Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Calgary Stampede

This week starts my annual flood of gigs around the Calgary Stampede. At the end of it all, I'll post something about the whole experience. Let me just say this. The Calgary Stampede is in many ways "harvest time for the musicians" as there are club and corporate gigs everywhere.

Over the 10 days of Stampede. I have 22 gigs. (Not a record. I set that a couple of years ago at 26 gigs in 10 days.) I've even had to turn down gigs due to scheduling conflicts or attempts to keep my sanity. (I can only do so many late night shows followed by corporate breakfasts before the lack of sleep starts kicking in.) In any case, the Stampede is reason enough for every bassist to learn how to improvise a I-V bass line over chord changes and learn a little bit of slapping. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Branford Marsalis on the state of jazz education

Branford Marsalis will be performing at the Calgary jazz festival. Here are some excerpts from his interview in the Calgary Herald:

For the 48-year-old saxophonist, composer, teacher and leader of the Branford Marsalis Quartet, the importance of learning from those who have gone before--not only with regard to musical refinement but also the spirit of community that lies close to the heart of the jazz music-making experience --is largely lost on the average young, well-schooled jazz musician of today, for whom the rush instead to be considered a new and unique voice is paramount.

"They're not in it for the tradition," the famous musician says, pointing out that the current artistic climate in the United States, which he sees as being shaped by "40 years of cultural narcissism," is largely to blame.

By the time the 1970s rolled round, he says, "the idea of jazz being reflective of a community and jazz being a sound where a solo was an integral part of the music but not the main issue" had evolved (at least insofar as the average jazz student was concerned) into the notion of the solo as "the only part of jazz they were interested in."

"The idea of playing with other musicians and playing together--all of those things had been pushed aside for a more self-absorbed philosophy based on a mastery of patterns and scales that work on chord progressions, et cetera, et cetera."

"It really depends on how the teacher is teaching as to whether it's important, but what I often tell my students is if architecture or aviation or engineering was taught the way jazz was taught there would be planes and buildings falling out of the sky. They'd just be crumbling everywhere, because the jazz version of (teaching) architecture is, 'Sure the Greeks had something important, sure the Egyptians developed certain structural things but we don't need to study it because it's not current. We're going to start around 1970'--and I don't have to tell you the end conclusion to that."

"I was lousy when I started, which the records bear out," Marsalis says. "But when I had the privilege of meeting people like Art Blakey and he would say to me, 'You don't have enough sound' and Dizzie Gillespie would say 'You need to learn the blues,' I didn't just say, 'Oh, they're just jealous because they're old.'

"I didn't make up an excuse to dismiss the central theme of what they were saying--which is something that was popular among my generation, to ignore those guys.

"A lot of musicians were more interested in getting gigs than they were in becoming competent and really good at what they do."

I go back and forth on my thoughts About his views on education and contemporary jazz. I see a point in what he's saying (particularly on the over emphasis of the solo and the importance of ensemble playing), however, as Bill Harrison wrote, there are times when Branford bugs me.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bands and Brands

Recently, I've been reading Songs for Soap, a blog fron Advertising Age. Two recent posts caught my attention, both of which I believe have the same (in one case, tacit) message. The first post is by a marketer and gives a glimpse into what marketing people think of the music industry:

People can sift through a site like HypeMachine and read, engage, and comment on their favorite and possibly-favorite artists, all while listening to their entire album (plus remixes). How often do those links to Amazon and iTunes go un-clicked? The enormous ocean of music, sorting through what you do like, don't like, and may-very-well-like-but-haven't-heard-yet is a Herculean task. Once a user finds something they like, they can search for it on a site like Qloud or GrooveShark and stream it instantly. Repeatedly.

Indeed, the current process of discovering music has replaced the need to acquire music. Certainly, there are those remote corners of your life, like camping or swimming, where the internet determinstic argument falls down, but even those areas of our lives are being constantly opened up by new devices and infrastructures. The car has already fallen under the constant "just give it time" umbrella.

Music is sort of like a municipality, like water from a faucet: free, of acceptable quality. If you want a more savory experience, there is always the bottled variety. In fact, this paradigm shift is already behind us.

Given this ocean of music, the second post suggests where a musician's focus should be in terms of getting involved/included in marketing and advertising:

...they consistently ask the same question during or after these panels: "How do I get you and your brand clients and agency clients to choose my song or my band for your next major ad campaign?"

The answer is complicated, but the short answer is this: There is no music-branding silver bullet that will skyrocket a developing artist to stardom and riches. Take your time and focus on your own career and we will find you. It's often not the answer these artists want to hear, but it's the truth.

Coca-Cola, Nike and Gap are not going to place your song in a national TV spot or your artist on their billboards or the print ads they are buying in Vanity Fair unless the brand or its agency understands your brand as an artist.

There, I said it. As an artist, you must become a brand unto yourself. It's only then that a major marketer will desire this transference of values. The values that you as an artist embody and express to your fans and your community must be clear to a brand and must match their own values. The brand will then be much more likely to desire your music and a relationship with you as an artist in order to express its values.

