Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brian Blain & Raoul Bhaneja - Overqualified for the Blues

Another Lefsetz Rant

...if you didn't already see it on his blog

The hardest challenge facing musicians today is getting people to listen to their new music. Awareness campaigns are a thing of the past. They make people know you've got new music, but it doesn't make them listen to it, at most it gets them to sample a few seconds of a track. Which is fine if you're not about the new music, if you've got enough old hits to power a show people want to see, but not if you're starting out or truly want people to know what you're up to.


You practice every day, right? So why do you only drop new product every couple of years? Open the doors to the public, show your warts, reveal your personality. The key is to keep people engaged on a regular basis. This is a huge sea change, but the most notable one in the business today. YouTube is the medium of choice. Put up a video of you practicing, doing covers, works in progress. The key is to speak to your hard core fans, who will continue to talk about you to their buddies and will spread the word on anything truly great. And don't worry if it's not great, it just gets plowed under beneath the endless tsunami of clips posted every single day.


Selling/promoting to those who don't care is completely worthless, it's so 1980s. Everybody's so busy that if they don't have an interest in you, you won't be able to convert them via endless publicity, which is either namby-pamby whitewash or shock value quotes. Never forget you're selling your music, your only goal is to get people to check out and keep listening to your tunes, everything else is irrelevant. Fame won't put asses in the seats.


This is what the youngsters do so well with social media, primarily Twitter and Instagram. If you're an oldster and you want people to check out your new tunes be on social media a year in advance, a minimum of six months, revealing truth, bonding your fans to you. This is much more important and dividend paying than a story in any newspaper. The paper is one day only, tomorrow they're flogging something else, social media when done right is an ongoing conversation.


Credit to Bono for admitting U2's Apple mistake, but not only did Mr. Hewson apologize, he gave an explanation, he humanized himself, which made me feel warm about him and his band. Don't let your handlers speak for you, Guy Oseary never should have taken that victory lap. You have to stand up for yourself.

"Bono apologizes for putting U2's new album in everyone's iCloud library":


This is the most important element. You have to create a track that those who know you, that those who are interested in checking you out, will hear once and need to hear again, it's just that simple.

It's not about what radio thinks, it's not about what you think, it's about what the consumer thinks, and the consumer pays your bills.

We're all listeners, we all know what grabs us. Stop asking your friends whether they liked your new music, but how many times they listened to it. If it's once, you're toast, sorry.

Forget about radio, forget about filters. You know who your fans are. Do they want to hear the new track again and again?

Taylor Swift has embraced this paradigm, realizing how tough today's landscape has become, unfortunately she has gone lowest common denominator with "Shake If Off." You too can do this, if you know Max Martin and the usual suspects, but that does not mean you cannot do it yourself, that you cannot shoot higher. But we can only listen to one song at one time so what you cut has to have the catchiness of "Shake It Off."

No bitching. This is the story of all media today. Check out the movie business, it's either a blockbuster or it's a stiff. If you're happy with a stiff, be my guest, but you're not allowed to complain you've got no audience, that no one cares.


Stop thinking about them and stop making them. You start with the hit, if you haven't got one, keep trying to make one. Without one, you're sunk. If you have a hit, people will want to hear more of your music, so then you can build around the hit. You can release four other tracks that are ear-pleasing but might only be listened to by fans. Then you need another hit. And know in the streaming universe, the album makes no sense. The CD allowed shuffling, the ability to play only the songs you wanted to hear from the collection, streaming doesn't even force you to buy the LP to begin with! Don't overload your audience on Spotify and its ilk, it's too confusing when someone goes to check you out. In other words, put a plethora of material on YouTube, but only the limited, authorized stuff on Spotify. You're not making albums, you're creating a body of work. Listeners don't care if you cut it yesterday or a year ago, or even five years ago. And to force people to wait for years to
overwhelm them with product is a mistake.


I'm not a big Foo Fighters fan but their HBO show is a masterstroke, going with the true Tiffany network to showcase excellence without commercialism. The same show is a stiff on another network, the Foo Fighters are piggybacking on HBO's cred. And with no ads, HBO is the antithesis of the modern world. People hate the endless selling and commercialism. It burnishes your image to avoid it. But, once again, you must have hits. And, once again, a hit is something that many people want to hear over and over again, it doesn't matter if it's played on the radio or not.


