggling with our own band problems, we were also focusing the majority of our attention toward the other groups we represented. 

We had two albums in the making, one by Wondernaut and one by Less Love.  Schedules were not lining up and productivity seemed to be dragging.  If we were able to finish the two albums, Billy would have no choice but to once again take a temporary break from Less Love because he would need to focus on promoting Wondernaut.  Though he has always been available during our recording sessions, he hasn’t always been available to do shows due to Wondernaut obligations.  One night at the studio he and I were talking about all the obstacles both albums faced and it was suggested that the two bands do an album together.  This would help us overcome the musicians scheduling problems, and enable us to take the energy of promoting two albums and focus it into one.

“Paradigms In The Design” was released under the band name Wondernaut & Less Love.  I never thought about it, but it’s not common for two bands to release one album together.  I am not saying it has never been done.  I am just saying that it hasn’t been done often enough for the system to recognize when it happens.  Many of the retailers, and media sources only registered the first band name. The album is often found listed as a Wondernaut release.

We had completed two albums and both times there was no band to promote the album.  When it happened with the first CD I considered just letting the project go and walking away.  This time I was determined to not let it stop me.  When a band promotes an album, the media prefers to interview the singer, and they usually want the singer to perform a song.  Not only was I not a singer, but I have had many people tell me they hate my voice.  With absolutely no confidence and against my better judgment I did the interviews and sang the songs.  The optimistic assessment of those performances would be to say I have done worse.

The album did well, and we earned some bragging rights.  We received more airplay, more reviews, and significantly more attention than we had ever received with the first album.  Despite that, it sold nothing.  G.F.Y earned more money in a month than P.I.T.D. has earned in 18 months.

At the time, when we were seeing all this positive attention but no sales, we didn’t know what to think.  It was the end of 2013 and we were too close to it to recognize it for what it was.  As a production company we would release another bands project and then receive the revenue that it generated.  For the most part all that revenue suddenly stopped.  For the other more popular bands everything stopped except for revenue generated by Spotify.  We still saw a few bits of revenue from other sources, but now for the first time Spotify was about 98% of the revenue we received. The number of streaming plays for these bands sky rocketed.   In the middle of 2013 the most popular band we represented would have around 100 plays on Spotify per month. By the end of 2013 one of our bands had 20,000 plays in a month.  The same bands, during the same amount of time, went from selling a healthy number of download each month to selling none.  It’s pretty common knowledge but just in case you don’t know I feel obligated to mention that Spotify doesn’t pay shit.  A band that was easily earning $500 a month dropped down to earning anywhere from $9 to $60 a month.  I am comparing June 2013 to June 2014. All of this changed in one year.  It would be different if I was comparing the music industry of the 80’s to the modern day music industry.

There is another part of this that I never see anybody mention.  We work with bands that are pretty popular and we work with bands that are just getting started.  In June 2013 people used multiple sources to hear new music.  If you were a band just getting started that meant that we had multiple opportunities to get people to hear you.  A lot of those sources played “recommended” tracks.  So “if you like this” then “you may like this” and the new, unknown artist would get heard.  Common sense is if you go from people using multiple outlets down to people just using one outlet then the artist’s chance of getting heard decreases as well.  Spotify’s “recommended” track system is not very friendly to unknown bands.  Unless somebody goes on that service and specifically looks for you, they won’t hear you.

My daughter told me the other day that it’s not going to change.  She said that people are not going to go back to buying music.  I know there is some validity to that.  I am grotesquely driven by my ego. The magic 8 ball says all signs point to no, but I still think I can create something that people will want to own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Shortest Distance Between Two Points Is Lester

When our second and third singles went completely unnoticed, I realized we could not rely on a record label to handle our promotions.  Remembering the Art Alexakis interview in which he said he took responsibility for hiring publicists and promoting his albums, I knew we had to do the same.  The problem was that we had no idea where to begin.

If you are a person that can do everything yourself, then you are a person that will not have to share any of the earned rewards.  I have no desire to do everything myself. If we can earn some rewards I am more than glad to share them, but nobody wanted to work with us.  People do not want to work with you until you have rewards to be shared.

