Musicians' DIY Fight Club

Where’s the Solutions, People??

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Hey everyone! I’ve missed all of you. It’s been awhile since I have put out a blog piece, but I felt the need to write this one today because as of late, I have been noticing a trend that I feel is rather disturbing from music writers in this city.

I’m going to speak rather plainly about this, so just know that I’m not going to make any effort to soften up what I plan to address in any manner.

With that point made, I’ve taken notice of two pieces recently published by Houston Press writer Kristy Loye that are critical of aspects in the local music scene here in Houston.  I don’t take issue with the fact that she’s critical of what she sees; what I take issue with is the overall tone set in the first of these pieces I will address in this blog post today. It is titled “Become a Better Musician in One Easy Step: Practice More”.

The inconsistencies and failures between its intention versus what it actually accomplished, the overall condescending tone, and the factually incorrect and highly arrogant statement made by one of the musicians quoted in the piece (which I feel contributed to the overall sentiment of the article) are outstanding. I also take issue with the fact that in effect, this piece accomplished nothing whatsoever that was truly productive in the end. It didn’t offer any encouragement, positive solutions, or practical means to achieving something better. It was a piece that mostly served to criticize, not to encourage, and since I come mostly from a position of encouragement and actively finding solutions to problems I see in this musical community, I felt the need to address certain points within the article itself and then offer counterpoints and also some solutions I feel are applicable, since those were not provided.

Keep in mind, these pieces reach a large number of readers, many of which are musicians. Overall, this article was taken as an insult to many local musicians, which Kristy had stated in advance she knew would happen on Facebook.

Then, when the article came out, this was the post she made  on her wall on Facebook, furthering her stance:

She also offered, in response to the criticism she received, an article written by Houston Press Music Editor Chris Gray, that discussed job opportunities in the music department of the Houston Press. In other words, if you guys didn’t like what she had to say, then here’s your chance to write your own material for the Houston Press and prove you can do better than she can:

Well. Alrighty then. Let me begin taking this piece apart.

(If you’d like to access the full article for reference, you may do so by clicking this link here):

http://www.houstonpress.com/music/become-a-better-musician-in-one-easy-step-practice-more-8191295

I’d like to begin with addressing  the points listed within the first half of the article.

The first point I’d like to address is the intention she has behind this piece, which is: “We’re NOT TRYING TO DISCOURAGE anyone, rather we hope to ENCOURAGE those would be slackers seeking to be a part of the ever-hustling Houston music scene to further improve their craft”.

Keep in mind, she wants to accomplish ENCOURAGING musicians to become better at their craft in this article.

Okay. Moving ahead a few paragraphs.

And I’d like to list one more section of this piece from the two paragraphs that precede it.

So. Let’s begin by starting to point out the logical failures first.

If the goal of her piece was to accomplish encouraging new bands to improve their craft, and become more prepared to hit the stages of Houston, this goal has failed in multiple ways.

Here are some definitions of the verb “encourage”.

There are three simple definitions of the verb “encourage” above. I have not read anything throughout Kristy’s piece that would make any new band feel more determined, hopeful, or confident… nor have I read anything that would make any new band feel that this article was written in a manner that would make playing their first few shows here in Houston seem any more appealing, or even more likely to happen… but in terms of the final definition, her article did make ME more likely to do something, or tell or advise (someone) to do something. Which is exactly what I am about to do right now.

First, Kristy states, as her own personal belief, that music is “a competitive elitist art form”. All the writer has done here is make a purely unqualified statement about music in and of itself, without crediting the statement through a definition or an example. WHAT about music makes it a competitive, elitist art form? Give examples of this. I didn’t see any of them listed.

It is my opinion that music, in and of itself,  is quite subjective. What may appeal to one person would not appeal to someone else. In this same vein, there is an error in fact in this same sentence. That music is “competitive”. No, music in and of itself is Not competitive. An art form, yes. I agree with that particular part of the commentary. But music in and of itself is NOT competitive. The MUSIC BUSINESS may be viewed as competitive, but music alone is not. It is simply an art form, which is highly subjective to each person’s tastes.