The rappers have been doing it forever, dropping in on pop songs. Today's country is yesterday's rock and roll. Want to expand your audience? Play with today's country stars, who can play, and likely are fans of your material. We're all in it together, and only the biggest of stars can go it alone.


They leave the audience with a bad taste in their mouth. If your face is everywhere, if you force your music upon them, backlash will begin. Money and connections will get you press, but the truth is in today's music world it might be working against you. Used to be the press was tied in with radio and MTV, which everybody listened to and watched. Today, your music can be completely ignored. When your face appears in a non-genre-specific publication, trolling for fans, the readers laugh and make fun of you.


We live in hater culture. If you're going to respond at all, have not only a sense of humility, but a sense of humor. There's no need to immediately apologize, then you look like one of the TV drug addict nitwits. Stand your ground, but be three-dimensional, wink your eye.

Everywhere I go I quiz people on the new releases. Consensus is the Thom Yorke album is already over. The inane press release wherein they said there were a million downloads, was laughable, they had very few PAID downloads. This is the worst case example, where the press trumps the music.

At least U2 got to perform their song at Apple's shindig. If only it had been a hit. It was very good, but you never needed to hear it again.

As for Tom Petty, I'm a huge fan, but when he appeared in every publication known to man and exuded grumpiness in the process and came out with an album without one repeatable track, it was just sad.

That's right, your A&R man said he couldn't hear a single.

But today your A&R man is your audience. And it's not their job to listen to your new music. And chances are there is no radio, radio that counts, doesn't play your music, your single is for your fans. And your single is a repeatable track. Because no one's got time for less than great.

And we're constantly in search of great, which is how Lorde can come out of nowhere, but now, more than ever, it doesn't matter what you've done in the past, but what you've done for us lately.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

No More Moving Parts

I used to joke about the day that I would have a computer with no moving parts and this week I made it happen.  The 500 gig hard drive in my Macbook Pro was pretty sluggish, probably because I never clean up and never thrown anything away.  I just wait 'til it grinds to a halt then I get a new drive. My son the DJ was encouraging me to do what he did, replace the CD/DVD drive with a second drive bay and add an SSD drive for the operating system and the applications.  Instead I went for the whole enchilada and replaced the original drive with a 500 gig SSD (Samsung) for $250.  When I think back...waaay back to mid 80s when I bought my first hard drive. My Mac SE had no built-in hard drive so I got an external 40 meg hard drive and I recall it was darn near a thousand bucks (the Mac SE, with Southworth MIDI interface & software but no hard drive was $5000.)  I got to know Bill Southworth (he was a genuine MIDI pioneer except his product was the "Beta" to ProTools' "VHS") I remember one day an excited Bill holding a new hard drive in the box bragging "I just got a 140 Meg hard drive for $1400! Can you believe only $10 a meg?" Let me do the math...oh, never mind!

Now this computer moves so fast that sometimes I don't even notice that I've already arrived at the page/site/doc that I clicked on....Lovin' it!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Validation

Following the misfortune of my guitar's broken headstock, there were a few bright moments.  Ego stroking, I guess.

A couple of days after the accident I got two nods to Brian the songwriter - one was meeting a musician who was part of an event that is chronicled in one of my songs and then later that evening I saw a young female singer-songwriter and she can't believe that she's running into me because earlier that evening she had been working on one of my songs.  How's them apples?  Meanwhile I still can't afford to get that guitar fixed properly - which will require splicing a new headstock onto it.

Then tonight, to top it off, I was surfing around the web and saw a link to Rdio which took me to the Brian Blain "station" where I just sat back listening to random selections from two of my albums - some of which I haven't heard in a while - and which I couldn't play live if my life depended on it. It has a slider where you can select "Artist Only" or move it further to play tracks by similar artists or not-so-similar if you select "Adventurous"

Monday, September 29, 2014

One of those days

So I haven't been playing much lately and today I decide I'm going to go do a set at this popular Open Mic called Lazy Cat Cafe.  It's at the Bain Co-op in a beautiful all purpose community space (I'm hoping our co-op can one day have a large, comfortable space like this, but I digress)

I decided to take the old Epiphone (I bought it new in 1964) and put it in a soft bag.  That's my first two mistakes.  Then I left the guitar leaning agains a wall fell over.  I had been warned that one good knock would pop that headstock again - each time you glue it, it's less secure.  This was the third time it was glued.  Now I will have to have some kind of post put in there...this is gonna be way more than a cheap (sometimes free) glue job.

