Positive Music Place

An open letter to a talent buyer who didn’t want to pay my fee

Posted by dlockeretz on September 11, 2014

Dear Ms. _____,

I’m sorry that the 10th St. Jazz Quartet was not able to fit your budget. I understand that in the planning of a major event, budget is a concern. You are correct that there are many more economical options available to you, such as DJs or student ensembles that are willing to charge far less for their services. In many cases, these can be viable choices and I am sure that you be able to find a satisfactory entertainment solution that will fit your budget.

I would also like to respectfully suggest that during future events, you consider allocating extra funds in the event budget for premium live entertainment. To be sure, in many situations the quality of the musical entertainment does not make an immediately noticeable difference, just as if you were attending a friend’s dinner party, it wouldn’t be readily obvious if the dining room table was made from solid oak or from composite. For many people, purchasing a Rolex instead of a Timex is an unaffordable frivolity.

Nevertheless, there are reasons to spend extra money for quality, even on something which, unlike the glassware, chairs or decorations, might well go unnoticed by most of the guests. As veteran musicians we are aware that often times at cocktail hours, the less the music is noticed, the more effectively it has served its purpose. That being said, just as a great chef can expertly season or prepare a dish without calling too much attention to their technique, top-level jazz musicians can enhance the atmosphere of a special evening. Though they might not immediately associate their response with the music at the event, quality entertainment is likely to contribute to your guests’ overall impression about your brand.

We hope that you are able to find an entertainment solution within your budget for your event on the 28th. Please feel free to consider the 10th St. Jazz Quartet for future occasions. Thank you for your time and your consideration and best of luck.

Sincerely,

David Lockeretz

PS – While we are not familiar with the music of “Jon Coltran”, as requested by your associate, we would be happy to play music by the great John Coltrane should you require our services at a later date.

 

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The restaurant time forgot (and what musicians can learn from it)

Posted by dlockeretz on July 14, 2014

Note: this is a simulblog, posted on both D-Theory and Positive Music Place.

The story sounds familiar: a restaurant consistently received bad reviews, so they looked over surveillance videos to see what’s going on.  The plot twist came when management looked over the film.  The results were surprising–not because they were shocking, but just the opposite.  There were no bodily functions performed on the prime rib; no one playing Words with Friends as a grease fire broke out; no managers putting the make on waitresses in the office; none of the employee hijinks that might be expected.  In fact, when they compared the recent footage to tapes from ten years earlier, the employee behavior was pretty much the same.  It was the customers that were different.

According the article about this restaurant’s findings, seven out of the 45 customers observed on the recent video asked their servers for the Wifi password.  Twenty-seven of the 45 requested that their waiter take a picture of their group; 14 of those 27 asked for a second picture.  Long story short: the restaurant’s conclusion was that customer behavior increased the average length of stay by 50 minutes compared to ten years ago.

Here’s where the restaurant missed the mark.  “We are grateful for everyone who comes into our restaurant, after all there are so many choices out there.  But you please be a little more considerate?” they implore at the end of the article.

The problem is, the restaurant doesn’t accept the fact that–whether or not they agree with it–for many customers, the cell phone is as important a part of the meal as the locally sourced vegetables and the craft beers.  The restaurant customer of 2014 expects to be able to take photos of their food and themselves enjoying it.  Savvy restauranteurs embrace the free advertising and integrate cell phones into the dining experience they provide;  proprietors stuck in the past complain about how kids today have no manners instead of trying to figure out how to better cater to them, thus resulting in poor online reviews.

So far you’ve read over 300 of my words (which I appreciate, thank you!); none of which is “music.”  What does this restaurant and their grievances with cell phones have to do with music?

Musicians face a similar dilemma in terms of getting their product out to new audiences.  Yes, we all want to do it our way, but trends, buying habits and tastes change.  Many consumers expect to be able to get music for free.  Music fans often see Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as ways of connecting with their favorite bands.  (Check out this post on CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog for more thoughts on the subject.)  The musician who evolves to fit the needs of  2014′s audience will likely have more gigs than the one who shakes his fist and rants about how no one appreciates AC/DC, Zeppelin or Sabbath anymore (the fact that I am writing this blog instead of playing a show might give a hint about the category in which I belong).

