Friday, March 12, 2021

Always The Opening Act, Never The Bride!

As a veteran musician, knowing what you know now, what ONE musical myth would you bust for your younger self in hopes of making the road easier for them?

Stay away from heroin. Sure, that one's probably number one with a bullet.

My friends in the studio engineering/production side of things would no doubt love to have back all that time spent rewinding and fast-forwarding, but, more importantly, all the actual human hours of mic'ing various amps and drum kits in various rooms over the years that can now all been boiled down to a few affordable plug-ins.

For me, it changes day to day, but today I find myself wishing I had never placed so much importance on opening for big name acts, as if doing so gave legitimacy to my little dog and pony show. 

Back in the day, so many motherfuckers thought it all boiled down to who you'd opened for or how many names you could drop in a single paragraph, but, at the end of the day, all we did was mow down an innocent forest and keep Kinko's in business another ten years past their natural sell-by date. 

In my own defense, you can actually book an entire national club tour, and drum up a little press too, without sending out a single promo pack, like I did back in 2008.

Back in the 80's/90s, doing so would have required spending endless hours trying to get the right person on the phone to deliver your sales pitch, but, with the advent of email, this grunt work was made SOOO much easier.

By 2000 or so, with the right email address and the ability to cut and paste a single paragraph of bullshit, you could get actual paying gigs. I found that club bookers are a lot like drummers. They want it simple.

In other words, "We've opened for The Fixx, Men at Work and Fastball" (stop laughing) was just an easier way of saying "We're a tad more savvy than nine out of ten other bands that want a gig at your joint" while still being ambiguous about your actual ability to draw a crowd. 

If you brought the motherfucking goods musically, most clubs didn't care if your following was only ten people, they'd book you again. I have seen bands play the same venue three or four times to nobody, but by the fifth time, they've all busted through and are able to draw a decent crowd on their own.
In other words, if the Metro doesn't want you back because you didn't give away enough free "Rock Against Depression" tickets with your band's name circled on them, then tell Joe Shanahan that he still owes you four more gigs.

It might work.

Also in my defense, once you learn how to weasel your way into a respectable opening slot, you realize just how fucking meaningless such slots are to venue booking agents because, at the end of the day, any club booker worth their salt could fill every decent opening slot vacancy with just those bands they know personally  (and, trust me, club bookers know a lotta bands, whether they want to or not) so the fact that your podunk parade band got a gig opening for Los Lobos or the Replacements is a story well worth plastering all over your press kit. 

Everybody else who got to open for Grand Funk at Sumerset Junction County Fair back in 1985 because their uncle was on the entertainment committee, shut it.

The other bad thing about opening for big name acts at the large club and small theatre level is that you can get addicted to the lifestyle of the headliner life without actually being a headliner. You still get the dressing room, the comped booze, the VIP passes, soundcheck, and, yes, groupies with the added bonus of only having to play for forty-five minutes.

Yep, the perfect job.

Just think, if Jimi Hendrix had been happy just to open for the Monkees, maybe he'd still be alive.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Keep It Short & Beat Spotify At Its Own Game!

In one of those weird things that happens in the digital realm, when CD Baby sent my music out to Spotify et al, the moment of silence that had been inserted between my CD's last track and the ever-present "hidden track" (sorry, it was the '90s) was uploaded as its own digital track for streaming.

Unfortunately, it got flip-flopped with one of my actual songs so one of the tracks from that album is actually just a minute of silence.

Naturally, I was a tad upset when I realized that this had occurred, but then I realized that this was the perfect opportunity to test a theory.

That theory: Short songs are the future of digital music

To test this theory, I streamed one of my actual songs, running three minutes in length, for a full hour. In that hour, the song streamed twenty times.

I then streamed the one minute of silence on repeat for one hour, during which time it streamed sixty times.

Yes, just as I had suspected, the minute of silence had streamed more times per hour than my three-minute pop song.


All kidding aside, what motivation is there for me as an artist to knock myself out writing three minute compositions when I can get paid three times as much for a song (or silence) that is only one-third the length?

