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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Why don't we just call ourselves, "The Band You're About To Hear?"

Fair's fair - since Mark went to the effort of making a quiz about me, I've compiled for your quiz-taking pleasure the Mark DeVries challenge. Check the scoreboard to see how your Markish knowledge compares with the masses at large.

And on with the musing...

A week and a half ago (sorry for the anachronistic post) was originally supposed to be a CST concert night, but the show was cancelled when the Uptown Bill's scheduler guy (who, for the record, is both an extremely friendly guy and a tireless champion of live music in Iowa City - I don't mean to say that what happened was anything other than a mistake) realized that he'd booked two acts for the same night. The other act had gotten their contract in before we got ours in, so we were bumped. Not a big deal, I guess - the Uptown Bill's shows are always fun but rarely very well-attended - but it's frustrating. We have enough trouble trying to find places to play without having shows disappear. We'll get rescheduled, I'm sure, and I understand that mistakes happen, but it still sort of eats.

On the upside, though, it left me with a free Saturday night for the first time in quite a while. I got to watch the Cubs get whipped by the Yankees, play through my Storyhill songbook (Mary on the Mountain, after umpteen playings, is starting to fall under the fingers), catch up on some reading, and spend a little time ruminating about CST-ish-ly things.

Matt had some interesting thoughts on his blog about the cancellation. I'll quote the pertinent bits here:

On a completely unrelated note, I was disappointed today to find out that Charlie's and my upcoming show this Saturday night had to be cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. It seems the venue was double-booked, so we were left out in the cold. Ah, well. That sort of thing has happened to us a few times now. It's not the best feeling when we're told, "Yeah, you were on the schedule, but someone else wanted to play that day, so what could we do?" Granted, one of the other times it happened we were bumped for a pretty big name act, so I really couldn't blame the venue. This time, though, not so much. Some band I've never heard of. To be fair, they've likely never heard of Central Standard Time (our band, I mean, not the time zone).

And so it goes with CST. One day we might feel poised to take the music world (or at least the local market) by storm, the next we might feel ready to put away the guitars and sound equipment and call it quits for CST. I don't think we'll do that anytime soon. We do so enjoy performing and playing together, and it's really a pretty easy hobby to keep up, so I guess there's no real reason for us to quit. I certainly don't want to quit. I hope Charlie doesn't want to quit. I hope there are a least a few people out there who would be disappointed if we ever quit.
Matt and I rarely discuss CST in any sort of where-are-we-going-with-this sense. We've exchanged hundreds of e-mails about how to get more shows and about how frustrated we often are with ourselves for not playing more but we very rarely have Where Are We Going With This Band Thing, Anyway? conversations. We both shy away from the tremendous amount of work that would be involved in moving up to the next level - which would be a locally-touring, concert-every-other-week-or-so band. And the level beyond that - a full-time-job, nationally touring band (which is still several steps down from a nationally-known, played-on-the-radio, making-the-band-members-fistfuls-of-cash level) - is basically unworkable. Neither of us can afford to quit our jobs and hope the band starts paying for itself and Matt has quite a bit tying him to the Iowa City area.

So where do we want CST to go? The model, of course, has always been Storyhill (which makes them laugh - "You want to do this?" John said to me when I expressed our dream of being Storyhill II to him. "Man, you seem brighter than that."). I can't speak for Matt - since, as noted above, we haven't really talked about this much - but I would be deliriously happy to be playing Storyhill-type concerts, even if they were only once a month and didn't take us to exotic locales. If people were as interested to hear what we have to say with our music as I am to hear them that would be so incredibly neat that I can't even find words for it. That seems like a lofty goal, though, since Storyhill (who are immensely more talented than we are to start off with) built their fan base with several years of full-time touring, with all the musical solidification and copious new material that comes along with it. CST being almost certain to never be a full-time touring act it's probably best to put thoughts of Storyhill-ic success out of mind.

So where does that leave us? I honestly don't know - like Matt said, sometimes it seems like we're on the verge of taking the local market by storm, sometimes it seems like we might as well stop pretending we deserve to be paid for performing. We've averaged a show a month for the last year and a half, and there's no reason we can't maintain that average pretty much indefinitely. I'd like to (and I'm pretty sure Matt would like to) push beyond that a little and set ourselves up in the local college act circuit and maybe travel out West at least a couple of times, but I've no idea how to take that next step. We experimented with having a friend be a booking agent for a while, and that was going very well until he got tired of it and moved on to things that interested him more (we'd be interested in trying again, if anyone would be interested). We went to NACA and so far haven't had any return on that investment. Once upon a time, we were sure that success was just a matter of waiting for people to start coming to find us. We're past that, but still not sure how to get to a point where venues will start calling or booking right away because they know people will come out to hear us.