Elitism can have its place.  Fattburger’s slogan is “We’re not for everyone”; the Stone Brewing Company Arrogant Bastard’s bottle reads, “You’re not worthy.”  Businesses sometimes have funny have signs mocking Wifi obsessiveness.  Similarly, the independent musician who doggedly sticks to their guns and refuses to cave in to any trends, technological or otherwise, sometimes succeeds.  Let’s be honest though; these are usually the exception, not the rule.

I don’t claim to have much experience in the food service business (unless you count the lemonade stand my brother and I had as kids) but I do know this: the restaurant’s choices are to either to brand themselves as a cell-phone free zone (a move which may make their following smaller but more loyal) or adapt to changing times and train waiters to accept taking pictures of drunken customers as part of their job description.

Today’s consumer typically has more options for night life, dining and entertainment than they do time or money; as a band, restaurant or other purveyor of goods and services, you have a lot of competition for customers/fans.  If you look down on Wifi use at your restaurant, customers will likely go to the place down the block where it’s embraced.

Let’s face it, time can be a harsh mistress.  Yesterday’s rock star is today’s grumpy old man telling kids to get off their lawn.  Today’s rock stars–culinary, musical or otherwise–are often ones that let people on their lawn, but charge extra for Wifi.

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Remembering Casey Kasem

Posted by dlockeretz on June 15, 2014

It’s too bad that the last few weeks of his life were lived out in the tabloids, but I’m sure that in time the family drama will be a mere footnote compared to the huge amount of positive energy and happiness he brought to the world.  Casey Kasem died today–in a sad irony, on Father’s Day–at age 82.

Like many musicians, when I first started out I had dreams of stardom which often included playing in front of masses of adoring fans.  However, being somewhat of a nerd, I was also interested in the statistical side of the music business, such as how records did on the chart each week.  Just as I imagined myself playing stadiums, I also imagined Kasem reading my name off on a Top 40 countdown.  (As it would turn out, while I kept “reaching for the stars”, I never really embraced the first half of Kasem’s signature sign-off, quickly getting tired of “keeping my feet on the ground” and never being willing to pay the dues required of stardom.)

At the risk of sounding elderly, there was something exciting about listening to Kasem’s countdowns on the radio each Sunday morning.  It’s nice to have worlds of information at our fingertips these days, but having to wait for the countdown–back then the only way to learn what the new #1 single of the week would be–made it seem like an event.  Kasem saw stories in the charts; he made his listeners emotionally invest in whether “Good Thing” out-performed “Toy Soldiers.”  His first AT40 countdown marked the last time the Beatles and Elvis shared the top 10; his last featured No Doubt, Nickelback and Outkast.  Through all of the musical and cultural changes that happened during his career, he was able to connect with his audiences.

 

 

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Rock Spider!

Posted by dlockeretz on June 11, 2014

There’s a new kind of music on the Web, but it’s not available on Spotify, Pandora or Youtube.  It’s not the World Wide Web we’re talking about either.

Music is the universal language, transcending not only culture and time, but sometimes even species.  Whales utilize songs to communicate; Peter Gabriel has taught a chimpanzee how to play the piano.  Now we have anther example of music used by a different species – the spider.

According to an NPR story, spiders tune the strands of their web, tightening and loosening them as one would a guitar.   Just as a guitarist knows (well, hopefully they do) when their string is in tune, so too a spider can instinctively tell if a thread is at the right tension and adjust it accordingly.  They can read the vibrations created when a fly hits the web, thus enabling them to locate prey.  They can also tell if the vibration is caused by a potential mate’s entrance, proving that humans aren’t the only species that can use music as a way of getting lucky.

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A response to “13 things musicians are tired of hearing at the holiday dinner table”

Posted by dlockeretz on December 2, 2013

Recently a musician from Minnesota named Jess Larson published a list of 13 things she was “tired of hearing at the holiday dinner table.”  Undoubtedly her list sparked both laughs and groans of recognition from the musicians (present company included) who have read it.  But humor aside, the list does point to a clear disconnect that exists between professional musicians and the rest of the working world.  No, they don’t understand us, but the reality is that for us to be understood, we must be willing to concede some ground.  We won’t win any friends with the “artiste” card; the more seriously we take ourselves, the less seriously they will.  As Joni Mitchell once said, “Heart and humor and humility…will lighten up your heavy load.”  Following are my unsolicited (is there any other kind?) comments on Jess’s list – with the disclaimer that my goal is not to undermine her or her thoughts, many of which I’ve felt myself, but to elaborate on them and give my (again unsolicited) advice on how musicians can use them as jumping off points for civilized holiday conversation (read: peace talks.)

