Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Little Less Darren-y

If you came to our last gig at the winery, you may have noticed something a little different about the band... it may have seemed a little less Darren-y. Before you say anything, NO, Darren was NOT abducted by a crazed fan, nor did that obsessed fan smuggle Darren to Wisconsin where he was definitely NOT forced to join a nudist colony. He was, however, forced to move out of New Jersey for day-job-related reasons. (The other story would be so much more exciting if it were true, which it definitely is NOT.)

It was about a month ago that Darren told us he would be transferred, and 2 short weeks later, this guy who had been a crucial member of the band and a close friend for 4-ish years was gone. It was strange, it was sudden... almost as strange and sudden as how he joined the band***.

Darren came to the band at the perfect time, and if I was the kind of guy who believed in destiny or cosmic string-pullers, I’d have definitely pegged his joining as evidence of such things. He is as rock-solid a drummer as I’ve ever heard, and especially played with. You can’t speed up or slow down his tempos if you wanted to. (Believe me, I tried almost every gig.) He’s also a great drummer for songwriting, which is a skill separate from gig drumming. When we needed a beat, all you had to do was say, “play something like ‘buh, duh, duh,’” and somehow he knew exactly what that meant.

But more than being a bomb-proof drummer, Darren is just a heck of a swell guy. He and Matt were a great team when it came to talking me off of ledges before, during, and after sketchy gigs or practices. He is stealthily funny... one of those guys who makes a joke when you least expect it, and he is easily one of the most patient, understanding, and genuine human beings I’ve yet known. He was also fully dedicated to our music. Every week, he drove over an hour and a half each way to practice and to shows.

Sure, he had his flaws... for starters, he couldn’t hold his tequila worth a damn. But the point is, he tried, and you have to give him credit for the effort. He was also kind of sneaky. I can’t put my finger on why that is, or how I know it, but I’m pretty sure he’s up to something at all times, and operate under that assumption whenever I’m in his presence. I suggest you do the same.  

I’m sure wherever Darren lands (again, definitely not a nudist colony in Wisconsin), he will find a band that will be taken to another level thanks to his contributions. I know we will miss him and his drumming very much. So, it is with a great measure of wistfulness that Matt, Brian, and I say, “good luck with the nudists, Dubs.”

***If you’ve never heard the story of how Darren joined, let me fill you in. We got a MySpace message in 2009 from him saying that he had been a fan of the band for 3-odd years (since Irrelevant Truth came out) and mentioned that if we ever needed a drummer, he would be happy to fill in. It was a strange coincidence, since our drummer had recently split. What’s weirder, Darren didn’t know about our previous drummer, Josh, leaving. He just threw the offer out there totally at random.

Friday, March 22, 2013

I Don't Get Paid to Be Sarcastic...

I’m a slow learner. BUT, after coming across a particular belief/mentality 100’s of times in my life, I have finally been able to apply its wisdom to my musical career. The maxim is: “you’re only a REAL musician if you get paid to do it full-time.” Now, of course, people don't usually come right out and say it, but I've noticed the little imp hiding behind their words, peeking out to see if I'm listening.

In fact, that phrase is SO meaningful to me now, that I would like to apply it to other aspects of life:  

Parents don’t get paid to parent, so all parents should surrender their kids to the state, or at least to trained, paid caregivers.

If you can’t make a living as a cook, you should only eat out. Any meal cooked by someone who doesn’t cook full-time is inedible.  

If no one pays you to dance, at wedding receptions, you better keep your butt glued to a chair.

If you’re not employed as a full-time driver, you should only take limos or public transit to work.

My favorite application: No one gives me a DIME to wash dishes, so I shan't waste one more moment of my life washing them.

It makes so much sense doesn’t it??? Apply it to almost anything. “I don’t get paid to ______, so should I continue to ______?”


Incidentally, have you noticed we have a couple of big-deal shows coming up in April? April 12th, we'll be at Hebe Music in Mt. Holly, and April 13th, Matt and I will be doing an unplugged songwriter show at World Cafe Live in Wilmington. (Msg me about tickets for that one!)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Can Dream Can't I?

I’ve been the sound guy. I’ve been in the band. I’ve been the show putter-together-er. I’ve played every kind of venue you can imagine (except a stadium... but who would want to play a stadium anyway? the acoustics suck.) Now, obviously no show is perfect... but if you could imagine the perfect show, what it would be like? Here’s my version:

The ideal venue:

-doesn’t have a set closing time or local ordinance that requires closing by a certain time.