You need to approach the task of self-promotion as a musician with a fair amount of hubris, and that's hard for Matt and me both. While still disciplining yourself to refine your product and continue producing new songs, you need to approach concerts and booking contacts projecting a "wait'll you hear this!" vibe. Not arrogant, necessarily (at least not in the folk music genre), but confident. As I once described the Storyhill experience, throw the music out at the audience and dare them not to like it. We're getting better at that (we don't apologize to audiences before songs anymore, generally) but it's sort of a Catch-22: confidence both comes from and leads to success.

So where will CST be in five more years? I'd guess probably where we are right now; playing a show a month or so and wishing we were playing more. Maybe (hopefully) that's pessimistic - certainly 'twould be divine to have the band be a significant source of income - but barring significant lifestyle and/or personality changes on Matt's and my part I think CST will probably stay more or less on the plan it's established. On the other hand, to answer your question, Hibsy-Wibsy, I've no plans to quit.

Not so much of a coherent or get-to-a-point-ish blog entry; that's largely because I don't have many clearly organized thoughts on this topic. Anyone with any thoughts and/or expertise on the subject please weigh in - I'd very much like to hear from you. And, again, if the idea of being a booking agent has always appealed, let us know.

I've no idea why this is formatted so weird (maybe it's just this computer - I hope so). Sorry about that.
Well, the formatting sucks on my computer too. So it's not just you.
This damn formatting is keeping CST from achieving critical mass.
It looks fine on Firefox but on Explorer there's blank space for the duration of the links (is that what you guys are seeing, too?).

Weird. If only someone knowledgeable in the ways of HTML read this blog and could offer counsel...

I like the new videos on your site, John. Makes me miss the ol' backyard pool. Think you'll add a post (or any old comic strips...) anytime soon?
Well, the quiz is well constructed. The questions were well done, and the false answers were just close enough to make me think, "Is my memory correct?" Beautifully done I applaud your thought, and really it's the thought that counts.
I got a C on the Mark DeVries Challenge. Good enough for me!

Nicely constructed thoughts, C-Rod. Um... I don't really have anything to add, other than, "Yes, I agree with you." I do still hold out hope that in five years we'll be among the "regulars" in the local music scene, as opposed to our current status (I suppose as "irregulars").

Later this summer, for any of you interested, we're taking what will hopefully prove to be a step in that direction by sharing a bill with one of the more popular local acts, the Mike and Amy Finders Band. They regularly draw large crowds to their shows, and on July 21, we're playing an hour long set right before they play their own set. My hope is that we'll get to play for a large, new audience, and will win over some new fans. If you're free, please come see us at 6:00 p.m. in S.T. Morrison Park in Coralville. If you're not free, please change your plans so that you can be free.
Thanks for letting us dwell inside your thoughts for a while, Charlie--even when they are not necessarily incredibly coherent or point-having, they are still interesting.

I am one of the nameless masses who would be sad if you guys quit! Unfortunately my plans for the 21st are not terribly flexible. On both the 15th and the 21st, coincidentally, I am stuck in a plane. Grrr. So close, and yet so very far. So, no concert for me. :-(

Also, hooray for giving me yet another quiz at which to suck. But also some random fun memories. :-) Mark, did you know that your song (whose name I really should have known; *sigh*) made it onto the most esteemed and selective mixed tape of 1996?
P.S. My guess as to the weirdness of the formatting is that the big quote in the middle is messing it up. How did you set the margins?
Charlie, I might have to take you up on your offer of free webspace. One of the problems I've been having recently is that I've run out of space, so I've had to remove some old content to make room. Plus I have little free time to devote to it, what with all the TV-watching I have to do.

Hopefully I'll get a chance to put up some new stuff, including many poems, this week.

Did you get the e-mail Andre sent, informing you he would be in town? (And, in fact, is.) What a concept, informing your old pals when you'll be in town. Maybe we can all get together some evening this week.

I now return the comments to discussion of HTML mysteries and musical dreams.
Yo Charlie!

Things you can do:

1) Send your material to more media outlets for review, so that you can pack your press materials with quotes from other sources instead of having to hype yourselves by yourselves.

2) Look at regional events (like Cornerstone) that are geographically accessible enough to get to easily, and geared towards the type of music/audience you want to connect with, and send them a pack.