There are a lot of things in life that just don’t make sense.  Many of these things are accepted to be true by the mass majority.  Then when you question them people say “come on, everybody knows it’s true” and you can’t get past that train of thought. The logic of hiring a PR rep is one of these things.  I quickly found out that if you are not popular, then a publicist will not return your call.  Publicists are people that you hire to make you known, yet publicists don’t want to work with people that are unknown.  This Simba is the circle of pop-life. It makes no sense. 

In addition, you pay a publicist before they do their job, and you don’t get a refund if they do a bad job. The idea that I was not popular enough to have a publicist take my money really really really pissed me off.

A few years later a friend introduced me to a publicist at a Halloween party.  I approached him with this conversation.  He explained to me that his roster of clients is his resume.  He needed known celebrities on his roster in order to bring in other known celebrities.  That is such bullshit.  I mean more power to him if he can pull it off, but it’s bullshit that people fall for it. 

If some guy comes up to you and says he has been Marilyn Manson’s publicist sense 2007 you would be impressed.  Why?  Because Marilyn Manson is a celebrity. But he was already a celebrity and well past his prime in 2007.  He has had no surge of popularity sense this hypothetical guy began working with him which means this guy is clearly not very good at his job.  The person you want to talk to is the guy that was Marilyn Manson’s publicist in 1994.  He is the guy that took a nobody and made him a somebody.  He is the guy that will have some great stories and advice, but don’t give him any money. You don’t want to hire somebody that had great success 20 years ago if he hasn’t recently had even a mild success.

Publicists weren’t the only people that stonewalled us.  If you sell a few thousand copies of a song in the U.S. then you can easily get attention, but sell a few thousand worldwide and you will quickly see that nobody cares.  It’s like the quote from the movie Singles “we're huge in Europe.”  Even if it’s true, people in the States don’t care.

Before people in the U.S. knew who they were (most still don’t) The Flaming Lips were huge in Europe.  When Coldplay (a band from Europe) was at the top of their game they sold out an arena in OKC.  During their show, to all of the coolest people in town, they said “it’s a real honor to play in the home town of one of the greatest bands in the world” and then performed Yoshimi by The Flaming Lips.  The majority of the audience had no idea to whom they were referring.  Sense then the Flaming Lips have earned mass appeal State side and there aren’t many in OKC that don’t know them.  But it took testimonials by people like Coldplay to earn them that attention.

In 2009 I was still working full time at any job I could get in an attempt to support my family.  Every free moment I was focusing on music, but those free moments were few and far between.  I was spread thin, and still not getting anywhere.  Billy and I decided to start a production company:  Lackadaisical Productions.  The logic of it was quite backwards but at the time, with our limited time, it made sense.  The idea was “we don’t know how to promote one band, so let’s promote several bands.” If we can represent bands that people want to work with, then we can make the connections we need to promote our music.

The first project we took on was a music video for Billy’s other band: Wondernaut.  We shot it on a Flip Mino and edited it on Microsoft’s free Movie Maker.

As cheap as it was, the video got us some local attention.  The Oklahoma music media re-posted the video to their online sites, and local bands saw it and learned about us.  This opened some doors and enabled us to have discussions.  We talked to a couple of different bands about working together but each of them thought they deserved more than we were willing to give them and nothing came of those situations.  Then I contacted Nikolas Thompson with the band Kite Flying Robot.

Nikolas had done a video with a local acoustic show in which he used a battery operated Casio keyboard (cheater). The song was Red Phone Booth, and I absolutely loved it, both the song and the “acoustic” performance.  I wrote to him and he quickly responded that he was interested in working together.  I immediately appreciated Nikolas.  Regarding his music, he had something, and people were interested in being a part of what he was doing.  He received emails daily from people far and wide wanting to get onboard with him.  He could have ignored us, and he very easily could have stated that we had no success of which to speak. Instead he researched us, acknowledged we were nothing more than a local start-up, and said “yes let’s do this.”  That was late 2010. 