As we move through the next few paragraphs, we notice a few terms that have no place in an environment of “encouragement”:  “Therefore, the days of filler sets and lackluster openers need to become a thing of the past, immediately. If you’ve just created your starter band and have played less than a year, that’s great. Stay home, by which we mean keep practicing. ”

If someone could tell me how that is encouraging, I’d love to hear about it. “Stay home, by which we mean, keep practicing”.  While I would surely argue that a band should continue to practice, and practice a lot, doesn’t playing live over and over again serve as a FORM of practice? It can help work out jitters, teach the members of that band about playing on different stages, in different environments and with different sound people, and it also helps expose them to new audiences that aren’t their friends or family. Therefore, they can receive a more honest critique of their live show from the audience members that they don’t know. I fail to see how Kristy honestly believes she is still encouraging new bands at this point in her article.

Also, what qualifies as a “filler set” and also a “lackluster opener”? What are the definitions of these two terms? What are the examples? I’m sure she didn’t want to call anyone out specifically, but at the same time, she could have qualified this statement in some way. Also, it is ABLE to be qualified or is it also subjective, just like music in and of itself? What may be “lackluster” or “filler” to one person may be something fantastic to another. What is the measurement of a “lackluster opener” or “filler set”? Would it be qualified by the number of people that attend the bands’ slots? The crowds’ reactions to the band? Is the band off tempo? Out of pitch? Not listening to each other’s parts? Is there something wrong with the way the material was written? Is the material arranged poorly? Still, I feel that these statements were not defined well enough, so I feel that using these two terms was a poor choice.

And by the way, who is the”WE” she is referring to… “by which WE mean…” in this paragraph and also “WE’RE not trying to discourage anyone” in the opening paragraph? Is she referring to the attitudes of everyone in the Houston Press Music Department? Because if so, I can guarantee you not every writer there shares this attitude. I was unclear at this point in the article if she was now speaking for everyone who works in the music department, or if she was still speaking solely of her own opinion. I feel this reference was very unclear.

Continuing, let’s examine an excerpt from the comment by Dobber Beverly, who is the drummer from Oceans of Slumber. “….Because [investors] come here and they don’t hear the upper echelon; instead, they hear starter garbage. You can’t buy your way into music. It’s an exclusive club.”

I’ll begin by pointing out the obvious condescension this statement contains. “Starter garbage”is not only condescending, it’s also unqualified. What qualifies as “starter garbage”? We need to be concise in terms of WHAT this means. Nowhere in this piece so far have I found anything that qualifies ANY of these terms. If a term is going to be used in a critical sense, it needs to be well defined. Also, wasn’t he once a “starter” in music at some point? Yes, I believe ALL musicians were once “starters”. I’d like to remind him that before he calls other bands who are just getting their feet wet playing live shows “starter garbage”… he once had to do the same. I have a feeling that many of his first few shows weren’t 100% perfect and polished, as mine weren’t either and neither were anyone else’s. At some level, you have to remember and appreciate what you were and where you came from, what you worked so hard for, all the mistakes you made along your journey that ended up making you better… before you can marvel at what you are today. Humility is a gift that not all human beings have learned to accept. At least this is what I gleaned from reading his above statement.

There could be many reasons why neither Kristy nor Dobber could list examples of the terms they used in this piece (i.e., not wanting to directly call out any of the bands they may feel are examples of “lackluster openers” or “starter garbage”), but without a clear and concise definition of all of these terms, they then tend to become more and more subjective, ambiguous, and open to interpretation, and can’t truly be taken very seriously in a literal manner.

Now, let’s point to a factual error in fact in Dobber’s statement. “You can’t buy your way into music. It’s a very elite club”. What should have been stated was (because I know where he was trying to go with this) “you can’t buy your way into the ‘MUSIC BUSINESS.’ It’s a very elite club.”

