Take Five: Rock Shop #8 – A Social Media Experiment

On Oct. 6, I attended the eighth installment of the Rock Shop series of music biz/promotion workshops for Boston bands. This event (cosponsored by JitterJam) was part of the FutureM series of events taking place across the metro Boston area this week, focused on the future of marketing.

Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine/Dear Leader, Keith Freund of RIBS, Michael J. Epstein of Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and Jake of Lagoon shared a stage with organizers/sponsors Charles McEnerney (Well-Rounded Radio), Clay N. Ferno (Middle East), Steve Theo (Pirate!) and Marty Watts (JitterJam) to talk about how they use social media.

Here are the band’s social media backgrounds:

  • Aaron – With the funds they’ve raised via Kickstarter to support the recording of a new album, they plan to Ustream weekly recording sessions and interact with fans during that time, and the fans could affect the ultimate product. A crowdsourced recording effort – pretty cool. Note: Aaron also works at Barbarian Group.
  • Keith – Reddit, of all places, gave the band their start, via  a personal post he made as an afterthought. That led to the band having the top rock release on Bandcamp, getting played on mainstream radio in Canada and selling 600 copies of their debut EP in the first week of release. The key, both Keith and Michael agreed, was posting as Keith, not as RIBS (such as Amanda Palmer tweets as herself and not as Dresden Dolls).
  • Michael – Since Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling (from their name to their songs) is inspired largely by the old 60s TV show “The Prisoner,” the band identified the places where fans of the show hung out on the web and reached out to them. That led to press interest in England (where the show was quite popular) before they had even played any shows. Connect with audiences that will respond in a unique way to what you’re creating, Michael advised.
  • Jake – Lagoon acquired a rather large but scattershot international Twitter following, for reasons unknown, and they have had to try to balance this against the need to cultivate a IRL presence in the local scene.

Aaron Perrino (performing my favorite Dear Leader song, “My Life as a Wrestler”)

And here are some of the key points made during the panel discussion:

  • Charlie – Every band needs to manage themselves like a small business.
  • Clay – Use social media for immediacy, to get info (like new ticket availability) out to fans quickly and directly
  • Michael – Balancing both sides of music – the creative side and the business side – takes time and hard work, and if you don’t like it, you may be doing the wrong thing.
  • Keith – In RIBS, they keep a standard list of administrative tasks that need to be performed, so that whoever is available — whether it’s a band member or a friend — can take care of them.
  • Keith and Jake evangelized for Google Docs and Google Calendar. It was odd to hear such testimonies on the Middle East stage.
  • Michael: “There used to be an obvious path, but there is no correct path anymore.”
  • Jake – The music scene is thriving on collaboration, not competition. Examples: Michael made a video of bands he shared a bill with to help promote a show; Clay gives band members admin access to events he created on Facebook.
  • Jake – Content is key, but don’t share unless it’s meaningful, and be consistent and stick with it — success and results do not come instantly.
  • Keith – RIBS mobilized their Reddit fans into quality connections who became ambassadors for the band.
  • Everyone agrees Bandcamp is the best thing ever.
  • In the website vs. Facebook/MySpace/etc. domain, the group was split. Aaron said he only uses Facebook, whereas Michael said it is important to have a website (which is the point of view I share).
  • Prior to the event, Michael blogged a social media manifesto, which is really quite a good overview of the basic principles of social media. You should definitely read it.

Lagoon

So, my thoughts:

The points made here echoed much of what I’d heard at previous rock shops on pitching to music bloggers and getting played on local radio: if you work hard and work smart, things will happen, and the music industry is ours for the reinvention. I was impressed by the savvy some of the musicians showed in their understanding of the social media landscape, particularly Michael J. Epstein. They echoed much of what I hear everyday from people who make a living in that field, so good on them.

Still, I think I had misguided expectations for this event. Dubbed a “Social Media Experiment,” I was hoping for crazy things to happen, like bands crowdsourcing cover song requests via Twitter, live streaming video, digital EPs or free MP3s distributed via QR code — activities that would demonstrate the way new media are changing the music business. None of this — aside from some iPhone UStreaming and my failed attempts to use Qik — took place. People shot videos and took/tweeted pictures, sure, and folks like Trish tweeted from the panel, but none of that to me really qualifies as an experiment. Also, while e-mails preceding the event implored attendees to check in to Foursquare and use the #rockshopboston hashtag, none of this was reinforced during the event. And hashtags, nowadays, are really the backbone of any initiative on the social web.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling

Initially, I was fairly disappointed by the way things turned out, but now I realize my expectations were probably unrealistic. I would, however, love to see a performance that encouraged this kind of social media experimentation and a breaking-down of the conventional walls between consumption and creation. You’d probably need to do more work ahead of time to get people invested in the idea, but I think it’d be worthwhile — a true experiment.

I was also disappointed in the turnout. Four really, really amazing bands gave their time and put on awesome performances — for free. And by the time RIBS came on, the place was nearly empty. I have no idea why that was the case. But I consider myself lucky I was there.

RIBS

Steve Theo has done a great job with the Rock Shop events. They are an incredibly valuable resource for the local music community. My effort in chronicling the ones I have attended is in the hopes that musicians who didn’t have the opportunity to attend may come across these recaps and gain a few tips that will help them better navigate these self-charted waters.

