Further thoughts on why Major labels suck….

Now it’s 2011. As I mentioned in my Christmas post I intend to add tons of new posts in the first 4 months of 2011.  As of now I don’t have any structure or plan covering these upcoming posts so I will encourage everyone to post their suggested topics as comments. I will certainly be adding more info on recording, playing live and band politics. Beyond that I will just write what comes to mind.

This morning I had a conversation with a musician friend about the demise of the music business.  It’s interesting to note that some people are still arguing that the music business still exists. This is complete lie. The days of the huge labels controlling a massive industry are over. The labels that remain are pale shadows of their former selves. How did this come to be? It’s simple. They did it to themselves. 

In the late 1980’s and early 90’s the music business underwent a format change. Vinyl records became obsolete and the CD became the new format.  For the major labels (names like Columbia, Warners, RCA, BMG, Arista etc) this brought in a deluge of unearned money.  It’s important to understand why this money wasn’t earned.

rebel yell

All you labels suck!

When CD’s were first introduced they were viewed as some kind of miracle. The supposed quality was in a new class.  This new technology was promoted as extremely expensive to produce and manufacturer. This, of course, was a lie. Yes, the earliest releases cost huge amounts of money to create. Yes, the new production plants were expensive to build. Yes, the digital format had higher apparent clarity and as a result the recordings needed to be carefully produced in order to exploit this clarity but the whole story was cleverly hidden from the musicians and more importantly the public. The real story was that the manufacturing process was like most manufacturing processes and as the amount of units created rose the costs per unit plummeted.  Soon after the introduction of CD’s the cost to produce each CD dropped from $6-8 to $1.25 per unit,  On the other hand the labels had used the introduction of the new format to raise retail prices from about $7 per vinyl record to $14 for a CD.  Their production costs had risen slightly and they had doubled the price.  And then, like a rain of gold from the gods, every hit record from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s became hits again.

What most people don’t realize is that the vast majority of music is bought by people 16-24 years old. This is a key factor in understanding the mechanics of the music business.  It defines the way records are marketed. It drives the cycles of music movements and it means that a tyranny haunts the record labels. If they don’t get you to be a fan of some of their artists in that 8 year period then you are lost to them forever. Yes, there are some odd characters, like me, and, perhaps like you, that listen to new bands for decades of their lives but most people are not like this, they fall in love with certain bands as a teenager and they listen to them ’til the day they die.  This makes the music business obsessed with youth culture and youth trends. They create them. They track them. And they exploit them.

The format change to CD’s didn’t change this pattern of human behavior but it did add an interesting wrinkle to it. Suddenly everyone that had loved music when they were young decided to completely rebuy their favorite artists of yesterday. This translated into a deluge of cash to all the major labels.

Rather than seeing it for what it was, an aberration, a strange one time gift, they decided that this was the new normal pattern and expanded their staffs – fueled by the river of money rolling in the door.  The mania reached a fevered pitch and the word that money could be made in this remarkable way spread. Sony, the Japanese electronics giant, bought Columbia and Epic records in an effort to acquire their catalog. The thought being that they could introduce yet another format change ( the mini disc) and sell billions of dollars worth of gear to those crazy americans. They falsely believed that they could once again resell the complete catalog to the whole american public. All the while that this was going on the web was growing in scope in the background. It didn’t occur to any of them, as they counted their millions that the massive price increase that they had duped everyone into paying wasn’t in direct opposition to the MARKET. That’s the MARKET as an entity. The type of entity that levels playing fields with brutal indifference.

It is interesting to note that my experience working inside record labels as a manager had taught me that on the whole the executives of the large labels were lousy businessman. The upper echelons of the major labels are stocked with people who couldn’t run a Carvel ice cream store with any authority. On more than one occasion I sat through a lecture by an executive about how the music business was different. The normal rules and market forces didn’t apply.

All of this carping and self-delusion was a smokescreen to cover a little considered fact.  It’s a dirty little secret. The Music Biz is an illegal cartel. To state that more clearly in case my terminology is kinda vague, the biz is a group of huge corporations that meet secretly to fix prices and control all supply to the stores. The same companies own the production and large portions of the distribution networks.  They own it all and they never compete in the one area that counts, price. That’s why a visit to any large music retail chain will find the average music buyer looking at a sea of releases, all at the same price. Imagine that, what an interesting coincidence. How do they get away with it? Do you really have to ask? The answer is bribes. Big ones paid to politicians and regulators.

So now this particular blog has moved up to recent history. Starting in the very late 90’s the music business started to hemorrhage money. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch.  Let me take a moment to point out, so as to be crystal clear, that I am not talking about musicians. Musicians have little to do with the music business. The music business if made up of people who know little about music and in my experience have little interest in music and more to the point none of the are musicians.

As file trading came on stream the fact that music CDs had never fallen to a market driven price sent the feeding frenzy of kids downloading into overdrive.  Any what did the major labels do? Did they let the price of CDs fall since they were a dated technology? No they sued their potential customer base and got together to decide that they should RAISE the price of CDs. What utter idiots.

Now they are attempting, yet again, to use a potential price controlled monopoly system to get everyone to pay ridiculous prices for music – Apple’s I tunes. Yes it’s an amazingly convenient brilliant new technology that demands you pay the same damn price that doesn’t work in the stores. It makes this demand even though there are no costs of delivery, no physical format to manufacture and minimal artwork to produce.  I expect that some of you will argue with me on this point. Go ahead I will argue back. Please keep in mind that the rise of filetrading devalued my life’s work by a factor of ten. Nonetheless I believe it can’t be fought and needs to be utilized cooperatively.

