Editor's Note: 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. Read Penick's first three blogs here.
I am not sure where I originally heard it, but the statement about how an idea "is the most contagious thing in the world” has really been resonating with me this past month.
It is amazing to take a step back from most things in the world and realize that they all started with an initial concept that grew through some evolutionary process. Probably not the way you would expect me to start a blog entry, but you have to understand this to know where this entire microcosm of Musicians’ Desk Reference has come from to consider where we are hoping to take it.
All of this started with an idea, something that had been bubbling up in my sub-conscience for over a decade, since I first started touring in bands. The business side of the music industry had always fascinated me, if only to simply question “why” and “how” the process worked for artists finding success. I knew that there had to be a great deal of factors behind this and that there isn’t really one true answer, but it was still enough to start me on a quest to find out whatever I could. Quite a task for someone barely old enough to drive, but, still, I knew that it was something worth investigating.
I have no shame in seeking the truth. I would ask anyone that I had met along the way, from bands to promoters and bar staff to industry professionals … if I could steal someone for a 30-second conversation, they would be hit with as many questions as I could get in. This always comes to a peak at any sort of festival/conference event when I am on the hunt for individuals that I know will be in attendance. The fangs come out and the hunt is on. I’ve been able to leverage some tours and significant milestones out for some of my projects, most notably at this year’s South by Southwest conference.
This soon turned to me attempting to give back to the music community, offering advice to anyone that asked for it. Casual conversations at shows over drinks eventually led to me wonder if I could do something similar for a living. Several months and numerous drafts of a business plan later, I was on my way, always intending on helping the greatest number of artists as I possibly could.
Here we are now, several years into the (initial phase of the) process, and the idea has certainly become infectious. What started as me wishfully thinking in the back of vans and busses that were buzzing across the land has started to take shape in a way that I would have never imagined.
While there are many things that are happening behind closed doors and cannot be disclosed (this document would have more redacted text than not were I to reveal many of the details), I can tell you that this idea has grown into more than a book and more than a batch of information. Our team has now tripled in size and the partnerships with third parties are growing by the month. The end result is going to be something that will even impress me, which is important to note because I am probably the harshest critic of them all.
I have had a vision for this project throughout the course of all of this. While I have been flexible at times, the integrity of Musicians’ Desk Reference is one thing that I am not willing to compromise. I am treating this as if it were a band trying to advance on its own through the music industry, gaining organic support along the way through due diligence and hard work. I am so proud of how far we have come. As we prepare to build the final version with a team of engineers over these next couple weeks, the anticipation builds like a child’s on Christmas morning — except we want to give rather than receive.
It has been slightly unnerving while building Musicians’ Desk Reference, knowing that it will inevitably be released to the world and run through the gauntlet of reviewers and critics, but in the end it should be known that we are here to help. Others may be creating a process, but we are trying to set a standard; a precedent that the industry can work from to give everyone an equal opportunity. Call us crazy, but this is a mantra that we use on a daily basis.
I know this may not all make sense and seem broad from an outside perspective, but, trust us, it will make sense as we delve further into the specifics. More clear details will emerge as our release date at this year’s Midpoint Music Festival (Sept. 26-28) approaches. Just know we are working hard with good intentions.
On this date in 1967, Floridian Psychedelic Folk band Pearls Before Swine (a precursor to contemporary so-called "Freak Folk") began the three-day sessions for its debut album, One Nation Underground. The album would become a moderate success, selling nearly a quarter of a million copies.
One of the album's tracks, "(Oh Dear) Miss Morse," was the source of some controversy. The subversive chorus of the weird little song (essentially a banjo riff with some organ blips) consists of vocalist/songwriter Tom Rapp (and that organ) "singing" in Morse code the letters "F," "U," "C" and "K" (Dit Dit Dah Dit/Dit Dit Dah/Dah Dit Dah Dit/Dah Dit Dah).
