Upper Colfax Root 40 MusicFest is coming to town…

Upper Colfax, from Grant to Josephine, is taking a plunge this spring towards helping Denver become a real music city.  Attempting something akin to Austin’s SXSW, the Upper Colfax Root 40 MusicFest is scheduled for April 22 through 28th, 2012, featuring music from every willing and able venue along the strip.

This week-long event is designed to “entertain, enlighten, educate and encourage new participation in Colorado’s music and performance community.”  It’s other purpose is to raise awareness and scholarship funds for local musicians and support for some of Colorado’s homeless population.

The event kicks off with the COMBO EXPO at the Fillmore, tentatively scheduled for April 22nd, 11AM to 4PM, with music following the expo.  COMBO, or the Colorado Music Business Organization, is an all-volunteer nonprofit that helps educate local musicians on the in’s and out’s of the music business.  COMBO also hosts monthly educational seminars around the Denver metro area.  This expo will feature music wholesalers and local music vendors plus lots of educational opportunities and networking. 

The nonprofit Musicians In Action will also be involved in this special event.  M.I.A. is an all-volunteer organization that mobilizes local musicians to perform and collaborate to aid Colorado’s homeless.  M.I.A. plans to aid The Gathering Place, Senior Support Services and the Empowerment Program, three homelessness agencies near the event site, with various shows throughout the week.

Do you want to perform at this first ever event?

Send an email to info@MusiciansInAction.org, including best phone number, band website, and your general availability.

Music School 101: Placing a Craig’s List Ad

So you’re about to post another Craig’s List ad, eh?  Let me guess:  you need a bassist.  And you’re still fuming because no one responded to that last ad?  You know – the one with a seven paragraph rant with your list of outrageous demands?  Fear no more; here is all you need to get some decent responses…

Rule #1   Explain your project

State very clearly what type of project you are assembling or what kind of personnel you need.  It seems simple enough, and yet so many ads flood the good old CL with obscure notions that one almost wonders if they’ve posted in the wrong category.

Are you an original band…or do you slog out covers with a half-hearted soul?  [This is the Denver Original Music blog, you know].  Do you play a specific genre, or do you just want people to show up on your doorstep with tuba in tow?  Are you playing around town, or quaintly just stuck in someone’s basement?  Be specific, please.

Rule #2   Explain your expectations

This is really rule #1b, as you’re still explaining your project, just a little better.  What are your…GOALS!  How often do you practice?  Are you planning on playing out once a month?  Twice?  28-31 times???  Not at all?  Are you going to tour?  Record?  File for bankruptcy?  Gawd, just get it all out there, please.

Rule #3   List any other criteria (but in a nice way that doesn’t make you sound like a head case)

  • Sure…maybe no girls are allowed…or boys…or barnyard animals.
  • Over 21 so they can play the bar scene?  [Keep in mind that younger kids can play too – they just need a work permit].
  • Under 55?  Alas, too old to rock & roll but too young to die.  [But please don’t underestimate the power of senior discounts].
  • No posers?  Shoe gazers?  Mama’s boys?
  • No addicts?  [Just remember that addictions come in many, many shapes and sizes…]

Rule # 4   Don’t undermine yourself in print

As you spout the details of rule #3, remember that everyone can tell if you’re a head case just by how you write.  Curse words can betray obvious hostility.  Poor spelling indicates a lack of intelligence, or simply laziness at the reluctance to use a spell checker.  CAPITAL LETTERS ARE A SURE SIGN THAT YOU’RE HOSTILE, passive aggressive or trying to hide some serious skeletons.

Rule #5   Share your music

Come now, you must have some recordings you can post!  Do not be afraid to share as this is the only way to allow others to qualify you.  From recordings they will be able to tell your style, your skill level, and where you are at in the whole process.  If nothing else, they will know you have kahunas, and that’s a noble part of being a musician.

Rule #6   Fill in your location

That’s what the SPECIFIC LOCATION box is for.  And you guessed it – the more specific the better.  When assembling a group that you hope will endure for more than a few months, proximity rules!  Sure, many musicians will travel to the ends of the earth “if you’re good enough.”  But many more will reply to your ad if they know they won’t have to invest in that evil Exxon company just to play in your basement.

Rule #7   Be polite and professional

Yes, the old saying “it doesn’t cost anything to be polite” still holds up.  You catch many more bees (and bassists) with honey than scraggily rants.  Just give it a try.  And being professional hasn’t gone out of style yet either.  Raise the bar and it just may surprise you how others respond.

In summary, when you post a Craig’s List ad (short for advertisement), you are giving others a chance to qualify you.  They can sit and judge your music, your goals, and decide if you are right for them.  So what?  They will be doing that anyway.

But in this single act, you are also pre-qualifying them.  If they don’t like your tunes you probably don’t want to hear from them anyway.  If they plan on touring Canada and you plan on staying put in Denver, why bother with a few fruitless email exchanges?  If they are 13, you could wind up in jail!  Do yourself a favor and just weed all of these out ahead of time.

Stay tuned for the next class:  responding to the responses…

The most critical personnel for your band….

The single most important ingredient of any band is the person known as the band manager.  Do you have one?  For better or worse, I bet you do…

Band Managers

Band managers are the goal setters, sometimes visionaries, schedulers and organizers, and often a lot of other roles wrapped up in one: booking, promotion, marketing, negotiations, graphic artist, hygienist, group therapist, financier, transportation, and the list goes on and on.