What does this mean to you, the dudette playing in a band? It means that the labels are of no value to you. They are whales beached in the sun. Their continued attempt to dominate the market will only serve to drive music from the center of youth culture. It will only serve to make every band have to make it by playing live and promoting themselves. It means that the labels will now move aggressively into merchandise (t shirts and stuff) and live fees as part of their contracts. It means that you should avoid labels like you avoid herpes. Oh wait a minute that’s a bad analogy for musicians…fill in your own…..Is there a way out for the majors? Yes, but I am not about to tell them how to do it.  Right now there is a kid in his bedroom that has the same thought and he will end up buying their catalogs. Good for him……………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2011


Lesson #16 How to create an all ages show (pt 2)………..

This is part two of a blog that will cover the basics of how to set up your first all ages show. In the first section you picked out a couple of other bands that we can invite to play on the show so we can turn the gig into a real show instead of just a glorified practice for your band. Then you scouted out some possible places that you can rent as the concert hall/gig space. Finally I covered some basic tips and warnings about cops and fireman. OK, go back and read it. Now let’s move on.

Let’s remember that all of this must remain a complete SECRET. That’s an important point. If the news gets out too early every lousy, almost-a-band, group of losers within 100 miles of you will be texting your cell every three minutes. KEEP IT A SECRET. Ok the next thing you gotta do is get a sound system for the show. If one of the people in your band is rich and you already have a beautiful 24 channel mixing board, mics, mic stands and PA speakers than just skip ahead cause you’re awful lucky.(also ask the rich guy if his Dad has a nightclub that he forgot he owns)
Let’s assume that you don’t have this stuff. You can’t get by without it. Plugging an old mic into a guitar amp will mean the show will be an embarrassment instead of being a PARADE OF ROCK GODS.

First check with the place you are thinking of using for the show. They may have a sound system or may have a phone contact of someone that rents one out. This is basically what you are looking for:
1 -mixing board or pa head amp with at least 4 channels, much better if it has 8 or 16.
6 – decent mics like SHURE SM 58 or SHURE SM 57

2-monitor wedges -these are boxes that stand on the front of the stage and let the band hear themselves sing
6 – mic stands two should be straight stands and 4 should be boom stands.Make sure that they actually work and that they have the little mic holder on the end since is sucks using three pounds of duct tape to attach the mic to the stand. (although there is a scientific study that taping a microphone to the top of the drummers head with eight pounds of duct tape makes the audience happier)

Two decent PA speakers, preferably stand alone speakers with stands. Now it’s important to understand that there are two different kinds of PA speakers. The first kind is just a speaker in a box. These need some kind of amplifier, either as a separate AMP HEAD or as part of the mixing board. If it’s in the board the mixing board will probably say something like “powered mixing console” on it.
The other kind of speakers, and these are the most common nowadays, are speakers that have their own amplifiers built right into the box with the speaker. “These will probably say something like “Voice of God – Powered Speaker System” on them somewhere.
You will also need a CD player or Ipod with A CABLE THAT CAN GO FROM STEREO TO !/4″ STEREO. (ANY MUSIC GEAR SHOP WILL HAVE ONE). This will allow you to play tunes before the show starts, between bands and most importantly after the show is over. Remember this is your first show and there are many problems that you haven’t faced yet. One of these is getting all two hundred people that came to your show to leave. It’s not as easy as you might think. Turning on really lame Frank Sinatra songs at the end of the show will usually drive them out. (I actually like Sinatra but I’ll leave that along for the moment)

You DO NOT NEED a rack (which just means a fancy box) of reverbs, compressors, noise gates, EQs, quantum degorillafiers or any other crap. You don’t know how to use them and you don’t need them even if you knew how.

On the other hand what you will need is a SOUND MAN! Notice that this term kinda sounds like an adult job. That’s because it is. This is one of the adults that you are gonna talk into helping you stage your rock show. If the place you are renting has a sound system then they will probably have sound man. The person you deal with to work out the rental will be able to give you the details. If the Venue (place you have the show at) has a sound man then use that person. Don’t try to use someone else. It will make the people that run the venue mad and may make them decide not to rent to you. The good thing about paying this kinda guy is he will know all about the gear and you can probably trust him to make your show sound decent. If you give $25 to the Audio Visual Geek from your school you may get a good sounding show but probably not. If there is not a sound man that works with the venue and you can’t find a rental then you may end up with the AV kid. This usually does not work…

If the venue doesn’t have a sound system then you call around to local music shops and ask if they know anyone that “mixes live sound” and has their own gear. This guy will show up, set up, do the sound, pack up and leave (after you pay him).You can also find people like this in the phone book under Sound Reinforcement. (sounds like the audio police doesn’t it?) Craigslist also carries ads for these guys as well. I’ll get to paying for all this stuff soon.  The most expensive option is the guys you find through the phone book.  This is one of those areas where it pays to be creative and have lots, and lots of friends in other bands.

This is as good a place to talk about money as any. I’m guessin’  I’ll have to come back to the subject later.


To put on a show, rent your own place and be a promoter, costs money.  As you add up the costs it can look really scary. I know because I started being a promoter when I was 19. It was scary. Eventually I learned to take risks and plan for failure. When you do it that way then you can afford to take the chance and maybe pull off the coolest thing that has happened to you and your friends so far.

Let’s look at what it MIGHT cost.

Rent the place…………………$500

Sound system………………….$200

Printing, copies, bribes, payoffs to the mob……….$60

Security people……………..$150

Insurance …………………….$100


Holy Shit! Let’s forget it right here.  Aren’t those South Park reruns on tonight?