The central message (as I see it) is "get better, hone your craft, discover yourself as an artist."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Music Critics in the Twitter Age

I was directed to this by a friend: Christopher R. Weingarten discussing the role of the music critic in the world of Twitter at the 140 Characters Conference. His talk is funny, witty, and very relevant. I think the most important aspect of the talk is his emphasis on the fact that people using Twitter (and blogs for that matter) don't address the "Why?" questions in the explaining why a band/album is good/sucks. It reminds my a bit of this post.

Learning Tunes

Here's a video about how to learn tunes and songs. The key is letting your ears fully absorb the tunes, going slowly and thoroughly through the tunes. While this may seem obvious, the video gives some nice ideas on accomplishing this.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Some Record Deal Economics

I have some friends who recently signed a record deal with a "big player" in music. I was asked a bit about my opinions regarding their advance, their cut on sales (i.e., "points"), etc. Having grown up in the San Francisco music scene, I have had several friends sign these type of deals. As an economist, I've had lots of them ask me these questions. Personally, I find the deals too complicated to give any real advice. However, I always refer people to the famous (or maybe infamous) essay by Steve Albini on the "music industry." In this essay, he comes up with the following rough accounting of a record deal.

Since some of you may not read to the end of the quote from his essay (not quoted below), the last statement in Steve Albini's essay is usually what I tell my friends once they have signed these deals.

These figures are representative of amounts that appear in record contracts daily. There's no need to skew the figures to make the scenario look bad, since real-life examples more than abound. Income is underlined, expenses are not.

Advance: $ 250,000
Manager's cut: $ 37,500
Legal fees: $ 10,000

Recording Budget: $ 155,500
Producer's advance: $ 50,000
Studio fee: $ 52,500
Drum, Amp, Mic and Phase "Doctors": $ 3,000
Recording tape: $ 8,000
Equipment rental: $ 5,000
Cartage and Transportation: $ 5,000
Lodging while in studio: $ 10,000
Catering: $ 3,000
Mastering: $ 10,000
Tape copies, reference CDs, shipping tapes, misc. expenses: $ 2,000
Album Artwork: $ 5,000
Promotional photo shoot and duplication: $ 2,000

Video budget: $ 31,000
Cameras: $ 8,000
Crew: $ 5,000
Processing and transfers: $ 3,000
Off-line: $ 2,000
On-line editing: $ 3,000
Catering: $ 1,000
Stage and construction: $ 3,000
Copies, couriers, transportation: $ 2,000
Director's fee: $ 4,000

Band fund: $ 15,000
New fancy professional drum kit: $ 5,000
New fancy professional guitars [2]: $ 3,000
New fancy professional guitar amp rigs [2]: $ 4,000
New fancy potato-shaped bass guitar: $ 1,000
New fancy bass amp: $ 1,000
Rehearsal space rental: $ 500
Big blowout party for their friends: $ 500

Tour expense [5 weeks]: $ 50,875
Bus: $ 25,000
Crew [3]: $ 7,500
Food and per diems: $ 7,875
Fuel: $ 3,000
Consumable supplies: $ 3,500
Wardrobe: $ 1,000
Promotion: $ 3,000

Tour gross income: $ 50,000
Booking Agent's cut: $ 7,500
Manager's cut: $ 7,500

Merchandising advance: $ 20,000
Manager's cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer's fee: $ 1,000

Publishing advance: $ 20,000
Manager's cut: $ 3,000
Lawyer's fee: $ 1,000

Record sales: 250,000 @ $12: $ 3,000,000
Gross retail revenue Royalty [13% of 90% of retail]: 250,000 @ $12: $ 351,000
Less advance: $ 250,000
Producer's points [3% less $50,000 advance]: $ 40,000
Promotional budget: $ 25,000
Recoupable buyout from previous label: $ 50,000
Net royalty: $ -14,000

Now, on the other hand, let's look at the Record company income:

Record wholesale price $6.50 x 250,000 $ 1,625,000 gross income
Artist Royalties: $ 351,000
Deficit from royalties: $ 14,000
Costs of manufacturing, packaging and distribution @ $2.20 per record: $ 550,000
Label's gross profit: $ 7l0,000

The Balance Sheet: This is how much each player got paid at the end of the game:

Record company: $ 710,000
Producer: $ 90,000
Manager: $ 51,000
Studio: $ 52,500
Previous label: $ 50,000
Booking Agent: $ 7,500
Lawyer: $ 12,000
Band member net income each: $ 781.25

The band is now 1/4 of the way through its contract, has made the music industry more than 3 million dollars richer, but is in the hole $14,000 on royalties. The band members have each earned about 1/20 as much as they would working at a 7-11, but they got to ride in a tour bus for a month.

The next album will be about the same, except that the record company will insist they spend more time and money on it. Since the previous one never "recouped," the band will have no leverage, and will oblige.

