Eric Tarn, legendary impresario of the internet (what does that even mean?) brought up an interesting point today. If musicians knew how much those cover bands in Atlantic City made, they would all do that as their side gig. Let’s work through this one together.
It’s no secret that most creative types have a day job outside of their desired industry. Rent needs to be paid, food needs to be bought, amenities need to be procured. It’s not easy to make a living as a musician playing original music. You could do music for the advertising industry, which in itself is a complex world….or you could go to the darkest of all dark sides…The Cover Band.
Cover bands are far less popular than they once were, but they still do exists, not ironically in places known for their debaucherous douchey populations. Namely Southern NJ and Las Vegas. I’m not talking about jazz here, where an artist could have a relatively successful career playing standards. I mean playing some Bon Jovi to a bunch of drunk ass bachelorette parties.
What’s made in America that we can all get behind? Apple designs in California…but manufactures overseas, which is true of most major technology. Cars? We all know how that turned out. Even the high quality denim market has been taken over by Japan, ironically after they mass purchased the antique American denim producing machinery!
I’m not the most patriotic of people. I do not read the declaration of independence aloud on national holidays. My main political news intake comes from Gawker and The Daily Show. But I do try to buy American made goods.
We still do 2 things very well in this country when it comes to goods. Clothing and Music. Go ahead, think of another actual good. When budget allows, I take part in the recent revival of American made clothes.
I bought one pair of jeans made in New York, and according to instructions, have not washed them in nearly a year. Yep, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You know what? They haven’t worn out at all. Far better than any cheap pair of Levis (I believe only their super top line is made here.)
American instruments continue to reign supreme though. Ask someone what type of car they would have, if money were no object, it would likely be Italian or German. Ask the same question about a guitar, it would be a Gibson or Fender, made here.
It does feel good to support the homeland in these efforts. I’m frankly surprised that Obama hasn’t picked up on this. Even Romney!! They’re all about being job creators, American ingenuity, and these are products people take pride in, partially because of where they’re made.
As far as the top “rock” type instruments are concerned, their heritage begins in America, and has remained here. Gibson is built in Montana and Nashville (formerly Michigan) Fender’s top line is built in California, Martin is built in Pennsylvania (after their earliest origins in Manhattan, in what is now Tribecca.) The original Williamsburg factory of Gretsch, still bears the logo on the building, yet it is now luxury condos.
This doesn’t even touch on the boutique brands, which are nearly all centered here. As far as Effects, Electro Harmonix is in Long Island City, NY. Zvex is somewhere in an underground lair, but still within US soil. Analogman, Strymon, Death By Audio in BK, countless others. In Amp Land, Swart, Victoria, Carr, Bogner, Mesa, they’re all local.
Yes, many of the larger companies produce their more budget gear overseas, or in Mexico. But the highly sought after equipment remains in the US. These are certainly luxury goods, but functional/technical/artistic luxuries.
Musicians are an odd bunch. Quick to speak out against “The Man” …or whatever….trying not to sell out, don’t trust the government….or whatever…but it’s an oddly patriotic bunch. Ask which parts of a musician’s arsenal are made in America, and they are likely to be able to tell you. Just something to think about.
I had written a long post about the use of various online commerce sites for instruments, my super ultra old dog pro status expertise, and whatnot. Complete with topical humor and various pop culture references juxtaposed with emotional attachment to my earliest instruments….but it had to be scrapped.
It’s just too much of a headache to buy or sell something used online. In our younger days we can do the legwork of shipping, take the risks. But after being burned a few times, you learn a little, and just can’t waste the effort.
There was a period during which I became addicted to Round Badge Gretsch Drums. (Hey, some people smoke crack, give me a break) I somehow hit the wave, and came upon them like one of those truffle sniffing dogs. I ended up with 5 kick drums, 3 toms, and 2 snares. Maybe it was a Brooklyn thing, they were after all made in Williamsburg. Sooner or later, logic and space prevailed, and most had to be let go. One kick and one tom were shipped to Slovenia (the Fedex bill was RIDICULOUS) and 2 other kicks were shipped to Canada.
The Canadian paid an offensively low price, for drums basically being sold as parts. Still, he was unhappy with them, and opened a Paypal dispute. After a Paypal mishap, DOUBLE the amount of money was put on hold from my bank account, which lets just say was an inconvenience in my freelance working days. Paypal is not the must helpful of organizations, as evidenced by this article, entitled “If you don’t like the violin you bought, just smash it, and we’ll get your money back”
I recently sold a snare drum to another Canadian (I guess I’ll never learn) who wrote me to request $50 back claiming the snare throw off was broken. This was not the case, so I asked what was broken, could it have been damaged in shipping, etc….and he said “you know what, let’s just forget about the $50″ WTF is that? Just phishing for a refund?
