Monday, October 28, 2013

“Welcome to the Music Business…You’re F**ked.”

The title of the symposium’s keynote address jumped out at me, snatching my attention. It was outrageous, irreverent, and just plain funny. Maybe I identified. After all, these attributes worked for me at my job for 24 years. Until there suddenly wasn’t a 25th.

It ceased being more fun than not to go to work, and my dwindling sense of humor became too obvious. I had become, in short, a liability. I needed a fresh start. So did my employer. We parted ways, and I set about redefining my career and life. My goal was to find the fun again by combining elements of my skills set with one or more of my passions: music, writing, history, sports, photography, and lighthouses (combining the last two on the list is demonstrated below).
The organizer of the symposium, Martin Atkins, certainly had an attitude that mirrored his keynote theme. It was evident in his books, one of which bore the same title of the aforementioned address. I read three short reviews on Two of the three critics lambasted him as a "charlatan and vulture who preyed on the vulnerability of struggling, young, naïve, aspiring artists." For some reason, these views only heightened my interest in attending the event. One doesn’t have a long career without making some enemies along the way, a fact that was not lost on me as I saw my career in the field of education end.

I came across the upcoming “Band:Smart” happening while checking out an artist’s web site. He was going to be providing entertainment on the first day. Investigating the symposium’s web site lured me into considering a last-minute trip. With nothing better to do that weekend, I plunked down the $99 registration fee and began to plan my excursion to Chicago. I booked a room in a suburban hotel and entered addresses into my GPS. The short process, as well as the original exposure to the opportunity, was made perhaps far too easy by the Internet. In any case, initial steps on a possible new path were laid down.

Those steps might actually have been traced to another, much earlier time in my life. I grew up around the entertainment business and those who lived and died in it. My mother was a country music radio DJ and member of a local band of some local success. The happenstance of my waiting for her shift to end one day led to a role in what would evolve into an off-Broadway stint at the age of nine, followed by a series of other stage performances. So I had already seen all levels of the vocation, from those who made it big to those who were as Atkins had labeled them.

The Weekend: Day One (9/9/13)

I headed to Chicago in my 2008 Mini Cooper S convertible with GPS, EZ Pass, golf clubs, suitcase, iPad, notebook, and 82 hours of iPod music files in tow. After about 7 ½ hours, I arrived at the Oak Brook Marriott (which I highly recommend based on location, price, comfort) and explored the Friday night options for entertainment.

A group called Hedgehog and the Fox were having a CD release party for the early show at Reggie’s. Since Reggie’s was reputed to be a prime club with an adjoining record store, I elected to drive into the South Side of the city, which was not nearly as scary as Jim Croce would have had us believe.

My view of the show that wasn't
While the record store was a disappointment, I was initially feared that the night might be a wash. The wait to order a beer and some food was longer than the drive into town. I theorized that maybe I didn’t look like I fit in, until Hedgehog and the Fox started setting up. I looked younger than most of them. 
Things looked up a bit when they plugged in their instruments. An old favorite of mine, “Sylvia” by Focus was the vehicle for the band’s sound check. I was feeling better.
With still plenty of time before the 6PM show and the place rather thinly populated, I finished my burrito and second Amstel draft. As I watched the lead guitarist mingle with a couple of equally seasoned women, my idea about the band’s average age was confirmed. Unfortunately this only fed the mystery of why I felt a bit of an outcast.
I spent the rest of my meal looking through the city paper, trying to add up the number of venues and shows existing during the next week, and wondering if this market—big as it is—isn’t saturated.

By 6:50 it became evident that the band had little intention of starting to play any time soon. The parking meter was only good until 7:20, so I decided to make my way back out of the city. I paused long enough at the sales table set up at the front of the bar to pick a copy of the CD they were supposed to be performing, based solely on the Focus tune they rambled through earlier. I listened to the disc on the way back to the hotel. The instrumentals were impressive, but the vocals could be scrapped.

(Next week: ”The Weekend: Day Two)

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