The factual error is that one CAN, in fact, practically buy their way into the music business. Given that this is the digital age, and more and more artists are relying on digital platforms to get their music to the general public (and possibly to music industry people), there’s many ways one could, in fact, use certain options by simply clicking a mouse and having a credit card or debit card, that would help them open up all sorts of doors into the music industry.

First, before I list these methods, understand that You Tube is, in fact, the number one digital platform for music today. This screenshot below is from digitalmusicnews.com, and the article was written on March 28, 2016 (so, this is the most current information available).

You can click on this link to read the entire article: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2016/03/28/what-is-the-best-music-streaming-service/

Also, let’s keep in mind that given this is the digital age, and You Tube is the number one music search engine out there, if you put your music or your music video on You Tube, it could reach a whole lot of people if you promote it well enough. Industry people (booking agents, managers, labels, PR people) want to see how a band’s social media pages (this includes their You Tube pages) reflect their fan base. It’s a factor they keep in mind when selecting the artists they work with. Just having quality music isn’t enough. If they are going to consider working with you, they want to see what your numbers are like on social media. It may not be the only factor they examine, but it certainly is one of those factors, and it can influence their decision to work with you. Here are ways one could literally buy their way into a being larger than life on any social media site,  including You Tube:

This information was found at this link here:

http://hiphopwired.com/2011/10/13/5-secrets-the-music-industry-doesn’t-want-you-to-know/

1. Views, Likes, and Follows

“Have you ever checked out a YouTube video only because it had a lot of views and you were curious to see why?  Are you more likely to follow an artist on Twitter who has 324,687 followers rather than one who has 54?  Are you the type of person to be first to “Like” an artist on Facebook or would you check to see that this artist already has a lot of “Likes” before you join in?

While you may think that looking at numbers is a ridiculous way to evaluate an artist’s worth (and it is!), millions around the world feel otherwise.  Sad as it may be, high numbers often propel artists to celebrity status.  Young and impressionable minds, which the industry targets since they’re the largest consumer base, often assume that if a video has millions of views, it must be good.”

2. YouTube views, Facebook “Likes”, and Twitter followers can be bought for a moderate fee.

“There are now dozens of companies who specialize in increasing numbers.  Some companies use special technology to achieve their goals while others claim to be able to get thousands of “real” followers.  If that weren’t crazy enough, “positive” YouTube comments supposedly written by real people can also be purchased!

This kind of practice is deceptive as hell and makes it difficult for aspiring artists who have to compete against those who have the means to buy such services.  I guess quality doesn’t matter when you can just buy your way to popularity.”

3. Professional Reviewers

“Ever read customer reviews on Amazon or iTunes?  Some are brief, misspelled, and poorly thought out while others are thorough and clearly expressed, almost as if a “professional” had written it.  Shockingly, that’s exactly what’s happening!

Writers are paid to act like customers and write positive reviews.  Sometimes, these writers are simply part of the artist’s team, other times, they’re professional writers who get hired for their review services.  Companies have gotten in trouble for this kind of practice but this hasn’t stopped it from happening.  Again, this makes it difficult for new artists who don’t have the means to compete against this kind of deception.”

So, I’m sorry to say, Dobber, but you CAN, in fact, practically buy your way into the music business. It’s so easy to do these days it’s almost sad to me. I’m sure many bands with some available funds have used at least one if not all three of these options, thinking it will help get them noticed by someone in the industry. Hell, look at Justin Bieber. All he did was post a video of himself on You Tube and he got noticed by American talent manager Scooter Braun. I wonder if he used any of these three options to help him along? How about Soulja Boy? Carly Rae Jepsen? Rebecca Black? These are all pop music examples, but I wonder if they used these three methods to help them get noticed by industry people on You Tube? I would imagine it’s entirely possible that either them or someone working with them could have. So your statement, is in fact, factually incorrect. If you weren’t aware of this factor when you made your statement to Kristy, then maybe I can understand why you may have made it. These surely are different times we are living in now.