So let that be a Lesson to you all, stay away from ebay for anything larger than a priority mail envelope, or more expensive than an iPod shuffle. This is just on the selling side, I can’t even imagine it from a buyer’s perspective. I’ve bought 3 drums on ebay, all over 5 years ago, but have heard endless horror stories. Even Nels Cline was burned in a Jazzmaster ebay transaction, no one is immune! Where’s the congressional hearing on this?
Online descriptions of equipment are rarely as they seem. The same can probably be said of anything on the Internet. I recently bit the bullet, and bought a Jazzmaster, scouring Craigslist. A slightly safer alternative. The description said:
“I’M SELLING MY 62 REISSUE FENDER JAZZMASTER.
MINT CONDITION. ONLY 3 YEARS OLD.
YOU WON’T FIND A SINGLE THING WRONG WITH THIS GUITAR.
JAZZMASTER’S ARE GOING FOR $1700 NEW RIGHT NOW.
THIS IS A BEAUTY!”
Yes, the first thing wrong, is that it’s in all caps. Yet still, I went to see the guitar. It was nowhere near mint, full of dents and gouges, the pick guard was stripped in some areas with a screwdriver, the bridge was replaced….But I did get it for a pretty low price.
I think it might be time to stick to music stores. Is this what adulthood is? Sometimes you just have to feel comforted by the convenience and possible guarantee of quality. Is it worth the $300 markup for the guitar you saw on Craigslist at $600 now displayed in your local independent shop for $900? Sometimes it is.
Just as I finished that paragraph, I got a call from my friend in Virginia. He found a Ludwig Vistalite kit in a thrift store for $40. I think that’s the place to end it.
Reggie Watts is the closest thing we have, as a nation, to a living cartoon character. He should be treated as such, and allowed to live his life in a way the rest of us are not. He should have the power of flight, invisibility, invincibility, and be able to do anything that occurred in a Warner Bros. cartoon, without the thought of legal or social repercussions. Reggie is simply different from the rest of us.
This became apparent immediately last night at Webster Hall. There are comedians, there are people who make sounds without the use of other instruments, and there are singers, but there is no one else who combines these in such a way.
If you have never seen or heard of Reggie Watts, he is a performer who possibly fits under the heading of standup comic…if only because his material makes you laugh. But each nonsensical part of his performance transitions into an improvised musical piece, done with nothing more than his own voice, and a looping pedal. There are no other musicians, and nothing is pre-recorded. He occasionally plays a keyboard, but it’s mainly just vocals. He’s Bobby McFerrin from another dimension.
His set last night went to some strange places. He takes on any convention you have about a comedian or musician, and blows them to bits, as if it were a Roadrunner cartoon. He constantly adjusts the mic stand, like you see any nervous performer do, only when Reggie does it, it becomes an insane ritual, as if moving that mic just a little will unlock the key to all the secrets in the universe.
He unplugs all of his pedals, fumbling around with every cable, asking the audience if anyone has any C batteries, otherwise the show cannot continue. This will be followed by a completely silent song, with all the dance moves and enthusiasm of a Beyonce performance.
The dance moves….He moves like he’s being animated in real time. Pixar could base an entire character on him, and it would make the Toy Story franchise look like Suburban Commando.
This is the thing we all chase in live events. You want to see something no one else can do. Something that could immediately fall apart at any moment, yet somehow continues to be amazing. If Reggie Watts ended up playing Madison Square Garden, I would not be surprised for a minute. I would also line up early to get in.
One more thing brought a smile to my face. Surprisingly, there were some loud drunk girls behind us at Webster Hall. I believe this might have been the first instance of anything like that occurring at a live event, and most definitely at Webster Hall, a venue known for its respectful crowds. Anyway, they talked through the opening acts, proclaiming how they could do much better. And were very excited once Reggie came on stage.
They lasted through the first few songs, cheering on whenever he made a New York reference…which he did in a Hype Man voice… at he expense of the very people cheering him on. About 20 min in though….the ringleader, lets call her Tramp Stamp McMurrayHill (because all she talked about was the tattoo she got that day, and I’m guessing on both the location of the tattoo and her apartment) decided she wanted a Hamburger. That is all she would talk about. Eventually, they left, hopefully to get said hamburger. And no, I do not hope they got food poisoning from this burger. Any hype surrounding Reggie, was clearly not enough to please her very wide and varied cultural tastes. I’m glad Reggie could benefit financially from this group’s attendance, but I’m even more glad it was a little too weird for them.
