Every once in a while, opportunities come along in life that you simply just gotta grab by the bull-horns. For example…
I am currently taking a class this semester called BUS333, otherwise known as “The SXSW Class.”
In this class, as the syllabus states, “Over the last 25 years, the annual South by Southwest has become one of the nation’s prominent music conferences. Offering daily panels and keynote presentations from industry professionals as well as performances from independent and established artists, SXSW can provide a valuable networking, learning, and portfolio platform for young professionals. Supported by daily meetings with MSCM faculty, MSCM students will meet and network with a host of industry luminaries while capturing a variety of multimedia content from daily presentations, concerts, student conducted interviews, and unique programming with industry partners. These experiences and media assets will be incorporated into a final video project presentation which will encapsulate student perceptions of SXSW, illustrate the challenges inherent in music promotion, and address critical business and technology issues of the day.”
In other words, we are putting on a show at SXSW at The BlackHeart Bar, and this show is sponsored by Pledge Music, Noisetrade, Clif Bar, Frye clothing, and 89.3 The Current. We will be working with the bands and sponsers at the show, working as both roadies and assistants, and making sure that the operation runs smoothly. Leading up to this show, we have to generate online content (this blog post being part of the “online content” as well as part of our required assignments).
I gotta say, when our teacher, Scott Leger, began class by standing on a chair — pointing to a huge projection of Google Maps, explaining to us the lay-of-the-land like an army general — I was hooked. This class is going to be awesome!
The downside, I have to create an Instagram account (and I hate the culture of Instagram) but it will be worth it to catch premium content and hopefully expand the horizon’s of my music career.
“What music career?” You might ask…
Well, you’re reading this on my band’s website, “The Owl-Eyes.” The group started as a solo project back when I was 14. I had to play every instrument on the two EP’s we have released so far. That’s right, I’m a rock mutli-intrumentalists. Guitars, drums, bass, vocals, MIDI Synth riffs — all me, baby!
Why? Because before coming to McNally, aside from my Kansas City School of Rock friends, I was the only musician I knew.
I grew up in a town called Pattonsburg, MO. Don’t be alarmed if that doesn’t sound familiar to you — it shouldn’t. It was a relatively small/medium size town when my parent’s grew up in it. They’ve been living there since they were born in 1960. Back in the day, the town had a theater, a museum, a dime store, a hardware store: basically all the necessary capitalistic trademarks for a town to survive — had it not been for The Great Missouri River Flood of 1993. It occurred from April to October 1993. The flood was among the most costly to ever occur in the United States, with an estimated $15 billion in damages. Basically, Pattonsburg was so small that it was completely washed away like a biblical myth. Nowadays, it’s pretty much “nowhere,” Missouri. Even though FEMA came to aid us in relocating the town around 1994, by then, everyone in town had already asked themselves, “Wait….why the hell am I living in Missouri in the first place?!?”
The town is divided into two sections: old-town and new-town. New-town is where the business and homes got relocated to after the flood. If you grew up in old-town after the flood, it was implied that you sorta lived in the boonies. As a resident of old-town Pattonsburg, I’ll be honest: the critics ain’t lying. However, one of my greatest pleasures since moving to a big city, is going back home every now and then to escape the “white-noise,” of the city, and experience the peacful sound of crickets chirping all around me in the serene comforts of the Missouri outdoors. And even though I grew up in an environent where my closest (and most talented) musician buddies lived an hour and 15 minutes south of me, I am very blessed to be a member of a privileged farming family. Thanks to our farm business — Three C Farms — my folks were able to support all my different hobbies as I grew up; from filmmaking, acting, and eventually music. They haven’t stopped supporting me, and they never will. Their love knows no bounds.
So, naturally, when it came time to pursue higher education, I wanted to attend a well-established music college, within a tight and historic music scene, and also surrounded by great career opportunities as I try to obtain my goal of becoming a Music Supervisor for television and film. McNally Smith, located within the Twin Cities, nailed every single aspect of my search criteria, and when I was accepted into their Percussion Performance progam in 2014, I theorized that McNally Smith had been the right choice. After a week of attending classes, my theory had been proven to be true. Like School of Rock, I discovered my own brand of mutants. Every single student and faculty member feels like family to me (even if I forget their names from time-to-time).
There was only one downside with coming to McNally. I was under the impression that there would be a multitude of performance students that would be looking for groups to join as freshmen, and that “The Owl-Eyes,” would simply book shows in advance and hire these musicians on an impromptu basis; depending on what type of show I had booked and where.
However, I discovered that a lot of students were going into McNally already playing in their own respective groups, and they — like I — were looking to take their groups to the next level. Half the time, I couldn’t find the musicians I wanted to play shows because they were busy with their respective projects. After 2 years of bad shows, rearranging members, and experiencing a long, tedious, and crappy audition process involving untalented or flaky band-mates, I finally found my group with Jonny Capello on bass, and Zahk Peterson. Henceforth, The Owl-Eyes went from a solo group to a band, and with two shows coming up this month (One on Saturday the 11th, and the other happening Friday, February 17th, I couldn’t be happier with the position I’m currently in.