And they would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for some meddling kids! Famous New York DJ Murray the K was busted after playing the song on the air when a few smarty-pants Boy Scouts reportedly recognized the code and called in to complain about the veiled obscenity (or maybe brag that they figured it out).
It's not the only song to feature secret Morse code messaging. Mike Oldfield's album Amarok (featuring, essentially, one hour-long track) came towards the end of his contract with Virgin Records in 1990. Oldfield sent a little note to his boss on the album; towards the end, there's a Morse code message that spells out "Fuck Off RB," referring to Virgin label chief Richard Branson.
The Rush song "YYZ" from the 1981 album Moving Pictures also features Morse coding, in a pretty ingenious manner. Drummer Neil Pert's rhythm on the song is based on Morse for "YYZ." The letters weren't especially controversial, though — they were simply the code for Toronto's airport (Rush is from the area).
Other instances of Morse code in popular music: Roger Waters' album Radio KAOS features several Morse messages; Kraftwerk used it throughout their 1975 track "Radioactivity" (it simply spells out the title); and The Clash's "London Calling" has choppy guitar feedback at the end of the song that spells out "S.O.S."
Here's the Pearls Before Swing tune. NSFW (if you work for a former Boy Scout or telegraph expert).
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a May 7 birthday include late drummer for influential Rock bands New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, Jerry Nolan (1946); Disco diva ("Don't Leave Me This Way"), singer/songwriter and actress Thelma Houston (1946); masterful German Boogie Woogie pianist Axel Zwingenberger (1955); Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell (1961); Swedish one-hit-wonder, son of Jazz legend Don Cherry and half-brother to Neneh Cherry, Eagle-Eye Cherry (1971); drummer for British Pop/Rock stars Arctic Monkeys, Matt Helders (1986); and British singer Martina Topley-Bird (1975).
Topley-Bird is probably best known as a crucial part of Trip Hop pioneer Tricky's early (and biggest) success as vocalist on his classic album, 1995's Maxinquaye. The album made Tricky a Pop star, something that he admittedly was not prepared for and which drove him a little nuts. He recently told U.K.'s The Guardian that, going into the album's release, "I thought I'd be an underground artist. I had no idea it was going to do that and I was not ready for it." He says he spent much of the rest of his career trying to become more of a cult artist than a superstar. And he succeeded.
Topley-Bird parted ways with Tricky in 1998 and has made a trio of solo album (and worked with Gorillaz and Massive Attack). But late last month, she rejoined Tricky in England to perform Maxinquaye in its entirety. Well, that was the plan, anyway. Tricky reportedly disappeared during parts of the performances, which didn't exactly live up the "play the full album" billing. In a review of the performance in Manchester, ClashMusic.com wrote that the Tricky concert ultimately became "the Martina Topley-Bird show, with the singer providing the only reliable musical seam throughout, in contrast to an erratic and seemingly disengaged Tricky."
Here's Martina Topley-Bird's "Anything" from her acclaimed debut solo album, Quixotic.
Editor's Note: Brian Penick of local music promotions company The Counter Rhythm Group has been guest blogging for CityBeat monthly to provide a behind-the-scenes look at his journey to release his interactive industry eBook, Musicians’ Desk Reference. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Enough with the chitchat — let’s get down to business.For those of you that have been reading/following/listening/talking about Musicians’ Desk Reference over the past several months, you might still have questions, and that is OK. At times throughout this process I have even found myself taking a step back to consider what exactly I am doing.
In reality, that is what this entire project is about — questioning. Specifically, it's about the questions artists inevitably are faced with in the music industry. You should question it all, everything, all the time. That where this idea came from and, frankly, how I live my life. And I would say it is working out pretty well.
But the time for questions is over — so let’s see some answers.
What is Musicians’ Desk Reference? It’s a music industry progression eBook. What does that mean? It is an online platform (website) that helps artists work through common scenarios in the music industry, such as starting out, recording, promoting, touring and building a team. It is a time management system that conforms to your schedule and your level of interest. There is even a tool that builds documentation for you, in addition to the packaging, including several useful items, such as paper stock and labels for at-home printing.