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Take Five: Compilation Nation

Last week, I surprised myself by waxing rhapsodical on two formative compilations released during my teenage years: No Alternative and DGC Rarities vol. 1. Digging into my memories of those two collections made me recall how compilation albums in general have helped stoke and sate my music fandom over the years.

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, when Napster was prevalent but digital music was not yet as pervasive as it is today, compilations served me two purposes: they were the main way I obtained hard-to-find songs, and they were one of my main conduits of exposure to new bands. I would spend hours combing the used compilation racks at CD Spins and Nuggets — a labor of love and a task that I savored, bargain-hunter that I am — often snagging a comp for a buck or two with the song I’d been looking for. Of course, each comp a dozen more songs — a few of which were often gems that sent me down an entirely different path. There were also certain epic compilations that, much like No Alternative, laid the groundwork for bands I would soon fall for while providing complete experiences in and of themselves. Label promos aside, comps are basically mass-marketed mixtapes. The same rules of serendipity apply.

Here are some of my favorites from each category. I’ll start with the cheap snags — the real treasures. (All links are Amazon affiliate links)

Atlantic’s Year in Review 1994: A simple record label promo disc, but it had Lucas’ “Lucas With the Lid Off,” which I’d been wanting for years. Other gems on the disc include All-4-One’s “I Swear,” two versions of Collective Soul’s “Shine” and Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down.” Yeah. Although it does have Frente!’s cover of “Bizarre Love Triangle,” which was a nice bonus find. Cost: $2

Over the Edge: I bought this at Target for $6 or $7, mainly for the Refreshments’ “Banditos,” but I also got… well, not much. Some cruddy songs by Tonic, Orbit, Dishawalla and 311. But “Banditos” might just be worth it. Cost: $6-7

Leather and Lace: The 80s Greatest Rock Hits: I bought this at the old Planet Records in Kenmore Square (before it burned down), mainly for Pat Benetar’s “We Belong,” but I also got “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” “Bette Davis Eyes,” “Only the Lonely,” “We Got the Beat” mand a bunch of other rock and pop anthems sung by women. Pretty badass. Cost: $4

Action Figures Sold Separately: I only bought this for R.E.M.’s “Wall of Death,” a Richard Thompson cover, but I also got some Mazzy Star, Radiohead and Dinosaur Jr. Not bad for… Cost: $1

Hits Post Modern Syndrome: The Death of Rock ‘N’ Roll: I remember where I bought this one, too: the In Your Ear in Comm Ave. I bought this for Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth with Money In My Hand” (still an awesome song), but I believe this compilation kicked off my Paul Westerberg obsession, thank to the inclusion of “Love Untold.” Another gem: Superdrag’s “Sucked Out.” Cost: $6

Today is the Tomorrow: More fuel for the Westerberg fire, this time with “Lookin’ Out Forever,” but what made this a must-buy at the time was Ben Lee’s “Cigarettes Will Kill You.” This has a bunch of great songs, including Jimmy Eat World’s “Lucky Denver Mint” and Liz Phair’s “Johnny Feelgood.” This may have been my Sparklehorse introduction, as well, with “Sick of Goodbyes.” Cost: $1

KCRW Rare on Air vol. 4: I came for Joan Osborne’s “St. Teresa,” but I was captivated by Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” more Mazzy Star, Jeff Buckley’s “So Real” and an amazing version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Good Enough.” This may have been my introduction to the world of Neil Finn, owing to his duet with Tim on “Only Talking Sense.” Cost: $8

Calvin Klein Jeans: The Rock Your Pants Off Collection: This one, I actually tracked down on eBay. I had been hunting for Peter Murphy’s “The Scarlet Thing in You” (one of my vaunted songs of 1995) for years, and thanks to Calvin Klein, I was finally able to acquire it. This comp is a real mixed back, with Jewel and Skid Row thrown in alongside Poe and The Charlatans UK. I didn’t care. I was just happy to have my beloved “Scarlet Thing in You.” Cost: ???

Born to Choose: R.E.M. and Natalie Merchant joining forces on “Photograph” is enough to make me plunk down a few bucks, but this awesome comp also had songs by Matthew Sweet, Sugar and Lucinda Williams. Sweet. Cost: $3

And here are some of the comps that I pursued and enjoyed on their own merits:

VH1 Crossroads: Remember that brief, glorious period of time — in between its adult contemporary beginnings and reality TV present — when VH1 was awesome? This album represents the best of that, with incredible live versions of “Run-Around” by Blues Traveler, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Deep Blue Something, “I’m On Fire” by Tori Amos, “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” by Pete Droge and Gin Blossoms’ “‘Til I Hear It From You,” just to name a few. The standout, though, is Chris Isaak’s “Somebody’s Crying,” which showed me that behind the softcore porn drek of “Wicked Game,” there was an awesome singer-songwriter.

Women and Songs: I think I got this at the old Tower Records,  and it definitely played to my folky sensibilities. K.D. Lang’s “Constant Craving” was a hook, but I also heard the Corrs, Emmylou Harris, Kacy Crowley, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Jann Arden for the first time. Some bigger hits like Paula Cole’s “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?” and Everything But the Girl’s “Missing” enable this compilation to offer something for everybody.