Stop being a coward. It’s not that much money. After all you’ve got almost three months to figure out how to get it. Three Months!! Are you crazy.

Yes, I am crazy and yes you are going to plan three months ahead. 

When it comes to booking a show, any show you always work three months in advance. Just trust me on this one. This is the way it’s gotta be done. The place you are trying to rent will likely be booked up at least three months in advance. So will the sound man.  it’s gonna take that long to get it together.

So here’s some ways to get together the money for the show.

1. Sell the drummer into slavery

2. Band members pool their cash from part time jobs.  $100 per guy per month gets you there without sweating.

3. Ask multiple adults to kick in part of the money.

4. Have the other bands on the bill kick in some of the money.

Now it’s important to remember that this isn’t money that you are spending.  It’s money that you are risking. If all goes well it will come right back to you with a little extra on top. This will set you up to do it again. If you are going to ask the other bands to kick in then make sure that your band puts the most money in. If you don’t do it this way then you’ll have trouble with the band that does put the most money in. They will want to call the shots and it will be tough to stop them.

When you start putting this show together one of the first things you will have to spend is money as a deposit on the place you are going to play. This will usually be around $100. This has to be money from your band. If it isn’t you’ll find another band running the show and your band not playing. 

When you are handling money YOU MUST WRITE DOWN EXACTLY WHAT IS SPENT AND COLLECTED. If you don’t you are in for heaps of trouble.  As you write down the money stuff and plan the gig out always remember to keep an eye on what the show might make back.  It makes no sense to put together a show that will cost $1400 to make happen and hold it in an old church that holds 180 people that get in for 3 bucks each.  Fortunately most places that you can rent are priced with the idea that someone might want to make money. It used to be an average of  a dollar per person. So if the venue held 200 punks then the rental would be 200. I’m not sure if this true nowadays since it’s been 15 years since I booked a venue.

Plan carefully, keep track of all the money that you have spent and are gonna spend and make sure you set the ticket price at a level where you can make the money back.  If one or two of your cheaper friends don’t complain about the price then you priced the show too low.

Finally on the money topic, there are other ways you can get cash to do the show. Often towns have budgets  for summer entertainment. They often overpay lousy bands. You can go to the town council/mayors office and try to sell them on the idea of financing a show as a good way to keep the local kids out of trouble. Another possible helpful adult would be local pastors of churches. They often have money for enriching the lives of the town’s children. What could be more enriching than a Hardcore Show?


That’s all for installment 2…I’ll write the next one by the end of the weekend. I hope that will cover the rest of the stuff you need to know to put on an all ages show so you can SUCCEED AT ROCK…………………..

Copyright Brad Morrison/Biliken Media 2010

Lesson #12 Let’s talk about Royalties (pt 2)……..

In the last post I started to introduce the topic of Song Publishing. I explained a little history and I outlined the three basic kinds of publishing royalties.  I hope that it made the topic a little clearer. If you don’t follow any of the last post or this post PLEASE POST QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS SECTION. It took me a long time to understand  all the crazy terms that the music business uses. I was in the middle of negotiating a publishing contract for an artist when I finally convinced one of my lawyers into explaining it to me.  So don’t feel foolish if you don’t follow it all on first reading. Just remember publishing is important.

In the last post I mentioned that people pay royalties for the USE OF THE SONG.  The song itself is the property. This is not to be confused with the recording of the song. The recording is a different piece of property. Think of it this way. You buy a dvd of terminator 2. Does that mean you control the use of the movie Terminator 2. Of course not. You just have a copy of it. The company that paid for the movie owns the rights. Well behind those Hollywood dudes is a writer, the guy that wrote the script. He may still own the script. That writer is like the songwriter.

Here’s another way to look at it. You sit down and write a song. You decide to call it “Yesterday” . You look in the mirror and are happy to discover that you are now Paul McCartney of the Beatles. Lucky you. So your band, The Beatles, records the song. Then along comes two hundred other musicians and they record the song. They are not you, Paul McCartney. They don’t own the song. They own the recordings of the song.  They then make CDs with their horrible versions of your lovely song on them. These CD’s sell to morons with no taste. For each one they sell they owe you a royalty since you, Paul McCartney, wrote the song.  They pay this royalty to your Publishing Company and to you – 50%/50%. That’s the way the law says it’s done.  This kind of publishing royalty is called a mechanical royalty.

Now one of these covers (versions) by one of these other guys gets put into a film. It’s used in the overly nostalgic scene where Julia Roberts remembers her childhood of abuse.  The film pays the band for the use of their recording.  But wait, what about you Sir Paul McCartney? Don’t you get some? (Hey your one of the Beatles you ALWAYS GET SOME!) Yes, you get some because the film company must work out a deal with you, paying for the right to USE YOUR SONG.  This deal is called a SYNC license and the royalty they pay you is called a sync royalty.

So now let’s go back to your band The Beatles. You guys recorded the song right? Yes, you did and your record company turns it into a CD and download.  Of course you guys are rock stars and when your record sells you get paid royalties. So that’s where you make your money right? NO! Well I actually mean yes but I’ll cover that in another blog covering band royalties. Yes the label pays The Beatles but they must also pay you, Sir Paul McCartney, the Cute Beatle, for the USE OF YOUR SONG. Cool huh? You get paid for being in the band that makes the record and you get paid for writing the song.