In other words, playing by THEIR rules, the only logical path forward is to deliver one-minute (or shorter) pop songs with the intent of delivering everything the listener should need for a full song experience: One intro, one verse, one chorus, and maybe bridge (or saxophone solo) if you're feeing ambitious.

If the listener wants a second or third verse, they can simply stream the track again, seamlessly, and, in doing so, you, the artist, have had your track streamed multiple times instead of just once.

Those who've glanced at their analytics also know that very few listeners ever listen o an entire track ALL THE WAY THROUGH, so why not use such listening habits to your advantage?

Hilariously, this little moment of silence has become mre profitable than anything I actually wrote and that's without having to bug anybody to even listen to it. 

The Math:

One minute track x 60 minutes = 60 streams per hour.

60 streams x 24 hours in a day = 1,440 streams per day per device.

2 devices = 2,880 streams per day or 86,400 streams per month.

Naturally, you can double all of those numbers with a thirty-second track.

Now, if you're like me, you're starting to re-think you're whole approach to Spotify, Youtube, etc. and, with the popularity of playlists, a new landscape is beginning to form.

Instead of uploading one full song, one could realistically upload three separate files (Verse/Chrous 1, Verse Chorus 2, Bridge/Chorus 3, etc) that, when streamed back-to-back in a playlist, make for one seamless song.

OR you could start releasing shorter versions of full length songs to those sites that pay by the stream with the goal of driving people to your label or Bandcamp page, where the full versions can be found/purchased.

The Morality:

Is it gaming the system? Sure, but, when you really get down to brass tacks, every musician should be streaming their music from every available device 24/7 as it stands.  Why? Why not? Any money is better than no money and, by doing so, you also drive up your numbers, giving your music a sense of legitimacy to those who place importance on such things. 

You see, some people can never realize greatness unless they first recognize that a million others recognized it first. We artists need to pay close attention to these people, for they may constitute a majority of listeners.

Also, when a booking agent whose club you wish to play asks why they should book a band with only six Twitter followers, you can direct them to your impressive Spotify numbers. Congratulations, the gig is yours!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Quick Blurb: Three Things I Learned From The New Gordon Lightfoot Documentary (Now on Prime)!

What did I NOT know about Gordon Lightfoot before I watched this documentary, "If You Could Read My Mind" (streaming now on Amazon Prime)?

- One of the great loves of his life was the same woman who, for lack of a better description, killed John Belushi.
- If he and Dylan were at the same party, which they were on more than one occasion, there would be some words between the two and then the guitars would come out.
- The breadth of artists who've covered his material over the years is stunning. I'm guessing that when Elvis does one of your songs, well, there might be a check or two coming your way. If Lightfoot still owns his songwriting share of the publishing (there was no mention to the contrary in the film), he should have more money than Jeff Bezos.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

The Only Thing My Dad & I Ever Agreed On: Rick Nielsen And Cheap Trick!

As Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen turns 72 today, I am once again given opportunity to praise Mr. Nielsen for his contributions to popular music, yes, but also to world peace. You see, growing up in the Robbins household, I found myself at constant loggerheads with my dad.

In many ways we were much the same (we both played drums and dug garage rock), but on the few key issues where it really mattered to my pops (pitching in with chores, getting decent grades, arriving home before curfew), I just could not make it happen for him and that was a great source of strain in our relationship.

In hindsight, I could and should have paid more attention to such things, but, then again, that would have just made me him and not I would later go on to become the guy who released an album called Rules Get Broken.

I could never get it through his thick head that I wasn't showing disrespect for his authority, I was shirking ALL authority. Trust me, as curfew time approached, I asked myself "Do I stay here on this boat in the middle of this lake with my girlfriend and get in big trouble ORRRRRRRRRRR do I go home now and avoid all confrontation?" and, wouldn't you know it, willingly locking myself in a box always lost.

Thankfully, through those combatant times, there was one thing that brought peace between warring factions: The music of Cheap Trick, but, more importantly, the musical and visual aesthetic of one Rick Nielsen.  

