Posts Tagged ‘music’

Crystal Method

May 6, 2010
Hans Fink with Crystal Method

left to right: Ken Jordan, Hans Fink, Scott Kirkland

I have always had a love/hate dynamic with electronic music. But groups like Crystal Method remind me of the things I love about this particular genre.

Last month, I invited the Crystal Method, consisting of musicians Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, to come shoot a series of video interviews against the green screen of the studio in Burbank for a company who shall not be mentioned. Ahem. Being the good sports that they are, the duo humored my request, and brought with them their little pal, Norm Trooper.

Norm Trooper

Norm Trooper

Norm Trooper is an idea that has grown out of control. The inception of Norm Trooper is, in my mind anyways, the real story. For those of you who aren’t in the loop, essentially, Scott Kirkland, who is one half of the duo, was setting out to leave for a tour, and his son handed him a Lego storm trooper and told his father that the storm trooper would protect him. Kirkland took the little Lego space infantry man with him on tour, and, similar to a running gimmick from the French film Amelie, took pictures of the little Lego man posed in the places he traveled to, or with the celebrities he met, including Leonard Cohen and Jeff Bridges. From there, the institution of Norm Trooper evolved into an out of control and compulsive sensation, spawning a Norm Trooper page on FaceBook, laden with hundreds of pictures of the now iconic clone. To me, though, the beauty of this story is the simple fact that it started as a way of bonding between father and son. Call me cheesy, sentimental and even schmaltzy (holy shit, spell checker didn’t highlight it, I guess that’s actually a word) but being both a father and a son myself, I can’t help but appreciate that story on those levels.

To backtrack a little to my opening statement, Crystal Method, like the Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Tricky, or Nine Inch Nails represent to me the a spirit of honest experimentation in a genre that lends itself to normally repetitive clichés. Beyond the indistinguishable house DJs and overly repetitive themes inherent to Electronic music, these artists have each carved a distinct sound for themselves while simultaneously embodying the ideals limitless possibility.

Crystal Method in particular has been around a long, long while, and as such, has deeply influenced subsequent generations of artists while still maintaining a very strong and relevant presence in today’s mercurial musical climate. I see them being to this genre as Metallica is to heavy metal (dear Metallica purists, please spare me any analogies that have to do with any of Metallica’s current body of work or any remarks about their haircuts, I intend to stand by this analogy until I think of a better one).

Simply put, I like them and I was stoked to meet them. And Norm Trooper.

Crystal Method being interviewed by Madeline Meritt

Crystal Method being interviewed by Madeline Meritt

While I did not personally interview the Crystal Method, I did have the good fortune to hang out with them and converse with them, and I did sit in and watch as the video interviews with host Madeline Meritt were being filmed against the green screen. During this process, the duo dropped an excellent piece of advice for all aspiring musicians, which of course, could be applied to any sort of creative endeavor.

This is not a verbatim quote, but here is the essential message:
“Be true to your sound. There is no sense in trying to be the next big thing and emulating the sounds of what you hear around you or what you think the next big thing is, because by the time you break, something else will be the next big sound. Just be true to yourself, and be willing to experiment and define your own style and sound.”

Till next time, loyal readers… um… wow. That was supposed to build to a clever sign off, but I don’t have one. So… Bye.

What Independent Artists Should Know About Publishing, Pt. I

May 6, 2010

In the music industry, publishing is one of the most important yet least understood areas of the business.

Many independent artists cruise around either completely naïve as to what publishing is or how it works; then there are those who think they know, but are simply prematurely jaded and cynical, based in part on the reportedly diabolical nature of the music industry and based in part on a lack of any real substantial knowledge. You may find an independent artist who refuses to even talk to a publisher because some well-meaning friend told them holding onto 100% of their publishing would allow them to collect more revenue that way (the fallacy here is that 50% of something is always greater than 100% of nothing). On the flipside, you may find an artist who jumps into a bad deal with a reprehensibly long term simply because they do not understand what they are getting into.

In this day and age, the savvy artist will learn as much about the business end of their art as they can. This does not in any way negate hiring a manager, publisher or agent, or trying to court a label deal; in fact, the more you know about your industry, the easier it will be to make wise decisions regarding working with certain managers, publishers, agents and labels.