-is smoke free. (Coming from the singer aspect of me. Not trying to argue with anybody.)

-serves drinks, but still allows minors into the show.

-does not serve minors.

-requires you to be standing before you can be served.

-has drink prices that are still in single digits.

-is big enough to hold the band’s audience, but not so big that it makes the fanbase look puny and embarrassed to be at the show. Walls may be moved to make the room feel “just right” for a given audience. (I can’t wrap my head around the logistics of that, but that’s for the wall-scientists. I’m just the dreamer!)

-has a sound system that has “Highs,” “Mids,” and “Lows” and not an overabundance of any of those three at the expense of the other two.

-has air conditioning.

-has warned their customers that people might be musicing so if you don’t want to participate, it’s time to scram. (applies to restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, etc.)

-has bathrooms that don’t require waterskis or hazmat suits.

For sound geeks only:

-has heard of acoustic treatment.

-has monitors. Said monitors are connected to a sound board, and maybe even loud enough for vocalists to hear.

The ideal audience:

-shows up before your set is over.

-considers paying for admission.

-considers listening to the music being played. Might even decide to dance if the mood is right.

-yells insults and mockery clearly so that the performers know why and/or how they suck, and not just that they suck.

-claps when you do the “everybody clap” thing.

-stops clapping when everyone has gotten waaaaayyyy off beat.

-purchases merch. Or what I will now call, “murchasing.”

-shares drinks via a drink receptacle and not via blecccchhhing all over other persons.

-dogpiles and rabbit punches the guy who shouts “play free bird!”

Now I KNOW some of you have opinions on what the perfect show/audience/venue would be like. Care to share?

BONUS ROUND -- The ideal sound guy:

-uses words to communicate instead of head shakes, foul language, and muttering.

-has considered sobriety in the last 30 days.

-knows his “house” like the back of his hand. Doesn’t say things like “what the hell does THIS do?”  

-is willing to consider letting you use your own personal microphone because he knows it’s your security blanket, even if it doesn’t sound better than his pet mic.

-still has 90% of his hearing, and sometimes even pays attention to the band on stage. He is intent on making you sound awesome, because he knows the band is in some sense a reflection of his own work.

-doesn’t think feedback is harmless background noise (I’m guilty of this one myself sometimes).

-knows the difference between an SM58 and an SM58 knockoff.

Friday, February 15, 2013

It's Been Done

There’s a great South Park episode called “The Simpsons Already Did It” in which the writers complain (through the voice of a character named Butters) that any plot they come up with has already been done by the Simpsons, at least once.

I run into this frustration every time I create something. Songs, videos, cover art, photos. My inner critic says, “Another song about relationships? Groaaaan.” I’ve got four songbooks full of songs that have died on the page because of this “it’s been done” mentality.

This creativity-killer tells me that I’m ripping off my influences, my contemporaries, or even myself. “That’s just another version of ‘Picture Frame!’” For some reason, I’ve bought into this idea that art has to be original. But... that’s not the way art works. Proof:  

a) Even Bob Dylan ripped off someone else.

b) Jim Jarmusch (Director of “Dead Man” and “Broken Flowers.”) said, “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to.”

c) In the 11 years since South Park aired that episode, the writers have far surpassed the Simpsons in their satire, humor, and writing. (My opinion)

d) Aren’t all musicians just ripping off some caveman who howled at the moon to impress a potential mate?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Selling Out is Hard to Do

Like millions of other artists, Adams Wilson is trying to find ways to survive and thrive in this crazy new music industry. We want to offer our fans something new and exciting beyond tossing out another song or playing another show.

So, over the past few months, I’ve been studying the careers of successful artists, trying to get a sense of where we should be headed. I think I’ve discovered the key: cross-promotion. Big name acts aren’t just making music anymore, they’re endorsing products, creating clothing lines for big box stores, or putting together massive stadium-style events that are more about spectacle and energy than music. Taylor Swift, Springsteen, Jay-Z... these aren’t just artists, they’re brands.  

With that in mind, we are very excited to announce a great new product that we think will help us take the next step in our musical evolution.

If ever you feel like you’re lonely, and everyone else has moved away, maybe you need...

