Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group is guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry guidebook, Musicians' Desk Reference. For more on the project, visit its Facebook page here.
Wow, what a month. Extreme highs and lows, minimal sleep and a work schedule that would make an outsider believe I had an armed guard with a shotgun pointed at my back … which in some regard is true, except that I am playing both roles.
I am going to attempt to make this blog entry significantly shorter than the last because, as you may have guessed, I have more work to accomplish. The ever-looming deadline for South by Southwest (SXSW) is creeping up and preparations with everything surrounding the presence of Musicians’ Desk Reference at SXSW grow almost exponentially by the day.
This will be my fifth year attending the Austin, Tex., festival/conference (the largest music-related event in the US), and while it is my second time going without performing, I can already tell that this will be my busiest year ever. Taking meetings, handing out promo material and managing schedules for myself and my team are just a few of the things that will fill my week-long itinerary, all for the pursuit of introducing Musicians’ Desk Reference to some select individuals for endorsement.
While there are many different potential outcomes to this journey, I feel confident that my inevitable glass of top-shelf Kentucky bourbon at the end of the week will be a salute to success rather than a drowning of sorrows.
The obvious focus of this month, or at least what the intention was to focus on, was our Kickstarter campaign for Musicians’ Desk Reference (our upcoming music industry progression eBook for you newcomers). We still have a little over a week to go and time will tell what the final outcome is. My original goal was to have the funding reached by interested parties to eliminate the need for a third party publisher, ultimately keeping the cost down for the user.
In the event that this goal is not obtained in early March, never fear, as those who know me have probably deduced, I have several backup plans. Am I thorough? Yes. To the point that I am slightly neurotic? Probably. Regardless, nothing is going to stop the freight train that is Musicians’ Desk Reference. Nothing.
So in my attempt to clear my schedule for February to make way for this crowdfunding campaign, I actually ended up with a much busier month that originally anticipated. On top of all of our regular client work, The Counter Rhythm Group hosted our Locally Insourced Cincinnati Music Industry Trade Show, a fantastic show with Bad Veins, PUBLIC and The Ridges. We have been in negotiations with several of our clients for national support tours and we are in the midst of working a potentially huge licensing contract for a client.
In addition to a nationwide social media campaign and a getting ever so close to finishing the book, these past 28 days have seemingly become a marathon that we have just sprinted through. My next vacation is (literally) planned for 2015.
In closing I would like to take a second to thank not only those who have already donated to our Kickstarter, but also to those who (hopefully) will. There is still some time left (depending on when you read this; campaign ends on March 8), and sharing is something we are also encouraging folks to do. I would really like to try and go the independent route with this project, but I am prepared with other options in the end if that is not the case. At the least it has been quite a journey.
I also would like to thank those who have had to deal with my absentmindedness in (“normal,” non-music related) conversation over the past few weeks. I would like to say that this may change in the coming months, but knowing myself and how much I want to accomplish with Musicians’ Desk Reference, I would just plan on it for the next several months. It is by no means a way of stating that I do not care about what else is going on in the world, but should be viewed as a precursor to how significant I think this project can potentially be. I have dedicated literally half of my life to the music industry and I believe this is my biggest accomplishment to date.
Goodnight, and thanks for reading!
Several of Cincinnati's biggest artists scored some national attention for their appearances in Austin during the just-concluded South By Southwest festival.
• Among various other appearances in Austin during South By Southwest, RCA Records' Walk the Moon were also featured at the mtvU Woodie Awards Festival. The fest (streamed live online) was an offshoot of the Woodie Awards ceremony, which had Walk the Moon nominated for the new artist award (or, as they call it, the Breaking Woodie … which just sounds painful). Fellow Ohioan, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, ended up scoring that prize.
Here's a video clip from WTM's Woodie fest appearance.
The 2012 SXSW festival has come to an end and it's left us tired, sore and broke. In retrospect it seems like a meager price for a full week of live music, free booze and hanging out in one of the country's coolest cities. But for many bands, it's just another week on the job.
Among the thousands of artists that apply for SXSW every year, only a small percentage are officially a part of the festival. However, that doesn't stop bands from all over the world, like Cincinnati's The Pinstripes, from taking the stage or at least creating their own. Even if it's on their own dime and they aren't part of an official showcase.
