Thursday, December 16, 2010

Me and the darn Record Business

I'd like to think I was a pioneer in what is now called "do it yourself" recording. One thing I still regret is not having better microphones. Perhaps, some of the others should have chipped in for some.

Even so, I'm pretty sure a bootleg of our recordings, some from high school, were sent to a well known artist. Until about 1975, the "year it became the music business", this was not a bad strategy to get a shot at a deal if you didn't live in N.Y.C. or L.A., so the person probably meant well. However, as lawsuits piled up, the record companies became increasingly leery of unsolicited material. And, most tapes were thrown away unopened not getting "past the secretary's desk".

In addition, the artist in question was in the process of changing labels. So, I figure our tape got put in a box and sent to the new label and then ended up on a mix tape as "new things to try and listen to get ideas."

Tim, my self-appointed manager who never got me a job, called late one night and told me to drive to the local chain record store and head shop.

"I'll hold the store open until 11:30. You have to come down here and get his new record, (because) he sounds more like you than you do."

After I explained to Mom why I had to put my clothes back on and go buy a record "in the middle of the night", I went and got it. I sat there and listened in amazement. I was a good record. It was probably the best record the artist in question had put out in years. But, Tim was right about the tracks.

Over the years, my amazement would turn into frustration as I heard other artists, often on that label, that had similar songs to ours. A few would tell guitar magazines, "Yeah, we asked and listened to the famous mix tape." In all fairness, this tape was known to include world music and Latin rock as well.

(The other day in the grocery, I was forced to listen to a song of which I threw part of away, only to listen to the singer scat sing one of Tony's songs over mine on the "play out" (the part where a song fads out at the end). Oh, it was really too much and I was barely able to contain my anger while checking out.)

Later, Tim calls me up and says, "I have set up a meeting for you tomorrow with a guy from Electra."

The meeting was to be at the record store. Tim assured me this was not like the meeting with IRS Records where they just wanted me to call in requests for the Police and the Go-Gos like a McGuffey Lane groupie, I had dated a few times.

"Listen, I'm not going to sign you", the guy from Electra said.

"But, you've never listened to any of my music."

"I don't need to hear your music. You are nothing, but (a singer-songwriter from one state over) with a tie."

I guess he never thought of pitching me to the college crowd. As I recall, the artist in question was on RCA not Electra so I still don't understand why it was a problem.

Tim didn't make this meeting.

Later, he asked me to attend the first concert of a local group, because he wanted my "opinion, because he was thinking of managing them." That group turned out to be Guided By Voices, but I don't know if Tim ever managed Bob.

Tim later said, "(I heard you got a job), how am I going to represent you if you work there?"

My employer was not rated "politically correct" by show business.

"Where else would you want me to work? I have to work somewhere, (because) I've run out of money.

Tim and I discussed another local artist who had made the trip to L.A. The rumor was he was told he sounded too much like Bruce Springsteen. He opened a local record store which was bought out by a chain and then closed this summer.

Do coincidences happen in the writing of songs and guitar technique? Sure, I can think of several including me and two other artists. Let's face it, we all share many of the same influences, the same news cycle, and, often, the same society. But, as I get older and considering what I do for a living, my tolerance for coincidences has really dropped over the years.

I have a friend at work who played in several funk bands. His stories are more typical where the producer runs off with the songs of others.

At least none of my songs are used to sell cars and tires.

And, I never "lost" my name to a record label by signing the wrong paper.

Don't let these things happen to you!

One band that was unrelated to all this did mention me in their liner notes. Not necessary, but amusing.

On a humorous note, I got contacted by a guy over the Internet to say he wanted to be paid "for all the T-Shirts you guys had me make up."

I told him, "I didn't order those T-Shirts. I doubt you will get paid as that (northern California punk) band broke up. Oh, one more thing, if you DO see them again, tell them to quit using my name."

Another time, these guys got robbed while unloading their van. I heard about in Vintage Guitar magazine or something and sent them a phase pedal they used all the time, but I didn't. It turned out it was not the band I knew, but another band. There are like 15 bands in the U.S. and Canada that use that name! I told him it was OK to keep the pedal, but "you might want to think about using another name."

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