Lloyd Dobler, the protagonist of the film Say Anything, was a prophet of biblical proportions. "I don't want to buy anything sold, bought or processed," he pronounced. "I don't want to sell anything bought, sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed, as a career."
Dobler was onto something: Everything has become a commodity. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a club or show and been accosted by someone hell-bent on shoving a disc or stack of stickers from some no-name act into my grubby mitts. Street-level marketing is now the music industry's preferred method of launching new artists; it's cheap and reaches a captive audience. But while these sampler CDs can contain some gems -- often from artists I wouldn't otherwise have heard -- usually they're a waste of time.
And apparently, I'm not alone in my opinion. Jay Schatz, who manages several U.K.-based acts (Haven, Gene, Johnny Marr), put together a rarities comp as a direct response to this marketing of mediocre material. "I don't know how it is out there," he says, "but here in Los Angeles, every time you go to a show, these marketing companies are passing out CD samplers, and they're usually just filled with such garbage, and we'd see them all over the floor. We just thought we'd tried to change that."
Unlike the standard sampler discs pitched by various labels, Rarities: Volume I, had no agenda. It wasn't an infomercial for any particular label; in fact, the eighteen artists on the comp record on fifteen different labels. But what started out as a fun little project exploded far beyond that. Volume I included a rare acoustic track from Coldplay that was quickly added to regular rotation by the tastemakers at KROQ, sending audiophiles into a frenzy as they tried to find the disc -- when, of course, it couldn't be purchased anywhere.
Why expend such effort when there's no return on the investment? "It's for bands, the music and the fans," explains Schatz. "Music is an art, not a product."
Now he's out with his second artful comp: Rarities: Volume 2, which contains new, import-only, live and unreleased songs from the likes of Supergrass, the London Suede, Division of Laura Lee, Ride, Idlewild, Remy Zero and more. Just as he handpicked each artist on the CD, Schatz has chosen the clubs that will distribute the 10,000 copies he's pressed. Last year's party for Volume 1 at Club Bang in Los Angeles attracted 2,500 people, and copies of the disc handed out there have reportedly been selling for as much as $200.
But you don't need to book a flight to the City of Angels to get your hands on this disc. Lipgloss, which plays everything from Brit pop to glam rock to classic soul at 60 South, is one of six club nights in the country to receive copies of Volume 2. And on Friday, August 8, the first 300 people who pay Lipgloss's $5 cover charge will each receive a single copy of the comp.
I know that innovative promotional tools, such as street-level marketing, can be a necessity, especially for a local act: A band's draw is often a direct reflection of how much effort it has put into hyping itself. But according to Mike Makkay, the new booking agent at the Soiled Dove, the type of promotion a band does is more important than the amount.
"Flyering and postering is only 2 to 5 percent of it," he says, adding that bands need to be innovative in how they get the word out. While most groups can't afford ads on major radio stations, there's always college radio or local music Web sites. "Then again," he points out, "all the promotion in the world won't help a crappy band."
And all the promotion in the world can't prevent a word-of-mouth campaign. For the last few weeks, the message board www.DenverLocalMusicScene.com has been full of talk about the Soiled Dove. Anonymous posters have taken the club to task for being disorganized, not returning phone calls, not paying the bands as much as they think they're worth and spending money on a ticket kiosk that allegedly no one uses, as well as a digital marquee that's rumored to have cost upwards of $20,000. Makkay, a local-scene stalwart as both a performer and a DJ who once hosted one of the area's few local music shows, responds to the dissenters head-on -- both on the board and in person. "It's a very difficult job," he says of his work at the Dove. "It's getting better every day. I'm not going to say I don't make mistakes. And I'm definitely not going to get defensive over that. I dare anybody to try it for a living. It has been the hardest job I've ever done in my life. When you're receiving sixty to eighty calls a day against how many hours you have slated to get back to people, it backs up on you.
"To be fair to everyone in the scene, it has been very disorganized," he adds. "It's like, 'You win some and you lose some.' I hope people give it a chance, because we're getting it together."
He also hopes that musicians understand that the additions made to the Dove -- the ticket kiosk, the marquee, the new lighting system -- will ultimately benefit the scene by helping the club compete with other venues that book national acts. And how, exactly, would that work? It would generate opportunities for local bands to open for nationals and get exposed to bigger audiences, Makkay says. Not to mention, it would help the Dove stay afloat so that it can continue to support local music.
And local music has its place, Makkay insists. LoDo and the Dove are part of that place, he says, despite what posters may be saying on the message board.
"There's a lot of bands that do quite well, and there are a lot of bands that don't work well in LoDo. It's like, I play in a punk band -- you know the sound -- and those types that go to LoDo are less likely to come out in droves to see us because of what our fan base is like," he says. "If you're an unsigned band, you're not going to have many people come see you, anyway, so, yeah, LoDo is going to be difficult for you."
If you haven't been to the Dove to see the new additions for yourself, or if you're one of the faceless naysayers and want to address Makkay directly -- or you simply like good music -- be sure to head to LoDo this weekend, when a slew of homegrown artists will showcase their wares at the Dove's annual Rock Fest. On Friday, August 8, Voodoo Brown, Royal Bliss, Sketch, Rubber Planet and Makkay's own King Rat will perform. And on Saturday, August 9, Losing November, Love .45, Carolyn's Mother, Ordinary Poets (formerly Acoustic Circus) and Rexway will rock the house.
I'm sold on that -- if not on the rest of the buying and processing that seem so inescapable in the music business these days. Taking a cue from Lloyd Dobler, some days I'd rather kickbox.
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