Once we agreed to work together one of the first things he said to me was that our business web page looked like it was 20 years old and had been designed by a child.  He was right.  It looked very dated and unprofessional.  Instead of updating it I just added “Lacking professionalism sense 2010” to the bottom of the page.

When Nikolas and I started talking I found out that he had just finished the mixes for his album Solid Gold which ended up being released in December 2010.  We promoted the album to college radio around April of 2011.  The album did extremely well despite our bare minimum “promo” packaging (it was just a disc in a white paper sleeve).  It charted in the top ten of many stations and reached number one at a couple of those stations that mattered. We received a lot of feedback saying things like “I almost ignored this CD because the packaging was so cheap, but now I am glad I didn’t.” 

The only reason I mention this is because as much as it shouldn’t matter, it does matter.  For every DJ that overlooked the packaging and listened anyway, I guarantee you there were ten that didn’t listen because of the packaging.  Every success has a small degree of failure, and every failure is a lesson learned.

I can’t honestly say that I learned my lesson after just one failure.  Later, on a different project, I would hire an even less expensive company to mass produce our promotional copies.  When I received the discs they looked fine.  They looked like what I purchased so I sent 300 out to radio stations.  After the discs were sent, I put one of the remaining copies in the CD player to listen to it.  It didn’t consist of the music we were promoting.  The “discount” manufacturing company got our order mixed up with another order which happened to be from a church. This meant I had just sent 300 copies of a Sunday sermon out to radio stations.  Luckily the album was a compilation that we were producing so no artist was harmed in the making of that mistake.  After that we quit using promo copies and just sent the full “commercial” packaging with each promotion.

Because the album Solid Gold was finished prior to Nikolas and I meeting, our intention was to work with Kite Flying Robot on promoting the album then Lackadaisical Productions would go all in and produce and release the band’s next album.  That ended up not working out because unfortunately the band waited five years between albums. KFR’s next album “Magic and Mystery” was not released until 2015, a year after the music died.

The idea of promoting other bands to learn how to promote our own band ultimately worked out well.  Unfortunately during the process all the attention had to be focused on the bands we were promoting.  The deeper we got into working with more and more bands the further away we got from focusing on our own music. 

Our second album “Paradigms In The Design” was released September of 2013, three years after our first LP.  By this time we had achieved a considerable amount of success promoting bands, but all of that was coming to an end.  For years the writing had been on the wall, but now all doubt was gone.  Radio was virtually dead, and college radio was pointless.  The majority of our press contacts were writers that worked for actual newspapers or local entertainment magazines.  Either way they were writing for a source that people slowly quit reading.  

As promoters we could easily achieve bragging rights such as "we got this band "x" number or press articles" or "we got this band played on "x" number of college radio stations" but if nobody reads the articles and nobody listens to the radio, what good is it?  

Early on, when we didn't know what we were doing, we saw fans respond to our efforts. We received emails, saw blog posts, and/or were mentioned by fans in music forums. Three years later our efforts were more powerful, but we were no longer reaching anybody.  It got to the point where we would promote an album, it would reach the top ten at a college radio station, but nobody in that stations market would have any idea about our band.

In the world of college radio there is CMJ (College Music Journal).  Think of CMJ as the Billboard Magazine for college radio.  The way the CMJ charts work is the stations turn in a report stating what they are playing.  Back when people listened to college radio, the listeners would call in and request songs and this would impact the list of what the station was playing.  As people quit listening, the requests stopped coming, and now the lists are just lists of what the DJs want to hear.  It is flattering that the DJ liked the projects we were promoting enough to play them, but other than the DJ nobody heard the music.

Even if we were able to reach people it quickly wouldn't matter.  At that time, around the end of 2013, we didn’t know it, but with legal streaming services like Spotify, people would quickly COMPLETELY stop paying for music.  By the end of 2014 that fact became clear.

We may have wasted our attention learning to be better at promoting music. In a very short amount of time everything changed.  We could change with it, but that would mean dedicating additional focus to being a promoter.  Billy and I both agreed we would rather spend our time being unsuccessful musicians.