Why don’t we close with a classic, an undeniable hit…..
I had some interesting experiences last night, why not share? I believe I’m at the forefront of this new technique called “sharing your personal observations with the internet” a patent is in the works.
This definable era of bands will soon draw to a close. How do I know? Because trends are emerging. And once a trend emerges, it’s only a matter of time. “No!” you say. “The trend of pop punk Emo/Screamo bands with sleeve tattoos and vented snare drums will continue forever!” Yes, it very well may, but not in the eyes of the general public. Except that vented snare thing, what was that all about.
Last night, the band I’m in played a show after a short hiatus. It was at a downtown Manhattan venue, known for their indie rock type aesthetic. As we loaded equipment in, this is what the stage looked like
Notice anything? Yeah. That’s without the 3 keyboards we added. Several years ago, in the aforementioned pop punk era, every guitar player had a half stack with a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier. Do they even make those anymore? Every bass player had an Ampeg SVT 8×10…which is still in use, but only for appropriate occasions, like a venue which requires a bass amp the size of 2 people. Drummers had elongated cannon type kick drums, toms hanging with RIMS mounts, all sorts of elaborate crap.
All of that is gone. Every band had at least 2 keyboards. There were 6 Blackface Fender combo amps, every single bass player had a Fender P Bass (it used to be the Musicman Stingray!) There were 3 Fender Jazzmasters between 4 bands, and shit tons of Reverb.
Gibson Les Paul’s have completely vanished. This could also be similar to the original Punk era, musicians just buy what’s cheap. A Gibson Les Paul Standard costs $2,500. That’s just plain ridiculous. In this economy, what musician can approach that? Pre housing bubble, I’ll bet a lot more were sold, perhaps dude to less worry about taking on credit card debt.
You see a ton more of Gibson’s less expensive model, the SG (for a used one, you can spend $800-1000 for a standard!) And Fender Guitars have pretty much taken over. Jazzmaster prices are on the rise though, same as the Strat’s in the 6o’s, which Fender used to have to cut prices on repeatedly, until they were popularized by that dude with the bandana/Afro and the British guy who played Layla on Unplugged.
(This concludes my economic report)
When one looks back on this era, it will certainly have a definable sound. Yes, the lo-fi thing is very present, but it’s a very clear type of lo-fi. We all got so used to those super balanced, scooped mid, high wattage, predictable giant tube amps, that everyone revolted. You don’t necessarily know how those low wattage amps will react when you turn them up, but they really do sound so much more natural. Everyone probably also got tired of carrying a 4×12 speaker cabinet up a flight of steps.
And the reverb….oh the reverb, how we love it! Think of those late 90’s, early 2000’s vocal sounds. There was so much compression! As the gold standard of slightly alternative yet poppy records, think of Jimmy Eat World as an example. We just don’t want to hear things that clearly anymore! We’re literally washing it out!
Its not as extreme as Hair Metal to Grunge, but it is similar. Screaming metal wails…..mumbled hoarse vocals. Scooped mids wall of Marshall full stacks….whatever old crap you could get your hands on (hence the resurgence of the Jazzmaster!)
It’s just a slight rebellion against what was popular before. What will come next? Who knows. I’m gonna say shit gets stripped down even further. Back to the economics of it, touring is the #1 source of income for musicians. If you have to travel constantly, you need to be light on your feet. More overhead is more money lost…so why carry 3 keyboards, 3 combo amps, and a 4 piece drum kit…..when you can play all acoustic, kick and snare, with just some more focus on the PA effects?
Just throwin’ it out there. Someone get me a show on CNBC, after Cramer.
We saw Andrew Bird at the Beacon theater earlier this month, and a good portion of the show was the entire band unplugged, with ONE SINGLE MIC at the foot of the stage. It sounded fantastic. Its also a rebellion against the over-processed pop music available. Auto-tune has invaded nearly every recording produced today, we’re dying to hear something natural, without a net.
If our generation loves one thing, it’s being cynical. But the optimist in me fully believes, that we love being proven wrong, and amazed by artistic endeavors. When the next round of independent bands begins touring the land with solely a guitar case each, I will be first in line at the show.