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Friday, February 04, 2005

Build 'em up, just to tear 'em down

It's been said that critics are often very supportive of bands when they first start out, but as soon as they start to become popular their pens become more and more vitriolic. I hope HowWasTheShow will be able to continue to support bands beyond their initial first gasps of air and glimpses of the limelight. The still in high school three-piece Melodious Owl, for example, may have been all over the Star Trib Variety section last week, but in my opinion they are a force to be reckoned with, and you really should see them if you can. There's a reason why they are one of the buzziest of the buzz-bands at the moment, despite a less-than glowing appraisal by HowWasTheShow's Karla Ludzak I published earlier this week: I personally think they're phenomenal.

People define success in different ways. And they sometimes forget that the vast majority of the local musicians that appear to have achieved local or even regional "stardom" are still working day jobs. Yup, just like you and me.

In the past few weeks I've received a few emails, "letters to the editor" if you will, that make me wonder how people think the light and magic of the publicity machine actually works. One reader wondered why HowWasTheShow continued to publish articles about The Olympic Hopefuls, as if they've already gotten "enough" press. Like Halloween, Alaska, The Olympic Hopefuls have also had a song featured on the O.C. So does that mean we should start to ignore them now?

The same writer also mused that we perhaps shouldn't have published a review of the Black Eyed Snakes either because Chicken Bone George (aka Alan Sparhawk of Low) surely had enough access to the mainstream press as a major label artist that he didn't need our help. There was another somewhat odd suggestion that we shouldn't have written about Little Man either because Heath Henjum overlaps into Olympic Hopefuls as the bass player of both and that somehow makes Chris Perricelli guilty by association. And as if that wasn't enough, there was a suggestion we shouldn't have bothered with Radio K's Best New Bands Showcase at First Avenue because most of the bands had received press in the Star Tribune that week, even though two of them were almost completely new to me.

In fairness, the author of this email intended to compare and contrast what we were actually doing lately with our our mission statement which suggests we exist to give press to bands who might not have access to the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press or City Pages or Pulse.

Maybe it's time we did update that mission statement. Lately, I've viewed HowWasTheShow as much as an opportunity to allow new rock writers a chance to develop their voice as much as a promotional tool for local music (which it will always remain.) A mission statement should be a living document, so I'll have to get that writer development stuff in there soon. It's the excitement of watching new writers develop that keeps me going through the rough spots when I wonder if all this is worth the effort.

Three years into this project, HowWasTheShow is now on pretty much the same publicists' lists as the mainstream media. It should come as no surprise that we often cover many of the same events. Those events are, at the risk of sounding redundant, what's going on. To anyone who thinks there's a media conspiracy designed to promote some bands over others, the answer is both a resounding YES! As well as a vehement NO, NO, NO!

I remember the first time I wrote a negative review. I referred to a local rock band as "meticulously prefab" and got called a "fucking knob" by one of the band's friends on a local music discusion board. It was great. The discussion board linked into the review I'd written and in the process of ripping me apart sent us more hits in one day than we'd ever had before, effectively putting us on the map. This was more than two years ago, and HowWasTheShow was still rather new. It was news to me that some people considered HowWasTheShow part of the "establishment." As far as I knew, HowWasTheShow was just a website, a little D-I-Y project.

Chris Koza (of the Channels) has a wonderful CD out called Exit Pesce that I've had in my hands for many months now thanks to a friend and music promotor who felt strongly enough about Koza's music and CD to send it to me. Koza's CD really is top notch, as good a local album as came out in 2004 when you get down to it. A couple of weeks ago Rob Van Alstyne of the Pulse Twin Cities wrote a nice plug for a show Chris was doing at the Dinkytowner, and I'm very glad to see Koza getting his critical due and hope there is more to come. I plan to be a part of his publicity. (And again, I suggest you go see him, and pick up his excellent disc.)

There is a group of people who read music journalism probably even more than music fans: Other music journalists. And it should come as no surprise that people in the music business often have actual conversations with each other as well. Just last week I had a major indie music booking agent in my car and turned up Chris Koza on the CD Player. She hadn't heard of him before that ride, but she definitely has now, and she knows what I think of him. (Oh, and I happen to know she reads this blog.)

Another email I received recently wondered why HowWasTheShow hasn't written more reviews of shows at Station 4 (ironically our photo of the week for the month of January was a photo of the Olympic Hopefuls playing Station 4 on New Year's Eve.) I noted the author of that particular email was in a band I had previously never heard of that had played Station 4 the night before. In my mind, "Why don't you cover more bands at Station 4?" (a club we do what we can to support) translated into "Why don't you write about my band?" Consider this a public response to that question that starts out by observing that first of all, you emailed me a cloaked question the day AFTER your show. And to put that in perspective, just the day before I had received a stack of more than half a dozen press kits and CD's in the HowWasTheShow P.O. Box (3010 Hennepin Avenue South, #245, Minneapolis, MN 55408 for those who might wish to send us stuff.) I've listened to most of those now, including a cool, fun Depeche Mode meets Kraftwork electronica CD from Mach Fox and an and a pretty grooving collection of rock ballads on an EP by the strongly Nickelback-influenced (but good) female-fronted band Scarlet Haze. (Kat's vocals remind me of a velvety Suzanne Vega.) Both Mach Fox and Scarlet Haze had shows that particular week that I had to miss because of other obligations, but both are bands I hope to see live sometime soon.

All I'm saying here (in what probably seems like an overly pedantic way by this point, and I apologize for that) is that a courteous introduction, like "Hi Editor(or even better do your research and figure out said music editor's name)I'm in the band blah blah blah. Here's a link to our website and some MP3s. I'd like to invite you come check us out sometime. Can we send you a CD? Can we add you to our mailing list?" Etc. Etc.

This reminds me of how I jokingly answered the question put to me when I was on the KQ Critics show in December, of what do I like to see in a press kit? "Food" was a joke in reference to a package of blue jello that came in the mail from Doc's Kids a few years back, but the point was that they got my attention. And attention is square one. If no one even knows your name, how are they going to know to go see you? And starting off your introduction to a journalist by posing a question in the form, "Just curious, but I'm wondering why you never......?" isn't going to get you very far. Christ. That's expecting a bit much, now isn't it?

There seem to be two key rules to publicity:

1) "There's no such thing as bad press. Just spell my name right." and
2) "The only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about." (As said Oscar Wilde)

It's in that spirit, that I didn't mention the names of the bands who wrote me asking why we wrote about this and not about that and why I took the time to say a few words about the bands who took the time to introduce themselves first.

Speaking of such emails:

Here's a link sent to me of a show the Humbugs did recently at the Hexagon.

And a band called Silly Little Nothings are doing a show at Station 4 on February 19th. I took a listen to their recordings on their website and found them to be interesting, to say the least.

And the Chinch Bugs are doing a show at the Hexagon February 18th with The Autumn Leaves. The sample MP3's on their website suggest a clever, listenable, pleasant (and funny) take on They Might Be Giants. (Check out their track "People are Dumb" and I think you'll agree.)

Having gotten that out of the way (this was meant to be a short note, not the rant it became,) here's some more on Olympic Hopefuls. I've been informed that for those of you in the Twin Cities area, The Olympic Hopefuls will be making their television debut on The Show to Be Named Later airing Saturday night, February 5th at midnight on KARE-11 immediately following Saturday Night Live. As you'll probably be at the rock shows Saturday night, do as OH requested in their email newsletter and set your VCR's or preferred television recording device and "watch them rock Johnny Voss' zany universe."