Newbury Comics: the Early Years vols. 1 & 2: In 2003, Newbury Comics released two amazing compilations — one of 18 EMI-Capitol songs from 1977-1984, the other of 18 Rhino tracks from 1977-1986 — and sold them for $5 apiece. They never went beyond volume 2, but I consider myself lucky to have these amazing albums that include classic cuts by Iggy Pop, Devo, Talk Talk, The Misfits, XTC, the Specials, the Buzzcocks, Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order, Joy Division, Madness, Husker Du and so much more.

Listen to What the Man Said: This 2001 tribute album to Paul McCartney recruited the likes of Owsley, Robyn Hitchcock, the Finn Brothers, the Minus 5, Matthew Sweet and They Might Be Giants to tackled the catalog of the elder statesman of pop. It’s a delightful listen that, nearly ten years later, hasn’t lost its appeal or value.

No Boundaries: A Benefit for the Kosovar Refugees: So much good stuff on this benefit compilation, including Pearl Jam’s (then-overplayed) cover of “Last Kiss,” Peter Gabriel’s “Black Paintings,” Ben Folds’ “Leather Jacket” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Mary.” Yeah, there’s KORN and Bush and Rage Against the Machine, but since it’s a benefit record, you can’t complain too much.

The Unplugged Collection, vol. 1: Much like VH1 Crossroads, this comp represents the best of the best. So many epic performances are represented here, including Soul Asylum’s “Somebody to Shove,” Paul Simon’s “Graceland,” Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” Elvis Costello’s “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror” and Paul McCartney doing “We Can Work it Out.” The crowning point, of course, is the final track, R.E.M. performing “Half a World Away.” Pure magic.

What are your favorite compilations?

Take Five – The Autumn Almanac Edition

Another Friday, another installment of Take Five! And, oh yeah, it’s officially autumn. Here’s what the Kinks have to say about that:

LIVE MUSIC

As I wrote in a previous post, upon seeing that both John Shade and the Acorn (sorry, Basia Bulat) were going to be sharing a bill at TT the Bear’s, I was determined to overcome my early bedtime ways and get out to the show. I even brought my friend Chris.

John Shade’s album “All You Love is Need” is a real delight, and his live performance is no different. He has an endearingly awkward stage presence in between songs, but when he sings, he commands the room. His songs rang true — they seem to come from a genuine place without guile or malice.

Now, I’d heard a few songs by the Acorn, enough to intrigue me to come out to the show. I knew I would enjoy these Ottawa boys, but what I didn’t expect was to be blown away. Their performance of “Crooked Legs” completely drowned out the thumping bass seeping through the floor from the Middle East Downstairs and filled the room with electricity. My ear is untrained in this respect, but I swore I could hear the stomping French-Canadian influences infiltrating their melodies. The Acorn’s songs are epic and enthralling; they are a tight, tight group. I’m really, really glad I manned up and went to this show. Oh, and my friend Chris? Couldn’t stop talking about how awesome the show was. Rightfully so.

FINDS OF THE WEEK

  • I don’t recall if it was Ryan’s Smashing Life or Boston Accents on WFNX where I got tipped off to This Blue Heaven. But either way, after hearing the power pop delight that is “Nova Love,” I had to buy their EP. They’re part of the lineup for the Oct. 2 Mixtape show, which this time around trains the performers’ talents on the songs of 1967. Sadly, I am out of town that weekend. But they ARE also playing Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square TONIGHT, so you should go. Hear and buy their EP:
  • Speaking of Boston Accents, Dave played this old gem the other night — Digney Fignus’ “The Girl With The Curious Hand.”
  • Hooray Music Choice’s Classic Alternative, my favorite cable channel! Thanks to Music Choice, I rediscovered three awesome songs, which I proceeded to download on iTunes: Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days,” Oingo Boingo’s “Dead Man’s Party” and Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up.” The 80s were awesome.
  • Who said haphazard clicking didn’t pay off? I clicked on a random link via Twitter about Elvis Costello that took me to the CBC Radio 3site, and I ended up hearing Said the Whale‘s pop gem “Gentleman.” What a fun discovery — upbeat indie pop from Vancouver.

AROUND THE WEB

  • Cloud Cult released a video for “Running With The Wolves,” a song from their new albums “Light Chasers.”
  • Some neat thoughts on playlists by debcha. Do you live and die by playlists, or do you shuffle your way through life? If the former, what are some of the playlists you’ve been enjoying lately?
  • Dave introduced me to the wonders of the Fake Craig Finn Twitter account. A sampling: “She said, ‘Don’t call until you put yourself together’ / But lots of the pieces are still at her place”
  • Girl Talk and GIFs collide.
  • I had the pleasure of meeting Jessica from the New Music Collaborative at the John Shade/The Acorn show on Tuesday night.She is compiling a mixtape of Boston bands and is in search of artists to include, designers to help with a cover and any other input.
  • Spotify Poetry: poems or stories written entirely using song titles as displayed via Spotify.
  • Matt Dyson and debcha take a closer look at the National’s “Fake Empire.”
  • Andy revels in the listastic glory of Liz’s 1001 Albums project.
  • Jonathan Woolson tipped me off to a couple of fan videos for XKCD’s take on the Discovery Channel’s “Boomdeyada” video. Here’s the punk version:

IN THE NEWS

  • Amie Street, one of my favorite sources for digital music, recently announced their buyout by Amazon.com, spelling the end of their demand-based pricing model that enabled attentive, in-the-know buyers to snatch up great music at low prices. I love Amazon MP3 as a service, but I am sad to see Amie Street go. I think their model was an important option in the digital music marketplace.
  • Here’s a dream tour: Brendan Benson/Posies/Aqueduct. They come to Boston Nov. 16.
  • The next event by the Boston Societies of Spontaneity (SOS) is a reprisal of their MP3 EXP, where people are invited to download a song, gather in a large public space and hit play at the exact (and for the first) time. The event takes place at 3:30PM on Oct. 10, location TBA.
  • Jack White, hipster producer of choice for the female country legends, has produced the upcoming album by Wanda Jackson, “The Party Ain’t Over,” due out Jan. 25. Wanda Jackson is pretty badass, and White did a great job with Loretta Lynn’s “Van Lear Rose,” so this should be good.
  • The next Boston Music Hack Day is Oct. 16-17. Hackers conceptualize and build out the projects (from applications and devices) that could shape the future of music. I’ll be in attendance for the hack demos on the 17th and will report back here.
  • I recently stumbled across RootMusic‘s Bandpage, a service that offers bands a better way to create Facebook fan pages. It’s not bad. The only thing that’s kept Myspace holding on is what it offers musicians. Looks like between Bandpage, Bandcamp and whatever comes next down the pike, that grip may loosening.
  • New release news for two Johns (though not They Might Be Giants): 1) John Wesley Harding has a new collection of acoustic demos out, “John Wesley Harding Sings to a Small Guitar Vol II.” 2) John Vanderslice, nice guy that he is, released a free digital EP, “Green Grow the Rushes.”

SECOND THOUGHTS

The other day, I was thinking about the music I listened to in high school. I really started coming into my musical own around 1995 (which, coincidentally, is when I started coming into my own in general). My childhood love of R.E.M. would be the foundation of a (t0 date) lifelong fixation on modern rock. But as of 1995, I was still dependent on what MTV, VH1 and commercial radio fed me (granted, back then they were pretty damned good — Jen Trynin’s “Better Than Nothing” even made it to the airwaves in South Florida and was one of my favorite songs).

I was an avid Columbia House customer, and one of the purchases I made was the 1993 No Alternative compilation, created by the Red Hot organization to raise money to fight AIDS. The songs on this collection just blew me away, and looking back, I realize how much that album really laid the groundwork for my future musical explorations. It featured my first exposure to Bob Mould, Mark Eitzel, Uncle Tupelo, Jonathan Richman and Buffalo Tom, artists that are now (or spun off artists that are now) mainstays of my catalogue. It showed me a Breeders beyond “Cannonball” and a Nirvana beyond “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” It introduced me to artists like Barbara Manning and the Verlaines that, while they would not resurface in my collection down the road, broadened my musical horizons at the time.

A similar album (also acquired through Columbia House) was DGC Rarities vol. 1, which introduced me to Teenage Fanclub, the Posies and the Sundays. I enjoyed the offerings by Nirvana, Weezer and one of my favorite bands at the time, Counting Crows. Looking back, DGC Rarities vol. 1 provided more in the way of genre exposure than artist exposure. It was full of early 90s pop gems and their more grungy counterparts. I have to say, there are few things I wouldn’t do to get a DGC Rarities vol. 2. Sadly, there was never a second installment released.

It’s interesting to think of how these amazing collections were made possible by the powerful bankrolls and distribution channels of the major labels, and how that model — for this kind of music, at least — has totally shifted. Nowadays, it’s much easier for an isolated 15-year-old in South Florida to get her mind blown by new music. But back in the day, I made do with what I had. So, thanks, Columbia House, for helping sow the seeds of a life of music nerdery.

Take Five: The New Music Industry

In my grand editorial plan, this post was supposed to be a recap of Rock Shop 7: Meet the Press, where music writers from papers all over town held court with local rockers. Alas, I got whisked into the #140conf world one day earlier than I had anticipated and had to miss it. However, at #140conf, I did get to hear the “Rock Stars in Real-Time” panel, moderated by podsafe musician to the stars Matthew Ebel and featuring digital publicist Ariel Hyatt, TAG Strategic’s Ted Cohen and none other than Amanda Fucking Palmer, the poster child for self-made, net-fueled rock stardom. Here is video I shot of the event (in two parts):

I was heartened to hear back a lot of the same things I’ve been hearing from DJs and music bloggers at the Rock Shop panels I’ve been (intermittently) attending and covering: the old model of stardom is dead and artists need to work hard and tour hard to succeed; musicians need to gain a modicum of marketing savvy and take responsibility for their own success; opening up and breaking down walls can make amazing things happen; be listening so you can take advantage of the golden moment when someone mentions you in order to build a relationship.

One really great point the #140conf panel made was that music is returning to being a service from being a product. Implied in the provision of a service is that the recipient of the service — the fan — is now at the core of the enterprise. To the other points made by the panel, it is incumbent upon musicians to capitalize upon the serendipity of the web to make connections and not just have a fan base, but forge relationships with fan. Yes, the music business, now more than ever before, is about relationships.