To belabor an obvious point, the bulk of the money to be made in the music industry is not made through record sales. Most record labels don’t want to admit this, and cling to this archaic concept that they need gold and platinum records, but the truth is, the industry has reverted to a singles business like it was back in the ‘50s. Users are more likely to purchase a single song online than waste money on an entire album.

As such, the bulk of the revenue generated in music comes from one of three sources: touring and live performance, merchandising, and publishing.

What It Is
Publishing is a term that usually refers to the print and literary industries, in which a writer’s efforts are published in a book, magazine or online publication. But when put into the context of music, the meaning of “publishing” becomes unclear and obfuscated.

To put it in the simplest terms, publishing is essentially about owning and exploiting musical copyrights. Each song is considered a “property,” and a collection of “properties” is referred to as a catalog. When you create a piece of music, or “property,” then that property only needs to be made once, but can be exploited over and over again to make money. This is called licensing. You can exploit your property by licensing it to films, TV shows, video games, ad campaigns, or even various sundry uses such as ringtone distributors and karaoke companies.

A publisher is an entity who helps the artist exploit their property to its fullest. A good publisher has relationships with the music supervisors who select music for film and TV. A good publisher also has relationships with advertising agencies, game developers, producers, engineers, songwriters, etc. and understands how to negotiate with each of these people.

A Brief History
A little known fact, publishers predate record labels. For example, Frank Sinatra did not have a label that produced his records and distributed his songs. Rather, he and his manager would meet with a publisher. The publisher would show them a catalog of songs written by a stable of hired songwriters, and Frank and his manager would then decide which songs the singer would perform and which songs could be passed on to another singer (or, more likely, simply go die in obscurity).

Music publishing has roots that predate the actual music industry itself. In fact, the start of music publishing lies in print publishing. Back in those crazy colonial times, when there was no radio or internet and travel was generally limited to how far you could get via foot or beast of burden, general stores were popular. They were popular because they generally sold everything one might need, be it food, blankets or stationary; and that stationary often included songs, printed on parchment. Traveling salesmen would come through and offer to take some of the general store’s goods with them and sell them. As such, many travelling salesmen would learn the songs, and perform them in front of people and try to get them to buy the notation and lyrics, neatly printed on parchment. Pretty soon, the transcontinental railroad came along, and the Vaudeville era began, with performers travelling across country, performing songs, and salesmen hounding them, trying to get these performers to buy their catalog and perform songs from their song books. The people who owned the printing presses would hire musicians to write new songs with the intent of printing them up in song books and selling them. Salesmen would pitch these songs to specific theater troupes, offering to license the song to those performers exclusively, printing the performer’s likeness in the songbooks. This is the start of publishing.

Copyright laws, which were close to nonexistent, began to evolve to include musical copyrights (previously copyright law only covered things such as works of literature and maps). In New York a street often referred to as “Tin Pan Alley” emerged, named such because it was a collection of multi-storied buildings, and in each room of each building were publishers and songwriters clanging away on pianos, trying to generate more musical property to sell. This era saw writers such as Cole Porter, George & Ira Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Dorothy Fields and many others emerge and influence the landscape of American music.

Tin Pan Alley

The days of Tin Pan Alley evolved into the Brill Building era (named for the Brill Building in Manhattan, which to this day is still populated by songwriters and publishers) and launched the careers of songwriters such as Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller, Gerry Goffin, Carole King, Joel Hirschhorn and Al Kasha (the latter of whom I am proud to say served as a mentor and friend to me for seven months before his declining health made our collaborations impractical).

Brill Building

Then the Beatles came along and wrecked everything. Here was a group of musicians who wrote their own songs, and therefore, did not need songwriters or publishers. This of course influenced other artists, who started writing their own material, and for a while, the bread and butter of the publisher was in danger. Songwriters, such as my former mentor Al Kasha, no longer made their livings writing songs for performers. Rather, they began writing songs for music and television. As for the publishers, well, they were a little smarter and quicker to adapt to a changing industry than today’s monstrous and backward record labels are.
As such, they were able to redefine their functions to adapt to the changing trends in music. The publisher turned into an entity that not only matched songwriters with performers when applicable, but became a representative of the properties and catalog created by self-contained groups, like the aforementioned Beatles.

And that is a fairly general history, without going into too much detail.