#1) “So, are you still doing that music thing?”

“So, are you still doing that [lawyer, doctor, accountant, stock broker] thing?”  No, I’m not suggesting you be a smart ass, but feel free to think that.  The reality, though, is that music is in the minority of careers in being something people also do for enjoyment.  We can lecture them all they want about the time it takes to rehearse, book gigs, promote, practice, write, record, but many non-musicians see us getting paid for doing something fun.  Perhaps they’re projecting their own regret about quitting their high school band or their dissatisfaction with their job.

#2) “When are we going to hear you on the radio?”

Perception is reality and for many people, visibility equals success.  There’s no accurate response to this question; people who ask it are likely to just be trying to make conversation and aren’t looking for a lesson on the inner workings of the FCC.

#3) “Hey, my neighbor’s kid plays guitar, I think.  Seriously, he’s really good.  You should have him play with you.”

Short response: nodding and smiling will usually suffice in this situation.  Long response: it’s another attempt at conversation; no matter what your job is, you are likely to have people try to make awkward small talk with you about it and draw some sort of connection between what you do and their life.  Take it from me: the person who asks this question really doesn’t care if their neighbor’s kid plays guitar.  If they press the issue, tell them you’d love to stay in touch but oh snap, you’re fresh out of business cards.

#4) “Sing something.”

If you are actually a singer, this isn’t an unreasonable request; busting out a brief “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” or “Please, Daddy, Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas” won’t kill you.  If you (like me) are not a singer, use it as an opportunity to lighten up the mood with some self-deprecating humor: “Gee, I’d love to, but I’d hate to shatter Aunt Bethany’s lovely stemware.”

#5) “Did you hear the Nelsons’ daughter is getting married this summer? Maybe you could play at her wedding. I think they’re on a tight budget so that could just be your gift. BTW, do you think you’ll ever tie the knot? Are you seeing anyone?

Second half first: musicians aren’t the only people who have to deal with meddlesome personal questions.  First half second: I agree this is a sore point.  The same wedding planners who wouldn’t think of asking caterers, florists, photographers or other vendors to provide free service expect that musicians–again, because their job is “fun”–to go pro bono.  It’s unfair, of course, but it’s reality.  You could diffuse the situation with more smart-ass humor: “That would be great!  I’m looking forward to enjoying the open bar…which, of course, would be the bartender’s gift.”  You could see it as another opportunity to practice the old nod-and-smile.  You might also consider that, depending on the logistics of said wedding, substituting your services for a gift might be not be a bad choice.  After all, how much are you supposed to spend on a gift?  You’re certainly asking the wrong guy but I’d guess at least $100–and let’s be honest, we’ve all played gigs for less than that.

#6) “So, what else do you do for work?  I mean, like, during the day.”

This is another cringe-inducer but it can be answered in multiple ways, ranging from the diplomatic to the smart ass.  (I seem to be using that phrase a lot.)  The former response might be: “Well, actually, though the audience only sees the performance, a lot of behind the scenes work must go into it, so my days are typically spent working on booking shows, coordinating rehearsals, practicing material, maintaining gear…” YAWN…let’s try the smart ass version.  “Well, I spend my days collecting from my ho’s, ’cause I gots to get PAID from them bitches…”

#7) “Have you tried out for The Voice yet?”

As with hearing music on the radio, when it comes to success, people know what they know.  “The Voice” is big and–right or wrong–it represents peoples’ idea of success in the music business.  I’m sure you can come up with a better response than I did the last time I was asked this question, so I’ll leave it up to you.*

#8) “Did you hear that cousin Jason is going to be having a baby? when are you gonna get on that?”

Another question that you are likely to hear regardless of your occupation.  Nod and smile, or tell them you tried but miscarried.

#9) “well, we should probably put the family reunion on the calendar now because Jessica always has her music stuff on the weekends.”

“We should probably put the family reunion on the calendar now, because [family member with real job] always has their work stuff between Monday and Friday.”  No, you don’t have to say that, but look at it this way: if your family really does have to schedule events around your busy gig schedule, it means you’re probably doing something right.

#10)Have you heard that new Katy Perry song? Why don’t you sing more Katy Perry?

