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.

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