The Beatdown

Legendary is relative, especially when it comes to the Amercan Music Auditions.

Bob Dylanshould be pissed.

Forty years after he launched his iconic career, people still can't get his name right. For example, producer Robert Metzgar's bio refers to him as "Bob Dillon."

If you were a musician with nowhere near the track record of Dylan, would you take career advice from a "legendary" producer who admits he paid $1,200 for someone to write a faulty bio -- and claims he's never read it? Just last week, nearly a hundred area acts dropped $175 each to perform before Metzgar and other industry folks at the American Music Auditions at Avalon.

From the start, this five-day shmoozefest sounded dubious. "MCA Universal producers to audition talent in Denver," the press release announced, just begging gullible folks to read it as "Major label to host showcase in Denver." (In particular, gullible folks who don't know that while MCA was folded into Universal, there's no official entity known as "MCA Universal.") Most majors don't hold cattle calls to scout for talent, though, and even assuming that one had opted to host such an event, surely starry-eyed locals wouldn't be charged a fee to take part. And someone would have heard of "legendary producers" Metzgar, Charles Fach Jr. and Tony Migliore, who were listed as judges of the AMA showcase.

By last week, my bullshit-o-meter was in overdrive -- fueled in part by the fact that the Colorado Music Association had abruptly pulled its sponsorship from the AMA just before auditions began on May 12. The next day, the Denver Message Board (www.denvermessageboard.com) was on fire with speculation and suspicion: Just because we live in Mootown doesn't mean we're country dumbkins. Posters wondered what artists would be auditioning for and what they'd get in return for their fee. Some even pulled up Better Business Bureau reports on the AMA's panelists. (For the record, Metzgar has three complaints filed against him in Tennessee.)

So I decided to see for myself what the AMA was all about. When I arrived at Avalon on Thursday, May 13, there were only two dozen people in the room, and a few of the promised luminaries were absent: Migliore wasn't there, and a placard for Ivan Mogull from Sony/ATV publishing stood before an empty seat. (Mogull, at least, appeared on subsequent nights.) I recognized Metzgar from his website, and Fach, who looked old enough to have been a waiter at the Last Supper, was also on hand. As an added bonus, Erik Dyce, who books local acts for Red Rocks through the Denver Division of Theatres and Arenas, had signed on to help with the judging. I positioned myself directly behind Metzgar, Fach and Dyce, and watched them watch the auditions.

The process was identical for each of the acts. After running through two songs, the performers would sit down for a critique by Metzgar and Fach. The pair would then go over each item on the AMA evaluation form: On a scale of one (needs work) to ten (incredible), each act was rated on image, vocal ability, song selection, performance aspects, hit potential, touring potential, label potential, television potential and live performance. (Amazing: Metzgar and Fach could gauge an act's ability from just two songs.) The legendary producers then discussed copyrights, ASCAP and BMI, and recommended that the act enlist the services of an attorney. Each meeting lasted ten to fifteen minutes and ended with Metzgar and Fach handing out business cards and advising the performers that they could call anytime with questions. After that, the act moved on to a one-on-one with Dyce.

So here's what $175 bought: assembly-line criticism, a little useful information a musician can find for free on the web, and face time with a couple of industry dinosaurs. Those dinos didn't bring much in the way of valuable connections, either. Of all the acts Metzgar's worked with, not a single one has garnered a major-label deal. In fact, he acknowledges that none of the labels he's pitched have shown any interest. At all. Even so, he insists that his services are valuable. "If you had five lawyers sitting at a table and charging somebody $225 an hour," he says, "there wouldn't be one newspaper that would say a thing about that if they were giving people professional advice.... We've been in this business thirty years. We're professionals."

They've been in the business so long, their credentials are prehistoric. When his name is Googled, Fach appears only in connection with Bachman-Turner Overdrive, but those pieces confirm he was a Polygram exec. Although Mogull is listed fairly frequently, his last notable contribution was publishing songs for ABBAin the mid-'70s. And while both Metzgar and Allen Miller, the event's organizer, describe Mogull as the head of Sony/ATV publishing, no one I contacted at Sony offices could confirm that he's currently on the company's payroll.

While Metzgar was indeed inducted into the Legends Hall of Fame, it wasn't as a producer, as his bio claims, but as a songwriter, according to Frank Dell, president of the Country Legends Association. Metzgar seems prone to these little inflations. His company's website (www.capitolmanagement.com) includes a picture of Metzgar standing next to Garth Brooks, a visual that implies they've worked together in the past -- but a disclaimer posted on the site disavows any affiliation. Metzgar's one-sheet prominently lists Billy Joel, Kenny Rogers, Diana Ross and Lionel Richie -- and if you don't read carefully, you'll miss the fact that his services for them were "promotion."

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