But I know I’m an impatient motherfucker. The sooner I’m experiencing a life where I’m working as a music supervisor during the week, and playing shows with my band during the weekend, all the while writing music for upcoming albums — waiting for the group to take off whilst living on a steady paycheck involved with being a highly accredited music supervisor, or at least working within a licensing company — the better.
However, I know that “Rome wasn’t built in one day.” It takes a lot of work and planning to achieve such a goal. This class is most definetly part of the hardwork and planning I’m determined to do in order to achieve said goal. The networking opportunities provided with this class are too amazing to pass up. In my mind, if I walk out of this experience without at least one person remembering me and my personality vividly — to the point where they would want to offer me a job, or help me take my band or career to the next level — I’m a fucking idioit. I’m going to work super hard within this environment. Blood, sweat, and tears are certainly going to be involved in this amazing recipe that will be the SXSW experience.
To conclude this post, I will say had it not been for my previous semesters, I wouldn’t have had such confidence to write as honestly as I do today. The McNally Smith life has helped me to promote myself as I truly am. I am no longer thinking, “If I write a song like this, what will my parents think, and could this type of music turn-off possible new fans?” Nowadays, I just create, for I have learned that the songs I have written will never be as good as the songs I’m going to write. You have to be fearless, and the people that like you will eventually tag along.
I have also learned that today’s current music industry has no road-map, anything could happen. While the turbulant nature of the current music industry sometimes makes me nauseous (as I repeatedly think, “how the hell am I even going to make it? Who the fuck wants to hear my music?”), it also gives me incredible hope because I realize that the music industry only gives you as much as you’re willing to put in. If you’re smart about valuing your work in correlation with the market value (along with the sentimental value attached to your art) as well as promoting yourself prominently through gig-ing and social media; eventually, you will reap the benefits of what you have sewn.
The one major flaw that I see within myself, in which that I’m hoping this class will rid me of, is the social anxiety I come-into-contact-with, whenever I try to sell my art or promote my work.
I hold a strong belief that the glory days of the music industry (the 60’s, 70’s, a bit of the 80’s, and the 90’s), were so glorious because the A&R process, as well as the careful corporate (*vomit*) strategic planning that went into releasing content, made it possible for the artist to focus solely on just creating their art. Granted, most of these artists got shitty record deals which screwed over tons of people, and what makes today so special is that the artist can release their work entirely themselves and price it the way the want to. If they get screwed over, it’s their own damn fault.
And therein lies the pressure I experience whenver I try to promote myself. Nowadays, musicians starting from the ground up have to opporate as business-men as well — if they are to make the most out of their musical endeavors. Not only did I narrowly pass my dual-credit math classes with a 65%, but I hate promoting myself because it ultimately makes me feel sickly narcisitic. I feel like I’m intruding upon peoples lifes by telling them about my work, and pressuring them to check it out. It makes me feel like a whore.
Think about it, I gotta get people to like me, but all I do is make music. I don’t save lives in the sense that an ambulance driver or a firefighter does. And since we live in a world where YouTube is the no.1 streaming platform for music, its clear that the consumer wants music to be free. There is a way to navigate oneself into a path where you can live exlusively as a recording artist where you are the only calling the shots; look at Death Grips. Most of their music is free and yet they are living off the funds they make as a touring band, and doing so-fairly well, might I add.
But I’m not at that level yet, and how can I get to that level when people feel uncomfortable paying just $5.00 for a physical CD because they are experience financial problems? In my life, music is a necessity, but it’s not the same for everyone. What makes me so special to where a person would consider my music a necessity for them? I don’t want to constantly remind people to buy my album because it’s good, it’s too gaudy. It’s the same level of egocentrism that I hate in pop-music. However, I love the promotion. I just want people to know that the album is good when they listen to it, and therefor, they will buy it; have that lead into a career where the 3rd album dropped will have billboard ads associated with it’s marketing campaign (and I’m not talking the website/music-magizine. I mean actual Vegas-style billboards (too much to ask?)).
I do possess the self-awareness to know that these fears are unfounded. There’s no “selling-out,” until you sell something; and since I’m starting from the ground up, I have to do everything I can to get people to notice me in order to sell something. But that’s one of the challenges inherent in music promotion. Everyday, I feel like I’m “selling-out,” to some extent because I’m using social media to basically say, “hey everyone, look at me! My music is awesome and special, and you totally need me in your lives. Yeah, I’m totally just a 21 year old kid from Missouri, and I don’t possess a Jimi Hendrix level of talent, nor a Taylor Swift level of following, BUT I’M TOTALLY AWESOME! SO LOVE ME!!!!!!”
It’s kind of disgusting.
However, I know that this class will help me disregard these fears, and become a smarter promoter of my own work — finding a way to creatively and uniquely market my music to the type of individual I am. I can only hope that this class will break my out of the ‘socially-awkward,’ mindset I feel very often when promoting/marketing myself. In fact, I know that this class will shape me into a self-sufficient, rock’n’roll, media machine; and nothing, not even my own fears and feelings, can stop me.