Here’s the next section of the article that is anything but encouraging, and also contains many factual errors:

First, what makes the inner loop venues better than those in the suburbs? Places like Scout Bar and BFE Rock Club offer top notch sound, top notch stages, and great staff. They also get all sorts of national acts in there and are pretty selective about their openers. So bands that aren’t that good yet are only limited to those kinds of venues? That’s a total factual error. I think the people that book these venues could back me up in agreement.

Also, bands that play weddings are typically (but not always) cover bands. They also make a lot of money playing these types of gigs, and I’m fairly sure these bands have put in the due practice necessary to get paid what they are worth. Wedding planners seek out these kids of acts and go look at their various websites or social media pages to see how good they are and how much they charge. These are, in fact, professional musicians in every sense of the word (whether you prefer cover bands or not… they are still skilled musicians who are able to make good money at their craft).  Bands that play weddings are typically NOT amateur musicians by any stretch.

What criteria does one use to determine what a band’s level of skill is? What makes it “intermediate”? What makes it low? High? Again, these statements are all ill defined. And why does Kristy feel that our local bands should get better at their craft just to pander to these industry types anyhow? Some of these bands flat out just don’t give a shit about any of that. To them, enjoying playing music is enough. I’ve seen plenty of great bands in this city that don’t give one thought about the music industry factor. They just want to play. They love what they do, they work hard, it shows, and they’re great at it. Does this automatically exclude them from playing the city’s “best inner loop venues” just because they don’t have the goal of kissing the industry people’s asses?

And by the way, what are the city’s “best inner loop venues”, anyhow? Again, there are no specifics or any list of these venues. Would it be Rudyard’s? Raven Tower? House of Blues? Continental Club? Satellite Bar?  I think many of us would have liked more specifics on which venues Kristy had in mind. All of these are great venues, but which ones are “the best”? Maybe it would help some of us narrow things down a bit so those of us with “intermediate skills” can avoid playing there and leave things to the power elite music scenesters in this town and those who flock to them. There are many bands who don’t want to be a part of that whole cesspool anyhow. We just want to concentrate on writing the best music we can, putting our heart and soul into it, and getting up on that stage, and playing our hearts out… whether it’s to a crowd of 20 or 100, we still give it our all, no matter what any critic’s undefined, subjective terms may apply to our music, skill level, or our sets. We purely enjoy playing music.

Finally, this is the section that really stood out to me. This is near the end of the piece.

The statement “that’s why not only should our local stages feature ‘premium bands’….” Again, what constitutes a “premium band”? The definition is not made clear here. I feel many bands from here are “premium bands” and it’s entirely possible that most of them are not playing  “the best inner loop venues” either. But remember, since none of these terms she uses are well defined, I am left to use subjectivity in my application of all of them. Premium bands from Houston that come to mind for me are The Wheel Workers, Glass The Sky, Only Beast, Provision, Project Armageddon, Whit, Chase Hamblin,  Charity Ann, Devil Killing Moth, Jealous Creatures, The Freakouts, My Twilight Pilot, Since Always, A Sundae Drive, Electric Attitude, The Dirty Seeds….. I mean, my list could go on and on and on…. I’m sure each of you reading this have your own list of your favorite local bands as well. You see, when terms are not defined and remain ambiguous, there’s so much left to interpretation.

But, one thing remains entirely clear, and this will take me back to my original point. How is telling the bands in our local scene that our local stages should only feature these “premium bands” encouraging? Remember, Kristy wanted to be encouraging in her piece. I’ve outlined multiple points she has addressed that are anything but. The piece did not set out to accomplish its stated goals in any shape, form, or fashion. Its overall tone is very condescending and seems to cater to the the interests of middle men industry types she seeks to attract to this city, and further, the piece comes across as a calling card for more bands to cater to these industry middle men, not to simply create incredible music and enjoying playing it. There’s also no solutions in this article regarding how bands can make their practices more effective. Sure, there’s this general suggestion at the end:

“Practice until you ache, until your muscles are loose, your voice hits a new octave, your equipment is in perfect tune and the calluses on your fingertips are thick after months and months of dedication to the craft. Do all that, and we fans will come out to support you. Make us proud.”