Often enough, the band manager is also the leader of the band.  This is the (hopefully) responsible soul that sets the goals for where and when you’ll play out, record, tour, and get paid.  They will create the roadmap and make sure everyone stays on the same page.  They will help the band foster a state of constant improvement and generally keep everything together.

Without a competent manager, original bands tend to implode within six months to a year (or less).  But with the right personnel, bands will typically get:

  • paid(!)
  • Booked consistently
  • Develop stage presence
  • Focus more on song writing and recording
  • Develop a following
  • Discover their mission

Types of Band Managers

Most bands can’t possibly afford to pay someone else, let alone pay themselves.  So here are the best options for working on a shoestring budget:

Give someone in the band the specific role if you haven’t tried this already.  As previously mentioned, this is usually, but not always, the leader of the band.  Some bands have tried sharing the assorted responsibilities.  This can work well as long as people are reliable and doing what comes natural for them.

Find a friend or devout (and trustworthy) fan to help with the cause.  Ideally, make them another “member of the band” that gets paid a share of the spoils.  This can work well as long as you don’t recruit someone with too close of ties with a specific member of the band (i.e. girlfriends, wives, etc. are almost always a bad idea).  It’s in the best interest of the band to try to find someone as objective (and honest) as possible.

Pay for an experienced band manager.  This may seem like the hardest option, but it’s actually the fastest method for alleviating headaches and getting good results.  Keep in mind that you can always fire the wrong personnel before getting in too deep.  The best way to locate a good manager is to get referrals from other bands that are successful on the scene.

Remember, too, that the band manager is there for these primary roles:  booking, organization and negotiations.  Do not get them confused with a Media Specialist (PR) or even with the promotional efforts (marketing, street team, etc).  They will probably not be qualified to act as producers either.  The more of a burden they carry in scattered activities, the more likely they will fail across the board.

Find yourself a quality band manager and chances are good that you’ll eventually want that PR agent, that business manager, that lawyer, those roadies…

Your band: business or hobby, or both…or neither?

When confronted with the question “is your band a business or a hobby?” let us hope that your answer is “yes.”  And you certainly will be confronted with this question on an on-going basis:  there will be negotiations with band mates, venue owners and even fans; there will be sales and marketing chores galore; licensing rights; key personnel to hire and fire.

From the moment your band is formed, whether you realize it or not, you are scribbling out the very first semblance of a business plan.  You may think that you are merely following your passion for music.  But the consequences of your planning will become more obvious as the band develops.

On the other hand, you first picked up an instrument, or sang or wrote a song and sustained your efforts because you probably felt drawn to this passion.  Music is a form of art, or a way of life; turn it into work and suddenly the enthusiasm starts to fizzle.  What is a musician to do?

Let’s take a quick look at the two propositions…

Business:  an organization engaged in the trade of goods, services, or both to consumers.  The term “business” implies the state of being busy either as an individual or group or society as a whole, doing commercially viable and profitable work.

Hobby:  an activity pursued outside one’s regular occupation and engaged in primarily for pleasure.  Hobbies are practiced for interest and enjoyment, rather than financial reward.  Amateur is another term for a person that does something for fun, without significant payment of services.

The ultimate question here, then, is: are you a professional or an amateur?  Whether they admit it or not, most original bands in Denver are amateur.  And here is a litmus test for determining your status – you are probably an amateur if:

  • You play for free.  Or worse, you pay to play.
  • You have a day job that provides your primary income.
  • You don’t report your music income on a Federal tax return, and you don’t deduct your music expenses on that form either.
  • You do not have key band personnel: a band manager, business manager, promoter or PR assistance, a lawyer, a producer, etc.

Coming to grips with the identity of amateur is the first step towards working to become a professional.  Awareness begets change.  You see, in an ideal world you will want to bring your music to life as an artist but run the band like a business as much as possible.  And here’s why:

  • Club and venue owners will take you more seriously; providing agreements and conducting yourself professionally at the venues will go a long way to providing income and respect.
  • As a band manager (the common role for most leaders of the band), paying your players will ensure that they are around for the long haul – or you can employ new players fairly quickly.
  • The basic rights and roles for each member of the band will be spelled out clearly in the beginning, thus eliminating a lot of future bickering.
  • Public performances will be examined under the context of business viability.  Unless your band is a nonprofit (which could be a good way to go), there should be a reasonable expectation for making the performance worthwhile.

Ultimately, you are setting clear expectations for the band the day you decide to run it as a business.  You are creating goals for future sustainability and growth.  Passion will always fuel the music, but operating as, or working towards operating as a business will allow the artist in you to achieve greater success.

Denver Original Music

Welcome to Denver’s original music scene!

Some of you may remember me from a past life as the Denver Original Music Examiner.  Some of you may have bumped into me coming to a Musicians In Action show.  And some of you might have shared a stage with my band, Odin’s Other Eye.  In any event, thanks for finding me again!

I’m here to dig through the nooks and crannies of the Denver original music scene in all of its land-locked glory.  I’ll be speaking with (better and lesser known) bands, club owners, recording studios, music schools and other resources, and maybe with you too.

Are you involved with the local scene?  Musician?  Venue owner?  Promoter?  Photographer?  Zealous fan?  I definitely want to hear from you!  Send me a line and I’ll probably make you a byline.  Cheers to Denver’s struggling music scene!