The six-member Reggae/Ska/Soul band traveled across the country to perform on the streets of downtown Austin. And, from what band members Matt Kursmark and Leo Murcia say, it seems like they'd happily do it all over again.
"When we play shows and busk, and hustle the best we can, it's, like, hey, we're from Cincinnati. This is what we have to offer and what our city has to offer, and remember it. Remember that you had a good time and you moved your butt. We're trying to shake butts, really. Trying to shake as many as possible," Murcia said.
The Pinstripes, which played a variety of festivals over the years, note that SXSW is unique in that it definitely carries its own, more "industry-focussed" tune, compared to others.
"I was surprised to see that it's an industry party. It's not for the fans, but I'm also surprised at how many fans there were," Kursmark said.
"It's definitely nuts, 'anything goes' to a certain extent. There are a lot of people here who are trying to experience as much as they can, ourselves included, and watching people try to do that is an experience in itself," Murcia added.
However, the exclusivity of the festival didn't deter this group from having a good time or making an impression on crowds, particularly the police.
"The first time we were practicing our acoustic set on the street outside of Dallas in a neighborhood and we were playing outside. It was a nice day … then someone called the cops for a noise complaint. But the cops said, 'Hey you guys sound really good, but I have to shut you down,' " Kursmark said.
Then police officers later asked when and where they were playing at SXSW so they could come check out the show.
"The cops really seem to like The Pinstripes, but the people who like the cops don't seem to like The Pinstripes. There must be some algorithm for it. If you find out let us know. We'll try to avoid it at all costs," Murcia said.
So, what's the best part of the festival for these guys?
"Free. Free food, free beer — that definitely has its negative side of the coin, too," Murcia said.
And the worst?
"It seems a bit exclusive, it caters to certain bands and genres. It's all about Indie Rock, there's a lot of Punk or whatever, but it seems like there's a lot of the general showcases seems to be just popular music," Kursmark said.
However, the band remains mindful of the opportunity SXSW presents. And they just want to keep doing what they know best — keep playing music.
"It's tough to not go see (artists like) Jimmy Cliff (at SXSW), someone who we really admire and respect. This guy is such a direct influence on what we do, but we can 't see him. It sucks It's a bummer, but at the same time the really cool part about it is you go out on the street, play a house show, people are so open to it, People are open to us — people want it. if we can provide that for them, then that's sweet. That's the best part of SXSW and the music," Murcia said.
Kelley Deal of The Breeders and Mike Montgomery of Greater Cincy bands like thistle and Ampline debuted their newest project to eager SXSW crowds Thursday and successfully left them craving more.
Deal (from Dayton, Ohio) and Montgomery (from Dayton, Ky.) formed R. Ring about a year and a half ago. Even though they have yet to release a record, the group attracted a substantial crowd to Frank's on Colorado Street, despite the fact that hundreds were waiting in line to see Tenacious D next door.
Earlier in the day R. Ring played at the DOWN showcase, which was a collaborative effort between Jason Snell, of the Cincinnati bands Chocolate Horse and Ohio Knife, and the local branch of design firm Landor.
R. Ring charmed the crowds not only with their performance, but also with their wit and gentle demeanor.
Before the show, I managed to snag an interview with the pair inside their van. Below is what Deal, a SXSW veteran, and Montgomery, a first time attendee, had to say about the festival.
CityBeat: What do you think of SXSW compared to other music festivals?
Kelley Deal: When I think "festival," I think like a main stage and over here's a secondary stage … I 'm used to it being in one kind of area, so It never feels like a festival here. It always just feels like a gig. I hear about all these fabulous things going on and I'm not from here so it seems like, yeah, I need to see this, but where is it? Mike even downloaded a SXSW app today. Mike, how to do you feel about that?
Mike Montgomery: I haven't used it yet. I just asked one person a simple question — where's this band playing — and this guy said, "I don't know, fuck off, get the app," so I got the app.
Neither one of us have looked at anything to do at SXSW yet. I just wanted to get here and figure it out as we went. I already feel overwhelmed, like there were a million bands and all this stuff happening. It feels like there's too much to think about, so I need to protect my brain as much as possible.
CB: What's the best way for bands to approach the festival?
KD: I prefer to get here and meander about instead of planning this rigid itinerary that you have to adhere to — that sounds like a job, not fun. The first thing we did was pull in and go to a knitting store, because I love to knit.
MM: It's overwhelming, I looked at the app briefly. There were so many words … that I put it back in my pocket.