Conclusion
The concept of publishing in music may seem complicated, and indeed, it can be, but it doesn’t have to be. As stated earlier, publishing is basically owning a musical copyright and finding many ways to exploit it for capital gain. It behooves the modern artist to understand as much as they can about this aspect of the business, as it is currently one of the three major sources of revenue in music.

There are many different types of publishing deals, and indeed, terms common to the industry that you should become familiar with. I will gladly delve into these in a follow up blog on publishing. But for now, I’ve one million things to write, most with pending deadlines. That’s right… exactly one million.

I hope this basic overview provides you with a solid foundation and understanding of what publishing is all about. Stay tuned for more on the world of music publishing, and if you have any questions in the interim, you may post them in a comment on this entry and I will do my best to get back to you with a helpful answer.

Thanks for reading.

NEXT TIME: types of publishing deals and common terminology

Dirty Heads

April 29, 2010

Dirty Heads

I recently interviewed Dustin “Duddy” Bushnell of the Dirty Heads for the cover of a marijuana lifestyle magazine called Culture. This wasn’t the first time.

Allow me to rephrase that. This was my first time interviewing them for Culture magazine, but it wasn’t my first encounter with the little known quintet. In fact, when I first encountered them, I didn’t interview them at all; I co-directed a photo shoot. And they weren’t a quintet; they were a quartet, rounded out by a DJ named Rocky (now they have a full band as opposed to the DJ).

Prior to being listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “Best New Bands of 2010,” and the release of the heavily rotated single “Lay Me Down” featuring Rome Ramirez, the band was just gaining notoriety. The year was 2007, and if I remember correctly, the track “Stand Tall” had gained some hype and was even being featured at the X Games. I was working as Editor-In-Chief of Skinnie Magazine, and one of our in-house sales associates named Kevin Ashford had brought the Dirty Heads to my attention. Ashford was always very hip to the music and culture indigenous to the surf & skate community, and had relationships with pretty much every action sports oriented brand. He was also apparently a close friend of Braden Asher, who manages the Dirty Heads.

Kevin Ashford told me straight up, “This band will be the next big thing.” Well, all I have to say to that is, good call, Ashford. I seriously should have listened to you more back in the day. While some may contend that the Dirty Heads are not the next big thing just yet, I would like to point out that three years after Kevin’s claim, they are definitely well on their way and have received some rather impressive and credible accolades.

Regardless, at some point in 2007 the Dirty Heads found themselves in some “upscale” nightclub in Costa Mesa, the name of which eludes me at present. They were in the awkward position of being in a fashion shoot for a magazine they were unfamiliar with, being asked to wear clothes they didn’t like from sponsors who did not fit their lifestyle, and ultimately dealing with a club that wasn’t really their scene. And I was in the precarious position of trying to coax them into doing so for the sake of the shoot while making sure the band, the models, the sponsors and the photographer were all happy. Yay me!

In typical Skinnie Magazine style, the products and sponsors were completely mismatched with the models and the venue, thereby making the shoot all the more questionable. But the thing about Skinnie is, in those days, we were troopers, and we would do whatever it took to make things work out. We were the MacGuyvers of print content. You throw a box of matches, a paperclip and a toilet paper roll at MacGuyver and tell him to defuse a bomb, he’ll figure it out. Likewise, if you throw fashion accessories meant for dirt bike riders (the “bro” scene as many like to call it), a band that caters to the surfer and stoner demographic (read: “not bro at all”), a nightclub that has little to do with either (read: “sorry, but we want people with money and nice clothes to come here as opposed to surfers, stoners and bros”) at us and tell us to make a fashion spread with next to no budget… well… you get the idea. We somehow made it work, and that was both the frustration and the excitement of it all. That and bottle service.

To be fair, our greatest strength going into this shoot was probably the fact that we had world-renowned photographer Michael Vincent handling the camera. Michael Vincent is a very well respected fashion photographer who had already shot for the likes of Maxim, FHM and many other lad mags in various countries (he seemed to get booked in South America quite frequently). However, even having a heavy hitter like Michael Vincent on board made the shoot a tad awkward, as Mr. Vincent was at the time accustomed to shooting scenes laden with sex appeal. We had storyboarded this whole concept of the Dirty Heads hanging out at a club, wearing our client’s apparel, partying and drinking with a bunch of hot girls. Seemed simple and reasonable enough, we figured it would make the readers happy, the clients happy, the venue happy, and probably the band happy as well. As it turned out, a couple of the guys in the band had girlfriends, and being photographed with these hot, scantily clad female models draping themselves all over the band members’ laps and posing in questionable positions made the attached members quite nervous and in some instances downright uncomfortable. As for the members who were single, naturally they were fine with the whole situation, but we had not foreseen that two of the members would be involved in a serious relationship, and that there might be a question of moral comfort in having scantily clad women pose with them for a “sexy” fashion shoot.