You see, my dad's workshop was right outside my bedroom in the family basement, so, if the man wanted to work on his black powder pistols, he was going to have to listen to my music. I knew this, of course, but, unbeknownst to him, I would make a point to try to play something that fell somewhere close to his rock & roll comfort zone.

The only way I could tell what bands of my era dad liked was if he wandered over, knocked on my door, and asked, "Who is that?"

With Cheap Trick, though, it was something different. He actually let my younger brother and I play their music IN THE CAR, ON HIS STEREO SYSTEM, which was normally reserved for driving we kids absolutely crazy in the back seat with all of that old school blues (John Lee Hooker), new school blues (Canned Heat), Janis Joplin and Joe Cocker.

I happen to love all of those artists NOW, but, as a kid, it was literally MY JOB to hate everything from my parents' era and there was no one more repulsive to my mid-80's sense of cool than sweaty Joe Cocker...and that was before I had ever seen the man perform.

Yet, somehow, here we were slowly rocking down the back roads of Michiana in our wood panel station wagon on the way to one of two shopping malls LISTENING TO CHEAP TRICK.

Not only that, you see, my dad had actually requested that we bring the 8-track tape upon which my brother and I had recorded a radio broadcast of a Cheap Trick show from Providence, Rhode Island in 1980 and, believe it or not, that tape never left the car.

In fact, "somebody" accidently forgot to remove it from the tape player when we sold the "Wood Panel Monstrosity" later on, at which point my dad and I both got in the NEW family monstrosity and hauled ass to the buyer's house to retrieve it.

At one point we got pulled over by a state trooper for doing 125 mph the wrong way down a one way street - in a school zone, no less - but, when we calmly explained the situation to the officer, he gave us a warning AND a police escort.

Small towns, huh?

When my brother and I, along with an entire car-full of our friends, wanted to go see Cheap Trick on their 1982 One On One tour, who gladly chaperoned us?

And when the tour came back through the area six months later, who came with us to the show?

In fact, over the years, my dad was responsible for making sure we got to see Cheap Trick anytime the band came within three hours of our address and, for that, I will remain forever thankful.

When my dad began struggling with serious health issues right around the same age that I am now (mid-fifties), there were many times during my days in L.A. that I would come home to a tearful phone message from dear ol' mom informing me that dad had been hospitalized once again and that "it didn't look good".

On one such occasion, shortly before his passing, I called home to discover that dad was neither at home nor in the hospital. Instead, he'd checked himself out of INTENSIVE CARE and gone to see Cheap Trick.

That's right, the man literally got up and out of his death bed, snuck past the nurses, and went to see Rick Nielsen and the boys bring the noise at a local club when most of us would have been flat on our backs and pressing that button for more pain meds.

In Cheap Trick and, more importantly, in Rick Nielsen, my dad found a kindred spirit with the same love for the Stones, the Blues and the damn Bowery Boys, which he just wasn't going to find anywhere else in my record collection, to be honest.

With my dad gone almost twenty years now, those memories of losing my shit at a Trick show only to turn and see him standing a few seats down with a shit-eating grin on his face are some of the best memories of him that I have and for that I will always have Rick Nielsen and Cheap Trick to thank.

Monday, December 21, 2020

All I Want For Christmas Is An Eco-Friendly Physical Format!

If you're one of the few, but many, who go about the experience of listening to vinyl albums in much the same way Steve Carell's "40 Year-Old Virgin" went about preparing to dig into the ginormous "box o' porn" he'd been gifted, then you've probably also wondered why, with the planet teetering on the very brink of no return, there is not yet an eco-friendly alternative to all current physical music formats, which rely upon fossil fuels, to varying degrees, for their production.

Like you, I presume, my love affair with vinyl records is downright Pavlovian: The crackle of the needle touching down alone can make the hairs on the back of my arse stand right on end. There is no greater joy than hearing those speakers coming to life as you grab the album cover and immerse yourself in the visual representation of the musical journey you are about to take.

Sit back, relax, but don't get too comfortable, though, because you'll need to flip the album over in about fifteen minutes or so.