Now the recording you made and all of the recordings that all of those other lousy bands made of your song “Yesterday” get played on lots of radio stations. These radio stations have to pay royalties for all the songs they play. So your Publishing company gets paid money for that. These payments are called Performance royalties. But wait, we’re not done.  All over the world bands begin playing your song live. Some of these clubs pay for music licenses. This makes more money. Some of that gets paid to you.  Also restaurants play various versions of your song, your recorded version and also the versions recorded by all those lousy bands as background music as mindless people chew their food.  To make the situation even better stores at the mall start playing recordings of your music as background as people shop for useless consumer items. Both the restaurants and the stores also have to pay money to play music so some of that money gets sent to your publishing company.  Holy Shit! You’re Rich!!! No surprise since you are Paul McCartney.

Since the song is so damn popular they even put out a songbook with guitar and piano music for the song. This too means money paid to your publisher.

These are they ways that a SONG makes money. Not the recording of a song, the SONG ITSELF. This is important to understand. If you are the one that writes all the hits in your band then you are in a great position as far as money goes.  That means you get the biggest Mercedes.

Since you’re Paul McCartney I’ll tell you a little story about you.

Paul McCartney was working with Michael Jackson on a collaboration, a song called Say, Say, Say. During the session McCartney explained to Jackson that the way to make money was to own the publishing rights to songs.  McCartney told Jackson that he was about to try to buy the company that owned the publishing rights to lots of Beatles songs. Jackson listened very carefully to McCartney. He then quietly outbid McCartney and bought the company that owned the Beatles songs thereby screwing McCartney out of some of the publishing money on his songs. Poor Paul huh? Don’t feel too bad. This is why………

The law says that ALL publishing royalties get split 50%/50% between the songwriter and the publishing company.  That means that the payment goes directly to you the writer. Now, you can be a complete idiot and actually sell the rights to the song to someone and then they will get that money.

Most bands that get signed to the majors get offered a publishing deal. That means that a publishing company will offer to give you some money right now, like 100,000 in return to the publishing rights to your song. A standard deal will say that you must write at least 12 songs a year and that they will pay you 50,000 each year. This money is an ADVANCE against money you might make.  The deal will go on to say that you will receive 60% of all publishing money that the company receives. (don’t forget that advance, that gets paid off first) The company keeps 40% of the publishing money. In return for their cut the company will try to promote your songs. They will try to get other musicians to record it. They will try to get film makers to use the song in a movie. They will try to get commercial advertisers to use the song. 

Of course, there is another option. You become your own publishing company.  That way you get all the publishing money. It’s easy to do. You just set up a business name. Register it. Open a bank account under that name and then inform the Publishing Rights Societies that you “are administering the publishing of all material written by _____________.” Fill you name in there. What are the Publishing Rights Societies? What do they do? Well that will appear  in a future blog………

Hey here’s a link to a poll. It’ll help me decide what to write about so please vote

What should I blog next?

Copyright BradMorrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #12 Let’s talk about Royalties (pt 1)……..

I’m going to change course a little with this post and talk about some general concepts that affect the way a musician makes money. If you are going to SUCCEED AT ROCK you need to gain an understanding of the different ways that you make money as a musician.

Of course even the dumbest of musicians knows that one of the ways that you make money is having someone pay you to play, that is to say some guy says “take your guitar and stand over in that corner and play some tunes, here’s $50! Don’t you feel lucky? By the way the paying customers will be throwing tiger shit and watermelon rinds at you. Just ignore them….” Being a musician you think gee ain’t I lucky someone paid me to play this damn guitar. Then you stand in the corner and play a polka version of Smells like Teen Spirit. What you may not know is when you play that rippin’ Om PA PA version of a Nirvana tune Courtney Love is also getting paid. “What!!!?? “you scream ” That murderous tramp!!!??? I didn’t agree to that!” Well you actually did. When you chose to play a Nirvana song rather than one of your own masterpieces you caused a PUBLISHING ROYALTY to be generated. Since Courtney, that no talent tramp owns Kurt Cobain’s publishing some of the money goes to her.

See now I have cleverly brought up the topic of publishing. Publishing is the most misunderstood part of being a musician and in many ways it is the most important when it comes to making money via royalties. So, in an effort to start your education on this fascinating topic I will talk about PUBLISHING in this blog.

To understand publishing we have to travel through the WAY BACk machine to the dawn of the modern era when apes ruled the earth. Oh wait a minute that’s the planet of the apes movie. Sorry. No we must travel back to around 1890 or so when the player piano was invented. In case you have never seen one of these wonders it’s a piano that plays music all by itself without involving any musicians. Perverted idea huh? The reason I want to talk about the history of publishing, and yes I know history makes you want to drink a quart of vodka and pass out, is that if we look at the history then you will understand publishing in a way that makes sense. If I just tell you how the modern system works you will probably be confused. So stay with me a bit and in a few paragraphs I hope to cover all the background you need.

In the good ole’ days people played music at home. This was often the only entertainment they had. Ma played the fiddle, Sis played the piano and PA played the washboard and sang. Even in those days there were hit songs. People bought sheet music, that is to say, written out music and learned the songs that way. Learning how to read the basics of music was taught in almost every school. The companies that sold this music were called publishers. They published music just like big companies publish books. They would hire songwriters and then publish written copies of the songs. Shortly after this system started up a few savvy songwriters realized that they should get paid a royalty on each piece of sheet music sold. Sometimes this would go as high as 50% of the price. (sheet music often sold for 5 cents)

Then along came player pianos. These marvels would play music all by themselves using rolls of paper with holes punched in them. These needed songs as well. The US Government had passed various laws protecting the rights of various kinds of creative people including songwriters and authors. So the new player piano roll companies worked out royalty deals with songwriters as well. So now there were COMPANIES and SONGWRITERS. The companies were called Publishing Companies or Satan’s Minions. (that’s just my name for them) This system remained the same through the Ragtime Period and the money from sheet music made some musicians wealthy. By wealthy I mean they weren’t begging for food.