And what better way to connect with people than, well, music? I am seeing more and more music released for free (or at a name-your-own-price model, or perhaps a song for the price of an e-mail address) than I know what to do with, from John Vanderslice to John Shade. (And guess what? Having listened to his album, I’m totally going to a John Shade show next week.) My friend Mike’s band, the Daily Pravda, is performing this weekend at the Middle East Upstairs, and you’re going to be able to download their new single at the merch table. Tools like Bandcamp and Soundcloud are making it increasingly easy for bands to make their music social and to take control of distribution and sales. The Sheila Divine are financing a new record themselves via Kickstarter. With his Musicians for Music 2.0 initiative, Well-Rounded Radio’s Charles McEnerney is working to create a mechanism to fund the next generation of these music discovery and taste maker sites/technologies:

In short, it’s a really exciting time for music, I think. It’s a really a big bang, with an entirely new way of doing business taking shape centered around the two most important elements of the equation: fans and music. With that in mind, I can’t overstate how much I am looking forward to Rock Shop 8: All Access Arts. Just the idea that a music-focused event is a part of FutureM‘s week of web marketing events pleases me to no end. But to make it a real laboratory of how music performance and social media can interact to build buzz about a band is exciting and curious. The fact that it poses more questions than it answers makes me psyched to attend.

And there are lots of open questions about how this new dynamic is going to work. Heck, if I’m this curious, and I’m just a fan, the musicians must going nuts trying to figure it all out. But this is the time to keep asking, and keep suggesting answers. Who knows what great ideas are out there? All I know is that there is a lot of great music. Imagine what could happen if the two match up.

Next week: A new digest, full of fun links and commentary. Woohoo!

Take Five: For the Sake of the Song

Boston-area singer-songwriter Patrick Coman moved to Boston last September and wanted to recreate the DIY music scene he had enjoyed in Nashville and Berlin.

“Those shows were always the most fun because the atmosphere was more laid back and more communal between artist and audience,” he says. “It also seemed like a great way to learn more about the music scene here in Boston and to get to know more bands and musicians.”

So he launched a series of house concerts, For the Sake of the Song, highlighting local folk, Americana and roots music. This Saturday, Sept. 11, the series celebrates its one-year anniversary at the Armory in Somerville. Coman performs alongside Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing the Debutantes.

I asked Coman to talk about the origins of the series and how it has evolved.

Why did the name “For the Sake of the Song,” from the line by Townes van Zandt, stick out to you as a name for this series?

To me that phrase “For the Sake of the Song” is really what I wanted this series to be all about. I try to pick artists that I think are excellent songwriters, which can obviously mean different things from instrumental stuff with Flightless Buttress to more traditional singer/songwriter material from guys like Dietrich Strause and Brendan Hogan, and give them a venue to perform in where people can really focus on the stories they are telling with their music.

You portray FTSOTS as an opportunity to give new and upcoming artists visibility. How has this worked out, for the series and for those musicians?

That’s an interesting question and you’d probably have to ask some of the artists to get a better idea from their perspective. I’d like to think that through the series, these artists have been able to connect with a whole new audience of people who might not want to go out to bars or clubs to hear live music but will come to our shows because there is a unique atmosphere to the house concerts. We’ve also gotten some press throughout the year for some of the bigger showcases we’ve done and I think that has certainly helped get our name out there and hopefully the names of the groups involved as well.

What makes a house concert special? What have been some standout moments from the past year of FTSOTS shows?

House concerts are great and if people have never been to one they should really seek them out. There are tons of DIY venues and house concerts here in Boston but sometimes you have to go out looking for them (I didn’t know that for a long time after I moved here). They are special because the wall between performer and audience is basically nonexistent. You’re together in a small room and it feels more like a conversation back and forth than a “concert”. When I think of standout moments, they come back to that idea. For instance ,we had one group called The And Company, who is this great trio of songwriters that play all kinds of percussion instruments and switch back and forth between singing lead and back up. They were really great about getting the audience involved, to the point of actually passing out shakers and things to everyone and getting us to play along. Our first show with Brendan Hogan was also great because I think the people that came had no idea what to expect, and so it was a huge relief when Brendan, who is just a great performer and writer, blew everybody away and people definitely went away saying “Oh, that was great, I definitely want to come for the next one.” Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing The Debutantes, who are both playing our one year anniversary show, were both awesome as well and it was fun to see them cram all their instruments into our tiny living room and somehow make these beautiful sounds come out.

You’ve had some milestone shows at O’Brien’s and the Middle East Upstairs. Why did you take the series out of the living room for those shows?

This was a difficult decision in some ways, because we wanted to plan a few bigger shows to make the changing of the seasons (spring for the Middle East and summer for O’Brien’s) but we obviously didn’t want to lose what makes these shows special by moving to a venue. Ultimately, though, it was a great opportunity to plan a show with a few more acts on the bill and to get the name of the series out there to hopefully draw people to come check out the house shows. Clay at the Middle East and Kerry at O’Brien’s were really great in helping both of those shows come together so that we could do something that was still intimate and focused on the songs while still bringing them to a more “typical” venue space.

What has been the reception to your series from the Boston music community?