This platform is designed for everyone — from beginners to professionals, and all those in between. You don’t like reading? That’s fine; you can adjust it to recall very minimal information. You like reading thousands of lines worth of information? Well, friend, you’re in luck. Click away on our lists and just let us know you’re okay a few months after filling your head with useful and practical information. If you are a musician that is interested in furthering your career to any degree — from a local to a national level — this eBook is for you.
Where did this come from? Me, actually. I am a musician and have been for half my life. I have spent years in vans, trailers, buses, airplanes, trains and even on boats playing original music all over the world. I have always been fascinated with the music industry and how it works, always wondering why things happened the way that they do.
This fascination led me start The Counter Rhythm Group, an artist development/marketing/event promotion company — built by artists, for artists — offering assistance groups that are younger and newer than ones traditionally serviced. TCRG has worked to develop a range of artists, from those that are still just starting out to some that you can hear on commercial radio stations, all over the course of almost three years. When the requests outnumbered the amount of work we could handle, I decided to build a public platform based on our actual working models. Fast-forward to the present day and you have Musicians’ Desk Reference.
We have worked tirelessly for months (beyond the almost two years of development) building a robust product that is jam-packed with information for the user and I can honestly say that we are still impressed, even after staring at it for hours on end. We’ve even been testing the specifics on a young Cincinnati-based band called PUBLIC, and we are proud to say that things are going very well.
The best part is that the wait is almost over. I am very excited to announce that Musicians’ Desk Reference will be available exclusively to the Cincinnati market at CityBeat’s Midpoint Music Festival, three weeks ahead of the national launch in New York City at the CMJ Music Marathon.
Hear that, Cincinnati? We love you so much that we are giving you the opportunity to have this in your hands well before anyone else does.
What’s that? You want more? All right!
We are also partnering with the fine folks at Midpoint Music Festival as a sponsor, offering a complimentary full version of the eBook to all showcasing artists. That’s right, you play and it’s yours! But what if you did not get selected to the festival but still want a copy? We will be on-hand all three days at our sponsorship tent— located at the MidPoint Midway Stage at Twelfth and Vine streets (right next to the MPMF box office) — selling the eBook for 25% off its regular retail price. We will also be presenting live demos of the site with the development team available for questions.
I could not be more proud of the work that has gone into
this project and I am forever in debt to the dedicated folks that have
been behind me from the start (including CityBeat music guy Mike
Breen — someone please give that man a gift basket full of money for all
he does for the Cincinnati music scene). (Editor's note #2: Large, unmarked bills only, please.)
We really hope to level the playing field in the music industry with Musicians’ Desk Reference, educating artists and helping them to build a strong foundation to work from. We all have a similar goal for success in mind, however we define it, and I want this project to give every individual that chance.
As artists, let’s take pride in our actions and help our peers. Let’s step away from the competitive mentality and work together instead of against each other. Let’s form a music community and celebrate the opportunities that are available to us. This is our industry and this is our time. Musicians’ Desk Reference: Empowering Artists to Progress Through the Modern Music Industry.
Here is an introductory video for MDR's release:
April 29 - Super 8 Motel, Wytheville, Va.
Wytheville — pronounced "whiteville," I believe — sits at the cross of I-77 and I-81. Looking down I-81, I used to see Bristol, Tenn., and think of that time in 1927 when The Cater Family and Jimmie Rodgers separately met a rep from the Victor Talking Machine Company and recorded a couple of songs. They got paid about $100. Lot's changed since then, though the pay's about the same. These days when I look down towards Bristol I see a redneck deputy hauling a longed haired songwriter off to jail for the crime of relieving himself behind a bush. In 1981, that cost $25. There use to be a great BBQ joint in Wytheville. It's gone. too. They had the best fried chicken and blackberry cobbler.