“Lies Worth Smelling,” a bold new scent from Adams Wilson. Order by the gallon by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

If you wanna act... ACT

I can’t find the actual quote for the life of me, but it went something like this:

“If you want to be an actor, ACT. Find a community theater, or an indie film. If you want to be a STAR, well that’s a different story. Move to Hollywood, sell your soul. But that’s not acting. There’s a big difference.”

This quote pops into my head at almost every show we play, or if I’m chatting with a new fan or a fellow musician. The discussion usually comes around to “what are you (Adams Wilson) doing to try and be famous?”

My answer? NOTHING. Family and friends have encouraged me to go audition for American Idol, X-Factor, or the Voice. I politely brush it off. That’s not being a musician... That’s something different... it’s being famous. I don’t want that. I want to make music. Now, don’t get me wrong... would I love to make a reasonable living with my music? Sure. I would also love to build a time machine and visit ancient Egypt or Rome at the height of their power. But neither of those things are going to happen any time soon, and their chances of actually occurring are about equal.

This is not negativity. This is not lack of vision. This is not even fear of failure. If I wanted to be “famous,” I’d move to NYC, LA, or Nashville, and I’d shop a demo to every person I came in contact with. I’m not doing that. I am, however, rehearsing with my band, writing new music, and putting it out myself. In between, we play shows, and try to pick up new fans whenever and however we can. I LOVE doing that, and as long as the band keeps showing up, it’s what I intend to keep doing for the foreseeable future.

What I DON’T want to do is tour 364 days a year. My throat simply couldn’t take it! I don’t want to have a label tell us what kind of music we have to make based on current trends, or pay them back for an advance on a new record. I don’t want to have to force myself into leather pants and a feather boa and pretend I’m cool enough to pull it off. I want to make and play music. And that’s what I do.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Here's What I Don't Know

I don’t know anything about the “music industry,” but I know enough to put the term in quotes. So many people talk about the state of this inconceivably complex machine/topic as though it could really be defined in a word, a paragraph, or even a multi-volume book. Well, I’ve been pecking at the extreme edge of the music business in the upper Mid-Atlantic region for almost 7 years now through gigs, networking events, an internship, seminars, and meetings, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that I can make less sense of it now than when I started. Some of the things I’ve learned I’ve shared with you over the years. Here’s a little summary of what I don’t know:

1) Record labels? What record labels? Notwithstanding my internship at a radio station in 2006, I’ve met dozens, maybe hundreds of musicians in my day, and to my knowledge, I’ve only met one that was signed to a label. ONE. AND YET, the term “signed” comes up so often and in so many different situations that you’d assume anyone with a guitar in their hands has a development deal.

Saying you want to get “signed” is like saying you want a magical blue elephant to spray endless streams of money at you with its adorable magical snout. It COULD happen, yes. But it’s much more likely that it won’t. Now, you have lots of bands who create their own “labels” and release albums on these “labels,” but printing money from your deskjet doesn’t make it currency. These people can’t market to large audiences. They can’t book tours with headliners. They can’t use their influence to get national or even regional airplay.

The problem is, every musician obsesses over this fantasy of being “signed” and having money and supermodels handed to them on a daily basis. That fantasy ultimately leads to...

2) Carpet-baggers. In any industry, there are the charlatans, schemers, and hucksters that go around selling people magic potions and then skipping town once you inquire about the ingredients. Adams Wilson has dealt with MANY of these people, and truth be told, we’ve been burned. A few times, actually.

One guy agreed to book some shows for us. He took some money, then he stopped answering our calls. Another guy promised us film & TV placements. We were wary. We had a couple meetings, we asked around about him, he seemed pretty legit. We gave him a good deal of money. (Far too much.) He essentially gave us a studio’s phone number for some recording, and then he stopped answering our calls. He’s still on facebook. He’s still going around working with “clients” and probably stealing their money like he did ours. I’d love to give his name and warn people not to work with him. Heck, I’d love to ninja-kick him in the nuts if I’m being honest. However, I doubt I can say anything specific about him without risking libel and the potential lawsuits that go along with it.

Several “labels” have contacted me over the years saying they loved (insert song title here) and wanted to work with us. Talk to them for five minutes and you find out that they want money up front, (for what exactly, I don’t know) and “hey, we’ll see where it goes, and we’ll see what we can do for you, but no guarantees.” Or, they’ll say something like “we’ll get you into a studio in Nashville and see how you work with our ‘producer.’” It’s always nebulous, and it’s ALWAYS cash up front. One of them even said they hadn’t heard the song yet, but they read the lyrics on the website and they’re sure the song had to be good. Wow! Where do I sign?!