I mean, great. All these points may or may not be side effects of practicing a lot, but are these effects actually indicative of a productive rehearsal?  In order to write an article with the title such as this one, I would imagine that somewhere in the verbiage there would be tips or solutions on how to actually put together more productive rehearsals. This is not addressed at all. Some solutions I would offer are maybe practicing two days a week instead of one. Focus on taking the songs apart and working on sections of it that need to be smoother. Maybe the drummer and bassist get together for a few hours and iron out solid rhythm patterns. The band might want to start recording its practices so they have something to listen to and check their progress (this is  something we do a LOT and it really helps). Maybe the person who writes the songs could spend more time bouncing their ideas off someone else in the band that has good ideas about melody structure or arrangement to get a different perspective. Everyone should be practicing their own instruments on their own time of course, but there’s also the aspect of how the band works together. NONE of these possible solutions were addressed in Kristy’s article or even hinted at. Also, I’d like to point out that even if a band practices their asses off and becomes as polished as possible, this is still no indication that by doing all that, that “the fans will come out to support you”. That’s absolutely factually inaccurate. Promotion for the show is what helps get people out the most. If a band is really well liked by a few people, there’s a bigger chance of that draw growing if the band promotes the shit out of their shows by hanging posters around town, giving out handbills,  staying on their email list and posting the show on social media. There’s a lot more to all of this than just being well rehearsed. And as far as “making us proud” goes, I’m really sorry, but the first people that should be proud of what they are doing is the band itself. They should love what they are writing, producing, and working on FIRST. Who gives a shit about all these “investors” and industry people? Good God, not me! If a band is  trying to be “more polished” simply to impress these people, then they seriously have a much bigger internal issue that needs to be fixed. For a music writer for a major local publication to suggest that local bands should be rehearsing more to cater to these middle men is an absolute insult to the bands’ creative integrity and ethics.

It makes me wonder if Kristy has ever been a musician, or is simply a fan of music in general and somehow she might think that gives her some sort of credibility as a music critic. It doesn’t. I have a feeling if she was a musician, she wouldn’t have approached her piece in such a condescending and poorly thought out manner. But it doesn’t matter, she’s already stated that she will “make no apologies” in any event. Thus far, she has stood by her word.

In conclusion, I’d like to address the only call to action Kristy made towards all of us musicians that took issue with her article. The offer to be a music critic at the Houston Press. For “all the haters who say they can do better, to prove it”.

Well, Kristy, I’m turning that Houston Press music writer position offer down. As you can see, I already AM my own press. I may not be as big of a name as Houston Press is, but I control everything I write. I make my own rules. I have complete and total freedom to write about whatever I want, in any manner I choose, with no editor breathing down my neck telling me what tone to take in my pieces, what words I can or can’t use, what topics I can and can’t address. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I also have my own radio show, where I am completely free to address any topic I want, in any way I want. Nobody is telling me what I can and cannot say. Everything I do is 100% my own, without anyone censoring me in any way. And even though I am a small operation, I am having an effect. It’s only going to grow from this point on. What makes you think that I or any other musician in this city would want to work for a publication that continually puts out material such as the article you wrote? Writers at the Houston Press have been critical of the music scene here for years but they hardly EVER offer viable solutions to the issues they see.  I wouldn’t want to work there, and neither would many of the other musicians in this town. I would actually encourage other musicians to do exactly what I am doing and start their own operation if they think they can “do better and prove it”. Here I am.  This is my solution. I would encourage others to follow suit.

TK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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