I guess everyone wore themselves out Saturday as no one stayed up past midnight to talk or jam or whatever. On Sunday morning, with a solid six hours of sleep, I was up and drenched in coffee by 8 a.m. I packed up camp and planned what was left of my MerleFest weekend. I like to get going, so it was an easy morning and I headed out to the Traditional Tent for some Shape Note Singing with Laura Boosinger.
I misidentified this a few days ago as Sacred Heart singing. The idea is the same — using shapes for notes instead of notes on a musical staff. Sacred Heart uses four notes. Shape Note uses seven. The workshop I attended was about those seven notes and how to sing them. It's pretty straight forward — anyone who's ever seen The Sound of Music and sang "Do Re Mi" will get the idea. "Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti" — each note has a particular shape attached to it and you sing that note when you see that shape. Laura talks about the history of Congregational singing, why they use shapes (people actually patented musical notation at one time) and how Sacred Heart differs from Shaped Note contextually, historically and regionally. Pretty cool stuff, even if the Traditional Tent smells like a barn and is now filled with flies. Laura is also really funny, cracking denominational jokes that the churchgoers find hilarious. I don't get them.
My interest in Sacred Heart/Shaped Note singing came when I wandered into a church one Sunday morning 30 or so years ago. I was wandering around northern Alabama on a motorcycle making my way to the Natchez Trace and then south to New Orleans when I stopped for a breather and cool air beneath a tree. I heard the singing as soon as my head stopped rattling. I slipped inside the outer part of a church and heard the most glorious harmonies — not sweet or beautiful, but primitive and inspiring.
In Shape Note, everyone is singing to the pitch the lead singer has identified. There is no piano, no organ, no hip dude playing guitar, only imperfect humans looking for the most comfortable place for their voice to sing. Your split into four groups depending on your vocal range — altos (includes sopranos), tenors, bass (includes baritones) and leads (anyone who can't but follow the melody regardless of range). I go to the bass group. Each group has a different part to sing — the altos, basses and tenors all singing a harmony part and the leads singing the melody. When it all comes together it unifies the same way most old time music does. It's wondrous and miraculous; if there is a place where God exists, it is inside the dissonance that has congealed into a thing so coherent and beautiful that any existence of God outside of it becomes marginal and meaningless.
I leave the Traditional Tent invigorated and inspired and head back to camp to pack the van. Everything packed and lunch consumed, I head back to the Traditional Tent for one last show before heading home — "Women Singing Traditional Music." On stage are women ages 20 -70, including hosts Carol Rifkin and Gaye Johnson, Brooke Buckner, Laura Boosinger, Joan Wernick, Tara Nevins (Donna the Buffalo), Kim McWhirter and Gailanne Amundsen (Jubal's Kin). All give outstanding performances, but Kim McWhirter brings the house down with a moving version of the Dolly Parton song "Crippled Bird" (which in turn is based on an English Broadside) sung in a sweet mountain lilt and strummed sparingly on guitar.
A wonderful to finish to a great MerleFest.
MerleFest is so much more then one guy can write about, no matter how much he tries. I like what I like — new bands and rediscovering old favorites. In addition to what I see and hear, there are workshops on everything from clawhammer banjo to dulcimer playing, a kids stage and activities, open mics, sitting and picking, indoor concerts, food, vendors galore. It is amazing how much music and activity the organizers pack into one day (and then clean it all up and do it again).
A lot of people stream in mid-afternoon for the nighttime concert. As mentioned, these always feature name acts. I am most fortunate to be able to tag along with my sister, help her in her booth and receive onsite camping privileges in exchange. By 8 p.m., I'm pretty exhausted and looking forward to reading under the remaining light and then laying back and hearing what's on the main stage.