It’s safe to say that in retrospect, compromises were made and somehow, we pulled off a good shoot. In the end, everybody was happy in spite of the unlikely circumstances. At least, I hope everybody was happy with the end result.

My most recent encounter with the Dirty Heads was considerably less awkward and therefore considerably less humorous, but still memorable nonetheless. After reminiscing about the humorous photo shoot and former band mate Rocky, Duddy and I got into the meat of a solid interview that can be read online here or at any place in So Cal that you can find Culture Magazine.

In a wacky side note, a week prior to being asked to interview the Dirty Heads, I was on assignment at the Cat Club, doing a show review for Music Connection. The boyfriend of the artist I was reviewing was, apparently, a musician, just like everybody in LA. But he wasn’t just any musician – no. He was one of those musicians who was so rich in integrity that he held nothing but contempt for any and all commercially successful artists. Of course, he mentioned the Dirty Heads in conversation and went on and on about how much he hated them and how they pretty much ripped off Sublime. I will say this about that: if you rip on a band in front of me, then odds are I will probably be asked by somebody to interview that same band a week later. At least I think that’s the lesson…

Or maybe that’s not the point really. I want to contend that while it’s obvious the Dirty Heads are influenced by Sublime, the real question is, who isn’t? Every artist is influenced by somebody, and Sublime is one of the most influential bands in recent decades. And to be fair, the Dirty Heads worked their asses off to turn their music into a viable means of income, and it’s working for them. Rather than holding them in contempt for their success, I hold them in esteem for proving that surviving in this industry is still a possibility.

In closing I’d like to thank Braden Asher for making the interview (and photo shoot) possible, Culture editor David Burton for giving me the assignment, and of course, Kevin Ashford, for having introduced me to the Dirty Heads in the first place.

Enjoy!

How I Learned to Like Country

April 12, 2010

The Hopdown Bilby Band

For as long as I can remember having ears, I’ve never liked Country Music.

Well, “never” is an unreasonable quantifier, I suppose. It’s not that I dislike Country music. Perhaps I should clarify: I loathe the twangy, line-dancing stereotype that we collectively associate with Country. However, at the core roots of Country music lies the same blistering swagger that shaped early Rock and Blues (which in turn, influenced all subsequent genres). Like it’s related genres, Country it is a form of human alchemy for translating pain into entertainment, tragedy into enlightenment and guilt into redemption.

For me, the Country artists who defined everything great about the genre are guys like Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson and the Charlie Daniels band. Taking it back further, you have cats like Merle Travis who wrote the timeless “16 Tons,” or Woodie Guthrie, easily Bob Dylan’s biggest influence. But if I were to judge by the radio, TV and most accessible music media, Country artists like this have not existed in a while.

The fact is, Country music, at its core, is exactly like Blues, Rock, Rap, Reggae and even Punk. To simplify my point without digressing too much, it originated as music of the people, the local downtrodden, the wanderers, the socially underprivileged and the working class.

Contemporary Punk artists such as Mike Ness of Social Distortion and Mike Herrera of MxPx have not forgotten the close ties between genres. In fact, if you have a chance to catch Mike Ness’ country set, do it. I regret not having my camera on hand for that show, although I do owe a debt of thanks to Terry Dipple of Ink’d Chronicles for inviting me to that show. The aforementioned Mike Herrera even has a rather rocking Country/Rockabilly side project called Tumbledown.

But what truly opened my mind and heart to country were not the endorsements of punk pioneers (in fact, I don’t really like MxPx at all to be honest, I think Tumbledown is wayyyyy better. No offense, Mike Herrera). Rather, I happened to catch two different shows, within a month of each other, in which an indie Country Artist shared the bill with various Rock and Punk bands.