Yes, you’re a misunderstood genius who would sooner die than lower themselves to singing Katy Perry, but your family doesn’t know that.  This is an easy one to punt away: “Oh, that’s a good idea…I’ll tell my band at our next practice.”  Another job for the nod-and-smile.

#11) “Hey, when you open for someone big you should tell me and I’ll come see ya.

Again, just an attempt at conversation, but truthfully “opening for someone big” isn’t a bad goal for an indie artist.

#12) “Can you put me on the list?”

Hey, at least they want to come to your gig, right?  Having a long guest list makes you look good to the venue.

#13) “Your life always seems so interesting and fun.  I wish I had fewer responsibilities.”

I might not make any friends with this comment but generally speaking, non-musicians DO have more responsibilities than musicians.  That’s not to say that being a musician isn’t hard work, of course it is.  However, the majority of musicians piece together a living from multiple sources and thus don’t face the pressure that an office worker might face during downsizing or a major project.  Seldom do musicians have make-or-break gigs, clients or sessions.  Yeah, it may seem that way at the time, but the reality is that if a few gigs here and there fall through or students cancel lessons or a recording session doesn’t goes well, it won’t be the end of the world.   Most musicians invest the most emotion, time and energy in their own music–the very thing that is less likely to pay the bills than students, wedding gigs and the like.

Musicians may not be like other people in most ways, but they do have some things in common.  Almost all professionals–lawyers, doctors, teachers, cops–have to correct misconceptions held by others about their work.  Everyone experiences stress or awkwardness during the holidays, or any time they’re forced to coexist with people with whom they may no longer have a meaningful connection.  The coping mechanisms for them – humor, humility, nodding and smiling, and perhaps a nip or two of Jack Daniel’s – will work for us, too.  Happy holidays, fellow musicians.

* When asked, I said, “I did, but they don’t let Jews on it.”

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Music review: Hawks, “The Hawks”

Posted by dlockeretz on November 19, 2013

Talk about one from the vaults.

Calling this a “CD” review would not have been accurate as the LP is long out of print and currently unavailable in any physical format, save for original copies that may be floating around.  However, thanks to digital technology and the internet, the music of Hawks, an early 1980s “power pop” band from Iowa, is still alive.  The songs on their eponymous first album have stood the test of time fairly well, providing an example of the thin line that can separate success and obscurity.

Like many people who came of age pre-internet, I’ve sometimes wondered if a long-forgotten product might still be alive in some way, shape or form in cyberspace. Often times the more obscure the item, the stronger my desire to find it.  I’m not exactly sure how this album got back into my head, nearly a quarter century after I originally came across it–one of ten records in one of the dollar “grab bags” my local record store used to sell–but it did, and once it did, I had to find it.

The name Hawks might not seem particularly imaginative, but it worked for this band on two levels: Iowa is the Hawkeye state, and it just so happens that the initials of the five last names of each band member spell the word “HAWKS” – Dave Hearn (keys, vocals); Larry Adams (drums); Frank Wiewel (bass, vocals); Kirk Kaufman (guitar, vocals) and Dave Steen (guitar, vocals.)  Perhaps their strongest influence is the Beatles; on the dust jacket of the original LP the band included a brief tribute to then-recently murdered John Lennon.  The introduction of “Let Me In” strongly resembles that of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”  However, the record can also be seen as a sort of time-capsule of the late ’70s and early ’80s in music: the steel guitar and vocal harmonies on “Right Away” could have come off an Eagles record while “Dancing in the Shadows” is a guitar-riff heavy track with a four-on-the-floor beat that perhaps tips its cap to disco.  Harmonically, several songs transcend the typical structure of chord progressions and show a jazz influence similar to Chicago or the Doobie Brothers.

If the songs have a weakness it’s the lyrics; they’re not ’80s embarrassing but they don’t stand out. “Lonely Nights” is an uptempo track that provides ear candy in the style of the Cars but its lyrics, describing a breakup in the way that pop songs have since the 1950s, are disposable.  In “American Girls”, the band embraces a minimalist New Wave sound but fails to give any of the titular ladies any depth of memorability (it’s no “88 Lines about 44 Women.”) Expect rhymes along the lines of “Okay/Day” and “Imagination/nation.” The vocals are generally solid but not exceptional.

Hawks released a second record in 1982 and was in the process of recording their third when they were dropped from Columbia.   The various members of the band have remained active since then and were inducted into the Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

For another review of Hawks’ first record, click here.

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Miles and Manning: Score another one for the music geeks!