Also, is there any other product where the exterior packaging was retained after opening and considered a vital part of the overall experience? I ask only because, when it came to CD long boxes later on, we couldn't wait to chuck those things in the trash. 

Yet there are many who cannot truly enjoy Pink Floyd's The Wall, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, or, for that matter, Starz's Attention Shoppers, without holding the album cover and assorted contents in our hot little hands.

Hell, half the reason I find myself cheering on the continuing comebacks of vinyl is so that I can READ THE FUCKING LINER NOTES.

So why, some fifty years after we first put a man on the damn moon and The Archies' "Sugar Sugar" on the back of a cereal box, are we not up to our naughty bits in eco-friendly physical music formats? 

That would be at least some small consolation for the compete absence of flying cars in the 21st Century, which we were also promised!

While I applaud those traditional pressing plants that are now "attempting to make their process as eco-friendly as possible", he/she who finds a sustainable physical format will determine the course of modern music.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Derp Thoughts: Are Most Bands Only As Big As Their Influences?

 "You're only ever gonna become as big as your influences."

It was 1985 and my dad had just said something that I knew would stick with me after I had just pleaded my case for taking a semester off from college just to see how far the band could get with everyone making it their sole focus. To him, being in a moderately popular local band was one thing, but even aspiring to be one of the bands played on MTV was a whole other enchilada. To prove his point, he pointed to the nearest stack of records: "Near as I can tell, your influences are Platinum Blonde, The Jam, Angel City and Off Broadway so you might have a tough go of it if you're expecting to be the next Beatles." Hey, I'm not greedy, I thought at the time, just the one or two Top 40 hits will do. In and out, bada-boom, bada-bing, then just stick to playing street fairs and rib fests every summer. But, for the most part, my dad was absolutely right: If your biggest influence is Clan of Xymox, you should probably not be disappointed if your band didn't get any bigger than Clan of Xymox. A band like R.E.M. is a rare exception, though, comprised of four individuals all coming from completely different directions, musically, with the two guiding forces (Stipe and Buck) being heavily influenced by... Big Star and Velvet Underground? Excuse me while I still remain completely surprised that R.E.M. was able to become one of the biggest bands in the world on their own terms while everybody else was out buying synthesizers and skinny ties. Obviously, R.E.M. was that rare exception where the band's odd nature and obscure cultural and literary references were a big part of who they were as a band. As great as Chronic Town may have been, nobody who heard it could have possibly foreseen the band's gradual rise to the fourth most popular band in the world (or was it third?) just a few short years later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Beatle Battle: 'Help!' Vs. 'A Hard Day's Night' (And Why 'Help!' is The Better Movie)!

Enter any music forum, ask "Which movie is better, 'Help!' or 'A Hard Day's Night'?" and you will inevitably be flooded with responses declaring the latter to be the better film. Those people are WRONG!

Once and for all, why "Help!" is the better movie:

- Just like the truly magical part of "The Wizard of Oz", it's in COLOR! 

- The old man (Paul's grandfather, played by 52-year-old character actor Wilfrid Brambell) ruins "A Hard Day's Night" because he's either a) brilliant and, thus, upstages the fabs, or b) he's an annoyingly obvious comedic prop that hints at the fact that the filmmakers did not have faith in the fabs to be able to act or be funny. They were dead wrong on both counts

- As far as shear innovation goes, how can you not be transfixed by THE BED IN THE FLOOR (my sole inspiration for becoming a musician at the age of 5) much less a functioning recording studio ON A BATTLEFIELD?

- Two words: Better songs. Singles "Help!", "Yesterday", and the movie debuts of "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" and "Ticket To Ride" show a new level of artistry and musicianship without sacrificing any of the immediacy of their early hits.

- Mo' betta quotes! "Go to the window" has been a "go-to quote in any band I've ever been in...what does ADHN have? "He's very clean"? Again, the crusty old man ruins it.

- The fabs in The Bahamas. On Bikes!

- Did I mention that it's in COLOR??

- Last but not least, miniature Macca!