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.
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. Click here for his previous blog entries.
Aaaaaaaaaaand we are done! Well, kind of …
After nearly two years of content creation, testing, editing, restructuring and discussion, I am very proud to announce that the content for Musicians’ Desk Reference is finally complete! There is still much work to be done ahead of the release — completion of web development, beta testing, marketing, promotions and more — but we are at least moving ahead, right on schedule.
It sounds cliché, but it is amazing to take a step back and realize how far this project has really come, in addition to considering how much it has forced me to grow as an individual. It all started with an idea that I simply could not let go of, despite my initial thoughts that The Counter Rhythm Group just could not handle taking on a project of this (theoretical) scale. I tried working around this notion from every angle, discussing it with an array of employees that have helped in our growth, and at the end of each reflection period I knew that we had to still move forward with the idea, any way we could.
Those that know me know that I am a planner. I like making lists — and especially checking things off of that list. I try to find structure in everything when at all possible, and more often than not I find myself asking, “Why?” I have no idea where this mentality came from and my immediate family has reaffirmed that statement over the course of the last few months. It is this mentality, combined with my passion for helping musicians that has provided the fuel for this journey.
I am so excited to share this vision with the world. While it sounds cheesy, I can promise you that every page has my heart and soul poured into it, and that it has been painstakingly been picked apart by myself and a dedicated group of contributors. We are truly aiming to provide the best information possible to be used for many generations to come. I have stated before in these blogs that this is by far the most involved I have ever been in a project — I never considered leaving a legacy, but I am starting to think that this could be it.
So what does this mean for the user? I can say with confidence that there is way more to this project than I ever could have imagined, and the fact that it still consistently “wows” me should be a testament to those who have been patiently waiting for the final product over the past several months.
While the eBook is completely customizable to each individual and scenario, I can honestly say (to those who are interested) to get ready to spend some time reading and considering the subject matter. We have meticulously worked to build the documentation so that it touches base on certain generalities and specifics, offering clarity and understanding on the matter without requiring several days’ worth of reading. I am not a big fan of lengthy reading materials and our generation tends to be intimidated by large batches of text — the sole reason we have invested so much time and resources into a digital platform. To state it conservatively, it will take an artist some time to work through the entire project, which is meant to serve the user through several areas of their career as they develop and grow.
We are so close to being able to put Musicians’ Desk Reference in your hands that I honestly have a hard time sleeping at night. Looking ahead, we will be receiving a beta version of the eBook within the next week and we have many users lined up to participate. If you are interested in being considered for a beta trial, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
September is when things start getting really exciting, as we are pulling out all of the stops for this release. Without going into too much detail, I can say that we will have an established presence at the Midpoint Music Festival this year, and that this will be the first time the eBook will be available for purchase (acting as our “soft” release, exclusively to those physically at the festival). Pre-orders will be available in early September and are expected to ship the week after MPMF. This will all build up to our national release in October at the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City, where we will be also have a significant presence. There are many more things in the works; I promise that it will all be worth the wait.
I would like to close by thanking all of those that have shown support throughout this process, to The Counter Rhythm Group and to myself. While this is not the time to name anyone individually (that comes later), I want you all to know how much it means to us. Your continued support will help us through the coming months and we hope you will join us in spreading the word about Musicians’ Desk Reference. We have literally put everything we can into this project, and we are proud to say that we were able to build it while living in this great city, utilizing most outsourced services to companies and individuals located in the Queen City. We want to make a significant impact in the music industry, and I look forward to proudly telling anyone and everyone where it all started — right here in Cincinnati.
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!
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."
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
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.
When Maps & Atlases dropped Perch Patchwork, their 2010 debut full-length and first album for Barsuk Records, the Chicago-based quartet was just beginning to explore the intersection of their adoration of Post-Punk Math heroes like Don Caballero and their father-tilted love of ’70s Prog avatars like Jethro Tull and Mahavishnu Orchestra. M&A’s introductory EPs — 2006’s Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You and Me and the Mountain — found the band pursuing a more Folk-tinged flavor, but Perch Patchwork was an expansive yet subtle attempt to utilize the totality of the band’s creative building blocks. That exploration paid huge dividends as critics and fans alike were drawn to M&A’s lo-fi sonic constructions and hi-fi orchestral ambitions.
Maps & Atlases’ sophomore full length, Beware and Be Grateful, expands and refines the musical trail blazed on Perch Patchwork. In the album’s formative stages, the band employed a collection of secondhand battery-powered keyboards to blueprint their textural arrangements and, although the keyboard sounds were largely excised for the final recording, they were vitally important in forcing M&A to rethink their creative process.
As a result, Beware and Be Grateful doesn’t stray impossibly far from Perch Patchwork but it definitely advances the band’s flag a little further up the hill, exhibiting a forceful Math Pop sound that shimmers and shakes with an exuberant authority. The album’s opening track, “Old & Gray,” begins like Talking Heads tributing Paul Simon’s Graceland and finishes like Brian Eno producing Spoon. Similarly unexpected juxtapositions crash and meld into one another throughout the duration of Beware and Be Grateful.
Tribal choral melodies float above while the band skips and skates around a soundtrack that is equal measures of quirky Indie Rock (“Vampires”) and blippy Electro Pop (“Silver Self”). There are still plenty of remnants of the band’s organic approach to song construction but there are also many more examples of Maps & Atlases pushing themselves to think well beyond the natural box they fashioned on their earlier releases, blending their influences and experiences and evolving in fascinating new directions.
(Maps & Atlases perform July 15 at the inaugural Bunbury Music Festival along Cincinnati's riverfront.)
As I watched the news of Gaddafi’s death yesterday morning (and heard the news about the Occupy Cincinnati protesters last night), I couldn’t help thinking about how humans have had a pretty good year so far. To be clear, I don’t think the answer to murder is more killing — I didn’t rejoice in the death of another human. What I was so optimistic about was the sheer power behind the human voice. I’m excited to witness millions of people all over the world using their voices to stand up for what they want.