Posted by dlockeretz on September 8, 2013

Note: this is a Simulblog, posted both on Positive Music Place and D-Theory.

It’s rare to hear the name  Miles Davis mentioned on any non-jazz radio station–especially a sports station–so when it happened yesterday morning I assumed that either I needed another cup of coffee to clear the fog from my head or that there was another Miles Davis being discussed; perhaps a little known tight end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But no, it was the Man with the Horn; the jazz legend who gave us “Kind of Blue”, “Birth of the Cool”, “Bitches Brew” and much more.  Exactly just was Miles doing on the “Weekend Warriors” sports talk show?

The guest was David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene“, and he was discussing a theme from his book: parallels between the thought processes of great athletes and great musicians.  Epstein said (paraphrasing here): “Musicians like Miles Davis and Steely Dan* are known more for what they don’t play; how they use space to shape their music; defining what’s there by what’s not there.  Similarly, an amateur quarterback, like me, would look downfield at all of the wide receivers to decide where to throw the ball while Peyton Manning looks at where they aren’t, because that’s where they will be as the play develops.”

So there you have it – an example of how seemingly disparate worlds have parallels.  In high school, the star quarterback and marching band geek may be on opposite sides of the social spectrum, but in achieving greatness after graduation, they just might have something to teach each other.

* Epstein didn’t actually mention Steely Dan; I just felt like dropping them in.

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CD Review: Felsen, “I Don’t Know How To Talk Anymore”

Posted by dlockeretz on August 9, 2013

You have to like a band that starts out a song with the line, “Does anybody have some extra air miles?”

Every band in the world is going to save rock music, just ask them.  Felsen, however, may actually have a chance.  The Bay Area band’s fourth album, “I Don’t Know How To Talk Anymore”, is scheduled for release in September and as they have on their prior recordings, Felsen breaks the rules without calling attention to the fact that they’re doing it.  They’re not out to stick it to The Man per se; rather, they want to inspire The Man change his ways.

The Man could be the idea that rock’n’roll is dead, or perhaps the changes in the world, the music business and societal tastes that have made many people think that rock’n’roll is dead.  Felsen has positioned themselves as the underdog, trying to break the musical world out of its slump.  They achieve this by making a record that, based on the laws of music as we accept them, should not exist.  There are songs that have both modern and classic influences (“Better Thoughts” is presented both in a Radiohead-type ambient pop arrangement and as a chamber rock ballad); tracks with hooks (if you don’t like getting songs stuck in your head, you might want to skip “Tokyo Electric”) but also have multi-layered sonic textures and unpredictable chord progressions that stand up to repeated plays; witty, original takes on subjects that seem to have already run their course such as pill addiction, technology-enabled antisocial behavior and internet scams involving banks in Sierra Leone.

Will Felsen succeed in their quest to save rock’n’roll?  Hopefully; in the span of a few short years they have already recorded four albums and toured nationally.  It won’t be an easy road for them; it’s not an easy road for any band.  They’re putting one foot in front of the other, paying their dues just as the Beatles and Stones (sidebar: “Gimme Shelter for the Devil” cleverly combines themes from those two classics in a Jayhawks-style country rock ballad) did before them.  They are a band that deserves your support.  Give them a listen; keep an eye out for them at a club near you.  And if you have any to spare, see if you can throw some extra air miles their way.

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It’s not a myth: Musicians actually ARE sexier!

Posted by dlockeretz on May 9, 2013

Sorry, “American Pie.”  The band geeks are having the last laugh!

According to a recent French study, participants had a 31% success rate when asking women on date when they happened to be holding a musical instrument.  Without the instrument, it was only 14%.

The traditional explanation – that women see musicians as rock stars – was put forth, but a few deeper reasons were also presented.  According to the report, playing an instrument is a sign that a man is “intelligent and can…learn new skills and has independent hobbies.”

Well, it’s just one survey…but it’s a start, and we’ll take it!

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Photos from NAMM 2013

Posted by dlockeretz on January 28, 2013

A few pictures from my first trip to the NAMM show in Anaheim, CA.

Welcome!

NAMM 2013 014

Straight alto and tenor saxes

Two basses, 28 strings

Just in case the 10-string wasn’t enough….

Contra-bass flute

HEL-lo!

Another Boulder Creek bass

NAMM 2013 009  NAMM 2013 013 NAMM 2013 019NAMM 2013 024

 

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