Then along came the movies. At first this new form of entertainment was silent. The theaters that showed the movies would hire a pianist or organist to play along with the movie. They would buy sheet music so the guy who wrote the song was still gettin’ his little piece of the action.

Now I’ll skip back to the 1890’s. Tom Edison invented the earliest form of recorder. It recorded sound on a wax cylinder. Once they figured out how to mass produce the cylinders the age of recorded music was born. The companies that made the cylinders hired great musicians to play while they recorded. Of course these musicians had to play someone’s music so they opened up sheet music and started playing. This pissed off the sheet music companies which had contracts giving them the exclusive right to use the songs of their songwriters. They sued the cylinder producing companies. When the lawsuits and arguments were finished the cylinder companies agreed to pay a royalty to the sheet music publishers for the USE OF THE SONG. (This is an extremely important phrase to remember) They decided to call these royalties mechanical royalties since they were being paid on something that was reproduced mechanically.

Soon the wax cylinder was replaced by the vinyl disc and record companies sprang out of Satan’s head and began to make stars out of performers. In the early period the writer was rarely the performer. So now let’s go back to movies.

As the end of the Silent Era came movies started to contain sound, not just of speech but of music. They audiences were used to hearing music during chase scenes or when the damsel was tied to the tracks (my favorite part) so it was natural that the film makers would add in music to the films. It was only a matter of time before they put popular songs into the movies and sure enough, you guessed it, they got sued by the song publishers. When the lawsuits and counter suits were settled they worked out a deal. They couldn’t just pay for each copy of the film they made even though the film makers tried hard to make that deal. They had to pay a fee that covered the fact that tons of people would be entertained by the music in the film. The lawyers had to make up a fancy term for these arrangement because that’s what lawyers do. They called these deals synchronization deals. Sync deals for short. They said that the film maker was synchronizing the music to images. The fees for these deals were fairly large compared to other royalty payments made to songwriters.

These Sync deals opened the doors for Hollywood to go wild putting music in films and boy did they ever. They started writing MUSICALS were the actors sang songs and danced around. It was a dark day for art no matter what your gay buddies may say.

Around the same time (the 1920’s) radio was invented and soon they too were playing music over the air. Yup you guessed it. They got sued too. So they agreed to pay royalties to the songwriters as well. These were called performance royalties. They have continued to call them that even though no one is actually performing other than the guy on the CD they are playing. I guess it all comes from the beginnings of radio when they would have a live orchestra to play the music.

So to recap this overview of PUBLISHING ROYALTIES there are three basic types of publishing royalties, Mechanicals – that’s the money that comes from CD’s or downloads nowadays, Sync – that’s the money that comes from any kind of video/film images, like films, TV, Music Videos and Performance – which is the money that comes from radio play, play in elevators and music being played live in any kind of business. Like the guy playing his guitar in the corner while people thow tiger shit at him. All of these royalties are paid for the USE OF THE SONG and they are paid to the publishing company and the songwriter.

In the next blog I’ll continue talking about publishing and explain exactly how they are paid, who those guys at ASCAP are and how to keep from getting ripped off….. or at least to try to not get ripped off………………………….

Hey here’s a link to a poll. It’ll help me decide what to write about so please vote

What should I blog next?

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #11 How to get out of town…..

So far most of the blogs I’ve written are designed to be a basic set of helpful hints for bands that are just starting out. If you are further up the food chain some of my comments should help. No one has written a comment that says something like “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and she’s maaried to the President of the Major Label the band is signed to so what do I do? She’s smokin’ so I’m a little confused”. If someone does write about Major Label problems including the one I just mentioned I’ve got a strategies. Since most of the comments have been about basics I’ll stick to that for now.is signedfor beginner bands and some are for bands that are further on. No one has written a comment saying “the wife of this guy wants to sleep with me and see he’s the President of the Major Label the band are designedSince I am just building up a small catalog of blogs to choose from there is not much variety yet. I’m workin’ on it. Stay tuned and feel free to suggest topics.

Let’s assume that your band has conquered the small city that you live in. You’ve played the local venue enough to have a drink named after your drummer and you’ve played the shitty free local rock station festival thing that always sucks and you’ve played at some rich kids house for remarkably good pay and you’ve reached the point where you have to limit how much you play so that you continue to pack in the punters. What do you do? You get the hell out of town that’s what.

This is how you do it. (well at least this is some of the tricks and techniques) Get a map. If you’ve never seen one and you slept through that class ask your dad. He’ll be thrilled that you are asking about something like a map instead of a bail bondsman. Take said map and tack it to the wall of the band’s practice space. Now put a marker, a large bowie knife will work, where you live. Next draw a circle about 60 miles outside town, then another 120 miles outside town, then 180, then 240. If you live in the middle of a vast desert and these circles contain no human life go to chiropractor school and give up the band. For all the others, start with the smallest circle. List the biggest towns and cities. You’re only listing towns and cities that are at least as big as the one you currently play in. Also list any colleges. Now scratch your head and think about the first list. Are any of these towns worth playing? Yeah, maybe two, and there’s a community college about thirty miles away. Now move on to the next large circle and do the same thing. What you are looking to do is come up with ten cities or towns to play within about 4 to 5 hours of home. Once again colleges are key.