So far, the reception has really been great. Living in Nashville for awhile, I got used to musicians tearing each other down a lot, so Boston has been refreshing in that way. Clay and Kerry, as I mentioned above, were very kind and gracious in helping us bring the showcases to some area venues. Another person who has really helped get the word is Tom Bianchi, who runs the open mic at the Lizard Lounge (among many, many other things). From the first time I met him, he has been super supportive and has helped me connect with so many great musicians that have played one of our shows. Musicians who have played the shows have also been great about passing along suggestions of other performers, which I suppose is a good sign that they would recommend our shows to other musicians.

You recently released your first full-length album, “Southern Storms.” How has the FTSOTS experience influenced your own musicianship?

In some ways it just helped me raise the bar. Seeing all these great performers month after month forced me to practice more, play more, and hopefully write better songs! I’m sure I’m not unique in this way, but when I hear good music, it makes me want to make good music of my own. On a practical level, a song like “Nights Like Tonight” is completely taken from the idea of these shows. It’s all about enjoying the moment and enjoying playing music for the sake of playing music instead of worrying about things like success and failure which in the end aren’t as important.

What should people look forward to at the Armory show? And why the Armory?

First, we picked the Armory Cafe because it is a great intimate venue with a vibe very similar to our house concerts, so it just seemed like a perfect fit. In addition to our two featured acts, Garlic & Moonshine and Dressing The Debutantes — who would be worth the price of admission on their own — we are also raffling away some band goodies like CDs, merch, and even a potential song written in your honor. We want to be half show/half celebration as a way to say thank you to everybody that has been a part of the series over the last year.

What’s in store for the second year of the series?

There are some big changes in store for the second season. The first is that we recently moved from a house to an apartment so we’ll be running shows from a series of “foster homes” until we try out a few places to see what will be the best fit. Also, in addition to our regular shows, we’ll also be putting together a few themed shows which will focus on a particular album, artist, or idea, which I think will be a lot of fun.

You can friend FTSOTS on Facebook. Photos courtesy of the FTSOTS blog.

Take Five – New School Year Edition

Grab your Trapper Keepers and pencil cases, kids. It’s time for another Take Five digest! There will be a quiz later. Well, not really. Only if you misbehave.

NEW RELEASES

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina, but the region is still in need. Here’s your chance to both help out and get some amazing music. The “Dear New Orleans” compilation (available for just $8 (on Amazon MP3, with all proceeds benefiting Sweet Home New Orleans and the Gulf Restoration Network) features 31 exclusive songs from the likes of Laura Veirs, Thao Nguyen, Allison Moorer, Mirah, The Wrens, Steve Earle and much, much more. Most of the songs evoke the spirit of New Orleans, as felt or perceived by the musicians, so it is not just a thrown-together B-side compilation intended to rake up some bucks for a cause. It is a thoughtful, high quality collection of songs. Grab it.

In other news, I finally snagged Marching Band’s new album “Pop Cycle,” and it is true to its name – a delicious cycle of pop that you can ride for hours. I also picked up the new School of Seven Bells, “Disconnect from Desire,” which I like even more than their first album. Very poppy, shimmery and fun.

LIVE MUSIC

  • My good friend Dave was in town this weekend, and we had a blast. While exploring shows to possibly attend, I came across a great lineup at the Lizard Lounge: Juston Stens (ex-Dr. Dog), with John Shade opening. I’d heard a lot about John Shade from Brad, who raved about him during his residency at the Armory earlier this year. Sure enough, upon downloading his album “All You Love is Need,” I discovered something approaching acoustic pop perfection.

    John Shade
    is performing Sept. 21 at TT the Bear’s, opening for Basia Bulat and the Acorn, another recent infatuation. That’s not a lineup to be missed.Oh, what about this past weekend’s show? We ended up not going to a show at all, though we did partake in karaoke at Joey Mac’s in Cambridge which resulted in two dozen people standing arm in arm singing “Piano Man.” I think that was worth the trade-off.
  • If you feel like trekking to the Blue Hills next weekend, the Life is Good folks are putting on a decent music festival. Interestingly, the acts that interest me the most are not the ones with top billing: OK Go, Mavis Staples, Eli “Paperboy” Reed, Will Dailey and (in kids’ music form) They Might Be Giants.

Around the Web

In the News

  • On Wednesday, Apple introduced Ping, a new music-oriented social network that comes pre-baked into its extensive iTunes network. The stated goal of Ping is to allow users to follow their friends and favorite artists (which begs the question, what’s in it for us?), but of course the ultimate end for Apple is to sell more music. This Mashable post portrays Ping as a Myspace killer, which is an interesting thought. Myspace has been holding onto the music scene like a branch along the rapids that are rushing it out to irrelevance, and by the looks of Ping, it could loosen that grip. Where Myspace fails with design and usability, Apple wins in spades. However, this initial review of Ping indicates that success may not be so easily won. What really interests me is how Ping, assuming it catches on, lines up against the independent spectrum of music media and services. Prefix Mag titled its brief blog post about Ping, “Apple Introduces Ping To Make Blogs Like This One Irrelevant.” Amusing, but accurate? What could this mean for blogs like Prefix Mag, and services like Bandcamp, Soundcloud and Rdio? Will Ping fail because it doesn’t churn up awesome user data like Last.fm, or will it be a killer app because it blends consumption with connection in the most powerful way? The commenters on the aforementioned Prefix Mag post don’t seem to agree with the latter. “I think it’s cool. And besides, it can’t replace my favorite blogs or standardize them. That’s boring,” one wrote. “yeah, it won’t replace content sites. well, not yet anyways,” wrote another. Not yet, indeed. Time to wait and see. In the meantime, here’s a list of what one guy wishes Ping actually was.
  • Jeff Tweedy is producing Mavis Staples’ upcoming album, “You Are Not Alone,” due out Sept. 14. Check out their cover of John Fogerty’s “Wrote a Song for Everyone.”