There are THOUSANDS of these people and businesses that exist solely to steal (yes I said STEAL) money from musicians who will hand over their hard-earned money without thinking twice when someone mentions buzzwords like “label,” “producer,” “signed,” and “deal.”

3) Live music is on life support. I/We have played countless gigs in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York. That’s my frame of reference. It may be different in other parts of the country and world, but here in our area, it goes like this: The vast majority of these shows are some version of what I like to call “pay to play,” meaning you and 3-5 other bands get booked to play in some dive bar in _____ city on a Thursday night at 11:30pm. Cool! We got a show!

Catch: you have to bring what’s called a “draw.” A “draw” is 10-50 people (depending on the venue) who buy tickets, drinks, and food. The band’s musical ability, their talent, their live show is MEANINGLESS. You could walk up on stage and belch the alphabet backwards for a half-hour AS LONG AS YOU BRING YOUR DRAW. I am not kidding. Now, can you imagine trying to sell that ticket to a friend? I can, because I’ve done it for years. (operative word: “tried.”)

Adams: “Hey, man, we’re playing this show at [insert venue here] in [insert city here] on Thursday night.”
Friend: “Cool, what time?”
Adams: “11pm.”
Friend. “Ooh. That’s rough. I’ve got work in the morning.”
Adams: “I know, but the venue only plays local bands on weeknights.”
Friend. “All right. Maybe I can make it, because you’re a great friend and a talented musician, and you single-handedly built me a house when my old one burned down. How much is the ticket?”
Adams: “15 bucks.”
Friend: “Ooh. That’s steep. I’m not made of money, you know.”
Adams: “But I built you a house. Plus I revived your grandmother when she had that heart attack.”
Friend: “All right. Who else is playing with you guys?”
Adams: “Four other bands I’ve never heard of and I have no idea if they have any talent whatsoever. I don’t even know what genre they are.”
Friend: “Coooool. Well, maybe I can just show up when you guys play. When is that?”
Adams: “The venue doesn’t want people doing that, so they won’t give us a time.”
Friend. “Okay then, well how long are you playing? Will I at least get my money’s worth?”
Adams: “A half-hour.
Friend: “But I could just see you guys next week at ____ venue for free, right?”
Adams: “Maybe....”
Friend: “We’re not friends anymore. And I poisoned your dog.”

Even if I sell that ticket, I’ve still got 14-49 more to go. And let me tell you, this example is not the exception, it is the RULE. This is how shows are run. Successful bands are not groups of musicians... they are audience-bringers. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know how to hustle people. I can’t sell you on that type of show. I doubt most people could. So, as a result, we don’t gig as often as we should. And, by extension, when you as a fan get suckered into paying for one of these shows, you’re going to see some pretty “interesting” acts.

4) The good stuff is where you least expect it. So far, this all probably sounds like bad news, or cynicism. I’d say it’s just experience. But the great part about the music industry that I’ve experienced is the NON-industry venues and people. Our best shows (in my opinion) have been at a winery in Pilesgrove, NJ, and at festivals in small towns. They don’t expect massive draws. They don’t make you sell tickets. They support original music because, strangely enough, they care about original music. They pay you. They PAY you. Actual money. They start on time. They answer your calls. They don’t book you with a metal band, a rapcore band, and a kid who just picked up a guitar for the first time last week.

If you had asked me 7 years ago that this would be my reality as a musician, I would have laughed at you, and poisoned your dog. But honestly, the non-industry places are where it’s at. You want to hear good, original music? Go check out the street fairs in the Summer and Fall. Stick around. Don’t just keep walking. Come out to our show at the Auburn Road Winery on Groundhog Day. (Shameless plug.) Buy CDs and merch from bands you like. If you don’t want to hear any more mindless sugar pop, put your feet and your money where your taste is.

There’s a great deal more to say, but all the how-to guides on writing music blogs tell me not to exceed 1 page, and I’m already at 3. Does any of this surprise you? Does it intrigue you? Does it make you want to grab a torch and a pitchfork and tear down the art-industrial complex with your bare hands? If you have thoughts on your experience in or with the industry, I would be interested to hear them.