So now you’ve got your list. You can easily fill in the hip club that everyone plays that’s two hundred miles up the road. Ok that’s an A list target. So you’ve got ten lousy big towns and one lame city. That’s perfect. Remember each of those towns and certainly that city contain bands looking to play outside of their local hell hole.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, Brad you don’t understand what it’s like in Central Iowa. You’re right. But I do know that this works in most places. If you must travel eight hours to buy batteries then I’m not sure I can help you. For everyone else, yes i know that a twelve hour drive takes you to that great city two states over but that will cost 4 times your gig money in gas. What we are trying to do is expand our base in a region to start with. This will increase all your other options greatly. Just think of how many rich kids are inside those circles. They’re all gonna have birthday bashes and some band is gonna get the 5 grand that daddy thinks is the going rate for live music.

Now you do some of these things.

1. Google the college radio station contact info for any college within striking distance. Do a little homework on any station you find. You are looking for the Program Director and Music Director. These guys are always key players in the local music scene. Once you have the names you call them and send them the usual promo pack and cd. NO PICTURE. Do you think you are that pretty? These guys are on radio. Let them imagine you are their fantasy band. You can also listen in on the stations on the web and call in to DJs that you think might like your stuff. Young DJ’s love to discover bands. When you talk to anyone at the station this is what you want to know. Are there any clubs? If so who books ’em and what’s the key to getting to the guy. They know. Is there a “Concert committee for the College? ” Is it just a group of idiots? This is usually the case. Get the contact info. When you talk to the station guys treat them nice. Be humble and tell them you’re looking to break into their area. THEN TELL THEM YOU COULD OFFER GIGS TO BANDS FROM THEIR TOWN. This message will usually get a response quickly. This message is the bait that you are going to spread all over those circles you drew.

If you get the concert committee and they are idiots tell them how popular you are. If they bring up any concert, even playing for the special ed dance, you immediately take the most you’ve ever been paid and multiply it by 5. This is your college gig fee. If you never made scratch your band plays for $2500, minimum. They have a budget and they have to spend it. I have seen concert committees pay has been drunkard hacks 100k and think they got a deal. College gigs are gravy. That’s why all of the shows will have real agents trying to lock them in. You are trying to get a middle slot or an opener. These pay too. If the committee of fools is paying some has been 60k then your 3000 will seem cheap.

2. Start to compile a list of venues, bars, theaters inside these circles. YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO PUT TOGETHER A TOUR. You are trying to expand your base. You are trying to find gigs that are in the “so painful to drive there” zone. That way, if you are offered something that is good visibility or status and it only pays $50 then you will take it. Now do some research on the towns. Are there papers? Fanzines? Does any of these towns host a Rhubarb festival? You may not play these things. It all depends on what your band sounds like and what kind of contacts you come up with. If you just go the lazy route and find out the name of the promoter at the really cool club 4 hours away, then you call his number every day for a year you will get nowhere. Once again remember that promoters are impossible to get on the phone. You are looking for contacts that you can convert to being one of your disciples/minions/slaves/groupies/fans. You want the promoter to hear about you from someone else first. If that happens to be the music director of the local station and he respects his taste or even better the promoter wants to butter him up to get his shows plugged then his mention of your band will open a door. The first time you talk to a promoter he should always say something like, “Yeah I heard of you guys. Didn’t your drummer have to be rescued by a military chopper or something?”

3. Put an ad on Craigslist/Facebook looking for bands, or put the word out through your contacts that you are looking for bands. Remember the bait. You need some fresh blood to open for you. Yes, it will piss off all your friends in other bands but in most cases you are going to dangle the bait and not get someone a gig. The key to this whole operation is that you want to get as savvy about all these other towns as you are about your home town. You want to make some friends in other bands. I’ll assume that you already have learned the earlier lesson and you are befriending any band that comes to town. You are letting them sleep on your floor and showing them the best late night pancake place. These are the kind of relationships that will get you gigs elsewhere.

4. You need to be able to land a gig for someone else sometimes. This means working it out with a local promoter. This takes times, effort and a little creative dealing but it can be done consistently, I know because I did it. One solution is to organize your own gig in a rented hall and bring in two of three openers from out of town. Now it never pays to help out shitty bands. You are looking for talent. This is always true.

So there are some pointers to get you started. If you work this for three to six months you
able to spread your band’s name around the region. This will move you up to being a bigger band. This is where you need to be to land a manager, or a label or to pull a rabbit out of a hat and get on a tour. If you try it it’ll work then you’ll be succeeding at Rock…………….

What should I blog next?

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 how to find a manager (or how to be one) (pt3)

So far I’ve covered some scenarios where bands have ended up with a manager and talked about personality traits that are good in a manager. In most cases the possibility of a manager is one of the first serious issues that a band has to deal with outside of the band. This is often the first contract that a band will have to consider. It’s often the first of many relationships that can make or break a band. Is there a surefire way to have someone interested in managing the band. The answer is YES.

All you need to do is become a major national touring act and it’s certain that someone will step up and offer to take a cut of the money. Nice joke huh? Well in it’s essence it’s the key to all of the things I will be talking about in this blog. You have to work all of the different facets of being in a band to make the band grow. By grow I mean become more popular and increase the band’s ability to get a response from fans.

It is a band’s draw and popularity that will attract attention from a manager. In short your band must have a big buzz. For years I ran an indy record label and managed bands. I listened to thousands of demos. Let me correct that I listened to tens of thousands of demos. I found a few bands for my label through demos, I found more bands to produce and I found no bands to manage. All of the bands that
I decided to manage I first heard of through other people. It is very rare for an established manager to sign a deal with a band that is unknown.