Second Thoughts

There are rumors flying around that Boston pop/new wave legends the Cars are on the threshold of reuniting and going on tour.

Let me tell you a little something about me and the Cars.

The Cars were my first favorite band. I listened to them in the womb. Every Christmas until about 10, I asked for a Cars album I didn’t yet own. I spent sacred hours alone in my mom’s bedroom at the tender age of 6, listening to her 8-track copy of “Candy-O” and doing some odd penguin dance to “Double Life.” My favorite song was “Lust for Kicks,” so by second grade, I was asking my mom what lust meant. In 4th grade, I wrote a fan letter to the Cars, in care of the record label address on the back of one of my Cars tapes; it was returned to sender. In 6th grade, we were all asked to bring music to play at a dance; I brought my Cars greatest hits tape and asked them to play “Drive.”

I love the Cars. That said, I don’t need to see them live. Not without Ben Orr. Not post-Weezer and everything else Ric Ocasek has had a hand in. The Cars were one of the most influential bands in my life and helped stoke a lifelong love of music, but I’d pass on a late-in-life, last-gasp-for-glory tour, and maybe even album. For me, that time has passed. The letter was returned to sender. I’d much prefer to hide out in my mom’s bedroom, put on “Candy-O” and penguin-walk the night away. That’s how I will show my abiding love for the Cars.

Take Five Goes to Rock Shop: Local Music Radio Shows

Something you may not know: for three years in college, I was a DJ at WTBU. I graduated from the crappy Sunday 10AM-12PM slot to the Thursday night 10PM-12AM slot over six semesters, spinning new and favorite rock on my show “High Fidelity” (named for the Elvis Costello song and not the book/movie, thank you very much).

After I graduated, the radio bug never quite went away. So in 2006, some friends and I got a radio show on WMFO (since they are open to community DJs) and had a 6AM-8AM show (that’s devotion) called “Makin’ Bacon.” After a few months of that, I branched off and got my own show, “Pop Music’s Hard Work” (named for a fateful utterance by Ralph Wiggum on The Simpsons). I eventually had to move on from WMFO– other obligations called — but I am very glad I got to reprise my college radio experience. It made me responsible for staying on top of new music, which was a pleasant responsibility to uphold.

So that’s why I was particularly interested in the most recent Rock Shop, which brought together hosts past and present from local music shows on area stations for an audience of musicians and other interested parties. The participants were:

  • Tim Kelly, WMBR, Hidden Capital
  • Dave Duncan, WFNX, Boston Accents
  • Anngelle Wood, WZLX, Boston Emissions
  • Carmelita, WAAF, Bay State Rock
  • Mark Hamilton, formerly of WZBC and WBCN and host of past iterations of New England Product and Boston Emissions, now in LA
  • Angie C, a ten-year veteran of WFNX, now in LA

Steve Theo of Pirate!, organizer of the Rock Shop series, moderated the discussion, which ranged over the following topics.