This year they had some good acts. Thursday night the very humble and talented (and maybe the last real Country act standing in Nashville) Vince Gill had a fine set. Saturday I was fortunate to hear Derek Trucks take Sam Bush and his band to school on how to play melodious improvisation on the Clapton tune "Bell Bottom Blues." Derek Trucks is the living heir on slide guitar to the dead-to-early Duane Allman and he has unquestionably extended that legacy way past a wink and a nod and into something quite imaginative and bold. His wife Susan Tedeschi joined them on The Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" and hit all the backing vocal parts with soul.
Later that night, Trucks and Tedeschi helped Los Lobos to new heights on a cover of the Grateful Dead's "Bertha." They sounded like they were having a blast, and my noisy camp neighbors confirmed as much the next morning as they were on stage watching the whole thing go down. Unfortunately, I slept through most of Los Lobos set and the Tedeschi/Trucks set Saturday night, though I caught the first few songs, and they sounded quite excellent. Good sleeping music — that's a compliment!
During the heat of the current presidential election, you can always count on Team Coco to keep those LOLs and ROFLs alive and well. For its weekly Rdio mixtape, Team Coco has procured the perfect songs for a Mitt Romney playlist. Featuring tracks such as Money, Money, Money, Polygamy Blues, I Gotsta Get Paid and many more, this playlist is sure to get anyone’s Romney on.Enjoy! Well, most of you. Forty-seven % of you can
Last night, this year's Grammy nominations were announced. Apparently. I flipped to the 10 p.m. "announcement" — CBS's The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!! — a few times but didn't hear one word about who was nominated. Although the all-star rendition of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's Hip Hop classic (host LL Cool J called it "the greatest Hip Hop song of all time") was cool to see, the tributes to Nick Ashford and Jerry Leiber (with their songwriting-duo partners Valerie Simpson and Mike Stoller) was a nice touch and the closing Lady Gaga/Sugarland collaboration was at least interesting. Thanks to ye olde internets, I was finally able to see who was nominated this year and, I have to say, once again the list of nominees is more surprising than what we've come to expect from the Grammys. In past years, Paul Simon's latest album, So Beautiful or So What, would have scored nominations in almost every category it was eligible. But this year, it was completely snubbed.
Below are a few random observations about the nominations this year. Click here to view the full list of nominees (or here for a PDF file download). The 54th Grammys ceremony is Feb. 12, airing on CBS.
• Cincinnati native Fred Hersch (pictured) scored two nominations this year. (Click here for Brian Baker's interview with Hersch for CityBeat from earlier this year when he came to town for a two-night stand at the Blue Wisp.) The well-known and respected Jazz pianist (who grew up in North Avondale and attended Walnut Hills High School) is up for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for his Alone at the Vanguard, as well as "Best Improvised Jazz Solo" (which may just be my favorite category, at least in spirit) for his solo on that album's track "Work."
What's your favorite musical group/artist of all time? Got it? Good.
Who are you voting for this upcoming election for President of the United States? Got it? Good.
Now let's say that favorite artist of yours was coming to Cincinnati to perform. Let's say it's a remarkably intimate show with limited tickets. And let's say you've got a friend who can get you a ticket to purchase. Let's say it's $35.
But here's the catch — your favorite group or solo artist is making their concert a fundraiser for the guy you REALLY don't want to be President.
Do you suck it up and pay the admission/donation for a chance to see a once-in-a-lifetime concert? Maybe make a bigger donation to your guy's campaign? Or do you refuse to do anything that may, in even the smallest way, affect the outcome of … well, possibly American history.
Cincinnati-bred/Brooklyn-based band The National has just announced a special last-minute pair of shows in Ohio next week, including a show at the revitalized Emery Theatre in Over-the-Rhine on Oct. 4 (they play the Newport Music Hall in Columbus on Oct. 3).
The concert — which comes a few weeks before the band headlines the Freedom to Love Now! marriage equality-supporting concert in New York City — is a benefit for "Gottavote: Ohio," President Barack Obama's campaign to get Ohioans registered and voting. The band will also reportedly play a private fundraising function in Cincinnati for Obama right after the Emery show.