I'm inclined to have a crowdfunding campaign to repair my baby. It could go viral -  I never got so many Facebook comments as the last time it broke.

This is what it looked like when I opened the case

Needless to say, I was not in much of a mood to play after that and then I sat down next to Allan McKinley who informed me that the list was full - so I wouldn't have got to play anyway!

I don't have the heart to stick around so I head home with my broken guitar but decide to stop for some take-out.  I go along Danforth, park without paying, and run in to get a souvlaki.  Then, horror of horrors, I look out the window of Mr. Greek only to see a parking officer standing next to my car. But here was a little bit of good fortune on a bad day...  He didn't ticket me. He must have misread the old parking stub that was in my windshield.  Could we call this my lucky day...I don't think so.

Oh, and did I mention that one of my clients had a break in this week and four laptops were stolen and I will be spending the next week trying to restore data from inadequate back-ups.  Argh.

And lastly I'm bummed, because on the way home I turned on Jazz FMI and they were playing a fabulous documentary on John Hammond (the dad) .  I listen for a bit in the car, but when I get in the house I forget to turn on the rest.  Now I've gone and set my Audio Hijack to record it every Sunday - but I'll never be able to get those first three episodes.  Unless I know somebody out there who has this doc archived......

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Living, Dying and Second Chances

Now back from a nice getaway in Cape Cod.  That little white spec in the sand on the left is Linda walking down the dunes at Long Nook (no sharks today). I got back to TO in time to celebrate my 68th birthday with a few friends including my oldest musical buddy, Allan Fraser, and we jammed a little but not into the night the way we used to.  In the big clean-up, I found all kinds of family pictures and ephemera and I decided it was time to get that stuff out of the boxes they've been in and put them up on the wall so I spent the night before my birthday drilling holes and hanging pictures. I also managed to lose the iPad - those things are so thin they could melt into a stack of papers and that is exactly what happened.  It was missing for a week and I was starting to think that it got thrown out along with the stacks of magazines & files that I dumped - but I didn't stop looking and this morning I looked in a box full of envelopes and bags and behold...thar she blows! What a relief - not that I use it a whole lot but I'm planning to load up one of those fake books so the next time I'm asked to go play bass for someone, I can have a chart for every song in every key right at my fingertips.

Last week was one to remember. Thursday morning I had two emails informing me that two friends had died.  One I had just met the week before, at my birthday party actually, and he was quite an eccentric looking character. His name was Nik Beat and the day after the party I googled him and sent him a Facebook friend request.  He friended me right away and then I learnt a bit more about him, he had a long-running show on CIUT was a musician (though he didn't join in our jam session). and a couple of days later he was dead. Then as I'm wrapping up the Crescendo newsletter, we get word that Jim Biros, the Executive Director of the Toronto Musician's Association and a friend to all musicians, union or not, had passed away. Stop the presses! And just a week ortwo before, another one-of-a-kind broadcaster, Reiner Schwartz had passed away. What's going on?

That was the day I was invited to a special event at the Ontario Science Centre called the Science of Rock and this night feature all kinds of activities including a panel of experts dissecting a hit song (by the Who), a make-your-own-cigar-box-guitar (sorry I missed that one) and an amazing display of Rock & Roll artifacts curated by Alan Cross.  The evening ended with a concert/lecture by guitar god Steve Cropper. Remeber "Green Onions" and here he told us how he wrote it and other hits like "Soul Man" and other Stax hits.  I saw an old friend Rob Bowman in the crowd and chatted with him a bit and he told me it was the one-year anniversary of his double lung transplant.  Talk about a new lease on life! As we spoke, the concert ended and he made his way to the stage - I figured to say hi to Steve who he has written about a lot in his book about Stax and liner notes for a CD box set.  But I was surprised to see him take the stage with Steve and there followed a "celebrity interview" with Steve that went into some great stories about the early days of Rock & Roll.