3) Find bands outside of Iowa City (or Iowa in general) that are sympatico, and open for them. Find venues outside of the city/state that would fit what you do, and play there. Bring a mailing list and CDs, so you can make some extra money, get some extra fans, and build a following.

4) Get your music for sale on-line, either through CD Baby or through PayPal. I've sold maybe a dozen CDs through mail order over the last six years, as opposed to hundreds and hundreds through the web - people are much more inclined to order online than they are to print out a form, write out a check, put the form and the check in an envelope, put the envelope in the mail box, and wait for the package to arive.

5) Contact musicians you admire/aspire to emulate/etc, send them your music, and ask them for advice about where to go from where you are, where to play in their area, etc.

6) Read http://www.marketingyourmusic.com
Oooops, one other (big!) thing -

Your online sound clips are WAAAAAY too hard to find. In order for visitors to hear what you sound like, they have to click on the "contact us" link (which is not the most immediately obvious link to follow in order to hear what a musical group sounds like), then click on a seperate link on that contact page (which takes them to an external EPK), and then click on YET ANOTHER link at the EPK that takes them to music clips.

The whole point of promoting a musical group is giving people a sense of what you sound like. If you bury your audio clips several layers deep within your web site, with no obviously-labeled links on your main page that will take you to the sound clips, and a bio (also located several clicks away, on an external EPK) that spends two paragraphs talking about how hard it is to describe what your music sounds like... then you're making it challenging for new listeners to find out what you sounds like.

I would recommend integrating the EPK stuff into your main website, or even simply having cstime.net resolve to the EPK. To me, it's much better set up in a very direct and straightforward manner to give people a clear and quick sense of what you're about and what you sound like.

Also: put at least one or two full-length songs on your site. Give people a chance to hear what an entire tune of yours is like.
Well. This is certainly one way of getting rid of the formatting issues! :-)
Along with this formatting issue it looks like someone stole your English quote at the top of your blog and replaced it with gibberish. Just thought you ought to know.
Gee - lots of comments to reply to. I figured out how to fix the formatting issues and tried to switch back to the old green format and found to my dismay that blogspot no longer offers it as an option. Sigh. Ah, well - a clear black-on-white format isn't entirely a bad thing.

I echo Matt's encouragement for y'all to come on out and see us open for the Finderses. We should be good and nervous onstage, and that usually makes for an entertaining show. Plus Matt and Amy have a bit of a history...

John - The offer of webspace is certainly still open. You can just e-mail me the videos, if you like (mighty.hermes@gmail.com works better for attachment-heavy e-mails than my Juno account).

Andre - thanks muchly for the advice (and hello, there! How the poo did you find my blog?). All excellent points. We've already done #5 and we're soon to achieve #4, but otherwise our self-marketing has been pretty woeful.

Your points about the website are good ones, too. The website predates the EPK by quite a bit - we got the EPK with our registration fee for a songwriting contest Matt entered and haven't yet decided whether we'll pay to renew it at the end of the year. Probably - it's a slick way to send a promo kit-ish package at no cost to "maybe" places. There are sound clips on the website on the "recordings" page but they're not particularly intuitive, either. We'll work on making the front page of the website more functional for the casual surfer.

As far as general promotion (including the bio) goes, though, I think a folk duo like CST requires a different approach. Unlike you, we don't have any "Holy crap! How'd he do that?" clips from our music; ours requires people to either be interested enough in us to hear what we have to say or to take the time to absorb the lyrics of a song and decide they think it's an interesting message (which is in no way meant to belittle the depth of your work - I'm just saying we only have the second option available to us). Groups that we aim to emulate tend to have pretty simple websites (example, example) for, I think, more or less that reason. The bio takes a long time to get around to talking about the music in hopes that it'll therefore be intriguing enough to get people interested in what we might have to say.

Or something like that. As I've proven time and again on this site, coherent, well-put-together thoughts aren't my forte. Thanks again for your comments; I certainly welcome more if you've got 'em. I don't believe there's a limit to the number of comments a post can have - chime on in, folks!
Mark - it's not gibberish, it's Latin. "You can't stop a ship from sinking, but you can slow its descent," more or less. Greg and Jesse and I were discussing things that might be good slogans for schools one night at Perkins and one of them (Jesse, I think) suggested that one (orginally "you can't stop a plane from crashing..." but the Romans, for some odd reason, never came up with a word for "airplane"). Imagine it in big bronze letters over the entryway to a school building.
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