The next tour will be about the same, except the merchandising advance will have already been paid, and the band, strangely enough, won't have earned any royalties from their T-shirts yet. Maybe the T-shirt guys have figured out how to count money like record company guys.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Following the ISB from a Distance

I'm following the International Society of Bassists' (ISB) convention from afar, being at home while the meetings are at Penn State. Here's the list of links I'm following to try and keep abreast of what is going on:
  1. Matt Heller's posts form the convention
  2. Jason Heath's blog (I think this is the standard for all bassists to read)
  3. ISB's live convention coverage (set up, I believe, by Jason Heath)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Ron Carter Interviews on Artist House Music

There are two great interviews (both in several parts) with Ron Carter on Artist House Music. The first interview features Ron Carter discussing everything from technique, tone, playing with Miles, recording, his feelings about jazz, and much more. The second interview (which may be part of the first, but takes place in a classroom) discusses the role of life in the music industry.

Podcast: Gerard Schwarz

I recently listened to an interview with conductor Gerard Schwarz on a Naxos Podcast. The main thrust of the interview is Arthur Foote (additional information, scores at IMSLP) and why his music isn't played as much as it perhaps should be. However, Schwarz discusses the role of culture, music education, and the role of the arts in American history (or at least its pedagogy) Great interview (and great music).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Rough Day for Music: Sam Butera and KokoTaylor

Both Sam Butera and Koko Taylor passed away today. Below are videos of Butera playing Night Train with Louis Prima (check out Keely Smith's facial expression). The second video is Koko Taylor with Little Walter.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

More on Goal-setting and Achieving Goals

I was forwarded this post on goals and goal-setting. I have an interest in goals, having blogged about it and done research on goals, and use them myself to try and get things done. In any event, some of the interesting points from the post:

1. Start With An Easy Goal And Complete It

Choose a simple goal and get it achieved within the next two weeks. This will start your momentum and get you feeling like you are in full forward motion.Think of a small, achievable goal that only takes four to five hours to complete. Next, set a date when you will get it done by and go for it.

2. Make Lists To Stay On Track

  • Make daily lists of what you need to do to get your goals met - the night before! Do the hardest thing first in the morning- don’t procrastinate.
  • Do something everyday that moves you towards the goals
  • Delegate the little activities that waste your valuable time to other people (you would be amazed what you could do with the 4 hours it takes to clean your house).

3. Get Help

Build a TEAM to help you!! Get an intern or two - log on to http://www.entertainmentcareers.net and post as an employer seeking interns - you will be amazed at how many bright young people would like to get their feet wet in the business.

4. Remember You Can Change The Goals As You Go

Goals should be looked at as beacons and guiding points for you to keep yourself on track along your journey. I would not recommend changing them every week but the music industry is changing so rapidly it’s hard to know what goals are reachable in this landscape. So if over the course of the year your goals change its OK to cross one off or modify as you go.

5. Don’t Beat Yourself Up!

This is a process intended to take a whole year and you will have your days where you may get frustrated, and you will start to beat yourself up (sound familiar?) Self-criticism will interfere directly with achieving your goals and dreams. So, the next time you are making yourself wrong, take a step back and instead acknowledge the good, and celebrate your achievements.

6. Write Down 5 Successes Each Day

I’m inviting you to write down five little victories a day for this entire year. I learned this powerful technique from T. Harv Eker. Once you start getting into this habit, you are training yourself to put the focus on the positive and get your brain to stop being so critical. So put a notebook in your gig bag or next to your bed and each day write down 5 things. Make one or two of them music or band related.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Upcoming Event in Calgary

I've been doing some research on charitable giving, not looking at the motives as much as the mechanisms organizations use to raise funds. So its in this respect that I'm posting the following regarding an upcoming event in Calgary to raise funds for Janus Academy, a school specializing in the education of children with autism:

Upright Bass Health Tips from Randy Kertz

The new issue of the online magazine Bass Musician Magazine has an article by bassist/physician Randy Kertz. Dr. Kertz has written an excellent book on bass playing and health. His current article is specific to the upright bassist:

Upright players will be more prone to have stiffness and tightness in the neck musculature due to the head moving in time with the music and leaning forward to read charts and/or to look at the neck or a conductor while playing. This can lead to soreness of these muscles and often to a pinched nerve. While not always available in an orchestral setting, it is best to have one's own music stand to avoid unnecessary strain while transitioning between these places.

Body weight should be evenly distributed so that it can be shifted as needed to aid the right or left hand. The instrument should be balanced against you so that it can stand without the aid of the left hand (all assuming you are right handed). If the weight of the body is all on the right side the left hand will have no power and vice versa.

When playing the upright, the vibrato should come from the elbow, not the wrist. The hand and arm should act as one in an involuntary motion, using the elbow as a support. The full arm vibrato is a sideways motion and if the hand begins to roll in you will not be able to generate the force required to press the string down. Keeping this in mind can help you to avoid wrist problems.

Make sure the peg height is set correctly so that you don't have to alter your posture, any more than is absolutely necessary to compensate for tight musculature from an uncomfortable stance. This alone can cause you discomfort anywhere in your back which can lead to other areas as the body compensates to try and lighten the load.