Searching around for ticket info (details have yet to be announced; we'll update this post when they are), I came across the event's page at Last.fm, where an apparent big National fan left the post's sole comment: "Obama fundraiser...What a moral dilemma…"
As a hardcore lefty and big National fan, I personally have no dilemma in this situation, but I sympathize with the commenter. What if The National had a change of heart since last performing for Obama in Cincinnati (a huge, free outdoor show on Fountain Square with The Breeders in 2008) and the members were disillusioned by the President's first-term actions (or inaction), built up impressive balances in their bank accounts and decided the best way to protect America (and their money) was to go out and do whatever they could to get Mitt Romney elected. Would you still go?
"Shut up and sing" is an oft used saying for people who think politics and music have no business being in bed together. But if the artist shuts up and sings, but just so happens to give your admission fee to a politician you despise, what do you do?
Personally, I stay home and wait until the artist's next show. Luckily for me, deciding not to go to a Mitt Romney concert/benefit featuring Kid Rock, The Oak Ridge Boys and Hank Williams, Jr., is not a hard choice in the slightest.
Editor's Note: 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.
It has been killing me to remain so broad and vague this entire time about what exactly me and my staff have been working on, and while I will attempt to be slightly more specific this time around, I am afraid that you will inevitably be strung along for yet another 30-day span, inching closer to the release this Fall.
If you have been reading these entries (or know me personally), you know I am a musician, and that I have experience touring and working in the music industry for about half of my life. While I do not necessarily claim to be an expert (I believe it requires an extreme longevity with multiple facets of success and even some failure to be given that label), I can tell you that I have an understanding of how the working elements of this business function, and that I have been able to make a career as both a performer and a servicing agent. That being said, my passion (and I do consider myself a passionate person), has become helping others to succeed in this industry through sharing my experiences and knowledge. While competition certainly has its place and can keep you sharp, ultimately we are all in this together, trying to reach a common goal of finding success. The more we work together the better the potential is for any one of us to achieve these goals.
I truly believe Musicians’ Desk Reference is the next step in the evolutionary process to bind us together as a musical community. My overall intention with this project is to level the playing field as much as possible, everywhere from general theories of advancement to the specified documentation that an artist will actually work with. At the end of the day, we hope to unveil the unknown variables that musicians will face and provide the tools and the understanding and put the focus on what matters most: your music.
How do you know if Musisicans’ Desk Reference is something for you? The eBook encompasses several distinct areas of the music business, ranging from the inner workings of just starting out as a musician, down the necessary paths of recording, promoting, touring and eventually building a team of industry professionals to work for you. These topics are based on my own personal experiences as a musician and with operating The Counter Rhythm Group (my music industry promotions company), in addition to many conversations with musicians over time about what topics they are most curious about. Not surprisingly, many of the requests were in the same categories, so in the end the subject matter was not too difficult to choose from.
It is an exciting time for sure, as we are literally in the last two weeks of content creation, working right along schedule with our team of professionals we have amassed to help make the dream a become a reality.
Looking ahead into the near future, I am excited to announce that we will be conducting some closed focus groups for the content, eventually leading into beta testing a full working version. All preparation is leading up to the release of the final product this Fall, and while I cannot give out too many specifics (sorry!), I can say that it will be a series of events not to be missed.
I apologize if the bulk of these blogs seem to relate more to the backstory and the generalities of the book rather than the specific content and the process behind the final product, but that is unfortunately the direction that it must take for now. While I have been hit with a wave of positivity from musicians familiar with the project, it is very clear that more explanation is required as to offer insight as to what we are actually doing over here. The process, as that of many servicing professionals, can often feel like a variety of desk jobs that exist in the world, with the obvious exception of working with fantastic clients and the ability to go to shows, travel and be among others with similar interests that are typically awesome. In all honesty, I sit at a desk and work on several computers, monitors and devices, working with my team to create, verify and edit content, hour after hour. It is nothing but work, work, work around here (especially lately), and I would not have it any other way.