The first, I had booked the band I manged, Shoppy, at a showcase at the Whiskey A Go Go in Hollywood. At this same Showcase, this band of unlikely-looking individuals took the stage and played some of the rockingest Country that I never even knew existed in this decade.  Yes, “rockingest” is now a word. Try and stop me from using it. The band in question called themselves the Hopdown Bilby Band, and they were lead by a frontman in a ten gallon hat. To his left, a bassist with a nose piercing and an AC/DC shirt, and hippy with an acoustic guitar. To his right, a young lady dressed in her Sunday best and a lead guitarist who looked like he should’ve been in a Metal band. Let’s not even mention the drummer, who reminded me vaguely in appearance of Al Jourgenson of Ministry.

Never mind the eclectic appearance of the sextet; their energy was unbelievable, and everything about their performance was honest and true.

The second occurrence came when Mark Nardone at Music Connection asked me if I would review a show for an artist named Andrew Anderson. I knew nothing about this guy, but since I was going to be in town for that show anyways, and since Mark Nardone is awesome as far as editors go, I took the assignment. Upon arriving at the venue, I met Mr. Anderson and spoke to him briefly, expecting him to have a backing band with him. No backing band. Just an acoustic guitar, a mandolin, and a cowboy hat.

Typically, I don’t enjoy singer songwriters. Just one voice and one instrument and no beat is something of a frustration for me. However, the minute Anderson opened with his song “Necessary Casualties,” a room full of would-be punk rockers found themselves gazing in shock at the stage as this powerhouse of a performer passionately unleashed a fury of lyrical intensity over the accompaniment of his acoustic instruments. It was sweaty, raw and honest.

Andrew Anderson

The Hopdown Bilby Band

I’ve always advocated that music is a universal language, as universal as mathematics. Something as simple as key and rhythm can powerfully communicate any emotional subtlety in the Universe. However, in spite of this view, I have always been somewhat of a music snob. Only in recent times have I been able to thankfully drop some of those pretenses and open my mind up to genres I traditionally hate out of general principle.

While I may have been inspired to re-evaluate a genre, I still loathe line-dancing and that twangy pop shit that passes as Country today. I know music is music… but sincerity goes a long way, and regardless of the genre, when music is honest, it can open doors and minds alike.

The Blog That Almost Wasn’t

April 9, 2010

Everybody has a blog.

Many of these blogs are nothing more than opinionated ramblings.

And generally, the more the blogs have to do with entertainment (e.g. music, film, art, literature, etc.) the more opinionated the ramblings become. Then again, how can one expect objectivity when dealing with something as subjective as the arts?

This is why I didn’t really want to start a blog. Sure, I have opinions, especially on music, the central focus of my professional existence. But who the hell wants to hear them? The internet is inundated with a seemingly endless amount of rhetoric, criticisms and mouse-pad professionals who think they know it all. Why toss pennies into a well already lined with pence? While we’re at it, let’s shine a flashlight on the sun.

As such, I’ve decided to start a blog anyway, and that the goal of said blog is to be both entertaining AND informative; I intend to make it obvious when I am making an objective observation of something in the realm of music and entertainment, and when I am offering up my subjective opinion.

I am not here to be snarky or to ape popular rhetoric. I have experienced the entertainment industry from both the fan perspective and the business perspective, and I know what’s what. Lastly, I am not here to be everything to every music lover. I am not the final word or a one-stop shop of anything and everything. I’m just a really fucking smart guy with a unique perspective, and I will bring you plenty of interesting content involving many fascinating musicians, artists and music professionals, and I will present it to you in the aforementioned “entertaining and informative” manner. Plus, being that it’s MY blog, I anticipate there will be entries that are pretty much just my perspective on an issue or principle relating to music or entertainment. It’s up to you if you like it or not. I know, isn’t freedom neat?

“Well, with that attitude, why would you even start a blog?”

Because, apparently, people enjoy my writing. After all, I get paid for it. In fact many of my friends and colleagues continue to pressure me to write, as apparently, my way with words is somewhat amusing. But – most imporantly – apparently, the very act of me having a blog somehow establishes “writing credibility” in this modern world of web fever. Forget the fact that I was an Editor-In-Chief of a hot regional publication for six years, or my many freelance contributions to publications such as Music Connection or Culture... it’s the blog that makes me credible, modern, and qualified as a writer. None of that actual past experience stuff with the antiquated print medium. Sheesh.

So, go on and behold; I am a credible writer now. Pretty neat, huh?

Yes. Yes it is.