I also got invited to be part of my friend Raoul Bhaneja's theatre/music production called "Life Death and the Blues" The show runs from September 25 to October 19th and each night features a special guest to sing a couple of tunes with the band at the end of the show.  I'm on October 15th and here's where you can buy tix:

And in the "Second Chances" department, I had a meeting with an old friend who is now responsible for a new online live music calendar which just launched at I encourage all my musician friends to post their gigs, so that the government will know it's being used.  It'll be a while before they build an audience but it will be easier if they have some content.  Folks who know me will remember that an comprehensive online music event calendar has been my pet project for twenty years.  In fact, as I was cleaning up for the birthday party I came upon correspondence from 1994 about just that.  I had long given up on trying to do it myself but I was sure that by now someone else would have done it and I could just buy one at Staples.  But alas, it was not to be.  Just a long succession of false starts...but maybe this time it will be different.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stolen from Bob Lefsetz

In case you've never heard of Lefsetz, he's the blogger who is always saying "If nobody is buying your CDs and nobody is coming to your gigs, it's probably because you suck"  I would add "...or, you haven't found your audience yet."  I still believe there's an audience for everyone, but if it's down to a few friends and family, then you have to forget about making a living in music.  I'm now retired so I feel like I'm off the hook, but still leap at every opportunity to play.  Anyway, here's Lefsetz' rant of the day:


It anchors your career. There are hitmakers and everybody else. A hit just means something ubiquitous that everybody listens to, chart numbers are unnecessary. Hits can come in a flash via inspiration, but oftentimes they require a huge amount of effort and craft. Are you repeating the verses? Is the chorus singable, is there a bridge? Strive for excellence in your own chosen genre, reaching the brass ring is what it's all about.


They don't want you to be successful, that would mean they are losers. They want to keep you down in the hole they're in. Follow your dream, which is individual to you.


Without it, you're toast. Today's society is all about being a member of the group. Winners in art are singular. They stand alone, they endure the bows and arrows as well as reap the adulation. If you're not dreaming big in today's world, you're not dreaming at all.


Wisdom comes with age and experience. But don't forget the pre and post Internet eras are as different as the pre and post telephone eras. Not everything remains the same.


There's no such thing as a cycle in today's world. Art is like life. Keep making, errors are tolerated as long as you follow them up with more work of quality. Today the key is to be remembered, because almost everything is forgotten. Don't overthink and overlabor your efforts. Raw and honest works today, and it forges a connection between you and your audience.


Don't sacrifice your art to get paid, whether it be a day job or going on the road to fulfill your financial desires. Art is about sacrifice. You live on a subsistence level until you break through or you give up.


Even if you don't want to cut a Katy Perry-type tune, your career would be enriched by an hour with Dr. Luke or Max Martin. They understand the game, they understand a hit.


Cred in a producer is secondary to track record. Work with someone who's been to the mountaintop and continues to journey there. They can give you a perspective no one else can.


Do it to learn, not to write a hit song. Those Nashville cats are the best in the business. Their songs might be saccharine or predictable, but they know the system. Once again, it's all about learning.


They rap in country songs. Avicii put country in EDM. Feel free to incorporate your fandom into your work.


You can only be the critics' darling for a brief period. People will only check you out once or twice, then they're done. Strike when the iron is hot.


People will listen to two new substandard works and then abandon you.


It exists on Spotify. If you connect with a track, people will go deeper.


Forget them. Unless you're making a concept one, a statement. They don't fit with today's world. You drop one every other year when nothing in the news lasts longer than a week, in most cases barely a day? If you have a stiff album, it'll take years to recover. Better to keep in the public eye by continuing to produce. You want to create a body of work, but it doesn't have to be in album form, after all, the term "album" initially denoted a cardboard container for 78s.


You get worn down with age, you know too much. Test the limits. Follow your exuberance. Live and create to the limit.


Unless you're creating Top Forty hits, feel free to stand up to the powers that be. Too many businessmen, label people, agents and managers, are stuck in the old system. You can be dragged down by them, or stand up to them. This doesn't mean you've got license to be a jerk, but standing your artistic ground is an asset. But it's got to feel right to you, don't be afraid to change or take input because you abhor criticism and believe everything you do is phenomenal, no one's got that great a track record.