10 Music Writers Walk Into A Bar, Decide Bands Should Get Off Their Lazy Asses
It was Matthew Wettergreen's idea. Wettergreen, who co-hosts KTRU's local-music/news show Revelry Report and is the mastermind behind BandCamp , had a vision of getting a group of Houston-based music writers from all kinds of media together to address the question of how we could better serve the music community. It's been a hot topic of discussion lately, with Wettergreen publishing how-to guides for bands on his blog and journalists like Rocks Off's Craig Hlavaty, Sara Cress of the Houston Chronicle / 29-95.com and yours truly weighing in on ways for bands to get more media notice. If we must join forces, we'll do it for good, not evil. So Wednesday night, a dozen or so of us met for drinks and discourse at Cecil's Pub. In attendance were Anna Garza ( Free Press Houston ), Joe Mathlete (29-95), Andrew Dansby ( Houston Chronicle ), Jeremy Hart ( Space City Rock ), David Cobb ( Houston Calling ), Hlavaty, Cress, Wettergreen, Marc Brubaker ( Houstonist.com ) and David Sadof ( Houston Music Examiner ). Below, some topics of discussion:
- Personally, my biggest stress factor when covering Houston bands is that, in spite of popular opinion, there really is a lot going on in Houston on any given night. And I can't be everywhere. To stay abreast of local music news I subscribe to some 30-plus Houston-based music blogs, several dozen more Texas music blogs and hundreds of people on Twitter. And even then, I can't read or catch everything.
- Joe Mathlete, who has the unique perspective of both being in a band and being a music writer, said he felt writers should make more of an effort to seek out new bands and not wait for the bands to find them.
- Cress said the relationship has to be symbiotic. "I've been paying attention to (certain bands) for 4 years and they haven't made any attempt to contact me.
- Andrew Dansby, who has also written for Rolling Stone, said a lot of local bands are young and don't yet have or understand the need for a relationship with the local press.
- Dansby also said that local media is the best place to aim for publicity. The collapse of mass-media markets are leading towards a more regional news focus, similar to the 1950s and '60s, when bands would achieve local fame before national fame. "I think that shift would be healthy."
- Wettergreen said he witnesses a lot of apathetic behavior at his BandCamp meetings. Bands will come and listen to his tips (and tips from writers like Hlavaty) but then won't act on them. "I get the feeling they want to be spoon-fed success. You're wasting your time if you're coming here but not doing anything," he said.
- But there are conflicting requests from writers too. Cress and Dansby said they can't listen to music at work, so they prefer when bands send CDs they can take and listen to at home or in the car. David Cobb said bands don't need to waste the money to burn 50 CDs if they have MP3s they can email to writers.
- Wettergreen said bands need to understand that starting a band is akin to starting a new business. This is often a scary prospect for young musicians who only want to play music. Joe Mathlete rebuffed that idea, but conceded that bands need to do as much self-marketing and self-promotion as possible, especially if they can't afford an agent or publicist.
- And yet even when the media specifically requests information from bands, the musicians still don't send it. "Bands don't even send music to Revelry Report," Wettergreen said, indicating the problem isn't unique to print or online media. Information on how to send music for review to 29-95.com is prominent on the Web site's "About Us" page, and here at Rocks Off we've created a weekly series specifically for spreading news about up-and-coming local bands, Magnolia City Mixtape.
The bottom line is, of course, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and we're not sure if there's any fair way to remedy that. The Internet helps, because instead of having to come up with the funds to, say, burn 50 CDs and compile 50 different press packets with glossy photos and all, bands can just create one digital press packet with downloadable audio and high-res photos, and mail it to everyone. But there's the kicker. Bands also have to send that info out, and not wait for the media to find it. On that note, Rocks Off would like to recommend a book to any burgeoning musicians out there. The title is How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, but you can go ahead and substitute the word "writer" in that title for "musician" because the principles are all the same. The book was written by Ariel Gore, who got her start in zines and the DIY movement, and the title is obviously tongue-in-cheek. With chapter titles like "Play with the Big Dogs," "Become a Brazen Self-Promoter," "Be an Anthology Slut" and "Fight for Your Time," her message is clear - if you want to be a rock star, you have to act like you already are.
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