CB: How does the scene in Cincinnati compare to a music town like Austin?
KD: It does have this trailer-park feel, but all the good parts, like the camaraderie … it's got this very informal quality/type of living, in a way. I haven't seen big beautiful houses with people just showing wealth for no reason other than they have it. All the places we look at they're very cute houses and it seems like they value art.
MM: (Cincinnati) is all I really know. I've been playing and working there for 20 years. You hear people bitch, "Oh, the local scene sucks," but get out there and go to another town, get out and travel. If you're only looking to play at your local club once a month, then it does get boring, it does get old and you play with all the same bands. But go to another city, meet some new bands and bring them home, get it going. I'm always impressed there's always new bands I've never heard of, there's always people doing stuff. It's inspiring that there's a lot of youthful energy and a constant supply of talent in the Cincinnati music scene — but everyone bitches about their hometown.
KD: That's what we're saying about Austin, that's what they're good at — supplying that lifestyle for themselves.
CB: What expectations do you have for SXSW? What do you hope to accomplish down here?
KD: I don't know, what are they offering? Is someone offering some shit?
It seems like any band you can ever think of is inside their box (at SXSW).
MM: We have no expectations. We're here to have fun and play some shows. When I talk about feeling overwhelmed by the conference and bands, I feel like there's something in the air with people thinking this is going to be an advantageous career move or something like that. So that's what neither of us are excited about — that we're going to get something — but it's nice to see people doing stuff in different cities.
It's cool to see friends from home here, too. I was surprised to see so many guys from Cincinnati.
CB: Would you come back to SXSW?
MM: I'm not going to make it a life goal, but if someone invited us again, I'd definitely do it.
Austin prides itself on being weird and this week has proved to be no exception. For instance, on a bus ride from our hotel to Sixth Street, we witnessed a marriage proposal of an older couple who had met the day before on a park bench. The announcement was awkward, more so for us tourists, as the crowd uncomfortably received the news and clapped.
"(Austin) seems to have a lot of quirky personality that's celebrated. People are glad that people are weird," says Stuart MacKenzie, frontman for Cincy's Lions Rampant.
This music town is incredibly accepting and filled with a plethora of motley characters as a result. Whether they're artistic, tattooed, pierced, young or old, few truly stand out among the masses in a city whose motto is "Keep Austin Weird."
The same goes for musicians, which makes South By Southwest such an anticipated event. The likelihood that a struggling no-name band will be picked up by a label is about one in a million. For that reason, the festival is geared toward the industry — not just the fans — which makes for outrageous ticket prices and can make access difficult. But every musician here, regardless of genre, is longing for the same result — to be recognized by someone that matters.
"The downside is that it's super corporate and I've heard that the technology portion is actually bigger than the music conference. It use to be a place where you'd come to get signed and now it seems like a place signed bands go to get more buzz. If you don't have crazy promotion, no one is going to come and check your band out. It's all about the buzz bands," MacKenzie says.
This is the first time The Lions are participating in SXSW, but MacKenzie is no stranger to music festivals. Over the years, his band has performed at CMJ and Forecastle, among others. But the exclusivity of this event doesn't seem to deter the band's morale.
"This whole process has lit a fire, creatively. When I see bands in Cincinnati, most of the people making music I already know, so it's refreshing to see people from different cities doing the same thing you are, so that's exciting," MacKenzie says. "I feel like I need to step up my game now because everyone is doing what I'm doing and it makes you want to record and promote. It gives you a glimpse that's in reach."
The group played their first SXSW gig on Tuesday at the Midwest by Southwest showcase with other Cincinnati bands. They'll play two more showcases before making the trek back home.
The Lions' newest member, bassist Richard Sherman, who has played only a handful of live shows with the band, says he's grateful for the experience.
"I feel like my batteries are charged up and when I get back, Stu and I are going to record a ton … it's good old baptism by fire. You come out of it stronger," Sherman says.
Thousands of miles from Cincinnati, MacKenzie says the SXSW experience is also a reminder that there truly is no place like home.
"Cincinnati bands share guitar players, share drummers, share equipment and help each other out a lot. It's probably like that in every scene, but Cincinnati, especially," MacKenzie says. "However, being in Austin, I'm seeing a bunch of bands that are similar to every band — bands in the same shoes as us, doing the same thing, which is comforting because (we're) normally seen as a weird … It's nice to be around other weirdos."