  • Sending out your music: The popular opinion was that aspiring musicians should send their music out to everyone at once, college and commercial stations alike. “Go for it all,” said Anngelle, adding that the best thing to include is a simple one-pager of pertinent info rather than a fancy press kit. “It can look really pretty and sound like shit,” she said. And even if one DJ doesn’t like a set of songs, said Mark, they might know someone who would and will pass them along. It’s also preferable to direct a mailing to a specific DJ rather than the music director, since the efficiency with which a MD gets new music on the shelves can vary by station.
  • Format: Bands shouldn’t be afraid of reaching out and asking the DJ what format they prefer to receive music in. Many of them even specify their preferences on their websites. (“If you’re in a band, all the research should be done,” said Carmelita.) Dave says CD is still preferable, but if burning a disc, check to make sure it burned properly before sending it off (he’s received blank discs before). Relatedly: don’t write the song names on the CD (where they can’t be read while it’s inside the CD player), but do write them (and number them) on a case.  And that case should have a spine, for ease of filing, with the artist and album name written legibly along it.
  • Swears: If a song has curse words, you’d best do the following: 1) edit them out 2) flag the tracks with curses or 3) just don’t send along those songs at all, if you’re sending a sampler. The FCC is strict about vulgarity, commercial and college alike. When editing, dropping out the curse is better than beeping. “If you want to meow,” meows work,” said Anngelle. (Note: meowing also came up at the last Rock Shop, courtesy of Ryan Spaulding’s cellphone ring. Eerie coincidence, or hidden Rock Shop theme?)
  • Length of song: As much as we all love a good seven-minute epic, these guys are trying to produce a two-hour show. “We’re hoping to play as much quality music as possible,” says Anngelle. A two-and-a-half minute song stands a better chance of getting played than a five minute song; it’s just the way it is.
  • Follow-ups: Reach out, but don’t be a pest. If a band has a show coming up, giving a week’s notice is cool, even if the songs haven’t been played on the show yet. But a weekly e-mail — especially if you have no news — may be overkill. Dave says news will always be more relevant if a band has been played on the show before. “Be gracious, don’t be an asshole,” says Angie C. “Don’t kiss ass, but don’t throw attitude.” “Reach out and rock someone,” said Mark. If you’ve sent your songs to a DJ, Dave says it’s best to wait until it’s been played at least once before asking your legions of fans to call in with a request. To that point, Anngelle recommends being patient — they receive a ton of music and don’t have time to review everything. “But,” she adds, “if you have a big gig coming up, let us know to look for it.” Anngelle and Carmelita also host the monthly Rock and Roll Social at the Model Cafe in Allston, which is a good opportunity to socialize with DJs and other musicians and learn even more about getting heard.
  • How do certain songs get played? By virtue of time, a band has got to make a quick impact, since the DJs will play what they like. “You’ve got 20 seconds to get my attention,” said Angie C. Bands can try things like flagging recommended cuts (but not ones with swears) or only sending along a three-disc sampler from a full album. Also, Carmelita recommends having a friend who works in some aspect of the music industry give songs a listen and recommend which ones to highlight, since programmers have different ears than musicians and even listeners and may know what will appeal to a DJ. Anngelle added that listenability remains key — if a recording has poor audio quality, no matter how good the track is, it likely won’t make it on the air. Off-key vocals, out-of-time drumming or shoddy mastering can all spell the downfall of what might otherwise be a promising track. “DIY goes so far, but sometimes you need help in the mastering process,” said Anngelle. Plus, if you send along a song in MP3 format, the compression may compromise the quality of the audio. As for live tracks, a band stands a better chance of getting a live version of a song played if they are already an established act, though the DJs seemed to take it on a case-by-case basis.
  • Do the work: The DJs have high expectations for bands seeking to get played on their show. “Just have heart,” said Anngelle. “We’re gonna see that. We’ll give you a chance if it is not totally a mess… Just existing as a band is not enough. You’ve got to do some of the work. To run a band is like running a business.” She urges bands to go see other bands and learn how they do it. Beyond friends and family, other musicians are going to be a band’s first orbit of fans, so geting out there and making connections is key.
  • Being online: It seems like there are a thousand and one digital outposts for musicians nowadays, but Anngelle says bands should do “as much as you know how to manage.” The key, they all emphasized, is making sure your information is up to date. If information is outdated or hard to find, to the DJ’s eyes, “it’s like they don’t care,” said Anngelle. Angie C, who is now a social media consultant, recommended having a hub that ties it all together.
  • Promoting gigs: A weekly playlist is heavily influenced by which bands are playing in town over the next week, so knowing about upcoming gigs is important for these DJs. While the emphasis naturally falls on bands playing the Boston/Cambridge/Somerville circuit, Carmelita says she often highlights bands from Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, while Dave says he’s happy to highlight bands playing “Joe’s Clam Shack in Gloucester.”
  • Funneling up: These DJs’ shows are speciality shows at commercial stations, and while the regular programming at stations like WZLX (classic rock) and WAAF (hard rock) may not be appropriate for the latest local indie rock track, there are opportunities. At WFNX, Dave says the music director will sometimes ask him for his three best bands on the show at a given time, and one might get asked to participate in a gig. The Rock and Roll Rumble, once the domain of the now-defunct WBCN (where Boston Emissions used to live) will be back, and that is another great outlet for local bands.
  • How to get your own local show: College radio stations like WZBC (Boston College), WMBR (MIT) and of course WMFO have community memberships. While it’s not a guaranteed walk-on role, you can work your way in and up.
  • How can the music industry become profitable again: “If I knew the answer, I wouldn’t tell you,” joked Mark. Angie made the point that labels are no longer a profitable destination for a band and that if a band is very smart, it can be profitable on its own. “You’d be out of your mind to sign with a major label right now,” said Anngelle. “There is freedom,” said Dave. “You can do it your own way.” “With every door closed, a window opens, and this window is doing what you want with honesty,” said Carmelita. “Music is about sincerity. It’s about doing what you feel. Someone will notice when you do the work on your end and never compromise for the money.”

And these DJs operate in much the same way. Hours upon hours of preparation go into producing their two-hour slices of local music programming, and you can tell it is a labor of love. They are committed to the local music scene and highlighting great Boston music. While the guidelines outlined above may make it easier to sift through the sheer volume of music they receive in order to program a show, they are not cavalier in the decisions they make. They understand that local bands are looking to their shows as a platform to possibly leapfrog them to the next level, and they will often go out of their way to make that can happen. It was heartwarming to be around people who not only love local music so much, but want to see these bands thrive.

There’ s some good stuff on deck for upcoming Rock Shops. The next one Sept. 13 will feature music writers from local papers, while the Oct. 6 Rock Shop is  part of the Future M marketing conference. A college radio-centric Rock Shop is also in the works. Stay tuned.