I’ve had many bands ask me if they should send demos to management companies. They generally are talking about management companies that have large rosters of well known artists. These are the only management companies that are public enough to end up on industry lists of contacts. Smaller companies of one or two managers are never widely known outside of the record labels. So, think about it for a second. You send a tape to an agency that has 14 managers covering 60 bands. The tape may get listened to but what motivation does the large agency have to pursue this artist that is completely unknown? The answer is none. A large agency’s time is always better spent making more money for their client list or signing the hot new thing. So they may listen but they won’t sign you. That leaves smaller on or two person operations. They may very well be interested in developing a band or two. The problem here is that you will never find these companies without extensive contacts in the music business. (oops there’s that pesky who you know thing again) But there is one opening for bands – you may not be able to find them but they certainly can find you.

Through the years as I got more and more experience managing I looked further and further for acts I was interested in. That’s how I met Shelleyan Orphan an English band. How did I find bands? I listened to what bands fans were talking about. I listened to the buzz.

What is buzz? It’s the band’s story. The better and bigger the story the more substantial the buzz. OK let’s take a high school band as an example. What is this fictional high school band, The Turd Chompers, story.

Well, let’s see…. Oh yeah they played Jimmy McDonald’s keg party and the singer poured a pitcher of beer over one of the prettiest cheerleader’s head. Didn’t they make some tapes with that A/V dick that claims he has a studio in his dad’s basement? I also heard that they are playing at the school spring dance and the school paper is supposed to write about it……………

Now let’s try a brand spanking new Alternative band Big Toxic Blast… Hmmm this is a little easier…I saw they played the local venue opening for Chu Chu Rodriguez and that show was packed, how’d they get on that bill? I heard the drummer humps beer behind the bar on Tuesdays. Don’t they hang out at the Faghanistan Cafe with all the other artsy assholes? Someone told me that they are doing demos with that kid that’s starting a label… I see their posters all over. I heard that the Rum Swagglers are pissed ’cause their drummer split to jion that band. Isn’t the main guy some sort of druggy? It sucks that the paper keeps mentioning them . The review of the Chu Chu show said the opening set was rocking. That guy that writes all those reviews is an idiot he hated our latest CD…..

The buzz on a band that’s just about to move up to regional tours and, perhaps, the big time is a larger version of the same thing….We’ll call this touring machine Battleflag Pickup….Shit man did you see battle flag pickup is opening on both the Cornpone Festival and the first slot for Jeepers Creepers at the Marlybone Theater. They suck. There is no way that they can draw that much. I think it’s cause The Art Fart magazine got all excited over their newest release when it was featured for a day on I Tunes. What the hell man, it was only one week. Sanchez says he heard from George’s girlfriend that it was actually a mistake and that’s why it was only one week. And he said that their guitarist was acting big at the Guitar Graveyard, he bought both the sunburst 61 Paul and the Blue flame strat. That sucks because I put $50 down on that strat. It doesn’t matter since Rolph from Gnome army is probably gonna kick the stuffing out a him for stealing his girlfriend…….

Buzz is Buzz. It doesn’t matter if it’s high school or hollywood in many respects it’s the same. The main thing to notice is that someone is talking about the band. They are talking about the bands STORY. This is what promotional consultants do, they generate and define a band’s story. They then package it in a way that the press, radio, TV and the internet can repeat easily. What a band does onstage is part of creating this story. If you are unfamiliar with the early history of the band then here’s a link. Genesis They were led by Peter Gabriel who is a master showman. They combined theater with rock and were one of the early great bands that put on a show that was something that people talked about.

All of this brings me back to a manager. In order to get a manager you either have to recruit one from the circle of people you know and work with him to get him up to speed or attract one. If you want to go the route of luring one in then you need to do lots of the things that a manager would do for you, get press, get talked about on the radio, get gigs, get arrested…. As the band raises its visibility the chances are that someone will come out of the shadows to scout your band. Most bands that get signed are seen by industry people long before they realize it. Labels hire scouts and a good manager will always be asking around to find out which band is worth seeing.

Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

Lesson #10 How to Find a Manager ( or how to be one) (pt 2)

[ Ray Charles “Lonely Avenue”]
Copyright Brad Morrison/Billiken Media 2010

So now I’ve looked at some anecdotes of how some bands came to be the proud owners of a manager. I’ll look at it a little differently now.By management I mean a whipping boy, designated asshole, dreamer of crazy schemes, loser that gets to hang around with the stars, parasite that sucks the band dry and the glad handing salesman that a band has to tolerate. Managers, good and bad are all of these things. The description is based solely on whether the band is going up, down or sideways.

Yes, a band can manage itself. It’s rare that it’s done correctly and usually a band managing itself translates to one of the girlfriends doing all the work and getting shit for it.

[Jimi Hendrix”Crosstown Traffic”]

Managers may very well be parasites but they do not kill off their host. Bands that have managers on the whole do better than bands that do not have one. Someone has to do the business and promotions end and a pro, in my opinion, is always the best.

[Thelonious Monk”Ugly Beauty”]

So how does a band get a manager?

1. Look around the SCENE that you are part of, if you’re not part of one then you should correct that error. Look at small time promoters, big fans that are also accountants (that’s how The Pixies met Ken), College station DJs, fanzine writers, bouncers (Zeppelin’s Manager was rumored to be a small time collector of cash for jukebox companies), bartenders etc. Look for two things. A head for business and honesty. That’s it. A Manager doesn’t need much more. Being a hard worker will come automatically or he’ll wash out. The job is always busy, busy, busy.  They must also love your band.