We're now settled in our Super 8 hotel room, alongside the humidity and mosquitoes, and finally have a few shows under our belt. Last night marked the debut for Cincinnati bands at this year's South By Southwest, featured at the Midwest by Southwest showcase. The event was put together by The All Night Party folks at the Soho Lounge downtown.
Among the bands that played, The Sundresses is one of the most experienced when it comes to SXSW. This year marks their fifth time playing the festival and from what these veterans say, it seems doubtful it will be their last.
Check out what the band (Brad Schnittger: drums, guitar, vocals; Mackenzie Place: trombone, bass; Jeremy Springer: drums, guitar, vocals) had to say about the experience below.
CityBeat: What do you think of the festival overall?
Mackenzie: It's just awesome. It's on a regional, national and international level. It's a bunch of awesome musicians that come to an awesome town and enjoy it. It's great and I'm happy to be here.
CB: Has SXSW made an impact on your band's success?
Jeremy: It's hard to tell, you know, it's hard to say because you don't know what would happen if you didn't play. It's a nice feather in your cap, but still.
Mackenzie: As far as making friends, though, and connections, it's done that — it's definitely worked. You meet people you wouldn't meet in Cincinnati. You're in the middle of all these great musicians and if they love you, they'll say "Hey, come to my town."
Brad: One time we gave a CD to the guy from Everclear, in 2006, but, nothing every happened. We saw him on the corner down here and were like, 'Hey, we should give totally give him one of our CDs,' so we did.
Jeremy: Yeah, that's when we were young and dumb
Brad: Yeah, like the guy from Everclear was going to help us out. It didn't do anything.
Jeremy: If we saw him now, we'd probably throw an empty coffee cup or beer bottle at him.
CB: What kind of bands benefit from playing at SXSW?
Mackenzie: It's the big and little.
Jeremy: The flavor of the month definitely … It's funny because everyone here is famous in their own town so they get here and everyone thinks (they're the best), and rightfully so because to get here, period, is a difficult thing. You have to be of a certain amount of quality to play this festival. So all the musicians are walking around with their best clothes on and it's a big fashion show and party. But, you're not going to get signed at SXSW. It's just random and lucky, really.
CB: What's the worst/best part of the festival?
Mackenzie: The best part is the food, the worst is traffic — the food is so good here.
Brad: The best part is the food — I agree with Mackenzie, the traffic is the worst.
Jeremy: Traffic is the worst. Girls are the best.
A slick new Web site has been launched for Powerhouse Factories, that gem of a design firm in Newport, Ky., that has done commercial work for Duke Energy and P&G, but is best known for its fantastic poster art for concerts both in the Tri-State and around the country. In honor of the new site, Powerhouse is offering a 10% discount on orders from its online store, which has poster prints as well as cool Powerhouse T-shirts, hoodies, tote bags and even beer koozies.
South By Southwest is a different type of musical festival, catering more to the industry than fans.
For starters, access is extremely difficult. When I was in Austin last week, being a “VIP” was meaningless unless your band was headlining the festival or you were a celebrity. Ticket prices were astronomically priced in an effort to prevent the event from becoming another Bonnaroo or Coachella. Official SXSW bands received wristbands, which allowed them some access to events and shows.
Yesterday was the pinnacle of typical Austin sightings. On the bus ride from South Congress to downtown, a musician in his mid thirties, wearing tight black jeans, old-school Nike pumps, a worn jean jacket and black leather gloves, was writing notes on fresh music sheets. He used his local grocery store frequent shopping card to keep his focus on the lines.
Musicians of all ages and talents fill the streets day and night in preparation for the city’s most anticipated weekend of the year.
The presence of vintage shops in this town is equivalent to the number of McDonalds we passed on the drive down here. They are extremely overpriced, but in typical Austin fashion, also extremely cool.
Like every other city in the country last night, St. Patrick’s Day festivities were present at every bar and restaurant we passed. Downtown Austin had a hint of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras flavor. At one point we witnessed a woman sitting on a cooler in the middle of the street waving green light sabers in the air. Our friend Mike Baker summed up the evening accurately and succinctly: hipsters and leprechauns.
Today’s agenda begins with The Seedy Seeds first show of SXSW at 7 p.m. at BD Riley’s. The band drove in yesterday afternoon and already member Mike Ingram has the best bathroom story of the trip. Details later.