I will be outlining manager tricks, techniques and methods in later blogs. The bottom line is that some of the best managers start out as a buddy of the band and then grow into the position. Make sure if you go this route to give the person plenty of time to sort out their job – six months to a year. You got to let him make some mistakes that’s part of learning. After a predetermined time period then look hard at what’s gone down. Has the band moved up? Talk about moving up means nothing. Be brutal. If they can’t cut it fire them. Make sure that you have a contract and it allows the band a way out after six months to a year.
[The Clash “Brand New Caddillac”]

A good trick is to talk two people into being a management team. Sometimes these work beautifully. The usual outcome is one of the two eats the other one alive. This is a good thing. It shows which shark to employ. If you hire an amateur make sure that he agrees that you will be his only act for at least the first year. After that time if he doesn’t pick up someone else then he may not be a good manager. Any manager worth twelve cents is being constantly to manage new bands.
(I’ve had over a dozen requests since I started this blog)

2. If you have any kind of label deal have the label solicit pro managers. This will make more headway than a band trying to contact them directly. Remember all managers ARE NOT LOOKING FOR NEW ARTISTS EVER. Their roster is always full. Yet, miraculously, they will find a slot for your band if you convince them that your rocket is about to leave orbit.

If you speak/write/fax/contact via talking drum a real manager YOU MUST TALK ABOUT HOW POPULAR YOU ARE AND THAT YOU ARE THRILLED WITH THE PROSPECT OF SOMEONE TAKING 15% OF YOUR ASS. A band that is defensive and cagey about money makes a manager very nervous. This is why managers always work out deals where they get paid as the band gets its cash.

Here’s a story to back this up. I saw a band open for the Figgs. They were called Super 400. They sounded like an updated version of the 60’s supergroup Cream. To make it better they were decked out sixties outfits that were way over the top. The bass player was a hot woman with ass length blue black hair that played the bass like James Jamerson. I was hooked.

I started to talk to them about a deal. They immediately got evasive and get bringing up the fact that the drummer’s brother was Lenny Kravitz’s bass player. According to their version of reality he just had to ask for a major label deal and they would have it. I told them to have the brother manage them. Well, of course, he was so busy…. I went round and round. Finally they agreed. Then they started to fight about my cut. I’m a manager and I’m thinking I’m gonna make you a huge pile of cash and you’re gonna weasel me out of my share?!

[The Clash “Hateful”]

In a moment of Adult Onset Stupidity I continued to talk to them. They very cleverly maneuvered me into setting up a showcase for a label before they had actually signed the deal. I very cleverly knew that this is what they were doing and had my own plan. I figured that a showcase cost me nothing other than a few calls and an invite to an A & R guy. They, feeling that their pants had grown awful tight, DEMANDED to have a list of the people were going to attend. I, of course, refused. If they wanted me to prove that I “knew some guy in the music business” I would go through with the charade.

I set the showcase up in a small club in the East Village of New York. They acted as if they wouldn’t play the showcase and in general acted like horse’s asses. It’s interesting to note that it never occurred to them that I had set up a gig in the middle of the afternoon in one of NY’s hotspots. The owner had agreed to open early and BRING IN STAFF. Had they had any smarts they might have wondered how I had arranged with two days notice that a nightclub would open two horus early and would be waiting for the band with waitresses, bartenders, soundman and bouncers. Gee, what did Brad tell the owner of this nightclub?
[Traffic “Rainmaker”]

I had played the band’s demo to the VP OF A & R for Warner’s music. I had told him truthfully that I had come to him first. He loved it. He told me if they didn’t shit themselves on stage we had a deal. He trusted ME to know what was hot. He asked one thing. Give him first shot. Don’t turn it into a bidding war for the band’s contract. He’d pay big but he wanted to avoid some kind of sick payout on a band that had nothing other than a good manager that had a great track record. Of course the band didn’t know this. They didn’t wonder about the club. If they had they might have figured out something was up.

Now I knew that Warners were the band’s dream label. I also didn’t have a signed deal. This gave me one option, A private showcase. I told the band that they would be playing for a few writers and maybe a real A & R guy if we were lucky.
[The Band “The Weight” My current fav]
So I arrive in a chauffeured town car with the VP of A & R for Warners. We walk in the club and the bar is packed with the stoney faces of every A & R scout, wanna be scout, junior A & R rep and indy label A & R guy in New York. The VP of A & R glared at me. Three of the guys sitting at the bar worked for him and were so far down the food chain that they had only met him once or twice.
“What the fuck is this? Some kind of sick joke?” He turned on his heel and stormed out. None of the people left in the room had ever signed a band. None of them had the power to sign a band.

The band, being much smarter than me had told the drummer’s brother about the showcase. The drummer’s brother being much smarter and better connected than me had told the band that they shouldn’t sign with me and that he would get some real A & R guys to see the band. This would result in a deal. He, of course, had never signed a deal for himself or anyone else. The news that I had set up a daytime showcase in a hip club was enough to set the jungle drums throbbing.

I’m not sure if the VP of A & R has ever forgiven me. He has continued to answer my calls. Much more slowly than in the past. Since Adult Onset Stupidity is incurable I went on to sign the band to a management contract. I managed them for one calendar year. The whole time I represented them they continued to argue with me that the drummer’s brother’s advise was much better and he wouldn’t rip them off. In the first three months of my contract I produced a record for them and then signed them to Island Records. After a year of constant battles and efforts by the band to keep me from earning any money from them I dropped them. They were mystified by my actions.

[The Feelies “The Last Roundup”]
They hired the almost famous brother to manage and produce for them.   A short 7 years later they released a self released EP. They still sell out a little nightclub in Troy NY. They are the only band in the area that has ever been signed to a major label deal.

Ok more on techniques to attract and keep managers in the next section. I hope to have that online by Wednesday evening……stay tuned………….